The $53 million worth of arms and military equipment from the US was set to go to Bahrain last month. After pressure on the Obama administration to stop giving weapons to dictatorships that will almost surely continue to use them against their own non-violent citizens peaceably assembling, the deal is now dependent on the findings of the international panel set up by Bahraini King Hamad to investigate abuse of Arab Spring protesters.
That probe is set to release its full findings on November 23, but yesterday the head of the investigation, Cherif Bassiouni, said that torture has been systematic since the onset of the Arab Spring protests:
“It is not possible to justify torture in any way, and despite the small number of cases, it is clear there was a systematic policy,” Bassiouni said in an interview with Egyptian daily Almasry Alyoum on Monday.
“I investigated and I found 300 cases of torture and I was helped in that by legal experts from Egypt and America.”
There were reports out more than a month ago saying as much. And at the time, it was hard for the Bahraini regime to employ the “bad apple” excuse because the princess had in fact been accused of administering such torture. Some of the medical professionals who had been detained for the crime of treating as patients those protesters who had been injured by the Bahraini security force’s crackdown claimed they had been beaten with sticks and rubber hoses, given electric shocks to the face with cables, sexually abuses, etc. All of the abuse was on the discriminated Shia majority and often explicitly racist, as one nurse recalled being screamed at with “Shia pig!”
But to be clearer still, Bahrain has long engaged in torture in its time as a US 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. The torture included “electro-shock devices, suspension in painful positions, and beatings” while many detainees reported being threatened with rape or murder, or that it would be done to their families.
The 89-page report, “Torture Redux: The Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain,” is based on interviews with former detainees and a review of forensic medical reports and court documents. It concludes that since the end of 2007, officials have repeatedly resorted to torture for the apparent purpose of securing confessions from security suspects.
“Torture is back in the repertoire of Bahrain’s security services,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The return of torture is especially distressing since Bahrain showed the political will a decade ago to end this scourge.”
A confidential State Department cable was issued at the same time acknowledging the widespread torture, so its clear the Obama administration knew about it. Yet the support continued unabated.