President Donald Trump’s emphatic statement of support for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday — following the CIA’s report that the Saudi Crown Prince almost certainly ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — barely had time to air out before fresh stories of Saudi transgressions made headlines.
Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday detailing the torture of activists who have been detained without charge since May:
According to three separate testimonies obtained by the organization, the activists were repeatedly tortured by electrocution and flogging, leaving some unable to walk or stand properly. In one reported instance, one of the activists was made to hang from the ceiling, and according to another testimony, one of the detained women was reportedly subjected to sexual harassment, by interrogators wearing face masks.
Some of the tortured activists were unable to walk or stand, shook uncontrollably, and bore marks on their bodies. One has repeatedly tried to take her own life.
Saudi Arabia arrested some of the country’s most prominent human rights activists in May, just days before the country lifted its ban on women driving. Many of the detained activists worked on the campaign to get women the right to drive.
Women in Saudi Arabia continue to live under guardianship laws, which put men in almost total control of their lives. The reasoning for this is that women need protection — from men, from the influences of the West, from what might come from even using their own names.
President Trump did not comment on this report, but on Wednesday tweeted a hearty thank-you to the Gulf Arab kingdom for keeping oil prices down:
Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018
He also did not say annoying about a new report from Save the Children estimating that some 85,000 children have thus far died of starvation in Yemen, where the United States supports a deadly Saudi-led campaign.
Using U.N. data, the children’s charity has conservatively estimated that 84,701 children have likely died between April 2015 and October 2018.
Lawmakers’ mixed response
U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed unease about U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen — which has resulted in a mounting civilian casualties over the past three years.
But not many have taken direct aim at his support of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
While some — including top Republicans — have criticized President Trump for showing weakness in the face of brazen Saudi actions (killing a U.S.-based journalist and repeatedly lying about it), what’s been equally galling to some has been the response of some lawmakers.
Of the ten Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, all but three — Sens. Cory Booker (NJ), Edward Markey (MA), and Christopher Coons (DE) — issued direct responses to Trump’s Tuesday statement.
Looking at the ten Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (all of whom, it should be noted, signed a bipartisan letter in October calling for an investigation into Khashoggi’s murder), only three took a strong stance on Trump’s exclamation-mark laden statement.
Two of the three — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (TN) and Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ) — are both on their way out of office.
I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/MQ4JsoQtqk
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) November 20, 2018
“Great allies” don’t plot the murder of journalists, Mr. President. “Great allies” don’t lure their own citizens into a trap, then kill them. https://t.co/PY6qOOIOI6
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) November 20, 2018
Sen. Rand Paul (KY) was the only Republican on the committee who is not on his way out who fired back at the president in a series of tweets and statements:
The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser two evils compared to Iran and so the US won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate. I disagree.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 20, 2018
I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First. I’m also pretty sure John Bolton wrote it.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 20, 2018
The rest of the committee did not follow their lead.
Sen. James Risch (ID), tipped to replace Corker as chairman, did not tweet about the president’s statement and hasn’t said anything about the Saudi situation since he signed the first Global Magnitsky letter in October.
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) drew the ire of his followers when he tweeted a vague defense of human rights, never mentioning President Trump:
Our foreign policy must be about promoting our national interests.
It is in our natl interest to defend human rights.
HR violations lead to mass migration, help extremism flourish & often result in new governments hostile towards the U.S. because we supported their oppressors.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 20, 2018
Even Sen. Tom Young (IN), who has been critical of the the U.S. support of deadly Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen in the past, was soft, tweeting out a statement about “those who would ignore or minimize” Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, never naming who “those” might be.
He also engaged in some what aboutism, bringing Iran into the argument. (To be clear: Yes, Iran has human rights issues. No, Iran had nothing to do with Khashoggi’s murder).
Again, the Twitterverse clapped back:
You can directly call the president out, you know
— Dylan (@dylanzmckee) November 21, 2018
Sen. Ron Johnson (WI) hasn’t had much to say about this since he fretted last month that this Khashoggi debacle could damage U.S.-Saudi relations. Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), who has expressed concerns about the U.S. signing a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia, was silent on the president’s statement, as were Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Johnny Isakson (GA), and Rob Portman (OH).
Saudi Arabia for its part, sees the president’s statement as a total exoneration and, according to CBS, is anxious to “return to business as usual.”