Bahrain Arms Sale Conditioned on Review

Xiaodon Liang

The Department of State has tied a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain to the outcome of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) investigation into alleged human rights abuses committed during protests in the Persian Gulf state in February and March, a department official said in a letter to Capitol Hill last month.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the Department of Defense notified Congress of the planned sale Sept. 14, according to an agency press release. The proposed package includes High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, known as Humvees, and guided anti-armor and anti-bunker missiles.

In an Oct. 14 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), David Adams, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, said the State Department would review the BICI’s findings and the Bahraini government’s subsequent efforts to implement the committee’s recommendations. Adams said the department would “weigh these factors and confer with Congress” before proceeding with the sale.

Wyden introduced a Senate resolution Oct. 6 that would block the sale until the secretary of state reported that Bahrain had taken a series of specific steps to improve human rights. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) sponsored an identical resolution in the House of Representatives.

Wyden and five other senators sent an Oct. 12 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to delay the sale until Bahrain releases political prisoners, addresses the BICI recommendations, and starts a dialogue with opposition groups. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a separate letter to Clinton Oct. 13 also asking her to delay the sale at least until the BICI issued its report. The BICI has said the report will be released Nov. 23.

Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), a signatory of the Oct. 12 letter and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee handling Middle Eastern affairs, called the State Department decision a “welcome development” in an Oct. 19 press release.

At a press briefing that day, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that even if the sale were to go through, the items would be subject to end-use monitoring to ensure their proper use.