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March 27, 2005

Back to the Magic Kingdom

While caught up in the tragedy of Terri Schiavo, the War on Terror, the formation of a new government in Iraq, the threat of a war with China, and about a million other news items, let's not forget the nature of the Saudi goverment, and some Britons who deserve justice.

I first wrote about this in May of 2004, and you can find a BBC timeline here, but the short version is that in 2000 Briton James Cottle and six other westerners, who were working in Saudi Arabia, were arrested on trumped-up charges. They were charged with setting off bombs in the Saudi capital as part of a bootlegger ring. After being tortured, they "confessed" on Saudi TV. Eventually they were released, and most have filed suit against Saudi Arabia for damages. The men also allege that their governments did little to help then during their captivity.

The latest in this story, sent to me by Mary Martini, ex-wife of James Cottle and his ceaseless advocate, is that British Foreign Minister Jack Straw had agreed to meet with him to discuss his case. At the last minute, however, the meeting was called off. The meeting had been scheduled for Thursday of last week. Cottle and Martini have been urging Straw to back their case.

Their case has been working it's way through the courts, for more see this October 2004 story.

The Lesson

I said it at the time I wrote first posts on this and I'll say it again: This is the fruit of our long coddling of the Saudi dictatorship. For too long we tolerated their repressive ways as long as they sold us their oil and provided military bases. We should have put them on notice some time ago that they needed to reform. After all, at this point they need us more than we need them. They cannot not sell us oil, while we do not need them for bases - anymore, at least.

To be fair, for a long time western policy makers felt they had no other choice. They remembered all too well the "Arab Oil Embargo of 1972" all too well. Determination to prevent a recurrance drove policy. And, the Saudis did, at times, provide us with valuable military bases (the 2003 invasion of Iraq would have been much harder without them).

But while we should be sympathetic to policy makers of the past, because the public would have screamed bloody murder had the oil spigot been shut off, we must call their actions short-sighted. And one terrible result of that short-sightedness was the horror of torture that James Cottle and the other unjustly accused men were put through. Neither the British nor the American government acted with the urgency and haste that they should have to get those men out of the hands of the Saudi police.

The Saudis are themselves the victims of their own repressive past, and of their own refusal to put a stop to Whahhabi radicalism. They suffered a series of terrorist attacks within their country last year that were only put down with much effort. And many of the jihadists that have come to Iraq are Saudi Arabians (not to mention the 9/11 terrorists).

President Bush has laid out a bold agenda for freedom in the Middle East. Although our efforts are concentrated on Afghanistan and Iraq, we must keep our attention on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Posted by Tom at March 27, 2005 8:01 PM

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