Soon after Nabeel Rajab was led back to prison by masked police, the Trench observed a central dilemma of the Obama administration's silence and its overall response to Bahrain's uprising. During the 15 months that have elapsed since February 14th, 2011, all of the administration's support measures - King Hamad's "National Dialogue," his "Commission of Independent Inquiry," and a package of U.S. missile technology - have merely served to inflate the trust gap between both sides.
The administration's silent treatment of Rajab and Bahrain's other leading activists has also devastated any credibility that Washington possessed with the opposition, further diminishing the odds of a political resolution. "Dialogue" with King Hamad Isa bin Al Khalifa and his royal family has been rendered meaningless. U.S. policy, in short, is extending the island's asymmetric conflict through direct and indirect errors. The "unauthorized" entry of Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Pakistani forces (grouped behind the Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield) would catalyze the opposition at every level of Bahraini society.
Yet the belief that Washington doesn't care about Rajab is apparently erroneous, according to the State Department's Patrick Ventrell. Finally confronted on Rajab's arrest three days after his imprisonment at Jaww, the press office's directer and fill-in spokesman appeared visibly unprepared to respond from a predetermined script. The Associated Press's Matt Lee, a rare correspondent who delights in challenging the State Department, begins by asking whether the administration agrees with Amnesty International's latest press release: "that he should be released immediately." Ventrell dodges Lee's initial question, responding that the White House is "actively following his case and continues to have a keen interest."
Lee tries again: "Do you want him released?"
MR. VENTRELL: We are concerned about the reports of the three-month prison sentence, and what I will say is that broadly speaking we want the Government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to respect the right to due process and transparent judicial proceedings.
QUESTION: But you’re not calling for his release?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re concerned about the three-month prison sentence.
QUESTION: What does that mean?
MR. VENTRELL: It means that we’re concerned about it.
QUESTION: Yeah. But what does that mean?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to go any further, Matt. Thanks.
QUESTION: Well, the question was that Amnesty International says that he should be released. You don’t share – it sounds as though you do not share that same opinion.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, what we want – the bigger picture of what we want is that, in regard to the treatment of all detainees, is that there’s a fair and transparent judicial process. So --
QUESTION: All right. Well, do you believe that that’s happened?
MR. VENTRELL: So there clearly have been cases where we’ve had concerns about the political ramifications. We’ve expressed concerns about his case in particular, and we’ll continue to raise it as appropriate with the Government of Bahrain.
The State Department's propaganda is self-evident. Most obviously, the Obama administration wouldn't have commented publicly on Rajab's sentence if Lee didn't probe for a response; "concern" should have manifested immediately, not three days afterward. Equally disturbing is the existence of a rhetorical reply, which was prepared to deflect criticism in case someone did question Washington's response. Skipping to "the bigger picture of all detainees" is the most clever device employed by Ventrell, but he ultimately shoots himself by reminding reporters of the many activists that languish in dark cells. Ventrell, of course, never demands Rajab's release despite the fact that no aspect of his case has been "fair and transparent."
The use of security officials as "plaintiffs" is one of many controversial details surrounding his imprisonment. Clearly the administration is more concerned about protecting Bahrain's monarchy than human rights. U.S. officials regularly meet with Bahraini officials in order to highlight their close relationship, sending a clear signal to King Hamad and his security team (which happens to include Americans).
“If anyone is guilty of insult today, it is the Bahraini government, which has reminded citizens they’re not free to express political views,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Using masked men to arrest Rajab, a champion of peaceful protest and human rights, would be laughable if the reality wasn’t so tragic.”
The same can be said of U.S. policy in Bahrain.