TOPICS > World

Independent Commission: Bahrain Tortured Activists in Deadly Crackdown

November 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Young people and police clashed Wednesday in Bahrain as an independent commission released its findings on the upheavals that shook the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom earlier this year and the deadly crackdown that followed. Margret Warner reports.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, we come back to the Arab spring uprisings, this time in the Persian Gulf.

Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: Young people and police clashed in Bahrain again today, as shown in this YouTube video. The skirmishes came as an independent commission revealed its findings on the upheavals that shook the tiny Gulf kingdom earlier this year and the crackdown that followed.

The demonstrations led by Bahrain’s Shiite majority began Feb. 14 in the capital Manama’s central Pearl Roundabout. Protesters called for greater political freedoms and more opportunity for the Shiite majority. The police and army reacted quickly and forcefully against the protesters, killing three. But despite the crackdown and arrests that followed, the protests didn’t entirely stop.

This oil-producing kingdom of three-quarters-of-a-million people lies sandwiched between the two major Gulf powers, Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-ruled Iran. On March 14, amid a continuing standoff, Bahrain’s royal family welcomed 1,000 troops and dozens of military vehicles from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates onto the island.

Within days, Bahraini forces drove all the protesters out of the roundabout, using bulldozers to clear the area, and even tore down the landmark Pearl monument itself. A state of emergency was lifted in June, but political deadlock and sporadic protests continued.

In July, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ordered an independent inquiry into the events in February and March and the months that followed. Leading the investigation, Egyptian-American law professor Cherif Bassiouni, a veteran of United Nations human rights investigations.

Today, his Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released its 500-page report into the events that have resulted in the deaths of 35 people.

Among the key findings: Bahrain security forces used excessive force, including torture and forced confessions. Jailed detainees were abused. Shiites were purged from workplaces. Shiite mosques were destroyed. And the commission said it found no evidence to support a key government claim, that the uprising was the work of nearby Iran.

In response, the king said today: “You have identified serious shortcomings on the part of some organs of our government, particularly in failing to prevent instances of excessive force and the mistreatment of persons placed under arrest.”

He promised further review and corrective action.

In Washington today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner commended the monarchy for authorizing such an exhaustive independent review. And he called for actions to follow.

MARK TONER, State Department spokesman: We believe it does offer Bahrain an historic opportunity to join together, the people of Bahrain and the king to join together to find a path to implement these recommendations and to undertake other necessary reforms.

MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. has a stake in developments in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Some lawmakers have expressed uneasiness with the crackdown. A proposed $53 million arms sale to Bahrain was put on hold pending release of today’s report.