Another Intelligence Community Disaster

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 18, 2011

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain has decided to crack down viciously on protesters in the country. This took the Obama Administration by surprise because . . . well . . . read this:

In a January 2010 cable, the American Embassy in Bahrain criticized the human rights group Freedom House for downgrading Bahrain’s rating from “partly free” to “not free” in its global survey of political rights and civil liberties. The cable asserted that Freedom House had been successfully lobbied by a radical Shiite movement, known as Haq, which rejects the government’s reform efforts.

Another cable passed along doubts about a Human Rights Watch report that said the police were using torture in interrogations — saying it relied heavily on allegations made by members of the same group — though the embassy did urge the Bahraini authorities to undertake a “timely and credible” investigation.

“The embassy was feeding this happy talk for years,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain was moving on a genuine reform path for several years, but it did a significant U-turn in the last year, and I think the U.S. government was well behind the curve.”

A senior administration official said Mrs. Clinton was not offering a definitive judgment of Bahrain’s record, but praising it for legislative elections a few weeks earlier, which the government, by all accounts, had handled in a free and fair manner. Elections, Mrs. Clinton noted, are only one element of a democratic system. And she addressed, albeit perfunctorily, the arrests of human rights advocates.

“People are arrested and people should have due process, and there should be the rule of law, and people should have good defense counsel,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We believe in all of that, and we say all of that.”

Still, the chummy tone of her visit, and those of other American officials, has magnified the shock and dismay of American officials over the violence. They are struggling to understand how King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a monarch described in the cables as “personable and engaging,” could have resorted to the kinds of brutal measures that Egypt’s government shunned.

Yeah, who could possibly have thought that a government criticized by Freedom House just last year, with its monarch facing a potential revolution, might have decided to use violence in order to keep power? Between this, and James Clapper–the Director of National Intelligence, mind you–telling us that the Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular”(!), we see that the country’s intelligence establishment is in what Glenn Reynolds would call “the very best of hands.”

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