The Cable

Senators call on Georgian prime minister to avoid political retribution

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wrote to Bidzina Ivanishvili late last week to urge the Georgian prime minister to prove to the world that Georgia is not using its courts to exert political retribution on the officials of the former government of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

"We are deeply troubled by reports of detentions, investigations, imprisonment and allege persecution of political figures associated with the opposition party in Georgia," wrote Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), James Risch (R-ID), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John McCain (R-AZ), in a Dec. 6 letter obtained by The Cable. "We write today to express our growing concerns about the possibility that these moves are politically motivated and designed to settle political scores in the aftermath of the recent election. We urge you to ensure that your administration does everything necessary to avoid even the perception of selective justice against member of the previous government."

In the weeks since the Georgian Dream Party, led by billionaire Ivanishvili, won parliamentary elections, high-level U.S. and European officials have expressed concern that the prosecutions -- amounting thus far to 23 officials of the previous government for alleged crimes including corruption and torture -- are politically motivated.

Shaheen and Risch traveled to Georgia to observe the elections and praised both sides at the time. But now they are warning that Georgia's relationship with the world and with the United States in particular depends on the new government continuing down the road of democratic reform and ensuring the rule of law, political pluralism, and a culture of cooperation with the opposition.

The senators directly referenced The Cable's interview last month with Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze as evidence that Georgia's new government is not upholding its promises to let the legal system operate absent political influence.

"We welcome your words ruling out selective justice, but we regret to say that we are deeply concerned by developments this far. Especially troubling were the recent comments from your foreign minister, Ms. Maia Panjikidze, when she declared that former Georgian officials are ‘criminals and guilty,'" they wrote. "Guilt and innocence should be determined by an impartial court, to do otherwise undermines the rule of law."

"This year's parliamentary elections were no doubt divisive; however, the campaign is over," they wrote.

The Cable

Kim Kardashian’s Bahrain milkshake diplomacy leaves a bad taste

MANAMA, Bahrain - When your humble Cable guy finally arrived at the Kim Kardashian-endorsed Millions of Milkshakes franchise in Bahrain, we felt like our pilgrimage to the promised land of strawberries and whipped cream had been one of enlightenment and intrigue -- but certainly not in the way the sex-tape starlet or the government of Bahrain had hoped.

What a colleague and I never expected when planning the adventure was that our taxi driver would be a Shiite Bahraini who spoke fluent English -- and told us the story of how the Bahraini police tear gassed his village and shot his son for protesting peacefully.

I traveled to Bahrain Dec. 6 to attend the IISS Manama Security Dialogue, an annual meeting of princes and courtesans during which the serious strategic issues of the Gulf region are discussed over lobster tails and fresh-squeezed mango juice.

After three days of intellectual exchange and two nights of schmoozing, I was exhausted but determined to leave the confines of the hotel. So Dubai-based political analyst Taufiq Rahim and I sought out the brand-new Bahraini landmark where Kardashian had visited only two weeks earlier.

Kardashian's late-November visit to Bahrain to open the milkshake franchise was roundly criticized in the United States. Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch wrote that Kardashian's visit "generates positive publicity for a Bahraini regime which carried out an unspeakably brutal crackdown last year, continues a fierce campaign of repression and has been utterly unrepentant."

Fifty hardline Islamic protesters chanted "God is Great" outside the shop after Kardashian Tweeted that Bahrain is "the prettiest place on earth," which was re-Tweeted by Bahrain's foreign minister. 

When we arrived at the Millions of Milkshakes franchise at The Walk plaza in the elite Manama enclave of Riffa on Dec. 9, the columns of purple balloons left over from Kardashian's visit were halfway deflated, hanging on the door frame like a fading memory.

But a 15-foot high image of Kardashian still towered over customers as high-definition TV screens played the news reel of Kim's visit in a never-ending loop.

The milkshakes were decent; I had the Kim Kardashian special, while Taufiq chose The Billionaire. The price was reasonable for pricy Bahrain, equal to about $8 dollars for the large. We scrambled to memorialize the moment, forcing the confused manager to snap smart-phone photos of us mimicking Kardashian's sultry and suggestive pose while our milkshakes were being prepared.

Our taxi driver on this journey, whom I'll call Salman, was in his early forties with a wife and a teenage son. We asked him about the sectarian tensions that have roiled Bahrain for almost two years.

"There is no problem between Shiites and Sunnis in Bahrain. My wife is Sunni; my sister married a Sunni. We can get along. The problem is with the government and Al Khalifa [the royal family], who want to make this about the Shiites," he said.

Salman complained that the prime minister had been in power for 42 years, alleged that the entire royal family was corrupt, and decried the slow pace of promised democratic reforms.

"My neighborhood was tear-gassed last Friday with over 1,000 canisters just because the police were looking for one man," he said, showing a harrowing YouTube video on his iPhone of the scene that night.

His son, a protester, had been shot with a special type of gun that disperses dozens of plastic barbs, he said, and Salman had the photos to prove it. Dozens of the barbs remained in his legs, buttocks, and back, he said, because going to a hospital would ensure certain arrest and indefinite detention.

Salman said that the police had tracked down his cab after he dropped his son off at a protest and that the authorities had confiscated the vehicle for four months, depriving him and his family of their sole source of income.

"People get killed and we want to know why? What's the point? Why does this need to happen?" he said.

U.S. policy toward Bahrain, a carefully crafted mix of gentle admonishment and arms sales, is not fooling anyone on the street, Salman said.

"Everyone here knows that the U.S. is not on the side of the people. You can have democracy, but why can't we have it? Because you are making deals with the royals, it's clear, everybody knows that," he said.

Salman said he did not know who Kim Kardashian was.