Is Obama Ignoring American Rights in Saudi Arabia?

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By Amanda Gramley

“The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions.”  This is a statement made on June 23 by President Barak Obama in reference to the riots in Iran in response to the election.  In this declaration, Obama shows righteous anger and sympathy for the rights of Iranians.  Both are noble sentiments that needed to be expressed.  He came out in support of non-Americans, but it seems that he does not show the same consideration to Americans in foreign countries, especially ones with strong diplomatic ties to the US.

Political alliances seem to be interfering with the rights of American citizens. There has been recent evidence that political considerations receive priority over human rights of Americans abroad.  One such example of this shocking practice can be seen in Saudi Arabia. This Middle Eastern country is a close and staunch ally, a fact proven by Obama’s personal visit to the King Abdullah’s horse ranch earlier this month in order to obtain his advice prior to his famous Cairo speech.  Such a close relationship between the two countries seems to have led the United States to overlook its own citizens.

In Saudi Arabia, two Americans are being held in a prison, and there has been no attention paid to their plight, by the Western media nor have statements been made from the Obama administration.  Two brothers, Ammar and Nouh AbdulJabar, have been in prison since March 19, after participating in a silent vigil that supported religious freedom in a country that lacks most freedoms.  The two men, aged 27 and 29 are sentenced to spend six years in a Saudi prison and they will most likely be flogged in addition to their imprisonment. There has been no evidence that the United States has done anything to help their case or even to acknowledge its existence.

Contrasting sharply are the recent cases of Americans held in North Korea and Iran, both countries that have no diplomatic ties with the United States. The world has become familiar over the past couple of weeks with the story of the two American journalists sentenced to twelve years in a labor camp for illegally crossing the North Korean border.   The White House Deputy Press Secretary said, “Obama is deeply concerned about the reported sentencing of the two American citizen journalists by North Korean authorities.”  A spokesperson from the State Department also voiced their concern and stated that, “we are engaged through all possible channels to secure their release.”  An equally prominent case was that of Roxana Saberi, another American journalist who made headlines after her conviction of spying and was later released from an Iranian prison in May after intervention from the U.S. government and pleas from around the world.

In addition, by looking at the cases there seems to be evidence that they are tied in with the current foreign policy philosophy of progressive realism that has become a trademark of the new president. Looking out for the interests of America and having it, as a main goal is commendable.  It is most likely true that if the US demands the release of American prisoners from Saudi Arabia it could harm the close relationship between the two countries. However, is it really a good policy to consider those friendly ties before protecting her own citizens?

The Obama administration has come out with their support of the Iranian people’s right to protests and have their voices heard, the US must now make advances to secure the rights of her own citizens. The voice of Americans, including those in Saudi prisons, ought to be heard by President Obama and our elected officials.

Amanda Gramley is a researcher at the Institute for Gulf Affairs, a Washington DC think tank.

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