AFTER A summit with Persian Gulf rulers last week, President Obama said his aim was to “make sure that . . . we share a broad common vision.” Presumably that endeavor, and the defense of the Gulf states by the U.S. military, is not consistent with the abduction, torture and trial on trumped-up charges of U.S. citizens. So we’re hoping the president took the time to discuss the case of Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat when he met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, on the summit’s sidelines.
In August 2014, security forces of the United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is a part, seized a number of men of Libyan origin who had been involved in efforts to supply aid to Libya following the 2011 uprising against dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Two were U.S. citizens: Kamal Eldarat and his son Mohamed, both sucessful businessmen who had been living in the emirate. According to U.N. human rights authorities, the men were held incommunicado for three months at an undisclosed location and subjected to extensive torture, including waterboarding and electric shocks. In January of this year, they were abruptly brought before a court and charged with supporting terrorism.
As UAE prosecutors have since effectively conceded, the allegations were groundless. The Eldarats helped supply aid to the city of Misurata in cooperation with Libyan authorities, who have vouched for them. They were arrested because in the complex civil war that subsequently overtook Libya, the UAE backed rival forces. The only evidence presented against them in court were confessions they were coerced into signing, along with the testimony of the state security agent who interrogated them.
In March, prosecutors suddenly dropped the terrorism counts. But rather than release the Eldarats, they charged them with providing foreign aid without the government’s permission. That claim, too, is contrary to extensive evidence. But the two Americans now face potential prison sentences of up to 15 years if found guilty next month.
The case is symptomatic of the disconnect between the rhetoric of strategic partnership with the United States and the actual practices of Persian Gulf regimes. The UAE has persistently backed forces in Libya that would spoil the fragile unity government fostered by the United Nations with U.S. and European support. At home, it subjects critics, and anyone else regarded as threatening, to harsh repression. Torture and sham trials are routine — and U.S. citizens seem to be singled out for exceptional punishment, notwithstanding the tiny country’s heavy reliance for defense on U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.
All too often the Obama administration has played down or ignored these abuses. In the case of the Eldarats, it was silent for 18 months after their imprisonment, even as human rights groups and U.N. authorities reported on their torture and called for their release. Though administration officials recently told the family that the case has been raised with UAE authorities at high levels, the State Department has yet to call for the men’s release. The United States should not be providing security to nations that wantonly torture and unjustly imprison U.S. citizens.