Hunting Humans: Birdshot in Bahrain

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In this photo apparently from October 2011, a Bahraini police officer aims his shotgun.  During the protests in Bahrain so far, shotguns like this one used by police and pro-government thugs against unarmed demonstrators or bystanders have been a major cause of death and injury.  The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found that ten individuals died as a result of the use of a shotgun by police officers or unidentified actors.  Five individuals who died were shot in the back at close range, and a further three were shot in the head, also at close range.  The Commission remarked in eight of these ten cases that there was no justification for the use of lethal force.  One of the remaining two cases was outside its temporal mandate, and the circumstances of death in the final case were unknown.  Additionally, while the Commission attributes the death of Hani Abdulaziz Abdulla Jumaa to non-shotgun gunshots fired by police (police during the crackdown are pictured carrying M4 rifles as well as shotguns), there are photographs of shotgun cartridges in the room where Hani was found bleeding.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented injuries caused by shotguns, including several cases of people who lost one or both eyes when they were hit with shotgun pellets in the face.  Also, shotgun pellets were observed in the bodies of individuals whose cause of death was not shotgun injuries.  This post by user alba7rany contains videos showing a few relatively recent shotgun injuries in Bahrain, as well as individuals receiving treatment in private homes for shotgun injuries to avoid arrest at a hospital.

In this post, I first list six manufacturers whose shotgun cartridges are used in Bahrain.  I have identified five of these companies, and one was identified by someone in Bahrain.  All five manufacturers are headquartered in an EU country, although one is owned by a US-based parent company.  The identification of these companies is based solely on photographs of shotgun cartridges that were apparently used in Bahrain.  At the moment, I have not figured out how these cartridges end up in Bahrain.  Perhaps the ammunition is sold directly to the government, or maybe it is transferred through an intermediary.  It is also possible that some of these cartridges are purchased and used individually by police or non-police thugs.

After I introduce the manufacturers, I’ll examine an image comparing shotgun pellets supplied by the government with those extracted from the body of Ahmed Jaber Al Qattan, the latest casualty of the shotgun in Bahrain.  The government claims that the mismatch in pellet size is evidence that Ahmed was not killed by police.  However, as I will demonstrate, there is reason to be skeptical of this assertion.  Finally, I’ll conclude with an examination of a common claim by human rights organizations in Bahrain that the use of shotguns against humans is prohibited under international law.  I’ll show that the human rights organizations are unlikely to be correct on this point.

It’s well-known that shotguns are commonly used for killing animals.  However, what is perhaps shocking is that the cartridges found in Bahrain that I have been able to identify are specifically designed and marketed for hunting.  A forum user remarks that the cartridge found in the room where Hani was shot is “a great pigeon cartridge.”  That company describes itself as a manufacturer of “quality ammunition for hunting and clay shooting.”  Another manufacturer boasts about a cartridge used in Bahrain: “for the serious hunter, the cartridges … offer high quality and top performance … particularly suitable for duck and woodland hunting.”  A cartridge that was used as recently as 6 January in Sanabis is made “for hunting with setters” according to the manufacturer. (A setter is a dog that hunters use to locate animals, typically birds, to shoot). The “recommended prey” for another cartridge includes various birds and rabbits.  I want to emphasize that the cartridges that I have been able to identify seem to be the exact same editions of the cartridges that are marketed and commonly used for hunting.  The cartridges do not appear to be any sort of “police shot” or “riot control shot.”  None of the cartridges bear any markings or words to indicate that they are intended for self defense or law enforcement use.

I’ve sorted the cartridges shown below by “first known use,” which is the first date, that I know of, when the cartridges were used against protesters.  Since I’ve only been able to locate a few images of cartridges, and most of my images are from the village of Al-Dair, it is likely that police or thugs used the cartridges before the “first known use” date that I have indicated.  For each cartridge, I also specify a “last known use” date and a list of “known areas used,” with the same caveat of incompleteness.

In cases where I have been able to identify the size of pellet (also called “shot”), the quantity of pellets in the cartridge, and the type of metal used in the pellets, I list this information as well.  I glean these details from markings on the cartridge, manufacturer specifications, or from visual properties of the pellets or cartridge.  Pellet sizes are often identified with a number or letter that corresponds to a specific pellet diameter.  This table lists the sizes of shot for different countries, the approximate pellet weight, and the approximate number of pellets per 28 grams (1 ounce).  US sizes F or bigger are typically called birdshot.  Any US size smaller than F is typically called buckshot.  Typical shot materials are lead or steel.  US and EU size numbers agree for all birdshot sizes, so I’ll assume US/EU sizes in the rest of this post.

 

Cartridge 1: Rottweil Tiger by Rottweil (Germany)

Rottweil_germany

  • First known use: 2009
  • Last known use: 2009
  • Known areas used: Unknown
  • Known sizes of pellets used: Unknown
  • Known cartridge weights: 32 grams (likely)
  • Shot material: Lead

060706

This 2009 photo from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights website shows an individual holding a Rottweil Tiger cartridge in Bahrain.


Cartridge 2: Victory Starlight by Victory Quality Ammunition aka G&L Calibers Ltd. (Cyprus)

Victory_cyprus

  • First known use: On or before 17 February 2011
  • Last known use: 9 April 2012
  • Known areas used: Al-Khamis, Sanabis, Kawarah, Sitra, Nabi Saleh, Jidhafs, Ma’ameer
  • Known sizes of pellets used: #8 birdshot
  • Known cartridge weights: 32 grams
  • Shot material: Lead

Victory_bag

In this 17 February 2011 photo, someone in an unidentified location in Bahrain holds a Victory Starlight cartridge.

Victory_hani

This 19 March 2011 photo in Al-Khamis shows Victory Starlight cartridges on the ground of the room where Hani Abdulaziz Abdulla Jumaa was found.  One appears to be #8 birdshot based on markings on the cartridge.  According to a medical inspector working with Human Rights Watch, tissue fragments stuck to the ceiling and fragments of his kneecap found in the room are consistent with him being shot in the room at close range.

However, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry says that Hani was shot “while running away,” and classifies Hani’s death as “death from the use of another type of firearm,” rather than “death from the use of a shotgun.”  Police were seen carrying M4 rifles during early March (perhaps M4A1 rifles, which the US is known to have sold to Bahrain).

Shotgun-m4

In this March photo, a policeman chooses his shotgun over the M4 rifle on his back.

Victory starlight cartridges are also visible in these videos.  The second video is from 25 March, however I’m not sure where it was filmed.

Starlight-jan24

In this 24 January 2012 photo from Kawarah, two unidentified cartridges appear on either side of what appears to be a Victory Starlight cartridge.  The basis of identification is that a letter “T” is visible in the same orientation and position as the last “T” in “STARLIGHT” on Victory Starlight cartridges.  The bottom of an “8” is visible on the cartridge in the same position as the “8” on the cartridge in the room where Hani was killed.  This seems to indicate that this cartridge was filled with #8 birdshot.

Starlight-jan25

In this 25 January 2012 photo from Sanabis, what appears to be a Victory Starlight cartridge is visible at close range.  The basis of identification is that letters “T” and “L” are visible in the same oritentation and position as in “STARLIGHT.”  Also, the “32g” is in the same position as on Victory Starlight cartridges, and what appears to be the stylized “Victory” logo is printed below.

Nabisaleh

This 27 January 2012 photo from Nabi Saleh shows a Victory Starlight cartridge.  Thanks to Twitter user @Proud_BH for linking me this picture!

Sitra-victory

This 27 January 2012 photo from Sitra shows what appears to be a Victory Starlight cartridge.  The basis of identification is that a letter “A” is visible in the same orientation and position as the “A” in “STARLIGHT” on Victory Starlight cartridges.  Thanks to Twitter user @Proud_BH for linking me this picture!

Starlight-feb10

This 10 February 2012 photo from Sitra shows an individual holding five Victory Starlight cartridges.  One of the cartridges appears to be #8 birdshot.  Thanks to Twitter user @Proud_BH for linking me this picture!

Starlight-closeup-feb10-2

This 10 February 2012 photo from Sitra shows an individual holding four Victory Starlight cartridges.  One of the cartridges appears to be #8 birdshot.  It is unclear if these four cartridges are also shown in the previous 10 February image.  Thanks to @sayedahmed89, who seems to have taken this picture.

Starlight-feb10-2

This 10 February 2012 photo from Sitra shows an individual holding four Victory Starlight cartridges.  One of the cartridges appears to be #8 birdshot.  It is unclear if these four cartridges are shown in the previous 10 February images.

Starlight-closeup-feb10

This 10 February 2012 photo from Sitra shows an individual holding a Victory Starlight cartridge.  It is unclear if this cartridge is shown in the previous 10 February images.  Thanks to @sayedahmed89, who seems to have taken this picture.

Starlight-feb10-3

This 10 February 2012 photo from Sitra shows an individual holding five Victory Starlight cartridges.  It is unclear if these five cartridges are shown in the previous 10 February images.

Victory-teargas-rubber

This 10 February 2012 photo from Sitra, for the first time, shows the headstamp on a Victory Starlight cartridge (right).  The photo also shows what appears to be an unexploded tear gas canister, and rubber or plastic balls from an unknown source.  This image is cropped from an original picture by Twitter user @sayedahmed89.  The cropping removes some carpeting from the photo.

Starlight-feb11

This 11 February 2012 photo from Jidhafs shows a Victory Starlight cartridge.  The cartridge appears to be #8 birdshot.  Thanks to Twitter user @Proud_BH for linking me this picture!

Starlight-gamebore-apr9

This 9 April 2012 photo from Ma’ameer shows five Victory Starlight cartridges (all except the fourth from the bottom).  One of the cartridges appears to be #8 birdshot.

Starlight-apr9-1

This 9 April 2012 photo from Ma’ameer shows an individual holding a Victory Starlight cartridge.  It is unclear if this cartridge is shown in the previous 9 April image.

Starlight-apr9-2

This 9 April 2012 photo from Ma’ameer shows a Victory Starlight cartridge.  It is unclear if this cartridge is shown in the previous 9 April images.

 

Cartridge 3: Unidentified cartridge by Gamebore (UK) owned by Kent Gamebore (US)

Gamebore_uk

  • First known use: On or before 4 August 2011
  • Last known use: 9 April 2012
  • Known areas used: Al-Dair, Ma’ameer
  • Known sizes of pellets used: #2 birdshot, #8 birdshot
  • Known cartridge weights: 32 grams
  • Shot material: Metal (apparently)

Gamebore_generic_1

In this undated photo uploaded on 4 August 2011 by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an individual holds three Gamebore cartridges. Two are empty, one is full.  Based on highly crude estimation, the full cartridge appears to be #2 birdshot or a shot with a larger diameter.

Gamebore_generic_2

This undated photo uploaded on 4 August 2011 by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights shows three empty Gamebore cartridges.  One of them appears to be #8 birdshot.

Gamebore_dair_1

This 26 December 2011 photo in Al-Dair shows a Gamebore #2 birdshot cartridge.

Gameborev3

This 6 February 2012 photo in Al-Dair shows two Gamebore cartridges (the two cartridges on the right).

Starlight-gamebore-apr9

This 9 April 2012 photo in Ma’ameer shows a Gamebore cartridge (the fourth from the bottom).

 

Cartridge 4: Unidentified cartridge by RC Cartridges (Italy)

Rc_italy

  • First known use: 16 September 2011
  • Last known use: 16 September 2011
  • Known areas used: Al-Dair
  • Known sizes of pellets used: Unknown
  • Known cartridge weights: Unknown
  • Shot material: Unknown

Rc_cartridge_dair

This 16 September 2011 photo in Al-Dair, shows an RC cartridge.

 

Cartridge 5: V3 Feltro by Pegoraro Sport (Italy)

Pegoraro_italy

  • First known use: 17 December 2011
  • Last known use: 6 February 2012
  • Known areas used: Al-Dair, Sanabis
  • Known sizes of pellets used: Unknown
  • Known cartridge weights: 36 grams
  • Shot material: Lead

V3_1

In this 17 December 2011 photo in Al-Dair, an individual holds up a Pegoraro V3 Feltro cartridge.

V3_2

This 17 December 2011 photo in Al-Dair shows the bottom of a Pegoraro V3 Feltro cartridge.  The cartridge appears to bear the inscription “Cheddite,” which is a French manufacturer of empty shotgun cases.  In other words, Cheddite doesn’t manufacture or sell the pellets inside the cartridge, only the casing.  Presumably, they sell the empty cases to Pegoraro who insert the pellets and then sell the complete cartridges.

Birdshot_back_dec

In this 17 December 2011 photo in Al-Dair, a Pegoraro V3 Feltro cartridge is seen resting on the shoulder of someone apparently injured by birdshot on the same night.  The cartridge may be the same one shown before.  Perhaps this individual was shot with pellets from that cartridge.  The fact that this individual was shot from the back, and the fact that he appears to be the only victim (no pictures of other victims were posted), indicates that whoever shot him was not using the shotgun in a defensive manner.

V3_jan6

This 6 January 2012 photo in Sanabis shows an individual holding a Pegoraro V3 Feltro cartridge.  No one was injured by this shot, according to Twitter user SanabisYouths.

Gameborev3

This 6 February 2012 photo in Al-Dair shows a Pegoraro V3 Feltro cartridge (the cartridge on the left).

 

Cartridge 6: PL 32 by Fiocchi Munizioni (Italy)

Fiocchi_italy

  • First known use: Before 9 February 2012
  • Last known use: Before 9 February 2012
  • Known areas used: Unknown
  • Known sizes of pellets used: Unknown
  • Known cartridge weights: 32 grams
  • Shot material: Metal (apparently)

Fiocchi

Thanks to Twitter User @JeblatHabshi for this picture of four Fiocchi PL 32 cartridges, and two additional cartridges that may be Fiocchi PL 32s.  The cartridges were apparently recently on display outside the village of Al Qadam.

 

Cartridge 7: Pro-One International Trap by Hull Cartridge (UK)

Hull_uk

  • First known use: 8 April 2012
  • Last known use: 8 April 2012
  • Known areas used: Al-Eker
  • Known sizes of pellets used: #7 or above (see below)
  • Known cartridge weights: 24.5g or smaller (see below)
  • Shot material: Lead or other ISSF-approved material (see below)

Hull-bahrain

The above photo from Al-Eker on 8 April 2012 shows an individual holding two shotgun cartridges.  I modified the image to include (in the bottom left) a rotated and enhanced picture of the leftmost cartridge.  This cartridge appears to be the Hull Pro-One International Trap cartridge.  “International Trap” seems to be a reference to the olympic sport.  The official rules for the sport, which specify what type of shotgun cartridges are allowed, can be found starting from page 361 of this document.  Of particular interest is section 9.4.3.1 (p 366), which states that cartridges must not have more than 24.5g of shot, and the maximum allowable size for pellets is 2.6mm in diamater.  A diameter of 2.6mm or smaller corresponds with US birdshot sizes #7 and above.

The basis of identification of the cartridge is the similarity between the image above, and the cartridge seen in the image below.  The image below is from this online auction, which identifies the cartridge as the Hull Pro-One International Skeet.  Note the similar color, the similar font, capitalization, and position of the word “INTERNATIONAL.”  It also appears that the “ONE” in “PRO – ONE” is visible in the above image.  However, Instead of “SKEET,” the text below “INTERNATIONAL” in the above image is more consistent with “TRAP.”

Hull-pro-one-international-skeet

 

Police birdshot or other birdshot?

Police_vs_thug

This image, which ran in independent newspaper Al Wasat, shows a comparison of the birdshot extracted from Ahmed Jaber Al Qattan’s body (top), with birdshot supplied by police for the purposes of this picture (bottom).  Based on the measurements and weights given, the top is #2 birdshot, and the bottom is #9 birdshot.  So far, we’ve seen #2 and #8 birdshot cartridges, with no indication if the cartridge was fired by police or thugs.  None of the cartridges pictured so far appear to be #9 birdshot, thus it is somewhat perplexing to see the police presenting #9 birdshot for this image.

The Gamebore and Victory Starlight cartridges seem to have 32g of shot.  Using this table of shot sizes as a source, #2 birdshot means about 98 lead pellets or 143 steel pellets per cartridge.  For #8 birdshot, there would be about 456 lead pellets per cartridge.  For #9 birdshot, there would be about 650 lead pellets per cartridge.  Alternatively, using the weights provided in the above image, the #2 birdshot would yield 89 pellets per 32g (meaning it is more consistent with lead than steel).  The #9 birdshot would yield about 552 pellets per 32g (meaning it is more consistent with lead than steel).

The Gamebore and Victory Starlight cartridges seem to be 12 gauge (gauge is a measure of diameter of the cartridge itself, like caliber).  Assuming that police only use 12 gauge shotguns, then the Rottweil Tiger cartridge would also contain 32g of shot according to Rottweil’s website.  The Pegoraro V3 Feltro cartridge contains 36g of shot.  I’ve been unable to identify the number of grams of shot in Cartridge 4, due to insufficient markings and/or photos of the cartridge.

Looking at pictures of individuals in Bahrain who have died from birdshot at close range, the wounds on their bodies do not appear to indicate anywhere close to the around 650 pellets associated with #9 birdshot.  In particular, the wounds on Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima’s corpse seem to be consistent with a cartridge containing 98-143 pellets, and quite inconsistent with a cartridge containing around 650 pellets.  Based on the dispersal of the pellets, it seems that the vast majority of the ammunition from the cartridge was transfered to Ali’s back.

Almeshaima

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found that Ali was killed by police.  Assuming a 32g shotgun cartridge, this would indicate that police probably used #2 birdshot to kill Ali.  This suggests that the Ministry of Interior may be lying.  Of course, this argument is not airtight, because there is no information about the size of the cartridge that killed Ali.  However, only cartridge weights of 32g or larger have been observed.

In summary, there is very good reason to be skeptical of the Ministry of Interior’s explicit claim that they do not use #2 birdshot, and their implicit claim that they only use #9 birdshot.

 

Is using birdshot against humans prohibited under international law?

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, and the Bahrain Human Rights Society all agree that it is illegal under international law to use a shotgun against a human.  The Ministry of Interior disagrees.  There seem to be two main claims that I can find behind the belief that birdshot is internationally prohibited.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights states:

Protocol 1 of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) prohibits the use of shotgun or any other similar weapon as the Protocol states, ‘It is prohibited to use any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays.’

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights provides a different rationale for their claim in this Gulf Daily News interview.  The society claims:

… the pellet gun is illegal in most parts of the world. Any weapon in which the shooter doesn’t know its target specifically is against the law because when police use it, it’s not just rioters who are affected, but also bystanders.

Unfortunately for the human rights organizations, the Ministry of Interior is probably right, for the reason that international law regarding use of conventional arms typically applies only to “armed conflict.”  This ICRC paper explains the definition of a non-international armed conflict under international law, and notes that non-international armed conflict is distinct from internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence.”  Under the criteria outlined in the paper, Bahrain does not seem to be an armed conflict.  Specifically, this is because the protesters are largely unarmed, they do not seem to have any sort of military-like command structure, and violence by protesters is sporadic rather than sustained. 

Should Bahrain’s protests someday turn into an armed conflict, would these arguments against the use of shotguns be valid?  Protocol 1 of the CCW seems to allow the use of any shotgun cartridge with metal pellets, as metal does not escape detection by X-rays.  In fact, pellets in people’s bodies are prominently visible in X-rays.  Based on counting, the following 26 March 2011 X-ray from Bahrain shows more than 400 pellets embedded in the body of an individual.  Assuming 32g of pellets, this would represent several #2 birdshot rounds, or fewer rounds with smaller pellet diameter.  It would be consistent with a single #8 birdshot round.

Birdshot_xray

As for the BYSHR’s claim about indiscriminate weapons, Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention contains the prohibition on indiscriminate use of weapons, and inherently indiscriminate weapons.  Before determining whether the prohibition applies to shotguns, first we must determine if Additional Protocol I would be applicable to an armed conflict within Bahrain.  Additional Protocol I applies to international armed conflicts, as well as armed conflicts “in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination.”  If the situation in Bahrain escalated to an armed conflict, then Additional Protocol I probably would not be applicable, given that Bahrain is not suffering for colonial domination or alien occupation.  However, it is still perhaps interesting to analyze whether the shotgun or its use might be considered indiscriminate if the situation in Bahrain was an international armed conflict.  The relevant text about indiscriminate weapons and attacks in Additional Protocol I is:

4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
(a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol;

Specifically, this text prohibits both indiscriminate uses of weapons (a) and inherently indiscriminate weapons (b,c).  The shotgun would probably not be considered an inherently indiscriminate weapon, as a number of military forces are equipped with shotguns, including the US Army, which has used them in armed conflicts as recently as the Iraq War.  So, are the Bahraini police using shotguns indiscriminately?  At least one of the manufacturers that may supply the Bahraini government also sells special shotgun cartridges that are designed to scatter pellets over a wide area.  There is no evidence that these special scattering cartridges are being used in Bahrain.  However, all cartridges will scatter pellets to some extent.  It’s unclear to me how Bahraini police commonly use shotguns, but the individuals that have died of shotgun blasts often seem to have been hit at close range and received the bulk of the pellets from the cartridge.  Close range targeting of shotguns, while perhaps illegal under other provisions of international law, does not seem likely to qualify as indiscriminate.

In summary, both the BYSHR’s claim that shotguns are illegal because they are inherently indiscriminate, and the BCHR’s claim that shotguns are illegal under the Protocol 1 of the CCW are false, given that the situation in Bahrain is not currently an armed conflict.  Even if the situation in Bahrain satisfied all of the prerequisites for the rules about undetectable fragments and indiscriminate weapons and attacks to apply, metallic shotgun ammunition would not seem to be illegal under Protocol 1 of the CCW, and the shotgun would not seem to qualify as an inherently indiscriminate weapon, though certain uses of it might be classified as indiscriminate.

Updated on 1/7/2012 to change interpretation of Additional Protocol I — I was misinterpreting “and” as “or.”

Updated on 1/8/2012 with identification of “V3″ cartridge and new picture.

Updated on 1/26/2012 with likely new pictures of Victory Starlight cartridges.

Updated on 1/27/2012 with likely new pictures of Victory Starlight cartridges.

Updated on 1/29/2012 to correct identification of size on Victory Starlight cartridges.

Updated on 2/6/2012 with new picture of Pegoraro V3 and Gamebore cartridges.

Updated on 2/9/2012 with a picture of Fiocchi PL 32 cartridges.

Updated on 2/10/2012 with four new pictures of Victory Starlight cartridges.

Updated on 2/10/2012 with a fifth picture of Victory Starlight cartridges.

Updated on 2/10/2012 with a picture of the headstamp of a Victory Starlight cartridge.

Updated on 2/11/2012 with a picture of a Victory Starlight cartridge.

Updated on 4/9/2012 with a picture of a Hull Pro-One International Trap cartridge.

Updated on 4/9/2012 with new pictures of Victory Starlight and Gamebore cartridges.

Brief Note on Bahrain-related Appropriations

Foreign Assistance

Blogger Chan’ad Bahraini asked me about the status of the $26.2M FY2012 aid request for Bahrain shown here

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”  This means that Congress needs to pass appropriations laws that allow the government to spend money.  Congress typically appropriates money one year at a time, although there are some notable exceptions.  Also, typically, government agencies submit yearly to Congress requests and justifications for their preferred amount of funding.

s to “the American way of life, including amongst other things, U.S. regard for democratic values, respect for individual and human rights and belief in the rule of law.”

So back to the question at hand.  What is the status of the State Department’s request?  Congress traditionally authorizes an overall sum of money for each of the FMF and IMET programs, and attaches a few restrictions.  In some cases, the restrictions require the money be spent in certain countries.  It seems that the State Department can allocate any funds not obligated to a specific country as they see fit (pursuant to applicable laws and regulations).  As far as I’m aware, Congress has not yet passed an FY2012 appropriations bill for the State Department.  The US Government’s 2012 fiscal year began on October 1, 2011.  So far in FY2012, the State Department has been funded by three different Continuing Resolutions (short-term appropriations bills passed when Congress cannot agree on a longer-term bill).  The funding from the latest resolution is set to run out on December 16, 2011.

Congress is considering

Of course, the FY2012 appropriations bill has not been signed into law yet.  Amounts can be changed, and restrictions can be added or removed as the bill proceeds through the legislative process.  Nevertheless, it seems likely that the final bill will likely contain sufficient funds not obligated to a specific country to allow the State Department to offer Bahrain the full amount of aid they requested from Congress.  However, if the “regular notification procedures of the Committee on Appropriations” require congressional approval in addition to notification, this could present a barrier to the aid.

Military Construction

Unrelated to the military aid to Bahrain, there’s another Bahrain-related appropriation making its way through Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act, passed in different form by the House (lower legislative chamber) and the Senate (upper legislative chamber).  One difference is that the House’s version appropriates $100,204,000 in military construction funds for the US naval base in Bahrain, while the Senate’s version appropriates $0.  In the House version, the funds are divided between two projects: “Bachelor Enlisted Quarters” ($55,010,000) and “Waterfront Development Phase 4″ ($45,194,000).  The projects seem to be part of the significant expansion of the US base in Bahrain announced in 2010.  Currently, the House and the Senate are reconciling the differences between the two bills, and will produce a single final version that will be voted on by each chamber.  It is worth noting that the White House has formally expressed concern to the Senate about the lack of funding for base construction in Bahrain.  The White House remarked: “Deferring or eliminating these projects could send the unintended message that the United States does not stand by its allies or its agreements.”

Update 12/13/2012: House and Senate negotiators have come to a compromise on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which appropriates $55,010,000 for “Bachelors Enlisted Quarters,” and $0 for “Waterfront Development Phase 4.” The Joint Statement of Managers reveals that “Waterfront Development Phase 4″ includes “the construction of a climate controlled warehouse, a vehicle wash rack, and a fleet recreation center.”  The statement suggests that funding for phase 4 was cut over concerns about the progress and necessity of the project.  As stated in the report: “… phase 3 of the project has not yet been awarded,” and “only the most critical projects … [should be] carried out in a difficult budget environment.”

Update 12/20/2012: Congress has decided to move forward with State Department appropriations through H.R. 3671, a consolidated bill that also includes appropriations for several other government departments.  The bill is currently being considered by committee, and may change substantially before it is eventually signed into law.  However, there are some noteworthy changes from the earlier version described above.  Before we get to those, it should be noted that this bill seems to define the “regular notification procedures of the Committees on Appropriations.”  It seems this procedure is fifteen days advance notification.  Explicit approval from the Committees is not required.  Presumably, however, if the Committees are strongly opposed to a funding obligation notified to them by the State Department, they can use legislation or other types of political pressure to dissuade the State Department.

Regardless of the procedure, Bahrain is removed from the list of countries requiring this extra step before they can receive FMF or IMET aid.  This should make it easier for Bahrain to receive US military aid.  Perhaps this is a nod to Bahrain’s recent PR campaign to convince the world it’s serious about addressing the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.  However, scrutiny is maintained for “crowd control items.”

the Secretary of State should consult with the Committees on Appropriations prior to obligating funds for [crowd control] items to governments of countries undergoing democratic transition in the Middle East and North Africa

Bahrain almost certainly fits this description.  The bill also adds further scrutiny of crowd control items by requiring the Secretary of State to report to the Committees on any Direct Commercial Sales of these items to certain countries.

… not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and 6 months thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing any crowd control items, including tear gas, made available with appropriated funds or through export licenses to foreign security forces that the Secretary of State has credible information have repeatedly used excessive force to repress peaceful, lawful, and organized dissent

If the Secretary of State wants to get really technical, Bahrain might not fit this description, because many (perhaps all) of the demonstrations that were repeatedly suppressed with excessive force were not authorized by the MoI, and thus were unlawful under Bahraini law.  Note that this report to the Committees will not necessarily be accessible to the public, although perhaps it can be requested from the State Department using the Freedom of Information Act.

So, in summary, this draft changes the earlier draft by making it easier for the State Department to provide military aid to Bahrain for items other than crowd control items.  For crowd control items, this draft essentially retains the notification requirement of the previous draft (this draft uses the term “consultation” as opposed to “notification,” but it’s not clear there’s any practical difference), and introduces a new reporting requirement for sales of these items to certain countries.

Accessory to Murder? US Weapons in Bahrain and the Coming Arms Sale

You may have heard: after the Bahraini government launched a crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations, killing up to 44 protesters and bystanders, the US intends to sell weapons to the Bahrain Defense Forces (BDF).

In this post, I’ll give a rough timeline of the proposed sale, starting with a brief examination of the likely use of US-origin military equipment by the BDF against protesters marching to the Pearl Roundabout on February 18, 2011.  While the BDF participated in suppression of protests on multiple occasions, the February 18 case seems to have the highest quality of evidence.  In particular, there is video both from the perspective of the protesters and the BDF.  I provide this examination to set partial context for the weapons sale and because it may have implications for the sale.  After having established that US-origin military equipment was likely used, I’ll detail the various efforts that have been put into motion since February 18 to stop arms sales to Bahrain.  I’ll conclude with a series of recommendations.

Since this blog post is a bit long, I’ll provide an executive summary:

  • At least one M113-type armored vehicle was almost certainly at the scene of the February 18, 2011 shootings of unarmed protesters, and this vehicle was very likely acquired from the US.  A weapon mounted on this vehicle may have been firing at protesters.
  • BDF personnel may have been firing at protesters with M4 or M16 rifles acquired from the US.
  • Deploying US-origin military equipment to suppress peaceful demonstrations would seem to be an unauthorized use of the equipment, and a breach of the contract of sale. 
  • The US Department of Defense (DoD) can investigate the use of the equipment under its Golden Sentry program, and is required to file a report to Congress if it finds an unauthorized use.
  • The likely use of US-origin military equipment against protesters may have political and legal implications for future arms sales to Bahrain, such as the sale announced to Congress on September 14, 2011.
  • If the US State Department finds that certain units in the BDF committed “gross human rights violations” and the Bahraini government is not taking “effective measures” to bring the “responsible members” to justice, then further weapons transfers and training aid to those units in the BDF are illegal under US law.
  • Members of Congress introduced a joint resolution on October 6, 2011 to block the arms sale; Congress has never successfully blocked any proposed arms sale using a joint resolution of this kind.
  • However, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has other options to block the arms sale “any time up to the point of delivery of the items involved.”
Full details follow.

February 18, 2011: Lethal force used against protesters

On February 18, 2011, one day after being forcibly evicted from the Pearl Roundabout, demonstrators marched back to reclaim the roundabout.  A protester video (graphic) shows a group of unarmed demonstrators approaching a BDF position near the Pearl Roundabout. As they approach, shots ring out, and protesters fall to the ground (off camera).  The camera pans back, and we see that many are hit.  One would later die from a bullet to the head (عبدالرضا محمد حسن بوحميد).

I’ll first consider the armored vehicles present at the scene, and then take a brief look at the weapons and ammunition used.

The BDF position appears to consist of:

  • Three similar armored vehicles (red)
  • A single different kind of armored vehicle (orange)
  • Soldiers on the ground

Bdf-position-highlighted

Figure 1: The BDF position (source: protester video)

Courtesy of someone behind BDF lines, we also have this heavily-edited video of the same incident, filmed from the location circled in blue.  The second scene in the BDF video shows two soldiers firing into the air, one with a pistol, and one with a rifle.  As far as I know, an unedited, complete version of this video is publicly unavailable.

Given the relative high quality of these videos, it should be possible to identify some of the weapons at the scene.  I decided to attempt this feat.  I started off with this video from February 17 of armored vehicles approaching the Pearl Roundabout, as well pictures of BDF military hardware deployed around Bahrain in February and March from this blog.  Based on the photos and video, it seems that the vehicles circled in red in Figure 1 are visually similar to M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs).

F5

Figure 2: A US Army M113 in Vietnam (source: history.army.mil)

Bdfm1132

Figure 3: Similar-looking BDF vehicle in February (source: Military in the Middle East)

Tanks

Figure 4: Similar-looking BDF vehicles (red) approaching Pearl Roundabout on February 17 (source: armored vehicle video)

The protester video does not have any close-ups of the vehicles.  Fortunately, the BDF video contains a brief view of the starboard side of the leftmost vehicle shown in Figure 1.  I extracted the following images, highlighting distinguishing features of the vehicle.

In this first image, of particular note is that the side of the vehicle is flat.  The bottom of the side contains two raised horizontal lines, with bolts in the middle, and a piece of rubber below.  Additionally, note the three circled features atop the vehicle.

Sidefeatures

Figure 5: Image #1 from BDF video

This second image shows a semicircular hole adjacent to the piece of rubber.

Wheel-highlighted

Figure 6: Image #2 from BDF video

This third image shows something protruding from the front of the vehicle.  This feature appears to be designed to accommodate a smoke grenade launcher.  The M259 smoke grenade launcher is a likely candidate, as the US gave 100 M259s to Bahrain in 1999 (according to the DSCA Excess Defense Articles Database), and this particular model is compatible with the M113.  A front view of a M259-type smoke grenade launcher installed on an M113-type APC can be seen here.

M113a2-highlighted

Figure 7: Image #3 from BDF video

Right away, we can see substantial visual similarity between the features of the vehicle from the BDF video and Figure 3.

Bdfm113-highlighted

Figure 8: Figure 3 with features identified on BDF vehicle circled

Since the goal of this section is to argue that US-origin military equipment was at the scene of the February 18 attack on protesters, we shall proceed by examining foreign arms sales to Bahrain of armored vehicles — particularly, variants of the M113.  Wikipedia has information on the development of the M113.  I’ll use the Wikipedia information to simplify the presentation here, but I shall not rely on its correctness for my argument.  The following sources record arms sales to Bahrain:

By cross-referencing these sources, we obtain the following list of known Bahraini imports of M113-type vehicles, grouped by exporter:

Performing an exhaustive examination of the other armored vehicles in the SIPRI list, one can see that none of them are visually similar to the M113.  I leave out the examination here, as this blog post is already getting quite long.  I will simply attempt to show that the vehicle from the BDF video is not an AIFV (incl. YPR-765), an M577, or an M113 C&R.  The conclusion is then that either the list above is incomplete — due to incomplete arms sale information on vehicles that look substantially similar to the M113 — or the vehicle was indeed acquired from the US.

Based on Figure 1 alone, we can immediately rule out the M577: according to this book the M577 “is easily distinguishable from the basic M113 as it has a much higher roof to allow the command staff to work in an upright position.”

M577

Figure 9: A US Army M577 (source: army.mil via archive.org)

Using Figure 1 and Figure 5-7, we can rule out the M113 C&R. Unfortunately, the best I can do for an image of an M113 C&R is the one on Wikipedia.  I’ll regard the image as a reliable source here because it is substantially similar to the images revealed by a Google Images search for “M113 C&R.”  It’s easy to see that the M113 C&R is quite different to the vehicle shown in Figures 5-7.  In particular, the horizontal portion of the hull circled in red below is not visible in Figures 5-7.  Additionally, note the vehicle’s shorter height compared to the vehicle in Figure 5.

799px-lynx-bovington

Figure 10: An M113 C&R (source: wikipedia)

Further, we can rule out the YPR-765 and the AIFV vehicles due to two features.  The first is the position and number of smoke grenade launchers.  As Jane’s Armour and Artillery notes, the AIFV line of vehicles is equipped with 6 smoke grenade launchers.  These are vehicle-mounted on the front for Netherlands vehicles (YPR-765), and mounted on the side of the turret for Belgian vehicles. In Figure 11, note the six smoke grenade launchers on the top of the front of the vehicle.  In Figure 12, note the three smoke grenade launchers on the side of the turret.  The other three are presumably on the opposite side.  In Figure 7 we saw the smoke grenade launchers in a different position.

The second distinguishing feature is the armor on the front and sides of the vehicle.  Jane’s explains that the AIFV has a layer of “spaced laminate steel armour bolted onto the hull.” This is circled in Figures 11 and 12, and notably absent from Figure 5.

Ypr765

Figure 11: Netherlands YPR-765 (source: defenseimagery.mil)

Belgium-aifv

Figure 12: Belgian AIFV (source: mil.be)

Thus, we have established that either the arms transfer data on vehicles that look substantially similar to the M113 are incomplete, or at least one (the leftmost) of the vehicles in Figure 1 was acquired from the US.

A close-up picture from later in the evening (Figure 13) shows the right three lanes in Figure 1.  Compared with Figure 1, there is an additional vehicle in the center lane.  Figure 13 shows three M113-type APCs that do not appear to be AIFVs, M577s, or M113 C&Rs.  Thus, either the arms transfer data are incomplete, or the three vehicles in Figure 13 were acquired from the US.  Some identifying markings are visible on the front of the vehicles.  The markings — white font on black background — appear to consist of a single letter followed by two numerals.  Note, however, that the vehicles in the leftmost and rightmost lanes are not necessarily the same ones as in Figure 1 — they may have been replaced in the time elapsed between Figures 1 and 13.

114cd530bf156f5dbc7fb43ab71fe0e9057

Figure 13: The scene later that evening (source: Associated Press)

Having established the very likely presence of US armor at the place and time of the shooting, we now turn to guns and ammunition.  Unfortunately, neither the protester nor BDF videos show the types of guns mounted on any of the vehicles.  Figure 13 appears to show a machine gun mounted on the leftmost vehicle.  The standard mount for an M113 is a .50 caliber M2 Browning.  Note the abundance of .50 caliber ammunition granted to Bahrain in the DCSA list.

The rifles shown in the BDF video appear to be either M4s or M16s, based on their distinctive triangular front sights, but it’s hard to be certain.  The M4 and M16 were originally developed by the US, but are now manufactured in many other countries.  The US sold M4A1s to Bahrain at some point in the past, according to the US Army Weapon Systems Handbook 2012 (relevant portion).  However, Bahrain may have acquired additional M4s or M16s from other countries.  I will not pursue this lead further, as small arms sales are notoriously hard to track.

Iron-sights

Figure 14: Triangular front sights

As for ammunition, some evidence of the use of live ammunition appears in this thread (x-rays, graphic pictures) on popular forum BahrainOnline.

Based on the BDF video, we know for certain that two soldiers on the ground were firing into the air.  It is unclear which other soldiers were firing, or whether any armored vehicle was firing.  However, the smoke visible in both videos suggests that other soldiers and/or vehicles were firing.  Figure 15 shows an un-highlighted version of Figure 1, and Figure 16 shows a similar shot just after the barrage, for comparison.

Bdf-position2

Figure 15: Before firing (un-highlighted Figure 1)

After-shooting1

Figure 16: Smoke after the barrage (source: protester video)

Additionally, smoke is visible in the BDF video, to the left of the two soldiers who are later pictured firing their weapons.

Bdf-shooting

Figure 17: Smoke in BDF video

In summary, it seems very likely that US armored personnel carriers were on the scene.  It is possible that the APCs were firing US-origin ammunition out of US-origin machine guns, but it’s hard to say for sure from the available video evidence.  It is also possible that the BDF was firing US-origin M4s or M16s, but again, hard to say for sure.

Given that US-origin military equipment may have been used against protesters, we now briefly examine the possible legal implications under US law.  US legislation refers to military equipment as “defense articles.”  The legislation (22 U.S.C. § 2314) that deals with defense articles “granted” — such as the M113s — is different than the legislation (22 U.S.C. § 2753) for defense articles “sold or leased” — such as the M4A1s.  Both contain stipulations that the receiving government must agree to permit monitoring of the use of the weapons as a condition of the transfer, and both contain provisions that require the President to report to Congress on any use of the weapons for an unauthorized purpose.  An unauthorized purpose is anything not authorized by the relevant legislation.  The authorized purposes are the same for both defense articles “granted” and those “sold and leased.”  They are:

  • Internal security
  • Legitimate self-defense
  • Participation in regional or collective arrangements or measures consistent with the Charter of the United Nations
  • Participation in collective measures requested by the United Nations for the purpose of maintaining or restoring international peace and security
  • Construction of public works and other activities helpful to economic and social development

Additionally, similar restrictions are typically written into the offer and subsequent contract to sell the defense articles, known as the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA).

Firing at unarmed demonstrators would seem to be a violation of the above restrictions.  If shooting at unarmed demonstrators is indeed a violation, then the Department of Defense should conduct an “EUM (End Use Monitoring) Investigation Visit” under its Golden Sentry (arms monitoring) program to see if US-origin military equipment was indeed used against protesters. As explained in this document: “These visits may be prompted by intelligence reports and/or other sources that indicate a host nation may be using U.S.-origin defense articles and services in ways that do not comply with U.S. laws and policies.”  This includes use of defense articles in a way that violates the above restrictions.  If the Department of Defense finds a violation, it must report the violation to Congress, who can take further action.  The DoD has jurisdiction in this case because the items in question were granted and sold to Bahrain by the US Government — as opposed to a Direct Commercial Sale (DCS), in which a private US company sells weapons directly to a foreign government.

There are several other videos that indicate other instances of possible improper use of US-origin military equipment in Bahrain, including videos of the use of live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators, as well as videos of military equipment participating in alleged mosque demolitions.  I explored this particular incident because the evidence seems to be of higher quality than other incidents.  Additionally, the forces and equipment are presumed to be Bahraini, as foreign (GCC) troops did not enter Bahrain until March.  However, it may be possible to distinguish BDF forces or equipment from foreign forces or equipment in other videos.

February 18, 2011: The Leahy Law

In the wake of the shooting, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked the State Department to investigate the government’s use of force in Bahrain to see if application of the Leahy Law was warranted.

The Leahy Law is legislation that has been apparently on the books since 1997.  It consists of two parts.  The first is 22 U.S.C. §2378D, which forbids certain kinds of military assistance from being furnished to “units” that the Secretary of State credibly believes to have committed gross violations of human rights with impunity.  It should be noted that military assistance to units that have committed gross violations of human rights is not forbidden if the foreign government is taking “effective measures” to bring the“responsible members” to justice, as determined by the Secretary of State.  The second part of the Leahy Law is an amendment attached every year to the annual defense appropriations act (the legislation that authorizes spending money for defense), which contains a similar provision that only applies to military training.

March 10, 2011: Response to Senator Leahy

The US State Department responded to the Senator on March 10, stating that they are trying to identify which BDF, police, and Ministry of Interior units responded to the protests, and will investigate the conduct of those units.  I have not been able to locate any additional news on this investigation.

A single incident, such as the one on February 18, 2011, might not be enough to constitute a “gross violation” of human rights.  It is probably a good idea for activists to investigate other videos of the use of live ammunition — and videos of mosque destructions — and attempt to confirm the presence of BDF equipment or personnel.  Note that human rights violations need not be committed with US-origin military equipment for the Leahy Law to apply.

September 14, 2011: An arms sale to Bahrain

On September 14, 2011, the US Department of Defense submitted a “Notice of Proposed Issuance of Letter of Offer” regarding an arms sale to Bahrain.  Congress must be notified of a proposed issuance of a LOA for certain arms sales — such as this one — pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 2776(b)(1).  Enclosed in the notice to Congress was the following policy justification for the sale:

This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.

Proposing an issuance of an LOA is an early step in the foreign military sales process.  All of the steps are shown in Table 5-1 of the DISAM Greenbook, available here.  I’ve reproduced the table below, crossing out steps that were done as of September 14, 2011.  As of November 10, 2011, I’m not aware of any additional steps in this table that have taken place.  Highlighted in red below is the step that encapsulates delivery of the weapons.

Preliminary (Indefinite)
  • Customer determines requirements
  • Customer obtains specific systems information 
Definition (Indefinite)
  • Customer and U.S. exchange technical information
Request (Indefinite)
  • Customer prepares and submits an LOR for price and availability (P&A) data
  • Customer prepares and submits LOR for an LOA

Development of Offer

(Policy for the response to LOR by LOA is 120 days for 80% of LORs)

(Congressional review if required is from 15-50 days.)

  • Implementing agency (IA) receives the LOR
  • IA develops an LOA data (LOAD)
  • DSCA-CWD writes LOA
  • DoS/DSCA/Congress review LOA
  • DSCA countersigns LOA
  • IA issues LOA to customer

Acceptance of the Offer

(Policy is 60 days to accept a LOA)

  • Customer signs LOA
  • Customer sends signed copy of LOA and initial deposit to Defense Finance Accounting Service-Indianapolis Center (DFAS-IN)
  • Customer sends signed copy of LOA to IA

Implementation

(15 days average)

  • DFAS-IN issues obligational authority (OA)
  • IA issues implementing directive
  • IA activates FMS computer systems

Execution

(Depends on delivery schedule)

  • Case and line managers order articles/services/ training
  • Articles and services shipped and expended training conducted
  • IA reports performance to customer and DFAS-IN

Reconciliation and Closure

(Policy is 2 years from last delivery)

  • MILDEP/DFAS-IN and customer reconcile records
  • MILDEP sends closure certificate to DFAS-IN
  • DFAS-IN issue final bill to customer

Table 5-1 from DISAM Greenbook

The $53 million arms sale in question broadly contains Humvees and TOW missiles.  The particular item of interest is the Humvees: 44 M1152A1B2 Armored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs).  The Humvees are of particular concern because the BDF could mount guns on the Humvees and use them against protesters (the missiles are less likely to be used against protesters).  The BDF likely deployed — and may have fired from — US-origin M113s on February 18, but they could just as easily use US-origin Humvees instead in the future.

Bat-11

Figure 18: BDF Humvee deployed near the Pearl Roundabout on February 18, 2011 (source: Associated Press)

As revealed by the vehicle shown in Figure 18, as well as the vehicles circled in yellow in Figure 4, the BDF already owns vehicles that appear to be Humvees, which were deployed around the Pearl Roundabout on February 17 and 18.  I’ve been unable to figure out how Bahrain acquired its existing supply of Humvees — the sale does not seem to be listed in any arms sale database that I can find.

October 6, 2011: A joint resolution

In addition to requiring that Congress be notified of certain arms sales, 22 U.S.C. § 2776(b)(1) also provides a mechanism for Congress to block some arms sales by enacting a joint resolution “prohibiting the proposed sale”.  Congress has some time period to accomplish this feat before the sale can proceed — thirty days in the case of this sale — unless the President declares the arms sale to be an emergency.  No emergency was declared by the President in this case.

With eight days remaining in the thirty day period, on October 6, 2011, Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced H.J.Res 80 and S.J.Res 28: a joint resolution prohibiting the issuance of an LOA for the arms sale until Bahrain institutes a number of reforms.  As Senator Wyden said in a statement accompanying the introduction of the resolution:

Selling weapons to the Government of Bahrain right now is about as backwards as a teacher giving the playground bully a pair of brass knuckles instead of putting him in detention.

A joint resolution is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a bill.  It must be passed in identical form by a majority of both the House and the Senate, and signed into law by the President, in order to take effect.  If the President vetoes the joint resolution, then a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress is required for enactment.  As noted in this 2010 Congressional Research Service report, “Congress has never successfully blocked a proposed arms sale by use of a joint resolution of disapproval.”

October 12, 2011: Senate Democrats letter to Clinton

On October 12, Senators Casey (D-PA), Durbin (D-IL), Cardin (D-DE), Menendez (D-NJ), and Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the Secretary of State, urging her to postpone the sale until Bahrain takes concrete steps for reform:

We urge you to send a strong signal that the United States does not condone the repression of peaceful demonstrators by delaying the possible arms sale until the Bahraini government releases its political prisoners, addresses the independent commission’s recommendations, and enters into meaningful dialogue with Bahraini civil society and opposition groups.

October 13, 2011: Senate Republicans letter to Clinton

The next day, Senator Rubio (R-FL) sent a separate letter to the Secretary of State, urging her to postpone the sale of any items that could be used against protesters, until the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report is released:

I urge the Administration to delay the sale of any items within the proposed weapons package that could be used to disrupt peaceful dissent at least until the independent commission investigating the events in February and March announces its findings.

October 14, 2011: Response to Senator Wyden

The next day, the State Department sent a response to Senator Wyden, stating that they would wait until the release of the BICI report to move forward with the sale:

The [State] Department will review the Commission’s findings carefully and assess the Government of Bahrain’s efforts to implement the recommendations and make needed reforms.  We will weigh these factors and confer with Congress before proceeding with additional steps related to the recently notified arms sale

October 14, 2011: Thirty day period elapses

On the same day, the thirty day period begun on September 14 elapsed.  H.J.Res 80 and S.J.Res 28 had not yet passed.  The LOA can now be legally issued, and the sale can move forward.

Presumably, the October 14 State Department response indicates that an LOA has not yet been issued, and that one will not be issued until some point after the BICI report is released.  Assuming an LOA has not yet been issued, it would seem that H.J.Res 80 and S.J.Res 28 can still prohibit the issuance of an LOA even after the 30 day period.  The relevant wording in 22 U.S.C. § 2776(b)(1) is:

The letter of offer shall not be issued … if the Congress within thirty calendar days … enacts a joint resolution prohibiting the proposed sale

Since joint resolutions have the full force of law, and the joint resolution in question specifies an additional circumstance under which issuance of an LOA would be illegal, it would seem that this joint resolution can effectively prevent the arms sale from moving forward if passed at any point before the LOA is issued.  But keep in mind that since this joint resolution has not yet passed, and the 30 day period has elapsed, the LOA can now legally be issued at any time.

Once an LOA is issued, Congress can still block the arms sale through other means, as explained in this Congressional Research Service report.

Congress, however, is free to pass legislation to block or modify an arms sale at any time up to the point of delivery of the items involved.

Such legislation could include, for example, “a rider to any appropriation or authorization bill” or “a freestanding bill or joint resolution,” as long as it contains an express restriction on the sale and/or the delivery of military equipment … to a specific country or countries.”

Since October 14, several co-sponsors have signed on to support H.J.Res 80 and S.J.Res 28.

October 14, 2011 – November 1, 2011: State Department press briefings

In addition to the State Department’s response to Senator Wyden, details about the arms sale have emerged through the State Department Daily Press Briefings on 10/14, 10/18, 10/19, 10/20, 10/26, and 11/1.  The basic message of these briefings can be summarized in these two quotes from the October 14 briefing:

Human rights will be taken into account.

and

…this sale is designed to support the Bahraini military in its external defense function, specifically in hardening the country against potential attack or nefarious activity by countries like Iran

There have been no indications from the State Department that they are planning to abort the sale, only assertions that the arms are solely for external defense.  Barring any major surprises in the BICI report, the sale seems likely to go ahead.  Of course, the US will need to rely on Bahrain’s assertion that this equipment will only be used for external defense, as the BDF can deploy the equipment in any way they wish without first consulting the US (though there may be consequences after the fact).  It is probably unwise to rely on the Government of Bahrain’s word here, given that they likely used US-origin military equipment in an unauthorized manner on February 18.

Recommendations

  • The Department of Defense should conduct an EUM Investigation Visit to determine if any US-origin military equipment was used for an unauthorized purpose.
  • The arms sale should be postponed pending the results of this investigation; if the investigation reveals that US-origin military equipment was indeed improperly used, Congress or the President should act to halt all further sales and other military aid to Bahrain.
  • The Department of State should look to the BICI report to address the BDF’s role in suppressing the protests.  If the BICI report does not adequately address this topic, the State Department should continue with their own investigation.  If warranted, the State Department should enforce the Leahy Law, prohibiting all further sales and other military aid to the relevant units of the BDF.
  • The existence of BDF video of the February 18 incident is intriguing, and suggests that any investigation into the Bahrain protests should attempt to obtain all footage of suppression of protests filmed by security forces.
  • Members of Congress should continue to co-sponsor H.J.Res 80 and S.J.Res 28.  However, the prospect for major action on this resolution is unlikely until the BICI report is released.  Members of Congress should also pursue other means of blocking the sale such as attaching riders to must-pass legislation.
  • Members of Congress should also write to the Department of Defense, encouraging them to perform an EUM Investigation Visit.
  • US citizens should encourage their Congresspeople to perform the above steps.
  • Activists should investigate other videos showing the use of live ammunition, as well as videos of mosque destructions, and try to establish the participation of BDF equipment and/or personnel.

Faking a Protest in Sitra

On October 12, 2011, Bahrain TV premiered a segment containing footage of supposed anti-government protests, along with interviews of protesters:

The segment contains three scenes.  In the second scene (2:10 – 4:00), one can clearly make out the name “Ebdaa Services” on a sign.

Ebdaa-services

The address of this establishment is given by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce as:

Building 44
Avenue 1
Block 606, Sitra

This August 19, 2011 post on popular opposition forum BahrainOnline describes Bahrain TV faking a protest on Avenue 1 in Sitra next to “مطعم الحرمين” aka “Al Haramain Restaurant.”  Yellow Pages gives the location of this restaurant as:

Building 28
Avenue 1
Block 606, Sitra

Mapping the two locations on Bahrain Locator gives the following:

Building-44-cropped

Building 44

Building-28-cropped

Building 28

Thus, the location described by the post seems to be exactly the same as the location visible in the video.  Also note the numerous visual similarities between the video and the satellite view — such as the position of the water tower and storage tank  In addition to the locations matching, many of the details in the forum post also match the video.

Of course, it’s impossible to know with 100% certainty whether the author of the post on BahrainOnline witnessed the same protest aired by Bahrain TV, but the similarities sure are suggestive.

With the help of a report on Hezbollah’s TV channel Al Manar (a source I would otherwise regard as unreliable, but the report pretty much speaks for itself), I’ve managed to locate another one of the scenes (4:00-5:56).  Here is a Google Map of the locations of two of the three scenes.  I currently have no leads on the location of the first scene (0:32-2:10).