Why isn’t The Fifth Column reporting on the Saudi airstrike on the residential neighborhood?

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (TFC)Many outlets are calling the airstrikes that struck a residential neighborhood in Yemen a war crime. The Fifth Column has not reported on the incident. We’ve been asked why.

All of our evidence and every analyst that we’ve talked to indicates that the airstrike was probably intended to hit a nearby target. While the bombing of the residential neighborhood is a tragedy, it does not seem to qualify as a war crime. Constantly calling every accident a “war crime” cheapens the term. In the common understanding of the term, there needs to be intent behind a crime. It does not appear that the Saudis intended to hit the neighborhoods.

Within one kilometer of the targets that were hit, sit a power plant and a military base. The impact points of the warheads indicates that there was confusion in the planes. Some of the bombs landed well outside the margin of error for modern airstrikes and those weapons struck nothing at all. That indicates that the pilots weren’t really sure where to direct the weapons.

By applying Occam’s Razor and comparing the two possibilities, we cannot in good faith call this a war crime. Is it more likely that the Saudis flew a mission to the coast of Yemen and intentionally targeted two residential neighborhoods while bypassing two actual targets, or that they simply missed the two nearby targets?

There are plenty of war crimes occurring in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is not a favorite of The Fifth Column, and our journalists have condemned the nation’s policies at every opportunity. The reason our logo is currently yellow and red is because of our participation in the #backlash movement targeting Saudi Arabia for its treatment of journalists.

However, facts are facts. The likelihood that this strike intentionally struck residences is slim to none. There are war crimes occurring and they are occurring on a large scale. However, the media has chosen to focus on this incident because there is a marketable YouTube video that graphically shows the dead and injured following one of the blasts. By focusing on this incident that will later be shown to be mere caused by “the fog of war,”  the media has drawn attention away from the real war crimes that are occurring and makes them less believable. Child soldiers are being recruited by the Houthis and the Saudi airstrikes have left 120,000 displaced with many of the airstrikes appearing to be indiscriminate. By focusing on an airstrike that had a legitimate military target less than 3000 ft away and a less than legitimate (but often targeted) power plant even closer, the media will effectively kill all outrage. Some reporter at some mainstream outlet will eventually research the area around the neighborhood and talk to pilots. That reporter will discover exactly what we discovered. At that point, any indiscriminate bombing by the Saudis will be written off by the public as another false alarm.

Saudi Air Force Image Source: Ian Burt, Flickr, Creative Commons

Saudi Air Force
Image Source: Ian Burt, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Saudi military is undisciplined and ill-trained. It should not be receiving military aid from the US, but those facts have nothing to do with this airstrike.

The importance of the rights organizations in Yemen that were incorrect in this case cannot be overstated. They provide vital information and offer a chance at accountability. Making a mistake and having it parroted by a dozen news agencies isn’t the fault of those rights organizations. Standing in the middle of bombed out neighborhood where scores died can impact even the most hardened heart’s objectivity. It is the job of the media to get beyond the press releases and double check the information. This is part of a larger trend within the media. The desire to be the first to report a story has overcome the desire to issue an accurate report.