Obama quietly sells arms to human rights-abuser Bahrain

And the administration isn't saying what exactly is being given to the regime, which has attacked protesters

Published January 30, 2012 3:28PM (EST)

Barack Obama (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Barack Obama (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

When we last checked in on Bahrain, it was furiously lobbying to keep its cozy ties with the United States despite well-documented human rights abuses against a protest movement in the Gulf nation.

It now appears that those efforts may have paid off.

The Obama administration has gone ahead with selling arms to the regime despite opposition in Congress.  And we only know about the sale because some anonymous congressional sources came forward to alert the media. Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy has the story:

The State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process, which requires posting the information on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) website. The State Department simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale, arguing it didn't meet the threshold that would require more formal notifications and a public explanation.

Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.

So what’s in this new arms package?

The administration, which often boasts about its transparency, isn’t saying. It did release a statement to Foreign Policy that raises more questions than it provides answers. It says in part:

This [transfer] includes spare parts and maintenance of equipment.  None of these items can be used against protestors.

This isn't a new sale nor are we using a legal loophole.  The items that we briefed to Congress were notified and cleared by the Hill previously or are not large enough to require Congressional notification.  In fact, we've gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required by consulting with Congressional staff on items that do not require Congressional notification.

That statement first says “this isn’t a new sale” and then refers to items that “are not large enough to require Congressional notification – which seems to suggest that there are new items being sold here, or at least that there are items that have never been reviewed by Congress or the public. And what previous clearance is the administration referring to? Finally, if the equipment in question really is mere spare parts, why not release a full detailed list of what exactly is being sent to the regime in Bahrain?

I’ve reached out to the State Department to see if they will offer any kind of elaboration or clarification, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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Bahrain Barack Obama