Nearly a week ago, Bahraini pro-democracy demonstrators held their “day of rage” as thousands of protesters flooded the nation’s capital, Manama. The demonstrators were almost immediately attacked by the Arab monarchy’s internal security forces, and were again attacked during a funeral procession for one of the slain demonstrators. Despite professions from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa that he did not condone of the violence, the government once again moved in with tanks and riot police on Thursday, attacking sleeping demonstrators and killing several people and wounding hundreds of others.
Following the attacks, the main opposition party in the country’s largely symbolic parliament withdrew and calls for the resignation of the regime have grown. In what was perhaps a sign of the government’s weakness, Bahraini tanks and security forces departed from the center of the protests yesterday, as demonstrations continue to grow.
After Thursday’s bloody attack on demonstrators, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — who chairs the pivotal Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs — put out a statement explaining that he has asked the State Department to review U.S. military aid to Bahrain, noting that U.S. law prohibits aid to military or security units that engage in human rights abuses:
“To a watching world, the vicious and orchestrated attacks on civilian protestors and journalists in Bahrain, Libya, Iran and elsewhere in the region are repugnant. They deserve condemnation by other governments and official actions that are appropriate to these deplorable offenses against commonly held principles.
“U.S. law prohibits aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights, and there is evidence to apply the law today in Bahrain. I have asked the State Department to consider the application of our law and I urge a prompt decision. Attacks on civilians calling for political reform and on the press are assaults on the human rights and dignity of all people.”
The law that Leahy is referring to is actually one that he himself authored. Known as the “Leahy Amendment,” the law was first enacted in 1997 and has since been used to deny military aid to Colombian military units that have been found to have abused human rights and attack civilians. If Leahy’s law were to be utilized in this case, it could lead to freezing the $20 million in military aid that Bahrain receives annually.
It is important to note that the Leahy Amendment can be a powerful tool that is already on the books to rein in abuses not only in Bahrain but in other major beneficiaries of U.S. aid — like Yemen — who are also responding to demonstrations with violence during what is being called the “Jasmine Revolution.”