Back during the initial swing of protests in Bahrain, and when the Khalifa regime’s crackdown was at its harshest, dozens of medical professionals were arrested for the crime of treating as patients those protesters who had been injured by violent Bahraini security forces. At the time, the authorities slapped trumped up charges on them like “attempting to overthrow the government” and “spreading false news.” After international condemnation, mainly from rights groups, the regime granted those doctors release on bail pending a retrial. Since that decision, the commission appointed to investigate the government’s abuses in response to Arab Spring protests found, among other things, that torture was systemic (and probably still is). That commission investigated a total of 300 cases, although they received 5,200 complaints of abuse. People were beaten, electro-shocked, sexually abused, suspended in stress positions, etc.
Some of those medics now awaiting retrial have spoken out, notably in this AFP story:
“I can’t talk,” sobbed consultant paediatrician Nader Dawani, recounting how he was forced to stand up for seven days, while being beaten repeatedly, mainly by a female officer.
“She was the harshest. She used to hit me with a hose and wooden canes, many of which broke on my back,” said the frail 54-year-old man.
“They attempted to insert a bottle in my anus,” he recounted.
…”At night they would take me blindfolded. I can smell alcohol fuming with their breaths. One interrogator would say: It is the weekend and we are a group. If you don’t confess, we will sleep with you one at a time.”
The Bahraini dictatorship has done a decent job of deflecting criticism and feigning reform, particularly by doing things like lifting the martial law that was initially imposed and allowing this independent commission to investigate abuse, etc. But the repression continues. Demonstrations still occur on almost a nightly basis, usually to be met with tear gas and rubber bullets by security forces. In an interview with Josh Rogin, Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab said “The military has taken part in suppressing the protests. They have killed people, they have tortured people, they have arrested people, they have detained people. They have established checkpoints and humiliated people at checkpoints, raided houses, robbed houses, demolished mosques.”
U.S. support for this savagery remains assertive, however. Over $92 million in aid has been sent since Obama’s inauguration and another $26.2 million slated for next year. The Pentagon has also cut deals with Bahrain in arms trade, sending dozens of American tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, thousands of .38 caliber pistols and millions of rounds of ammunition, from .50 caliber rounds used in sniper rifles and machine guns to bullets for handguns, some of which were undoubtedly used against protesters. The Obama administration was forced to suspend a similar package of military equipment, $53 million worth, making it conditional on reform. But Bahraini opposition groups and a U.N. statement last week acknowledged that no substantive move towards reform has been made. My guess is that new package of military aid is really being postponed, not suspended with conditions.
While shock and disapproval are the right reactions for Americans to have, nobody should be surprised that U.S. support continues unabated. Bahrain has long engaged in torture in its time as a U.S. ally. One year before the Arab Spring protests broke out, Human Rights Watch released a report noting torture on the rise despite a decade of promises from the regime for reform. Of primary interest to U.S. national security planners is the maintenance of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, which oversees the flow of oil, and also to prevent a slide towards Iran if the majority Shiites gain their rights. But no amount of real politick warrants this brutality. So long as the peacenik, Nobel laureate Barack Obama continues to support Bahrain, it is his administration that is committing crimes of torture and repression in Bahrain.
But it will continue. One primary reason is that the press simply doesn’t care. The White House press corps doesn’t ask why American tax payers are donating money to this dictatorship. The nation’s top newspapers don’t have headlines about Obama’s relentless support for sadistic cruelty and authoritarianism in Bahrain. In fact, I was surprised last week when Nicholas Kristoff wrote about this issue in a New York Times Op-Ed. It was a rare event. Without a press corps willing to ask tough questions, and without an electorate that gives a shit, these policies will continue forever.