Five Democratic senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday to ask her to delay a planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain because of the island kingdom's continued violence against protesters.
"We recognize the administration's commitment to the United States' strategic relationship with Bahrain... However, the Bahrain government's repressive treatment of peaceful protesters during the past several months is unacceptable," the senators wrote in their Oct. 12 letter, obtained by The Cable.
"The United States must make it clear to the government of Bahrain that its ongoing human rights violations and unwillingness to acknowledge legitimate demands for reform have a negative impact on its relationship with the United States."
The letter's signatories were Senate Foreign Relations Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee chairman Robert Casey (D-PA), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The letter accuses the Bahrain government of torture and notes reporting by Human Rights Watch that states Bahrain's government has killed 34 protesters, arrested 1,400 more, and dismissed 3,600 people from their jobs for anti-government activities.
"Completing an arms sale to Bahrain under the current circumstances would weaken U.S. credibility at a critical time of democratic transition in the Middle East," the senators wrote.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has not commented on the issue and requests for comment were not returned.
Wyden and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) have each introduced a resolution in their respective chambers to prevent the U.S. government going through with the sale, which would include 44 armored, high-mobility Humvees and over 300 advanced missiles, 50 of which are bunker-buster missiles similar to those sold secretly to Israel in 2009.
"Selling weapons to a regime that is violently suppressing peaceful civil dissent and violating human rights is antithetical to our foreign policy goals and the principle of basic rights for all that the U.S. has worked hard to promote," Wyden said in a release.
"Human rights ought to matter in our foreign and military policy," McGovern said in his own release."Supporting regimes that violate the basic rights of their people is not just morally wrong - it's also not in our national security interests. Now is not the time to sell weapons to Bahrain."
The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain, and fear of endangering its home base is one reason many have speculated that the Obama administration has maintained ties with Bahrain's monarchy despite the domestic crackdown. Bahrain is also a client state of Saudi Arabia and policymakers have voiced fears that a victory by the predominantly Shiite protest movement would strengthen Iranian influence in the country.
The State Department argued in its Sept. 14 notification to Congress that the proposed sale will contribute to U.S. national security "by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East."
Meanwhile, Bahrain's parliament this week issued a vote of no confidence to the appointment of the new U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski because he met with opposition groups in Washington before arriving in Manama.
"This diplomat has a volatile agenda against Bahrain and the nation and we can't accept having him here," said Bahrain member of parliament Ali Ahmed, who is president of the Al Menbar bloc of lawmakers. "We are here to represent the people and they don't want him and our wish should be respected."
UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent his own letter to Clinton today regarding the arms sale, in which he asked the administration to delay sale of the humvees, but not the missiles. Rubio wrote that the administration should delay the sale of "any items within the proposed weapons package that could be used to disrupt peaceful dissent."