U.S. Liability for Bahraini Human Rights Violations

Zaynab Alkhawaja, daughter of Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja
Zaynab Alkhawaja, daughter of Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja

If the U.S. approves the next shipment of arms to Bahrain, should it be liable for aiding and abetting violations of international law committed by Bahrain?

The answer is clearly yes based on the precedent of the prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.  Taylor is awaiting a final judgment from the Special Court for Sierra Leone for aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.  Taylor’s principle role in the conflict in neighboring Sierra Leone was to provide a violent rebel group with weapons — with full knowledge of the egregious crimes that group was committing.  The U.S. is in a similar position with Bahrain.  It is contemplating giving the criminal Bahraini regime weapons, knowing it is currently committing serious violations of international law.

There is little dispute that Bahrain has committed crimes against humanity against Bahraini citizens.  Since February 2011 the government has been waging a violent crack down on opposition protesters.  The internationally-respected Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is but one example of the thousands of victims of Bahrain’s repressive, heavy hand.  Al Khawaja is a leader of the protest movement that seeks democratic reforms through peaceful protests, ala Ghandi and Martin Luther King.  For the last 7 months, Al Khawaja has been detained incommunicado, subjected to severe torture and beatings.  At his first court appearance, his face was beaten so badly that he was unrecognizable in the courtroom, his jaw fractured in four places.  A secret military court hastily charged and convicted Al Khawaja under a murky “terror” law and sentenced him to life in prison without the pretense of a fair trial.  He was not allowed to call a single witness in his defense.  His final appeal before the Court of Cassation is due on October 30, 2011.

In this context, the U.S. contemplates sending arms to Bahrain.  In September of this year, Bahrain requested 53 million dollars of military equipment from the U.S., including “44 Armored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, a variety of wire guided missiles, Night Sight Sets, spare parts, and other support and test equipment.”  The timing of this request is quite suspicious.  To its credit, last week the U.S. State Department decided to temporarily halt the arms shipment precisely due to Bahrain’s horrific human rights record.  This clearly establishes the U.S. has knowledge about the crimes of the Bahraini regime.

The U.S. knows all too well the Taylor case and its aiding and abetting theory.  The Special Court for Sierra Leone is prosecuting Charles Taylor and the U.S. was the court’s major funder.  Moreover, its former chief prosecutor is Steven Rapp, is currently a high-ranking State Department official (the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes) who has direct access to Secretary Clinton.  Thus, the U.S. cannot disavow itself of the legal principles of the Taylor case that it has so strongly advocated.  The U.S. must suspend all arms shipments to Bahrain until Bahrain releases all political prisoners, terminates all pending criminal prosecutions and ceases its violent crackdown of peaceful protests.

An online petition has been created, requesting the Bahraini King, Prime Minister, and of Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs to release Al Khawaja.  Please sign this petition!

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