February 9, 2012

Bahraini Propaganda 101: Great cop/Not-so-bad cop

As reported yesterday, Michael Posner is making his latest rounds with Bahraini officials in an effort to normalize U.S. relations and the island as a whole. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has met with Ali Al Saleh, chairman of the National Assembly’s powerful Consultative Council (Upper House), Health and Human Rights Minister Dr. Fatima Al Blushi, and now Lt-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa. Chief of Public Security Major-General Tariq Al Hassan was also present at Posner’s meeting with the Interior Minister.

On Thursday the Assistance Secretary released a lengthy statement that mirrors the Obama administration's superficial response to Bahrain’s opposition:
This is my fourth visit to Bahrain in the last 14 months, and I welcome the opportunity to be here. Bahrain is an important partner of the United States. We have a long-standing alliance based on shared political economic and security interests. Both countries benefit from stability and prosperity here, and from a society where all people here are able to contribute to the political process.

During my three days in Manama, I have met with a number of senior government officials, including the Crown Prince; the Ministers of Justice, Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Human Rights; the Attorney General; and the head of the Shura Council. I also met with lawyers, journalists, medical professionals, human rights advocates, and members of political societies, including the opposition.

My discussions focused on the implementation of the recommendations made in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report. As my government has said, it is a great credit to King Hamad that he initiated the BICI process, accepted its recommendations and appointed a national commission to coordinate implementation of those recommendations. It is commendable for any government to invite and participate in an independent examination of its human rights record.

The government of Bahrain has taken many important steps toward the long-term institutional reforms identified in the report, such as removing arrest authority from the national security agency, drafting legislation concerning the investigation and prosecution of torture, and drafting a code of conduct for police based on international best practices. The government also has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons. It has begun to rebuild religious sites, and engaged a team of qualified experts to advise on policing and legal reforms. These are signs of the government’s commitment to address the underlying cause of last year’s violence.

However, more needs to be done in several key areas. First, there are hundreds of pending criminal cases stemming from the events of February and March, including a substantial number where individuals remain in detention. The BICI report recommends that the government drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression. The government should fully comply with this recommendation. Also in this area, the government continues to prosecute 20 medical professionals. Though we are not privy to all the evidence in this or other cases, we suggested that alternatives to criminal prosecution be considered in the cases of the medics.

Second, while the Ministry of the Interior is taking steps to enhance the professionalization of the police, it needs to do more. Escalating violence in the streets points to the need for steps that will begin to integrate the police force, as recommended in the BICI report, so that Bahrain can build a police force that reflects the diversity of the communities it serves.

Third, with regard to the issue of dismissed workers, we urge the government, the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions and the private sector through the Tripartite Commission to continue to clarify and verify dismissals and reinstatements to the same or comparable positions. All parties should redouble their efforts to reach a resolution through a social dialogue and collaborative approach.

Finally, we call on the government to continue to prosecute those officials responsible for the violations described in the BICI report.

The United States views the BICI report and its follow-up as a bold measure by the government to begin to rebuild confidence with the Bahraini people. Implementing these recommendations is not an easy task, and we commend the efforts undertaken so far to realize the goals of the BICI process. Ultimately, the goal of the BICI and implementation of its recommendations is to create a path toward genuine political dialogue and national reconciliation.

In the days leading up to February 14, we call on all Bahraini citizens to refrain from violence. We also urge the government to permit peaceful demonstrations and the right of all citizens to express their political views.

We condemn the violent street actions that have escalated in recent months and that have included attacks on police with Molotov cocktails, metal projectiles and other instruments of harm. Such violence undermines public safety and further divides society.

At the same time, we continue to receive credible reports of excessive force by police, including widespread and sometimes indiscriminate use of tear gas. We urge Bahraini authorities to ensure compliance with international doctrines of necessity and proportionality.

Next Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the first demonstrations in Bahrain. The days and weeks surrounding the anniversary are a moment for all Bahrainis in all segments of society to come together to move beyond the pain of last year and begin to forge a more peaceful, prosperous future through genuine dialogue.

We renew our call on all parties, including the government, political societies and others to engage in dialogue and negotiation in which all elements of society have a real voice. This must be a process led by Bahrainis themselves. It will not be easy. And it can only succeed by building a greater degree of mutual respect and mutual trust.

As a longtime friend of Bahrain, my government stands ready to support you.
The propagandist nature of Posner’s rhetoric is self-evident not only in its wording, but also the fact that King Hamad utilized his statement for propaganda. According to Bahrain News Agency, “A US official today lauded His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa for taking the initiative to establish the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, describing the panel as a ‘source of pride.’”

Posner’s statement generated a mutated good cop/bad cop by emphasizing the former and minimizing the latter. The majority of his word count is devoted to praising King Hamad’s reforms, especially his Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which the Secretary labels a “great credit” and “bold measure.” This setup allows him to include obligatory concerns over human rights abuses, and briefly address the integration of Bahrain’s security apparatus. The BICI serves as Washington’s main crux in its defense of the monarchy.

Posner’s focus is directed towards putting 2011 behind Bahrainis and moving towards “national reconciliation,” but his recommendations will simply fuel the pro-democracy uprising. Although Al Wefaq and its allies initially welcomed the BICI for admitting government abuses, the streets and political opposition ultimately rejected its attempt to scrub accountability from the top. Posner plays directly into this narrative by praising the King for investigating his own crimes and doing little about them. He also “condemns” the violent actions of street protesters while “receiving credible reports” of the government’s excessive force - a not-so-clever line that shields the government and delegitimizes the opposition.

When one reporter inquires into the status of Bahrain's arms package, Posner ignores the question by urging Al Wefaq to control urban demonstrators.

Nothing is said about the presence of foreign police and ex-military (Saudi, Jordanian, Pakistani) in Bahrain’s security force. Meanwhile Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs (and a frequent guest of King Hamad) “has been dispatched to Morocco, France and Bahrain” to gather the “Friends of Syria.” Syrian security forces allegedly operate within King Hamad’s foreign police unit.

More disturbingly, the Secretary’s political falsities exceed his distortion of Bahrain’s security environment. Brief meetings with oppositional representatives are vastly outweighed by his roll-call consultations with the monarchy, and the effects show in Posner’s statement. His message to Al Wefaq, its allies and pro-democracy protesters is no different than the government's: stop protesting and enter a “dialogue.” After enumerating the King’s reforms (“long-term institutional reforms,” police conduct, human rights access), Posner insists “these signs of the government’s commitment to address the underlying cause of last year’s violence.”

Except the underlying cause of Bahrain’s uprising has yet to be addressed, and the King’s “institutional reforms” are avoiding Al Wefaq’s demand for parliamentary reconstruction. No confidence has been rebuilt in the streets - instead the credibility gap with the King and Washington is accelerating. Yet Bahrain state media writes, “Mr. Posner lauded the Ministry of Interior for its close cooperation with the opposition, represented by Al-Wefaq Society...”

Posner also ignored those journalists who were denied access for the February 14th anniversary, a move that Al Wefaq condemned. Various representatives of the group criticize the Obama administration's bias and silence on a regular basis; the White House hasn’t mentioned Bahrain since the BICI’s release in November and Obama personally skipped over during his State of the Union address. The State Department last addressed Bahrain on January 5th, when a reporter asked whether the country had fallen off the administration’s radar screen. State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland answered in the defiant negative - and has yet to mention the island since.

Al Wefaq will not engage in dialogue under U.S. terms, and will not allow the monarchy to sweep Bahrain’s uprising into the Gulf sea.

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