Donald Trump’s words are a green light to dictators and torturers around the World

Hasan, The Interceptor, May 22 2018

Trump’s words are no laughing matter. They get people in faraway countries
tortured, raped, and killed.
Sayed Baqer AlKamel/NurPhoto/Sipa via AP

the case of Bahrain, home not just to the U.S. Navy’s
5th Fleet
, but also to what has been dubbed
the “forgotten
” of the Arab Spring. For more than seven years now,
security forces in the tiny Gulf island kingdom have been shooting,
and detaining
pro-democracy protesters in their hundreds and thousands. An independent inquiry commissioned
by the Bahraini government at the start of the uprising confirmed the use of
“excessive” and “indiscriminate” use of force, not to mention the systematic
use of torture.

To be
clear, the Obama administration did shamefully
to stop the violence in Bahrain. Nevertheless, as president,
Barack Obama at least went through the motions of condemning “mass arrests
and brute force
” and even imposed a handful of
on U.S. arms sales to the kingdom.
Trump, however, even those few restrictions have been lifted —
and the rhetoric transformed. “Our countries have a wonderful relationship
together, but there has been a little strain. But there won’t be strain with
this administration,” the new U.S. president proclaimed
a year ago, during a meeting with Bahrain’s king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al
Khalifa, at a summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Less than
48 hours later, on May 23, 2017, Bahraini security forces raided the
village of Diraz
and opened fire at a sit-in by supporters of the
Sunni-ruled kingdom’s most
high-profile Shia cleric
. Five people were killed,
including a respected
environmental activist
, more than 100 were wounded,
and 286 were arrested.
It was the deadliest attack on Bahraini protesters since the start of the
revolt in 2011 — and it was done with the blessing
of the president of the United States.
timing of this operation – two days after King Hamad’s convivial meeting with
President Donald Trump – can hardly be a coincidence,” observed
Nicholas McGeehan, then a senior Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch, last
But Al Khalifa
hasn’t been the only Arab autocrat to receive a rhetorical blank check from the
U.S. president. Take Egypt. Trump hailed President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as a “fantastic guy
and, only hours after his meeting with the Bahraini king, was photographed touching a
glowing orb
with the Egyptian strongman at the opening of an
anti-extremism center in Riyadh. You’ll never guess what happened next: “On his
return to Egypt,” reported
the New York Times last May, “the Sisi government pushed through new news media
restrictions and prosecuted a rival political leader in the courts, further
squeezing political rights and free speech.”
Saudi Arabia, too. In March, Trump welcomed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,
known as MBS, to the Oval Office, where he described
the U.S.- Saudi relationship as “probably the strongest it’s ever been,” and
told MBS that his father, King Salman, had “made a very wise decision” by
appointing the prince as both his heir and de facto ruler of the country. Last
week — less than two months after his visit to the White House — MBS ordered
the arrest of 10
prominent Saudi activists
, including a group of women’s
rights campaigners
. (So much for “Saudi
Arabia’s Arab Spring
Words matter.
And Trump’s words, time and again, seem to provide aid and comfort to some of
the world’s worst rulers. In the case of Bahrain, for example, it is
indisputable that Trump gave the Gulf monarchy the green light last year to
kill and torture its opponents. You don’t have to take my word for it, or even
the word of Human Rights Watch. Listen to the testimonies of Bahraini torture
victims themselves.
On May
24, 2017, three days after the U.S. president’s photo-op with the Bahraini
king, human rights lawyer Ebrahim Sarhan was summoned to the headquarters of
Bahrain’s fearsome National Security Agency. Upon his arrival, as United
Nations human rights experts later
, he was “allegedly beaten for around half an hour by the
agents, who … forced his legs apart in order to kick him in the genitals” and
“also given electrical shocks and repeatedly insulted.” When Sarhan tried to
remind the agents of his legal rights, they laughed at him and explicitly cited
Trump. “Hahaha, you have to forget the law and human rights, the U.S. president
has changed and the situation has changed, and what the U.S. president wants to
have has arrived to him, and from now on we will do with you what we want,” one
of the agents declared, according to written
from Sarhan.
On May
26, five days after the Trump/Al-Khalifa meeting, women’s rights activist
Ebtisam Al-Saegh was told to report to an office of the National Security
Agency, where agents “beat her, stripped and sexually assaulted her, forced her
to stand for hours, and threatened to rape her daughter and torture her
husband,” according to the U.S. State
Department’s 2017 human rights report
. Al-Saegh has said
that her interrogator mocked her, asking: “Do you know that we have a green
light from Trump?” She is, therefore, of the view that “everything that
happened to me [is] under the responsibility of the U.S. administration.” (The
State Department report conveniently omitted any reference to Trump’s name when
referencing her case.)
reality is that, with a
from Trump, the brutal Bahraini regime has escalated
on peaceful protesters while meting out collective
against opposition figures and human rights activists.
“The number of death penalty [and] life sentences, and [the] stripping of
citizenship, has tremendously increased since Trump came to power,” says
Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, whose father Abdulhadi was
imprisoned for life for his role in pro-democracy protests. “[Trump] has
emboldened Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
“When the
regime can’t punish us directly, it goes after our families,” Sayed Alwadaei,
the London-based director of advocacy at the Bahrain
Institute for Rights and Democracy
, tells me. “My wife was
interrogated first and separated from our baby son. Then they arrested my
18-year-old brother-in-law, stripping him naked for two days, threatening him
with rape, and then sentencing him to 13 years in jail for my supposed crimes.”
continues, “My mother-in-law was repeatedly interrogated and had to be
hospitalized as a result of her trauma. She has been jailed for three years,
also for my activism.”
A year
ago, Trump vowed to the king of Bahrain that “there won’t be any strain with
this administration.” This is what a lack of “strain” looks like: the killing
of protesters at a sit-in; the collective punishment of families; the jailing
and torture of innocent men, women, and children.
We might
want to laugh out loud or roll our eyes when Trump rants or tweets, but the
fact of the matter is that his words have lethal consequences. The president of
the United States has blood on his hands, from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia to Egypt,
and, across the region, al-Khawaja tells me, “the people will remember which
governments helped prop up their regimes while they were struggling for