Moral Low Ground

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Despite Atrocities, U.S. to Sell $53 Million in Arms to Bahrain

Calling Bahrain “an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the Obama administration and the Pentagon are proceeding with plans to sell $53 million worth of military equipment, including bunker-busting missiles, armored vehicles and wire-guided missiles, to the tiny yet oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchy.

Political stability? Bahrain? Has Obama completely lost his mind? For those of you living in a cave or watching Fox News for the last, oh, six months or so, allow me to fill you in:

As the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings began toppling long-ruling Arab tyrants, President Obama delivered a major speech in which he vowed to “stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights.”

Al-Khalifa: Brutal despot; America's friend. (Photo: Julian Carroll)

As Obama uttered those words, Bahraini tanks and troops were locking down the capital city of Manama, with state security forces using deadly force to break up pro-democracy demonstrations in Pearl Roundabout. Desperate to stave off the revolutions that had already brought down governments inTunisia and Egypt, Bahraini King Hamad al-Khalifa, whose Sunni family has ruled the tiny, oil-rich kingdom since the time of the American Revolution, ordered a brutal crackdown against the nation’s restless Shiite majority. Dozens were slaughtered; many more were wounded. Hundreds were arrested and tortured and dozens of Shiite mosques were bulldozed into rubble. Protesters and anyone suspected of opposing the regime were subject to arbitrary arrests, vicious beatings, torture and death, yet they stood tall in the face of tyranny.

State security forces left no stone unturned as they attempted to throttle any and all opposition. Police raided schools, torturing and threatening to rape girls as young as twelve. Doctors and other medical professionals who dared do their jobs and treat people wounded by the regime’s thugs found themselves arrested and tortured as well. Female doctors were subjected to electric shocks, severe beatings with nail-studded boards and rape threats. Some were forced to eat feces. All were tortured to elicit false confessions. To literally add insult to injury, 47 doctors and nurses were put on trial, falsely accused of trying to overthrow the government.

What was Obama’s response to this horrific crackdown? Well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her “deep concern” and urged the Bahraini regime to exercise restraint. That was before the raids on the girls’ schools and the torture of the doctors. Obama did condemn the violence. But then, in June 2011, he welcomed Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to the White House, where the President reaffirmed the importance of Bahrain as U.S. ally. The crown prince declared what a “great pleasure” it was to be in Washington; meanwhile, back in Bahrain, his subjects were being tortured simply for expressing their desire for freedom.

So much for Obama’s pledge to “stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights.”

Why the hypocrisy? In addition to being an important oil-producing nation, Bahrain also hosts the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet. Although tiny, the island kingdom occupies a strategic position just across the Persian Gulf from Iran and is considered a bulwark against the perceived Iranian threat. But Iran hasn’t initiated an attack on any of its neighbors since the 1700s, and there is never any “good reason” to spew lies about standing with those who yearn for freedom while those very people are being slaughtered by a country hosting U.S. troops.

According to Mother Jones, the U.S. approved more than $200 million in arms sales to Bahrain in 2010 alone. Now comes an additional $53 million, as if the horrific atrocities of this year’s brutal crackdown never happened. “This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics,” Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch told Mother Jones. 

“It will be hard for people to take U.S. statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons,” she added.

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