The brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has opened a window into the world of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and reminded us that there are many places in the world where disagreeing with your government is a death sentence.
I break with the administration on their response to this killing for many reasons. If Saudi Arabia is not held accountable for the barbaric murder of Khashoggi, what will it mean for the fate of other dissidents held in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who are being held without trial? What message does it send to kingdoms and dictatorships around the region and the world that America considers its defense sales paramount to its stand for human rights?
What will it mean for Ali al-Nimr, the nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, the Shia sheik executed by the Saudis in 2016?
Ali al-Nimr was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia after being arrested for attending a pro-democracy rally when he was 17. Imagine this — your teenage son or daughter in the place of this boy.
Ali al-Nimr was tortured, denied necessary access to his lawyer, and had a closed “trial.” It has been reported that his confession to false charges was coerced, and he now faces crucifixion and beheading. His mother has written of the damage done to her son by the beatings she could clearly see had taken place in prison, saying Ali “didn’t need to tell me what had happened because his face, hands, feet and body spoke on his behalf.”
What kind of regime does this? What kind of regime are we supporting, while turning a blind eye to this and the hundreds of other dissidents jailed and killed without a real justice system?
Saudi Arabia has added to their human rights abuses with their new “anti-terrorism” law, which is being used to justify torture and killings of dissidents. Using social media to criticize the state is now “terrorism” in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is not “liberalizing.” It is not opening, changing, or modernizing in anything other than superficial ways. Additionally, it continues its blockade and war in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of lives, left millions near starvation, and threatens an entire nation’s population.
Why do we not act? The stated reason is our “relationship” with the Saudis, which boils down to two things — oil and defense contracts.
How much oil and how many defense contracts justify turning a blind eye to the actions of the Saudis? How many dissidents will we allow to be held without trial, tortured, or killed? How many more people need to die at their hands — and ours — in Yemen?
I stand with those who believe we shouldn’t sell arms to the Saudis unless they change their behavior. We are aiding and abetting this behavior. I’ll work once again to cut off the sales of arms to them and will continue to press for other measures to pressure them into change.
There are those who believe some “sanctions” on the people who killed Khashoggi is a good response. I disagree. It is inadequate and misguided. Do you think anyone in power in Saudi Arabia cares if their underlings are sanctioned? No.
Also, stopping arms sales is a more proportionate response. Sanctions that end all trade with Saudi Arabia might produce more global turmoil than we bargained for.
We must take real action to force real change, and that starts with arms sales and aid in the Yemen war. I will look for every opportunity to fight this battle in Congress.