Posts

Major Human Rights Victory: South Korea Halts Shipment of Tear Gas to Bahrain

Last fall, a leaked document showed that Bahrain intended to make a huge purchase of tear gas. In response, Bahrain Watch  and a number of other human rights groups organized a movement around the Stop the Shipment campaign. The movement gained many human rights, foreign policy and celebrity supporters. Once it became clear that Bahrain was focusing on South Korea as the source for the tear gas, the campaign also focused there, sending hundreds of thousands of emails to South Korean companies and government officials.

Today, that effort has proven successful:

South Korea has ordered companies to suspend tear gas exports to Bahrain amid pressure from human rights groups, officials said Wednesday.

The state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration instructed two companies not to ship tear gas to the Gulf state after they inquired about possible exports, agency officials said.

It turns out that the shipment was going to be even bigger than the leaked document suggested. From Bahrain Watch’s press release:

The shipment was believed to comprise in excess of 1.6 million rounds of tear gas based on a leaked tender document from a source close to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior.  However, in today’s Financial Times article DaeKwang’s CEO said that as part of the deal, which was worth USD $28 million, the Bahraini government was planning to buy 3 million tear gas canisters – around 4 canisters for each Bahraini citizen. DAPA’s decision to cease exports means that this tear gas will not reach Bahrain.

Wow. Four tear gas canisters for each citizen of the country. The press release continues, giving us the horrific details of violent repression of Bahrain’s citizens:

South Korea joins other countries including the United States and United Kingdom, who have already stopped tear gas exports to Bahrain due to human rights concerns.  Since 2011, at least 39 deaths in Bahrain have been linked to misuse of tear gas, according to data compiled by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).  The deaths include 14 year old Ali Jawad al-Shaikh who was shot in the back of his neck with a tear gas canister, and 15 year old Sayed Hashim Saeed, also shot in his neck with a tear gas canister at close range.  No police officer or other government official in Bahrain has been held accountable for these or any other abuses due to the systematic misuse of tear gas, despite serious concerns raised by the United Nations Human Rights Council and the well-documented accounts that described the Bahraini government’s use of tear gas as “unnecessary, indiscriminate” and “lethal”.

Even though the US no longer exports tear gas to Bahrain, a US export leads many of Bahrain’s most repressive actions. John Timoney now heads Bahrain’s efforts to “reform” its police tactics. Shortly after he arrived there, Bahrain banned all protests and the death toll continued to mount. [Will Ray Kelly join Timoney soon? It would seem like such a natural fit for him.]

Stopping the tear gas shipment is a major victory for human rights in Bahrain, but Bahrain’s government continues its violent repression in many ways beyond tear gas. From Amnesty International’s 2013 report on Bahrain, we have this on incarceration of teens: Read more

Chuck Hagel’s Tour of Failure

131208-D-BW835-1125

Hagel finally found a friend in Afghanistan.

It’s hard to imagine how Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s travels this week could have gone any worse. Starting off with horrible optics, Hagel began his trip with a stop in Bahrain. Although it appears that he at least had enough sense not to appear in front of the cameras with him, he did meet with Bahrian’s king even though the country continues a brutal crackdown on protests, in which mass punishment and torture by the king’s forces have been documented as ongoing. Hagel did appear in front of the cameras though, to “share a laugh” with Egypt’s foreign minister (see this photo essay and scroll down) while in Bahrain, so he did manage a public appearance with a regime engaged in violent suppression of its people.

Hagel moved on to Afghanistan. The US press had already warned us ahead of the visit that he and Karzai were not scheduled to meet even though the US is in the midst of applying incredible amounts of pressure to convince Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement by the end of this year. Or perhaps by the NATO meeting in February. Or whenever. Not content to settle for a mere snub, though, Karzai went a step further in his disrespect to Hagel. Under a story with the headline “President Karzai Leaves for Iran, While Hagel Still in Kabul“, Tolo News informed us yesterday of Karzai’s latest move:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a high-ranking delegation departed Kabul on Sunday to meet with Iranian officials, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Karzai is visiting Iran to negotiate with Iranian officials on bilateral relations between Tehran and Kabul, the Presidential Palace said in a statement.

Karzai will meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani today in Tehran, the statement added.

Karzai’s visit to Iran took place while the United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is visiting U.S forces in Afghanistan.

It appears that Karzai was treated quite well in Tehran:

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ60-YRK4i0′]

And RT informs us that a security deal between Iran and Afghanistan now appears likely (h/t to Greg Bean for alerting me to this link via Twitter).

Think about that. Hagel came to Afghanistan with no Karzai meeting arranged and then while he was there, Karzai went to Tehran and announced a pending agreement. It can’t get much worse than that.

Or can it? Hagel’s next stop was Pakistan. He met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, where Sharif told him that drone strikes must stop. But while Hagel was there, the US “announced” that NATO shipments through Pakistan would resume since protests against drones have stopped. From the same Express Tribune article about the meeting with Sharif:

But a US defence official told reporters in Kabul that the suspension of shipments via Pakistan had been lifted because the protests had stopped, removing the threat to Nato trucks that move through the Torkham gate pass.

Except that the protests have not stopped. So it appears that the US withdrew that statement. From Dawn:

The visit came as Hagel’s deputies withdrew Sunday’s statement that said Nato shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan were to resume due to the end of anti-drone protests.

And as an added bonus, we have yet another incident of NATO supply trucks using the southern route in Afghanistan being attacked, so perhaps pressure is being ratcheted up on that route as well.

Perhaps it is time for Mr. Hagel to come home.

Shot By Government Forces or Victim of His Own Bomb: How Did Bahrain Teen Die?

The situation in Bahrain continues to spiral out of control. As Human Rights Watch noted, Barack Obama even included a reference to sectarian tensions there threatening democracy and regional stability in his September address to the UN General Assembly, but the US ambassador promptly walked the statement back, extolling Bahrain’s position as a “progressive outpost in the Middle East”. More recently, a document has leaked in which Bahrain is seeking over a million and a half canisters of tear gas. That’s more than one canister per citizen of the country. As the New York Times reports, the US has blocked shipment of tear gas to Bahrain (most likely because of all the photos that were posted of “Made in USA” stamps on the canisters used when the government first began cracking down and were still seen up to a year later, but the Times doesn’t mention that bit).

Today, we learn of the tragic death of Ali Khalil al-Sabbagh, who was only seventeen. How he died is very much dependent on whose story you accept. Here is a video report from Reuters:

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELD0VV7ZZuk’]

Dead at the hands of his own bomb. Hmm. The last time bombs were an issue in Bahrain, there were a number of questions about whether “activists” or John Timoney’s infiltrators were responsible. PressTV has a very different explanation for what happened, and they even have a gruesome photo that appears to support their contention that al-Sabbagh was shot in the head by government forces:

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=118p0IFOhnQ’]

About the only issue on which the competing narratives agree is that the Bahraini government wanted to arrest al-Sabbagh. PressTV notes that his father now has been arrested, as well.

How the US responds to Bahrain’s continuing human rights violations will be very interesting to follow as one of the many areas that could be impacted by the growing rift between the US and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are the primary backers of Bahrain’s minority Sunni ruling family. Iran, to whom the US may be at least partially pivoting, supports Bahrain’s majority Shiite citizens. With US-Saudi relations cooling, the base for the US Fifth Fleet now becomes the only US tie to Bahrain’s government.

Fresh Allegations of Torture in Bahrain

On a day when President Obama is at least making the admirable move of visiting the West Bank and speaking favorably for Palestinian statehood after his visit to Israel (to lend legitimacy to Netanyahu’s continued desire to attack Iran?), it is easy to overlook a report in the Wall Street Journal in which we see fresh allegations of torture continuing in Bahrain.

Recall that in the aftermath of Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on its citizens trying to join in the Arab Spring movement in early 2011, one of Bahrain’s “reforms” was to hire notorious police thug John Timoney to run its police force and to “implement” the findings of an independent commission that had been brought in to investigate torture and other abuses by the government. Just a few months after taking charge, Timoney took the repressive step of banning all protests while jailing a number of prominent protest figures. A couple of days later, there were mysterious bomb blasts that might well have been the work of Timoney’s known practice of infiltration since they were not directed at government targets as one might expect if they were the work of a developing resistance movement. US actions in response to abuses on the part of Bahrain’s government has been especially lame since the US is so attached to its base for the Fifth Flleet in Bahrain and “security’ for the flow of oil from the region.

The new allegations of torture include torture of suspects arrested for those November 2012 bombings:

Five detainees arrested in Bahrain last year said they were tortured in custody, according to family members, lawyers and an ex-prisoner, accusations that a member of an official inquiry panel said should be formally investigated.

Bahrain security forces used methods including beatings, electrocution and suspension on ropes to force confessions from the detainees, who were accused of involvement in bombings in the capital, Manama, the people alleged to The Wall Street Journal. The Bahrain government said the torture allegations were false.

The claims suggest the Bahrain government has failed to implement some of the changes recommended by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, according to Sir Nigel Rodley, a human-rights lawyer who took part in the commission.

/snip/

One detainee, Talib Ali Mohammed, 37 years old, was arrested in November on suspicion of involvement in coordinated bombings in Manama that month that killed two expatriate workers.

Over 16 days of interrogation in the Central Intelligence Department building in the Adliya district of Manama, Mr. Talib was beaten repeatedly and tortured, according to his wife, Fatima Ebrahim, and his lawyer, Sayed Hashin Saleh, who have seen Mr. Talib in prison and spoken with him by phone. Mr. Talib eventually confessed to charges including possessing explosive material and forming a group with the intention of harming others.

/snip/

Ahmed Abdullah, a 24-year-old gymnasium worker, was arrested in November and accused by authorities of involvement in the bombings. According to his brother Ibrahim, who has visited him in prison and spoken to him by phone, Mr. Abdullah was blindfolded for nearly 20 days in the CID building in Adliya, where he was beaten repeatedly, and forced to stand for long periods until he signed a confession.

There is now new leadership at the Department of State. Will we see a stronger condemnation of torture by the Bahrain government and support for Rodley’s call for a new commission of inquiry over the new torture accusations, or will we get the same weak platitudes we saw from Foggy Bottom last year?

Bahrain continues to profess its innocence. In one of the most craven, idiotic defenses by a government ever, the Journal carried this denial:

Minister of State for Information Affairs Samira Ibrahim Bin Rajab dismissed the allegations. “This is not our culture, not our attitude or our behavior,” she said. “We are very civilized, educated people.”

Civilized, educated people never torture. They rely on enhance interrogation techniques that are perfectly legal. Just ask John Yoo. He’ll confirm that in an instant and have a follow-up memo for you tomorrow that retroactively authorizes any actions you need approved.

Warrick Parrots US Documentation of Iran-al Qaeda Rift, Ignores Larger Iran-Saudi Arabia Context

Joby Warrick takes to the pages of the Washington Post again today in his primary function of regurgitating whatever points the US government wishes to make. In today’s installment, Warrick is repeating US statements on how Iran’s expulsion of Suleiman Abu Ghaith reveals a widening crack between Iran and al Qaeda, but by confining his report to the talking points he got from the government, he misses the larger context of how the Iran-al Qaeda issues fit into the overall propaganda battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Here is the beginning of Warrick’s report (which he begins, of course, by crediting “US officials”):

Iran’s expulsion of a senior al-Qaeda official appears to signal a crackdown on the terrorist group that has long been granted safe haven within its borders, U.S. officials say.

Iran’s ouster of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former al-Qaeda spokesman and the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, marked at least the third time in the past year that a prominent al-Qaeda figure has left the country after living for years in a limbo between houseguest and home detainee.

U.S. officials and terrorism experts say the tougher stance appears to reflect growing tensions between Iran’s Shiite clerics and the Sunni Muslim terrorist group, particularly over the civil war in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides.

Despite the fact that the primary source of support for al Qaeda, as a “Sunni Muslim terrorist group” is Saudi Arabia, that country is never mentioned in Warrick’s report. Such an omission is especially glaring because Iran is producing much material right now in its ongoing propaganda battle against Saudi Arabia. The UN report on human rights in Iran released earlier this week provided much fodder for Iran’s propaganda machine. In the press release accompanying release of the report, the UN noted:

An independent United Nations expert today voiced serious concern about the general situation of human rights in Iran, pointing to “widespread and systemic” torture, as well as the harassment, arrest and attacks against human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists.

“The prevailing situation of human rights in Iran continues to warrant serious concern, and will require a wide range of solutions that are both respectful of cultural perspectives and mindful of the universality of fundamental human rights promulgated by the treaties to which Iran is a party,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.

/snip/

At the same time, a “preponderance of reports” communicated to him this past year indicate that that the situation for individuals in Iran who advocate for the advancement of human rights, or those that document, report, or protest against human rights violations, is “grave and continues to deteriorate.”

People who defend the rights of women, religious and ethnic minorities, as well as those that work to advance protections for the environment, workers and children continue to be subjected to harassment, arrest, interrogation, and torture and are “frequently charged with vaguely-defined national security crimes, which is seemingly meant to erode the frontline of human rights defence in the country,” said the expert.

At Fars News, Iran is denouncing the report and Shaheed, blaming “terrorists” aligned with the West for fabrication. Remarkably, though, at Mehr News, Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of exactly the same offenses as the UN found against Iran, specifically the abuse and imprisonment of human rights activists: Read more

Origins of Bombs Mysterious Amid Continued Rights Clampdown in Bahrain

There were five bomb blasts early Monday in Bahrain, but there are serious questions about who is responsible for their construction and deployment. Two street cleaners of South Asian descent were killed in the blasts, leading many to speculate that it is difficult to see how a protest movement that has been aimed at the government would suddenly start attacking civilians. The government’s ban on all protests announced last week continues, and the head of monitoring for Bahrain’s Center for Human Rights was detained under the guise of this ban when he went to investigate reports of a man who had not taken part in protests being shot in his home.

The YouTube above shows the arrest of  Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafda (on Twitter as @SAIDYOUSIF), who is the head of monitoring for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. From a report from the Center:

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) expresse [sic] grave concern about the systematic targeting, harassment and detention of Human rights defenders in Bahrain, and in particular the BCHR’s members. After the arrest and severe torture of co-founder Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the sentencing of the President Nabeel Rajab to 3 years on charges of illegal protesting; the Bahraini authorities yesterday, on the 2nd of November, detained the Acting Vice President and Head of Documentation Unit Sayed Yousif AlMuhafdhah.

Arriving in Duraz after a protest had already been attacked using excessive force to document an injury, Sayed Yousif AlMuhafdhah was arrested by security forces (video) while he was getting the details of how a man was injured with shotgun at his door front while he was not part of the protests.  Said Yousif was interrogated at the police station about what he was doing outside the injured man’s house.  He was then led to believe by a police officer that he would be released within a few hours, but when colleague Zainab Al-Khawaja went to pick him up from Budaiya Police Station she was told by an officer: “Why have you come for him? I haven’t decided what I want to do to him yet”. The lawyer, Mohammed AbdulAmeer, then stated that AlMuhafdhah was to be held overnight and taken to the Public Prosecution today, 3rd November. The Public Prosecution, after making AlMuhafdhah wait for approximately 5 hours, decided to extend his detention to 7 days under investigation on the charge of illegal protesting in Duraz.

The arrest of the Acting Vice President of the BCHR comes 3 days only after the Center released a report holding the King of Bahrain responsible for the culture of impunity in the country. AlMuhafdhah had expressed to colleagues that he predicted that he would be arrested as he is the only known person working for the BCHR inside Bahrain.

Zainab Al-Khawaja, who went to try to retrieve Al-Muhafda from police custody, documented the police refusal to release him on her twitter feed, @AngryArabiya. Reuters via Yahoo has more on the extension of Al-Muhafda’s detention to seven days: Read more

Weak State Department Response to Bahrain Ban on Protests Shows Oil Higher Priority Than Lives

On Tuesday, Bahrain banned all public protests in its continued effort to clamp down on a protest movement that began in February of last year. The State Department issued a weak condemnation of this move on Wednesday, although it is not clear just how the condemnation was delivered to Bahraini authorities. Remarkably, Retired Vice Admiral Douglas Katz, who is a previous commander of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet (which is based in Bahrain) penned an Op-Ed in The Hill on Monday, in which he made a miserable attempt to put a positive spin on US support for the repressive regime in Bahrain. In a rare moment of honesty, Katz did at least admit that the US must put up with Bahrain in order to assure the continued flow of oil from the Middle East.

The New York Times brought us word of the crackdown on protests:

Citing recent episodes of violence, the government of Bahrain on Tuesday banned all public rallies and demonstrations, a move that drew swift condemnation from human rights groups and opposition activists who said it was intended solely to stifle criticism of the ruling monarchy in the tiny Persian Gulf nation.

The Times article provides some context for the current development:

Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings almost two years ago, Bahrain’s government has struggled to contain the protests, which are focused on the ruling Sunni monarchy’s chokehold on political power and fed by persistent complaints by the island nation’s majority Shiite population of systematic, apartheidlike discrimination.

Backed by powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, Bahrain’s government, its critics charge, has faced little pressure to change. The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy is anchored in Bahrain.

The first few months of the protests saw an incredibly harsh response from Bahraini forces. The State Department’s May 24, 2012 Human Rights Report on Bahrain contains a summary of the information from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which was commissioned in June of 2011 and issued its report the following November:

There were a number of reports that government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The BICI report attributed 19 civilian deaths in the spring to security forces; of these it attributed 14 to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), three to the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), one to the Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA), and one to an unnamed security agency. Thirteen of these deaths were due to the use of firearms, five to torture in custody, and one to physical injuries as the result of beating. Of the 14 deaths attributable to the MOI, the BICI concluded that nine resulted from excessive use of force and three from mistreatment in custody; there was not enough evidence to determine cause of death in the other two cases. Of the five persons whose deaths resulted from torture, three died in MOI custody, one four days after being released from MOI custody, and one at the BDF Hospital after being transferred from BNSA custody (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). The BICI report also discussed 11 deaths that took place beyond the February-March period covered by its report, for which it did not assign responsibility. It noted, however, that the deaths may have been the result of incidents related to protest activity or excessive use of force by security forces (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). Local human rights organizations maintained that six additional deaths were linked indirectly to clashes between protesters and security forces, particularly due to exposure to tear gas.

Among the moves to “reform” Bahrain’s security apparatus after the initial violent repression of the protests, Bahrain brought in former New York, Philadelphia and Miami Police Chief John Timoney. The Guardian covered the announcement: Read more

Obama Administration: Don’t Cut Construction Funding to Bahrain

In its statement of Administration policy on HR 2055–which funds military construction–the Administration expressed concern that the Senate had cut $100 million funding for two projects in Bahrain.

The Administration is worried, you see, that such cuts would signal that we do not “stand by its allies.”

The Administration is concerned about the reduction in funding for military construction projects in Bahrain as well as those associated with the relocation of United States Marines to Guam. Deferring or eliminating these projects could signal that the U.S. does not stand by its allies or its agreements such as the realignment of forces from Okinawa to Guam.

Because it’s very important to “stand by” our allies, I guess, when the abuse their own people.

F1 Trash: Bernie Ecclestone Takes a Swing At Sultans of Bahrain

This week is the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. We will get to that shortly, but perhaps the most significant news from the Circus this week is the swing of F1 from reinstating the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was previously pulled from its season opening slot in mid-March due to civil unrest and corresponding governmental oppression, to again yanking it from the schedule.

The race was called-off Friday after Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) announced its withdrawal to stage the event in the wake of objections from the teams and its drivers. The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council last Friday had re-instated the race to October (28-30) but removal of it now is most likely to make way for the staging of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix on the same dates.

“We will be back to normal. We have to put it to the World Council. I sent something this morning, so it will be quick,” Ecclestone was quoted as saying by The Guardian Wednesday.

Ecclestone, while defending his earlier decision, said the teams had the right to object to the re-scheduling of the race that was cancelled in March due to anti-government protests.

“The truth of the matter is we put the calendar together and the teams race on the calendar,” he said. “We were trying to help Bahrain, who have been very helpful to Formula One, and hoping they could get themselves sorted out.

“I don’t know whether there is peace or not. I have no idea. The FIA sent somebody out to check and they said it was all OK. I think the teams had different information and they have the right to say they don’t want to change the calendar.”

Since not everybody can translate jive, here is the deal. After the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt began in late January and started to spread, there was a brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain. A wave of pressure was placed on F1 and its governing body FIA by supporters of the protesters and reform movement to pull the Grand Prix. I certainly doubt I was responsible for diddly squat, but I was among the early suggesters that putting the GP in play would be perhaps the biggest single blow that could be leveraged against the oppressive Bahraini government and the Khalifa clan that owns, runs, and dictates it.

They paid dearly and through the nose to build the facility and buy their way into the F1 schedule and, like the crown jewels to a monarchy, it is the very symbol of their belonging and relevance in the international community. It means everything to them. To Bernie Ecclestone, who does not just run F1, he IS F1, it is simply a giant wad of money. And Bernie likes money. Having seen Bernie in action over three plus decades, and casually meeting him a couple of times, my take is Ecclestone does not care about the Read more