U.S. Must Stop Arming the Bahraini Government


As the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa progress, the U.S. must recognize that the words and actions of its government remain heavily scrutinized both regionally and globally.

Regional actors have heard U.S. calls for democratic change, yet are constantly let down by actions that appear entirely opposed to these very calls. This contradiction between word and deed has been no less apparent than in the strategically important island nation of Bahrain, where U.S. policy has recently taken a potentially deadly turn. 

Since mid-September, the Obama administration has supported a proposal to sell to the Kingdom of Bahrain $53 million in military equipment, including more than 44 armored vehicles and 300 missiles, around 50 of which have “bunker busting capability.” The sale of military equipment at a time when the government of Bahrain has been actively torturing doctors and nurses, violently repressing the people, and imprisoning dozens of lawyers, medical personnel, opposition politicians, and activists is reprehensible, counter to U.S. interests, and must be stopped.

Last week, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Representative James McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced a joint resolution to stop the sale of this military equipment until the government of Bahrain complies with several conditions, including a transparent and accountable judicial process for those accused of crimes, the cessation of attacks on and the suppression of medical personnel, demographically accurate reapportionment of seats in the Council of Representatives, and the delivery and implementation of items in the final report of the ongoing Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. This joint resolution must be supported because it is morally reprehensible to arm a government suppressing its own people. 

Since February, when the Arab Spring came to the island, Bahraini security forces have killed at least 30 people and tortured, beaten, jailed, and abused thousands of others seeking the right to live in a free and just society. The security forces have used night raids to round up lawyers, sexually harassed detainees, denied medical attention to those in custody, and sentenced doctors and nurses who treated wounded protesters to between five and 15 years in jail for supporting the protests. These sham trials and their outcomes were roundly condemned by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) as “unconscionable,” as the medical personnel were assisting those in need of medical care after being attacked by the security forces. According to PHR, their medical personnel were acting as their ethical duty requires them to.

In addition, Amnesty International, the Project on Middle East Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and 10 other human rights organizations recently wrote to the members of Congress seeking a halt to the arms sales, indicating both the human toll of the protests thus far and the incredible damage this sale might have on U.S. interests. 

American interests are harmed by the sale of this military equipment because it shatters the already dubious credibility of the U.S. in the region. America’s slow and irresolute calls for democratic change in many countries at the beginning of the Arab Spring damaged U.S. credibility. I hope that these tepid public calls for change were and continue to be more forceful behind the scenes. If the sale is completed, the U.S. government would have even less moral standing upon which to proclaim the virtues of democracy and freedom. 

Ironically, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe recently announced the addition of Bahrain to the list of human rights violators submitted annually to the Council for investigation. This list also contains countries like Iran, Syria, Burma, and Yemen.

The sale of this military equipment would all but guarantee continued violence in the country. Protesters in Bahrain have often publicized pictures of tear gas canisters with “Made in U.S.A.” stamped across the can. By adding more armored vehicles and rarely-sold bunker busting missiles to the government’s arsenal, I shudder to think of the damage these technologies could have on the lives and livelihood of these brave protesters. 

The sale of this military equipment would cause increased death and destruction in Bahrain, weaken U.S. abilities to influence events in the Middle East and North Africa, and severely degrade the image of America in the world. Congress should pass the joint resolution, and the U.S. government should stop the sale of this military equipment.

Photo Credit: Phanatic