The United States provides economic, military and diplomatic support to four of the nine least free nations on earth, according to a Moral Low Ground analysis of this year’s Freedom House freedom rankings.
Freedom House, a Washington, DC-based think tank that conducts research on democracy, freedom and human rights, has released its annual report on the state of freedom around the world. The report, “Freedom in the World 2013,” gave seven nations the lowest possible rankings for both political rights and civil liberties. Of these seven– North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia, the United States provides significant economic, military and/or diplomatic support to the governments of four of them. Here’s a breakdown of how the Obama administration aids and enables brutal repression in each country:
Saudi Arabia: Arbitrary arrest and torture of reform advocates, religious minorities and totally innocent people are commonplace. The Saudi legal system is a cruel farce, with defendants often denied legal counsel and tortured into making false confessions. This has led to wrongful executions, usually by public beheading. Among the crimes for which one can be beheaded in Saudi Arabia: apostasy (renouncing Islam), blasphemy, prostitution,witchcraft, sorcery, adultery and homosexuality. Lesser criminals often have their hands and legs amputated without anesthesia.
Being born female in Saudi Arabia is to be condemned to a hellish life of virtual slavery. Not only are women not allowed to vote, they cannot drive cars. They cannot be treated in a hospital or travel without written permission from their husbands or male relatives. One woman who was kidnapped and gang-raped was sentenced to 90 whip lashes for being with unrelated males. When she went to the media to complain, her sentence was increased to 200 lashes. In 2002, 15 schoolgirls needlessly died when members of the dreaded morality police locked them inside their burning school and stopped firefighters from saving them simply because the girls were not properly dressed in robes and headscarves.
The Saudi education system reinforces this medieval barbarism. School textbooks disparage women, call for gays to be put to death, teach how to cut off thieves’ hands and stress the importance of the destruction of the Jewish people. “The hour of God’s judgment will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them,” reads one textbook.
Such is life in the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, a kingdom without an elected parliament where the courts are run by religious extremists, adherents of a super-strict brand of Islamic fundamentalism called Wahhabism. It was Wahhabism that spawned al-Qaeda; Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. In a bid to consolidate and protect its power and curry favor with powerful extremist clerics, members of the Saudi royal family routinely make large donations to Islamic ‘charities’ that in turn fund terrorist groups. The Saudi government also supported the Taliban right up until 9/11 and then refused to help US intelligence officials with background checks on the Saudi hijackers.
These truths have been ignored by successive US administrations, including Barack Obama’s. Rather than rebuke Saudi repression, Obama rewarded it by allowing the sale of $60 billion worth of advanced military aircraft to the kingdom and by warmly welcoming Saudi King Abdullah to the White House.
Equatorial Guinea: This tiny but oil-rich West African nation is ruled by the fantastically corrupt Teodoro Obiang, Africa’s longest ruling leader and a close US ally. Obiang, who was trained in Franco’s Spain, rose to power in 1979 after executing his even more brutal uncle. The US State Department report on Equatorial Guinea cites “torture of detainees by security forces, life-threatening conditions in prisons, and arbitrary arrests.” Locals joke– behind closed doors, of course– about North Korea’s Kim Jong-un being Obiang’s role model.
Oil exports and corruption have made the Obiang family among the richest in Africa, with the dictator’s personal fortune worth an estimated $600 million. His family lives in ostentatious opulence while one out of every three Equatorial Guineans dies before the age of 40.
Somehow, despite the misery of most of his people, Obiang still managed to “win” reelection with 95 percent of the vote in 2009.
Obiang has endeared himself to the Bush and Obama administrations (Condoleezza Rice called him a “good friend”) by opening his country’s oil wealth up for exploitation by US corporations, which have invested billions of dollars there. Secret diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2009 reveal that Washington advised ”abandoning a moral narrative” regarding the brutal Obiang regime and the Obama administration was more than happy to oblige. Just two months before he “won” his impossible landslide reelection victory, Barack and Michelle Obama met the friendly dictator and posed for photos with him and his wife at a lavish Manhattan reception.
Uzbekistan: This Central Asian country is a police state that has been ruled continuously by the wicked Islam Karimov since it was part of the Soviet Union. There is zero freedom of expression or of the press in Uzbekistan, and although Karimov holds periodic elections, they are farcical affairs in which he always receives around 90 percent of the vote.
But Uzbekistan sits smack in the middle of the region’s massive oil and natural gas resources and is also a valuable ally in the War on Terror. The Northern Distribution Network, a supply line to Afghanistan, passes right through it.
Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Uzbek political prisoners are locked up in horrific conditions and subjected to medieval tortures. Prisoners are forced to stand in freezing water for hours, have their skin torn off with pliers or are occasionally boiled to death. Uzbek authorities have also imprisoned, tortured or killed thousands of Muslims just for practicing their faith.
The Bush administration cozied up to the vile Karimov regime, inviting the dictator to the White House and lavishing him with half a billion dollars in aid, much of it directly funding the police and intelligence services that torture and murder. When Uzbek forces committed a vodka-fueled massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Andijan in 2005, Pentagon officials helped block an international investigation of the incident.
President Obama has continued to extend the hand of friendship to Karimov, sending Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus and the late Richard Holbrooke to Tashkent to shore up relations. Last February, Obama announced that the US would resume military aid to the despotic regime despite its continued grave human rights abuses.
Turkmenistan: Home to the world’s fifth-largest natural gas reserves, Uzbekistan’s southern neighbor was for decades run by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, whose bizarre cult of personality knew no limits. Niyazov renamed a town, a meteor and the month of January after himself. He also scrapped the Hippocratic Oath for doctors and replaced it with an oath to– guess who– Niyazov. The eccentric dictator outlawed gold teeth, opera, ballet and lip-syncing. He even published a ‘Book of the Soul’ that was elevated to the level of the Bible and Koran. When one Islamic cleric objected, he was sentenced to 23 years behind bars. Stalinesque show trials, torture and murder were everyday facts of life.
Niyazov died in 2006. But the nation remains one of the most repressive and corrupt in the world. Successive US administrations, however, have ignored the brutality as they pursue lucrative pipeline deals and access to routes to supply the war in Afghanistan. The dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow “won” reelection last year with 97 percent of the vote, a troubling development that was met with silence and continued friendship from the Obama administration. The US has also provided millions of dollars in aid to the brutal tyrant.