This week, the Trump administration condemned the Venezuelan government following the country’s recent election. But as the U.S. imposes sanctions on Venezuela and vocally decries their lack of democracy, President Trump’s outrage is all but nonexistent as a U.S. ally preparing to behead 14 students for protesting. Though the Venezuelan regime is undoubtedly corrupt, the president’s outrage is meaningless in light of his lack of concern for the victims of U.S. allies.
In June of last year, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered the beheadings of 14 young people they convicted of waging an armed rebellion against the regime during pro-democracy protests in 2011 and 2012. Amnesty International summarized the charges against them:
“They were convicted of a range of charges that included ‘armed rebellion against the ruler’ by, among other things ‘participating in shooting at security personnel, security vehicles,’ ‘preparing and using Molotov Cocktail bombs,’ ‘theft and armed robbery’ and ‘inciting chaos, organizing and participating in riots.’”
However, both Amnesty International and Reprieve, another human rights organization, assert that according to court documents, these convictions were largely based on confessions extracted through torture. The beheadings were finalized this month, and the SCC failed to investigate the defendants’ claims they were forced to confess.
The demonstrators were recently moved to a Saudi prison in Riyadh where individuals awaiting execution are housed. One of those individuals is a Saudi student who was on his way to study at Western Michigan University in 2012 when he was intercepted at a Saudi airport in 2012 and held for years before trial. Multiple entities have intervened on his behalf, specifically. Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat is partially deaf and partially blind and attended protests against the monarchy in 2011 and 2012.
This upcoming slew of executions is not isolated. According to Reprieve, Saudi Arabia has already beheaded 57 people in 2017, and this has long been a popular form of punishment in The Kingdom. Pro-democracy dissenters have also been sentenced to lashing and crucifixion, though the latter punishment was waived in the case of a teenager who protested the regime around the same time as the 14 youths currently facing beheading.
The American Federation of Teachers(AFT) has urged the White House to intervene on behalf of al-Sweikat, Janet Bass, from the organization’s media affairs division, told Anti-Media in an email that the Trump administration has not responded to their request, which they issued on July 15. AFT has also requested a meeting with the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
Thus far, Trump has not publicly commented on al-Sweikat’s case. Anti-Media has also reached out to Michigan Representative Jon Hoadley — who has also pushed for action from the White House — for an update on a response from the Trump administration. “Any government that stands idly by while a young man loses his life in such a barbaric and arcane way, for no real crime, is complicit in his death,” Hoadley said earlier this month. We will update this article if and when we receive a response from Hoadley’s office.
Despite his previous campaign rhetoric against Saudi Arabia, Trump has strengthened ties with the monarchy since taking office, abandoning criticism in order to form a purported partnership against terrorism (never mind that Saudi Arabia is deeply connected to fundamentalism, exports its radical ideology, and, according to leaked emails from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has funded ISIS).
Rather than hold the monarchy accountable for these actions, during a speech to Arab leaders in Riyadh in May, Trump said:
“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all.”
At the same time Trump ignores these egregious human rights violations, the White House is claiming to champion freedom and democracy in Venezuela. According to national security adviser H.R. McMaster:
“Maduro is not just a bad leader. He is now a dictator. Recent actions culminating in yesterday’s seizure of absolute power through the sham election of the National Constituent Assembly represent a very serious blow to democracy in our hemisphere.”
The United States is now imposing sanctions on Venezuela, whose government is clearly violently suppressing protest and failing to meet the needs of its people. However, for the Trump administration to bemoan absolute power and cry “dictator” while openly supporting and arming a regime that embodies these exact same accusations is laughable at best and dangerously oppressive at worst.
Further, CIA director Mike Pompeo recently hinted that the CIA is seeking to involve itself in the current internal crises underway in the South American country (the CIA has a long history of toppling governments in Latin America and around the world).
Though the recent Venezuelan election received little participation from citizens, it’s worth noting that Saudi Arabia has no national elections. It is run by a monarchy and offers municipal elections to voters. Saudi Arabia just recently granted women the right to participate. Citizens of both countries are subject to oppressive control from their government, but the U.S. only seeks to condemn one of those regimes.
Supporting freedom and democracy, it seems, is only an American foreign policy priority when non-allies crush the rights of their people. As the U.S. ruling establishment continues to feign support for democracy and freedom, its selective application of these values demonstrates a commitment not to principle, but to power.
Editor’s Note: It is important to note that, while both governments being discussed are guilty of corruption and abuse of power, the chaos in Venezuela can be directly linked to past and present US foreign policy actions, both within Venezuela and internationally, that were designed to achieve specific political ends at the expense of the Venezuelan people. While that does not excuse the actions taken by the Venezuelan government, those taken by the government of Saudi Arabia, have no such caveat.