Twenty-four members of Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), have criticized a planned arms transfer to Bahrain, citing human rights concerns. Officials from the Obama administration briefed select members of Congress on the transfer in late January.
The dispute over U.S. policy on arms sales to Bahrain is the second in recent months. A proposed $53 million arms sale to Bahrain met with resistance on Capitol Hill for similar reasons late last year. (See ACT, November 2011.)
In a Feb. 14 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 24 legislators warned that because of reports of human rights abuses in Bahrain following popular uprisings last spring, even a limited sale sent “the wrong signal.” The lawmakers acknowledged that Bahrain had taken steps to address the problem, but said they would oppose any military sales until “there is more substantive and permanent progress.”
The Department of State has said it is in full compliance with its legal obligations with regard to the second arms package. “The items that we briefed to Congress were notified and cleared by [Capitol] Hill previously or are not large enough to require Congressional notification,” the State Department’s press office said in a Jan. 27 statement. The statement said the administration had “gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required” in consulting with Congress on the deal. “This isn’t a new sale nor are we using a legal loophole,” the statement said.
Wyden said on Feb. 9 that he would continue to monitor the transfer and will gather a coalition to pressure officials if his concerns were not addressed.
Last June, Bahrain acceded to an investigation of human rights violations by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The commission released a Nov. 23 report that verified many accusations and laid out steps for reform. The State Department has said it would assess Bahrain’s compliance with the commission’s recommendations and confer with Congress before proceeding with the $53 million sale.