Immediate Measures on Inauguration Should Include Release of DNI Report Implicating MBS in Khashoggi Murder, and Suspension of War Efforts in Yemen
(Washington D.C., November 10, 2020) – President-Elect Joe Biden should fulfill his promises to reassess American interests in the Middle East and establish a Mideast policy that respects human rights and ends U.S. support for systematically abusive governments, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a U.S.-based organization said today.
"President Biden's promise to make democracy and human rights a priority in our foreign policy and to reassess our cooperation with abusive governments in the Middle East must start by ending America's own contribution to human rights abuses in the region," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN. "That means not only fulfilling his stated commitment to end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen, but also ending military support to systematically abusive governments, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel."
In addition, President Biden should end economic sanctions that indiscriminately target and cause hunger and hardship for the Iranian and Syrian people. To the extent the US employs sanctions, they should be targeted at specific individual human rights offenders and applied consistently.
American military support, both by way of military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and military assistance paid for by American taxpayers to Israel and Egypt, aids and abets the abusive actions of these governments, both domestically and abroad. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, absolute monarchies that subject their population to extreme repression, have conducted a horrifying war against Yemenis, including widespread and systematic bombardment of civilian areas using American weapons, and a land, air and sea siege on the country that has left over 100,00 Yemenis dead, and put millions at risk of starving.
The UAE has defied UN Security Council Resolution 1970 imposing an arms embargo on Libya by continuing to supply weapons to warlord Khalifa Hiftar and carrying out indiscriminate drone attacks against civilians from its military base in eastern Libya. Egypt continues to jail over 50,000 political prisoners, who face endemic torture and mistreatment in prison, and exercises absolute political repression against its citizens. Israel has imposed an apartheid regime against the Palestinian population under its control, threatened the illegal annexation of Palestinian lands, imposed a 15 year closure on Gaza's civilian population, and continues to expand its settlements in occupied territory, a war crime under international law.
With respect to Iran, President-elect Biden has reiterated that he plans to return to the nuclear agreement with Iran and make it a foundation for broader negotiations on ballistic missiles and regional cooperation. US sanctions against Iran and Syria have significantly harmed the civilian populations of both countries.
"Reforming US policy means not just ending support for abusive governments in the Middle East, and ending America's endless wars in the region, but ending the superficially more benign but no less harmful policy of economic sanctions against Iran and Syria," said Whitson. "Resuming negotiations with Iran for a nuclear deal must come hand in hand with an end to economic sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy and deprived the Iranian people of basic goods and the right to a decent livelihood."
President-Elect Joe Biden has promised specifically to end US support for the war in Yemen and accountability for Saudi Arabia's murder of journalist and DAWN founder Jamal Khashoggi. At the Democratic primary debate on November 20, 2019, Biden said,
"Yes…[I will punish senior Saudi leaders]. Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the Crown Prince [Mohamed bin Salman]. I would make it very clear. We are not going to sell more weapons to them [Saudi Arabia]. We were going to make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are. There is very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia. … I would… end the subsidies that we have, end the sales of material to the Saudis, [who are] going in and murdering children [in Yemen], and murdering innocent people. And they should be held accountable."
The first step to further accountability for Jamal Khashoggi's murder is ordering the declassification and release of the Department of National Intelligence report that reportedly documents the evidence for their conclusion that Mohamed bin Salman ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and that US Congress demanded the State Department to make public. The Trump administration has refused, and revealed limited information from the still-classified report to the US Congress.
"A Middle East foreign policy that aligns with US values and interests in building relationships with peaceful, democratic, and rights-respecting governments will take a great deal of political will, but a new Biden administration can on day one of coming to power make public the DNI report implicating Mohamed bin Salman in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi," said Whitson. "The American people deserve to know not only the details of the crown prince's role in this gruesome crime, but also the role that American officials played in covering up this murder."
President-elect Biden prominently promised during his victory speech on November 7 that his administration will "lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example." The most important way the U.S. can lead by example is to ratify key international treaties banning the use of indiscriminate weapons, including the Landmine Convention and the Cluster Munitions Convention, and to sign the Rome Statute and join the International Criminal Court. The Biden administration also must urgently rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Paris Climate Accords.
"The world will no longer tolerate American lecturing and finger-wagging on human rights in the face of double standards and irresponsible refusal to follow global rules that make us all safer," said Whitson. "Leading by example means promising to abide by international treaties to ban heinous weapons, submitting ourselves to the same international court we have insisted other states submit themselves to, and being a responsible participant in global institutions that protect Americans as much as they do other peoples around the world."