Obama and the King of Bahrain – Part I
(This is the first of two posts about the Obama Administration’s hypocritical policy towards Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement.)
Bahrain, one of the Arab Spring countries, has been in the international news recently, owing to the controversy over Britain’s decision to grant Sheik Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, one of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s six sons and the head of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee, a visa for the London Olympics. In June the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) called on Britain to deny Sheik Nasser a visa, on the basis of serious human rights violations constituting crimes against humanity. Numerous international human rights groups were greatly concerned that Nasser headed a committee that arrested, imprisoned and tortured 150 sportsmen and sports officials for participating in the February 2011 protests at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama. Some athletes stated that Nasser himself beat them.
As part of the revolutionary wave of protests in the Middle East and North Africa following the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, the Bahraini protests were initially aimed at achieving greater political freedom and equality for the majority Shi’a population. Following the government’s deadly night raid against activists camped out at the Pearl Roundabout, protestors retook the roundabout and their demands expanded to include a call for the ruling family to step down.
Although international journalists are banned in Bahrain, Al Jazeera reporters secretly filmed the crackdown, the subsequent Saudi invasion and attack on medical personnel at Salmaniya hospital and other Bahraini Hospitals and clinics. Their remarkable secret footage appears in the award-winning documentary Shouting in the Dark.
Saudi Forces Brutally Suppress Bahraini Protests
In March King Hamad requested military assistance from Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency. With Saudi military assistance, the Pearl Roundabout was cleared of protesters, as hundreds were beaten, arrested, tortured, murdered and disappeared. After the state of emergency was lifted, pro-democracy protestors resumed their weekly marches and protests – mostly outside Manama’s business district.
George Galloway Threatens Nasser with Citizens’ Arrest
Despite British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s assertion that any government officials who engaged in torture would be denied visas for the Olympic Games, Sheikh Nasser got his visa. - Labour MP George Galloway subsequently threatened Prince Nasser with citizen’s arrest if he showed his face in Britain.
Galloway’s well-publicized warning coincided with a statement by the UN Human Rights Council condemning human rights abuses in Bahrain. The statement was signed by most European countries, including France and Germany, but not the UK or the US
Predictably Hague denied a visa to the president of Syria’s Olympic committee. In Syria Britain is backs the armed insurgency. In Bahrain they, like the US, back the minority Sunni regime and supply them weapons to kill pro-democracy activists.
Obama Authorizes Multimillion Dollar Arms Shipment
In May, Obama also authorized a multimillion dollar arms shipment multimillion dollar arms shipment to the government of Bahrain – because of “security interests.” Translated, this means the Bahraini royal family, like the House of Saud, is a key ally on a US or Israeli attack on Iran. International analysts believe Obama is eager to crush Bahrain’s (majority) Shi’a-led pro-democracy movement in Bahrain – owing to nervousness they will to go berserk if Shiite Iran is attacked.
Manama Bahrain also happens to be home to the headquarters of America’s Fifth Fleet, responsible for naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and coast off East Africa as far south as Kenya.
Coincidentally the US arms deal was consummated just as Bahraini neurosurgeon Dr Nabeel Rajab was about to go on trial for giving medical assistance to pro-democracy activists during the February 2011 protests.
IHRC Bus Campaign
While Galloway never caught up with Nassar to arrest him, visitors to the 2012 London Olympics enjoyed a highly informative campaign by Britain’s Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), in which 450 of London’s iconic red buses were festooned with banners with graphic images of torture and other human rights abuses in Bahrain and Palestine.
Tracking Bahraini Dissidents with FinSpy
The other recent story out of Bahrain that has received virtually no attention in the US – except for a brief mention New York Times – is the malware a British company recently sold the Bahraini royal family to assist them in spying on dissidents. British software company Gamma supposedly developed FinSpy to assist governments agencies in “criminal investigations.” Thus it’s curious how Bahrain and other repressive Middle East regimes got hold of it to monitor pro-democracy activists. FinSpy has the capability to grab images of computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. Moreover its creators specifically engineered it to elude antivirus software made by Kaspersky Lab, Symantec, F-Secure and others.
To be continued, with a discussion of CNN’s decision to censor the documentary one of their journalists filmed in Bahrain.