As the United States looks to reestablish itself as a leader in the global struggle to eradicate torture we have learned that our ability to influence other countries is diminished when we don’t have our house in order. Today’s letter from thirteen Bahraini legislators to U.S. Members of Congress demonstrates just that.
On June 7 twenty Members of Congress wrote a letter to Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa urging him to reconsider his decision to indefinitely postpone the visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, who has twice been denied access to the Kingdom. As the U.N. Special Rapporteur, Méndez is mandated to submit urgent appeals to states regarding individuals reported to be at risk of torture or who have allegedly suffered torture in the past; to undertake fact-finding country visits; and to submit annual reports on activities to the U.N. Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. In the letter, the Members of Congress called on the King to “demonstrate your commitment to help put an end” to abusive practices, including torture.
The response from the Shura Council is yet another sign that Bahrain is an unpredictable and unstable ally in the Gulf. Just this week a report was written by a U.S. Navy Fellow at Brookings that suggests moving the U.S. Fifth Fleet from Bahrain may be in the best interest of the United States. This letter exchange may put further strain on already tense diplomatic relations.
Since the uprising began in February 2011, there have been reports that the Bahraini government used torture against pro-democracy activists. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) which found that the Bahraini security forces perpetrated “grave violations of human rights, including arbitrary deprivation of life, torture and detention.”
The Bahraini legislators’ letter incorrectly states that Méndez voluntarily postponed his trip in February 2013 when in fact his trips were cancelled both in March 2013 and again in May 2013. The continued rhetoric that Bahrain is committed to reform by making cosmetic changes to “fundamentally transform its accountability landscape” is farcical at best.
The letter from Bahraini legislators also admonishes the United States for its record on torture. Even children know that two wrongs don’t make a right; nonetheless, the United States would be on stronger footing in standing up for human rights abroad if it got its own house in order on the issue of torture. We aren’t aware of a single CIA official that has faced criminal, civil, or administrative sanction for playing a role in the post-9/11 torture program.
Meanwhile, a 6,000 plus page Senate Intelligence Committee report—the most comprehensive and authoritative record of the CIA torture program—remains classified. Those familiar with the report say it shows that torture at the hands of the U.S. government was much more widespread and cruel than previously thought, and much less effective at gathering actionable intelligence.
The Obama Administration should cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee to declassify and publicly release the report. A full accounting of the post-9/11 torture program is necessary before the United States can regain its moral standing in the world.