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Inside Story Americas
Should the US continue to arm Bahrain?
As human rights violations continue in the Gulf nation we ask how the US can review its policy to ensure non-violence.
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2012 11:15

For almost every single Arab country that has seen uprisings over the past two years the US has called for regime change, except for the Gulf country of Bahrain – one of its closest allies in the region.

"The problem with the US is that we're stuck with an ally like Bahrain, like we're stuck with some of the allies we have in the Middle East. That's because our strategic as US officials have framed now for decades is essentially oil and Israel."

- Hillary Mann Leverett, a US foreign policy professor

Security forces violently crushed the mass protests which began in February of last year. Demonstrators were arrested and tortured. A year-and-a-half since the uprising reports of abuse continue.

According to Human Rights Watch the government is arresting and prosecuting members of the opposition for exercising their right to free speech.

The government has yet to hold any senior officials accountable for the torture of opposition activists.

In a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, Michael Posner, a US State Department official, said the US must be straightforward in its assessment of Bahrain."Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, con

Maryam al-Khawaja talks about continuing human rights violations and US backing of the Bahraini monarchy

"We've also been consistent in our criticism of the use of excessive force by police including tear gas, birdshot and nightly raids and arrests of protesters," Posner told the US Congress.

But despite these concerns, the US continues to back the Bahraini monarchy. The two countries have had a close relationship for over 60 years. Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy.

Posner in his testimony added that the US-Bahrain relationship is particularly important in the face of rising threats from Iran.

Speaking to Al Jazeera earlier Maryam al-Khawaja, a Bahraini human rights activist, among other things said: "President Obama made a very good speech in May where he spoke about things that needed to change.

"One of the most useful and effective tools has been the use of the sectarian card in all the Gulf countries because the largest division in these societies are sectarian, in certain areas they are also tribal…[this has been] a long-time strategy used by these monarchies to stay in power."

- Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident

"He spoke about the demolition of mosques and he spoke about the political leaders who were imprisoned who needed to be at the dialogue table. Unfortunately there has been no follow-up on that."

In this episode, Inside Story Americas asks: Should the US reconsider its policy towards Bahrain?

Joining presenter Shihab Rattansi for the discussion are guests: Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch; Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs; and Hillary Mann Leverett, a US foreign policy professor at the American University who also co-authors the blog, The Race For Iran.

"The US knows exactly what's going on in Bahrain. They're on the ground there, very concerned, I would say even freaked out but they're not willing to speak publicly and more loudly…it shouldn't be just Posner, it should be the head of the 5th Fleet who's saying those things."

Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch


POINTS FROM MICHAEL POSNER'S TESTIMONY:

  • Excessive use of force and almost nightly confrontations between young protesters and police
  • Denial of permits for demonstrations by Bahraini authorities
  • Reports of disproportionate measures, such as the abuse of tear gas and birdshot, for crowd control
  • Demonstrators' fear to seek medical treatment
  • Reports of continuing reprisals against protesters
  • Hundreds of criminal cases pending, with many still in detention for more than a year
  • Little evidence that Bahrain is moving toward a negotiated political solution

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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