In a bold move of outright hypocrisy the Obama administration has decided to move forward on an arms deal with the country of Bahrain, despite their track record of human rights abuse while simultaneously publicly berating Syria for committing abuses against it’s citizens.
“Bahrain has made many promises to cease abuses and hold officials accountable, but it hasn’t delivered,” said Maria McFarland, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Protesters remain jailed on criminal charges for peacefully speaking out and there has been little accountability for torture and killings – crimes in which the Bahrain Defense Force is implicated.”
In a January 27, 2012 statement, the State Department announced plans to move forward with the sale of approximately $1 million dollars worth of equipment to Bahrain while maintaining “a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform.” The Department has not made the contents of the sale public but insists that none of the equipment contained items that could be used against protesters. A guarantee that will most certainty help those who have been tortured and killed sleep better at night.
In September 2011, the Obama administration delayed a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain after human rights groups and members of Congress criticized the sale because of the ongoing abuses against protesters as well as anyone labeled as government opponents in Bahrain. The Bahrain Defense Force, the intended recipient of the arms sale, was in charge of the crackdown on largely peaceful protests during 2011.
In December, Mark Toner, a State Department representative, stated that the U.S. would weigh human rights concerns as it decided whether or not to go on with the arms sales. A November 23rd report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), found systematic abuses in Bahrain’s crackdown on protesters, including torture and widespread detention of activists and peaceful protesters.
Since the release of the BICI report Bahrain has done little to address accountability for the documented abuses. Low-level Pakistani prison guards are on trial for beating prisoners to death, and several policemen are facing trial in the shooting deaths of three protesters. Only one Bahraini security official faces prosecution, for a horrific killing that Human Rights Watch documented at the time.
So far there has been no investigations into the roles the Interior Ministry, the National Security Agency, or the Bahrain Defense Force played in the deaths of dozens of people, widespread torture, and the detention of hundreds with no due process.
At least a half dozen people have died since the BICI report was released in protest-related confrontations with authorities. Protesters allege that the number of fatalities is 16 while the government claims that the deaths were from natural causes.
Bahrain continues to hold hundreds of people convicted for charges such as “illegal gatherings” and “inciting hatred against the regime.” Bahraini authorities are refusing to allow international human rights organizations to visit the country.
“Bahrain’s failure to take immediate steps to reform – for example, by releasing political prisoners and investigating ranking security officials – raises real doubts about its commitment to addressing the serious abuses documented in the BICI report,” McFarland said. “Washington should hold off on arms sales until Bahrain shows it is serious about addressing the country’s human rights crisis.”