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The Bahraini dictatorship has done a decent job of deflecting criticism and feigning reform, particularly by doing things like lifting the martial law that was initially imposed and allowing this independent commission to investigate abuse, etc. But the repression continues. Demonstrations still occur on almost a nightly basis, usually to be met with tear gas and rubber bullets by security forces. In an interview with Josh Rogin, Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab said “The military has taken part in suppressing the protests. They have killed people, they have tortured people, they have arrested people, they have detained people. They have established checkpoints and humiliated people at checkpoints, raided houses, robbed houses, demolished mosques.”
Of primary interest to U.S. national security planners is the maintenance of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, which oversees the flow of oil, and also to prevent a slide towards Iran if the majority Shiites gain their rights. But no amount of real politick warrants this brutality.
A commission appointed to investigate the government’s abuses in response to Arab Spring protests found, among other things, that torture was systemic (and probably still is). That commission investigated a total of 300 cases, although they received 5,200 complaints of abuse. People were beaten, electro-shocked, sexually abused, suspended in stress positions, etc.
The Obama administration was forced to suspend a similar package of military equipment, $53 million worth, making it conditional on reform.