Senator: Bahrain’s human rights trump arms sale

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A Senate Intelligence Committee member says a recent report on Bahrain’s human rights abuses against protesters validates his opposition to a proposed $53 million arms sale to the island kingdom.

“Imagine if everyone in Congress had kept quiet and this arms sale had been completed,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said Monday at an event for the Project on Middle East Democracy.

“What kind of message would this have sent the world or the people aspiring for freedom and democracy?”

In October, Mr. Wyden and four other Senate Democrats - Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania and Robert Menendez of New Jersey - asked the State Department in a letter to delay the arms sale to Bahrain.

The State Department said it would review the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and assess the kingdom’s efforts to implement reforms before considering approval of the sale.

Last week, the commission, which was convened by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, reported widespread torture and excessive use of force by Bahraini security forces during the kingdom’s uprising in February and March.

In an interview after the report’s release, commission Chairman Cherif Bassiouni told The Washington Times that he believes the six most-senior officials at the Interior Ministry should be investigated for complicity in torture.

So far, the government has indicted only lower-level officers.

Mr. Wyden acknowledged the strategic importance of Bahrain, which hosts the Navy’s 5th fleet.

But he said he would not end his opposition to the arms sale until Bahrain’s government releases political prisoners, begins a dialogue on political reforms with the opposition, and holds public officials accountable.

Other senators - such as Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Marco Rubio, Florida Republican - have joined the congressional chorus calling for the Obama administration to condition the sale on political and human rights reforms.

“In terms of the Hill, it is not a regular occurrence that senior members are seeking to block arms sales,” Mr. Wyden said in an interview Monday.

The sale was slated to include Humvees, wire-guided and bunker-busting missiles, missile launchers, and night-vision gear.

In an interview after the report’s release, Bahraini Ambassador to the U.S. Houda Nonoo said the equipment was “not going to be use internally.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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