Politics

Dems, Media Show Stunning Hypocrisy on Jamal Khashoggi Case

Trump is bashed for not taking a harder line with Saudi Arabia, but critics are mostly silent about so many other human rights violators

Image Credit: MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death — seemingly at the hands of the Saudi government — has dominated news coverage for days in the United States, and usually with a heap of criticism for President Donald Trump, too.

Cable news talking heads and Democratic politicians alike demand that Saudi Arabia be held accountable. (How that might be accomplished other than canceling an arms deal often gets left out of the coverage.)

The cable experts have grown increasingly strident over the fact that Trump has not abandoned the U.S.-Saudi relationship and have filled TV screens with speculation about what might be at work. He likes autocrats! He’s getting played! He believes denials!

The apparent murder of Khashoggi (pictured above) was brazen, no doubt. Turkey has accused Saudi agents of carrying it out after luring the Washington Post writer to the Saudi consulate in their country.

And few would dispute that Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, with a terrible human rights record.

But progressives and media commentators ought to explain why they mostly shrugged when previous administrators sacrificed human rights for larger geopolitical goals — including as it relates to Saudi Arabia itself.

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Here are some examples:

Saudi Arabia. Before Khashoggi’s death, Saudi Arabia racked up a long list of human rights violations and — at times — egregious actions against U.S. interests. Yet no previous presidents pulled the plug on the relationship because they concluded the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Most notoriously, the 9/11 commission documented strong evidence that Saudi elements lent financial support for the hijackers who carried out the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the nation’s history.

The public learned far more details about those activities in 2016 when the government finally declassified parts of 28 pages from the 9/11 report that had been secret. The George W. Bush administration vociferously fought against making those pages public.

Despite that history, President Barack Obama continued the bilateral relationship when he became president. In 2016, he lobbied against a bill to make it easier for American citizens to sue Saudi Arabia — and then vetoed it when it passed.

“What’s true in elementary school is true in the United States Congress: Ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it comes to our national security and the safety and security of our diplomats and our service members,” then-White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at the time.

Much of the media sided with Obama. In a typical view, Vox told readers that making it easier for Americans to sue foreign governments would risk “introducing a degree of chaos into the foreign-policy decision-making.”

Cuba. For decades, Cuba was the pariah of the Western Hemisphere — and for good reason. After seizing power in a 1959 coup, Soviet-backed communist revolutionary Fidel Castro turned the island nation into a police state. He seized private property, jailed and killed thousands of dissidents, clamped down on a previously free press, and exported violence throughout South and Central America.

His actions sparked a mass exodus that fundamentally changed south Florida.

None of that history dissuaded Obama from restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry attended a ceremony for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. Obama in 2016 traveled to Havana and said Castro had something to teach about the “shortcomings” of America.

Related: Conservatives Cheer U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council

“I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we’re falling short, because I think that we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion as well,” Obama said at the time. The media mostly cheered.

What did the United States get in return? Dozens of diplomats stationed in Cuba became seriously ill — and possibly permanently impaired — from a mysterious sonic attack that U.S. officials still cannot explain.

And far from leading to reform in Cuba, the government there remains as repressive as ever. Freedom House currently gives Cuba a score of 14 out of 100, ranking it as “not free.”

Amnesty International describes arbitrary detentions, discriminatory dismissals from state jobs, and harassment used to silence criticism. Government censorship continues.

Iran. In November 2012, a journalist died in Iran under circumstances not all that unlike that of Khashoggi. Iranian police arrested Sattar Beheshti on allegations of “acting against national security,” and held him temporarily at Tehran’s Evin Prison. Authorities transferred Beheshti to an unknown location, and he died two days later.

Beheshti had wounds in five places on his body, including his hand, foot, back, and thigh.

Beheshti’s death fits the pattern of a country that represses press freedoms, cracks down on anti-government demonstrators, and funds terrorism activities throughout the Middle East. Its leaders regularly threaten Israel with total destruction and denounce America as the “Great Satan.”

Related: Trump Takes on Iran’s ‘Corrupt Dictatorship’ at United Nations

But Obama let none of that stop him from negotiating a nuclear disarmament deal with Tehran three years after Beheshti’s death. That deal gave Iran access to world markets for its most valuable export, oil, and the return of $1.7 billion in frozen assets — including $400 million in foreign currencies that U.S. officials put on pallets and flew to Iran.

Iran remains repressive. Its Freedom House store is 18, “not free.” Amnesty International details restrictions on protest, religious practice and other civil rights. The regime imprisons scores of people who voice dissent and convicts defendants in sham trials. Torture and other ill treatment of prisoners is commonplace, according to the Amnesty International report.

China. Because of this country’s size and its importance to the global trading system, no one suggests ending this relationship. Even the suggestion of imposing tariffs to confront China’s predatory trade practices provoked a near-meltdown by America’s media and political elite.

But perhaps no other country has done more to stomp on human rights and violate international norms than China. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office in 2017 estimated that Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property amounts to $225 billion to $600 billion a year.

Freedom House gives China a 2018 aggregate score of 14, ranking it as “not free.”

China last year imprisoned 52 journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. That is the most of any country in the world, accounting for about 16 percent of the worldwide total.

Amnesty International’s assessment of China’s human rights record is harsh. It notes that the country has enacted laws under the guise of national security that deprive citizens of basic rights. Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, died in custody.

The activist organization notes that China regularly detains human rights advocates and prosecutes them on overly broad and vague charges, such as “subverting state power.” Police sometimes detain activists outside of formal detention facilities for long periods of time, according to the report.

Related: Persecution of Chinese Christians Worse Now Than Under Bloody Mao

Amnesty International says China also placed stiff controls on the internet — and, in fact, has strengthened them — and represses religious activities outside of state-sanctioned churches.

The government has cracked down on freedom of expression and pro-democracy activities in Hong Kong, which has enjoyed a special status since China acquired it from Britain in 1997.

Human Rights Watch has documented particularly harsh treatment of 13 million Turkic Muslims, who have been subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, and mass surveillance.

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