Tuesday, February 7, 2012

American Hypocrisy in the Middle East

We proclaim ourselves as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world.

--Edward R. Murrow in his famous confrontation with Senator McCarthy on his CBS program See it Now

Wherever tyrants deny the legitimate demands of their own people, we need to work together to send them a clear message: you cannot hold back the future at the point of a gun.

--Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the ongoing massacre in Syria

Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other nations. The United States of America is different. Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.

--President Barack Obama explaining US involvement in the war in Libya

Bahrain is a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf. The entire country is only 3 ½ times larger than Washington D.C. and is home to 1.2 million people.

On February 14, 2011, inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrainis rallied in the streets to call for democracy and for the king to step down from power. Bahraini police fired live ammunition on the crowd, killing several protestors who were merely demonstrating for their rights. Plain clothed members of Bahrain’s Interior Ministry formed pro-regime rallies and violently attacked pro-democracy demonstrators. Bahrain state TV blamed the violence on the pro-democracy demonstrators, claiming that they were traitorous agents of Iran who sought to murder Sunnis.

On March 14, Saudi troops entered the country to repress the pro-democracy movement. Phones, mobile and landline alike, were rendered inoperable. The Bahraini police and military then occupied Salmoniyya Hospital on the false premise that the hospital was holding Sunnis hostage. No new patients were allowed in. Patients who were already there and a nurse were beaten by police.

The Bahraini government then went on a campaign to destroy Shia mosques. They arrested doctors, lawyers, opposition members of parliament, and pro-democracy activists. According to Human Rights Watch over 1,600 people were arrested because of their real or perceived support of the demonstrations. 250 of them have been sentenced.

The US Navy’s 5th fleet is stationed in Bahrain. It is this fleet that makes sure that Iran cannot block the Strait of Hormuz, where much of the world’s oil passes through. The king of Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to have Bahrain’s uprising inspire one in his country as well. Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the US since the end of World War II and the US demand for oil has kept it that way. As a result of these two motivations, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the US never denounced the crackdown in Bahrain as vigorously as it did in Libya and Syria. In September, the department of defense formally notified congress of a possible military sale of 53 million dollars of equipment and weapons to Bahrain along with 15 million dollars of Foreign Military Financing. That deal was put on hold until a Bahraini commission on the crackdown was completed.

On November 23, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released its results. It found that the police had used excessive force, that torture was endemic, and discredited the government’s claim that Iran was responsible for the demonstrations. Electric shock was used on multiple detainees and 5 people died as a result of torture. 13 civilians were killed by security forces in other ways.

In late January, the State department decided to go ahead with the sale of weapons to Bahrain, despite the commission’s findings. The administration told several congressional offices about the deal, but did not to formally notify the public or post the details of the sale on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency website. So much for the most transparent government in history. Those types of disclosures are only necessary for arms sales over 1 million dollars. If you split a large military sale into several military sales each less than 1 million dollars, then such disclosures are not legally required.

For the past 100 years the United States has proclaimed itself the defender of freedom and democracy around the world. It is an fundamental part of the American character; it is how we define our role in the world. Often we have lived up to that mission. Sometimes we have not. Our leaders morally and courageously criticize the horrors of the Assad regime. At the same time we denounce the Chinese and Russians for standing in the way of progress by vetoing a resolution calling for Assad to step down. We reel in disgust that the Russians are selling weapons to a dictator that is killing his people; while we do the same.

The people of Bahrain also yearn for freedom. It is time we side with them. All military sales to Bahrain must be stopped, and we must publicly denounce the human rights violations of the Khalifa regime. The Obama administration deserves be shamed for siding with a dictator over the democratic aspirations of the Bahraini people.

P. S. The revolution in Bahrain has been almost completely ignored by the American media. NPR, Democracy Now!, and Al Jazeera English have covered it, along with print publications. The recent decision by the State department to go ahead with the military sale to Bahrain has only been covered by Democracy Now! and a handful of print publications. Mainstream television news has daily stories about the uprising in Syria as well as Israeli and American tensions with Iran, both clearly important stories, but completely ignores the revolution in Bahrain and our government's opposition to it. Sad to say, but mainstream television news is once again covering up the misdeeds of the US government abroad.

Al Jazeera English has done a great job covering the revolution in Bahrain, their documentary, "Bahrain: Shouting in the dark" is an example of journalism at its finest. I highly recomend it. However, Mona Elthaway made an impassioned case that Al Jazeera Arabic denied its listeners such knowledge because they decided, "some peoples' freedom and dignity are more important than others."


  1. It is a tragedy what is happening in Bahrain. This is why we need to stop sending foreign aid to other countries. We only empower the dictators and harm the people.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I deeply support foreign aid that feeds starving people who are in famine conditions, treats and prevents HIV/AIDS, and brings information to closed societies. I believe that this kind of aid is one of the most honorable things our government does, provide assistance to the people of the world who need it the most.

      Military aid, on the other hand, often ends up supporting the most repressive institutions in third world countries and sanctions grave and recurrant human rights abuses.

      To be clear, from the limited information on the recent military sale to Bahrain, these were weapons they perchased as not weapons we would give them. It still sends the wrong message and empowers a repressive regime.