DAWN's new Lobbyist Hall of Shame exposes the lobbyists pushing for U.S. government support of region's human rights violators
(Washington D.C., September 9, 2021) — Members of Congress should publicly pledge not to meet with American lobbyists working for abusive governments in the Middle East who are misrepresenting the record of these governments as they seek to ensure U.S military and diplomatic support for them, announced Democracy for the Arab World Now, Freedom Forward and the Center for International Policy. Their call to Congress comes as DAWN launches its "Lobbyist Hall of Shame," exposing American lobbyists contributing to these governments' abuses.
Ed Newberry, the first lobbyist featured in the Lobbyist Hall of Shame, works for the well-known Washington, D.C. firm Squire Patton Boggs (SPB), where he has been registered as a foreign agent since 2016 for the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs. The Saudi Center was previously headed by Saud al-Qahtani, the Saudi official sanctioned by the U.S. government for his leading role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Newberry signed an engagement agreement with al-Qahtani in September 2016 for an annual fee of $1.2 million to advocate on behalf of the Center before U.S. government officials. He continues to represent the Saudi Center, as disclosed in his July 29, 2021 Foreign Agents Registration Act filing.
"Lobbyists like Ed Newberry have been whitewashing the crimes of autocratic Middle Eastern governments and playing a role in persuading the U.S. government to continue supporting them despite their grotesque human rights abuses," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. "These lobbyists should be held accountable for their legally and ethically problematic work, and members of Congress should refuse to listen to their propaganda."
"Lobbyists like Ed Newberry are whitewashing the crimes of autocratic Middle Eastern governments and playing a role in persuading the U.S. government to continue supporting them despite their grotesque human rights abuses."
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN
The U.S. Treasury Department applied Magnitsky Act sanctions to al-Qahtani, a close adviser of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, for his role in Khashoggi's murder, banning him from travel to the United States and freezing his assets in the country. A report by U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard about Khashoggi's killing indicates that al-Qahtani was one of the masterminds behind the murder. Turkish prosecutors also have indicted him for "incitement to deliberate killing through torture."
Human rights investigations have also directly implicated al-Qahtani in the torture and abuse of political detainees, including Loujain al-Hathloul, as well as the arrests and abuse of numerous Saudi political activists, journalists, and writers. On July 28, a new investigation by the Washington Post provided the newest revelations of al-Qahtani's role in the gruesome torture of a former Saudi official.
"Ed Newberry is on the payroll of a Saudi institution that the U.S. government has implicated in the murder of Khashoggi and countless other attacks against Saudi activists, and represented a man whose abuses are so heinous that our government has banned him from entering the country" said Ben Freeman, Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at CIP. "Why should members of Congress, whose time is paid for by American taxpayers, ever agree to meet with Ed Newberry, who has made a living papering over the record of Saudi's most abusive government agency?"
"Continuing to represent a center that uses threats, arrest and murder to improve media coverage of Saudi Arabia should be a red line for any lobbying firm."
- Sunjeev Bery, Executive Director of Freedom Forward
The U.S. government has found that additional Saudi Center officials participated in Khashoggi's murder. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Report, the Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi "included officials who worked for, or were associated with, the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs." The Saudi Center's involvement in Khashoggi's murder was consistent with a pattern it followed with other Saudi exiles and dissidents, using intimidation, threats, surveillance, and hacking to promote its media campaigns on behalf of the Saudi royal family, according to published reports and multiple accounts of Saudi academics and activists.
In his September 19, 2016 engagement letter addressed to al-Qahtani, Newberry wrote, "We thank you for the opportunity to represent [the] Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court in providing legal and strategic policy advice and advocacy on foreign policy and related issues in the U.S. government." In the first four months of 2016, SBP reported well over 200 meetings, phone calls, and emails with Congressional staff members on behalf of the Center. In 2020, the Center paid SBP $391,000 for its services.
Thousands of US citizens and residents have signed a petition circulated only three days ago calling on Ed Newberry and Squire Patton Boggs to end their contract with Saudi Center. A coalition of 15 organizations delivered the petition to SPB yesterday and called on the firm to terminate its contract with the Saudi Center and with any of its successor institutions. The coalition includes Freedom Forward, DAWN, Center for International Policy, Avaaz, CODEPINK, #FreeLoujain, ALQST for Human Rights, MENA Rights Group, Libyan American Alliance, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR), and others.
"Continuing to represent a center that uses threats, arrest and murder to improve media coverage of Saudi Arabia should be a red line for any lobbying firm," said Sunjeev Bery, Executive Director of Freedom Forward. "Professional lobbyists like Squire Patton Boggs should recognize their own human rights responsibility not to contribute to human rights violations by helping improve the image of abusive government officials."
Since 2016, SBP has received at least $2.7 million from the Saudi Center. Even after the U.S. government publicly implicated the Saudi Center in Khashoggi's murder and designated al-Qahtani for Global Magnitsky sanctions, and even after multiple news reports exposed the Saudi Center's use of violence to silence government critics and drown out unfavorable media coverage, Newberry continues to act as a registered agent for the Saudi Center, whitewashing Saudi government abuses.
In its reply to an inquiry from DAWN, SPB stated on September 7, 2021 that they have "not performed any lobbying work on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the last quarter of 2017, nearly four years ago." This response fails to take responsibility for the fact that its staff, including Ed Newberry, continue to serve as registered agents and get paid by the Saudi Center.
Under international law, lobbying businesses such as SBP have responsibilities to avoid contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their business activities. Lobbying on behalf of government officials responsible for murder, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detention runs counter to these responsibilities.
DAWN has the following a set of recommendations for lobbyists, Congress, and State Bar Associations in the US:
- Client Due Diligence: Lobbyists should conduct a due diligence review examining the human rights and humanitarian law record of a government, government agency, or government official they seek to represent and determine the extent to which their representation would contribute to, or benefit from, any of their human rights or humanitarian law abuses, including by misrepresenting or omitting information to the public or U.S. government officials and representatives about their human rights record. It should also make such reviews public.
- Refuse to Work for Abusive Governments, Agencies or Officials: Lobbyists should pledge to decline representation of a foreign government, government agency, or government official where there is credible information implicating them in the commission of gross violations of human rights (GCHR) or international humanitarian law.
- Adopt and Pledge to Comply with the OECD Recommendations and the UN Guiding Principles: U.S. lobbyists should adopt the OECD Recommendations, including those aiming to enhance transparency, honesty, and accuracy in information provided by lobbyists to government officials. U.S. lobbyists should also adopt the UN Guiding Principles.
- Assess Human Rights Impact of Lobbying Activities: Lobbyists should regularly assess their existing lobbying activities for foreign governments, agencies or officials to evaluate whether they contribute to or benefit from adverse human rights impacts, pursuant to the UN Guiding Principles. Where such contribution or benefit exists, lobbyists should take appropriate measures to address them, including, when necessary, by terminating an existing lobbying contract. This includes a responsibility to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to lobbying activities, even if the lobbyist has not contributed to those impacts.
To the U.S. Congress:
- Pass the "For the People Act of 2021" (H.R.1/S.1): Congress should pass the Act and implement its regulations, especially those pertaining to foreign governments that have committed GVHRs and the much needed reforms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
- Improve lobbying transparency regulations: Congress should integrate two separate sets of legal transparency requirements: the Lobbying Disclosure Act and the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
To US elected officials and their staff members:
- No Meetings with Abusive Government Lobbyists: Pledge to refrain from meeting with lobbyists working on behalf of governments, agencies or officials where there is credible information, documented by human rights organizations or by the State Department's Annual Human Rights Report, implicating them in gross violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.
- No Lobbying for Abusive Governments: After leaving office, pledge to refrain from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, agencies or officials where there is credible information implicating them in GVHRs or serious violations of international humanitarian law.
To U.S. State Bar Associations:
- Disbar Unethical Lobbyists: Investigate and suspend from the practice of law any lawyer who communicates false and misleading statements, including material omissions, to lawmakers and the public at large in his/her capacity as a lobbyist.
DAWN's Lobbyist Hall of Shame will continue to expose American lobbyists – including lawyers and former public officials and public servants – who are being paid by abusive Middle East governments, including the Saudi, Israeli, Egyptian, and Emirati governments, to woo American government support, including military aid and sales and diplomatic protection.