1 November 2017 – Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) submitted open letters calling on the United States Government to suspend the issuance of diplomatic visas for Bahrain’s Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa pending a full review of his rights record by the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Sheikh Nasser is directly implicated in the torture of protesters during the government’s suppression of the 2011 protest movement and the devastating Saudi Arabia-led military operation in Yemen, which is accused of war crimes. Though evidence of malfeasance led the UK high court to revoke Sheikh Nasser’s diplomatic immunity for related offenses, he has continued to rise through the ranks of Bahrain’s security establishment, recently securing a post on the Supreme Defence Council and chairing the country’s first major defense expo. Meanwhile, the US has moved forward with massive new arms sales to Bahrain, deepening ties to dubious actors like Sheikh Nasser.
In an Associated Press (AP) report on the campaign, ADHRB’s Executive Director Husain Abdulla stated: “We are gravely concerned by the US government’s open association with Bahraini military officials like Sheikh Nasser, whose leading role in defense procurement and record of malfeasance render him a particularly high risk for further corruption and abuse.” ADHRB’s letters to the Departments of State and Defense, went on to emphasize that the “US Government must quickly reverse course and ensure it’s not violating its own prohibitions on doing business with figures so clearly implicated in gross human rights abuse…Genuine political reform is the only answer to Bahrain’s political crisis, and it requires strong US backing.”
Responding to AP, the State Department declined to explicitly address the allegations contained in the letter, instead referring to Bahrain as “an important US partner…[with a] relationship built on common interests, including joint efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism, promote regional security and confront the threat from Iran.” Speaking for the Department of Defense, US Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway “acknowledged the Pentagon received the letter and said it takes ‘all allegations of human rights abuses seriously.'” Maj. Rankine-Galloway elaborated: “Department of Defense support to the kingdom of Bahrain supports the United States and our Gulf partners’ strategic interests in the Middle East, notably fighting extremist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaida and neutralizing Iran’s destabilizing influence throughout the region.” The Government of Bahrain did respond for comment.