Medea (right) holding photo of a boy in hospital who died from tear gas in Sitra, Bahrain

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Code Pink and Global Exchange, was deported from Bahrain for joining a peaceful women’s march that was broken up by tear gas.

John Timoney is the controversial former Miami police chief well known for orchestrating brutal crackdowns on protests in Miami and Philadelphia- instances with rampant police abuse, violence, and blatant disregard for freedom of expression. It should be of great concern that the Kingdom of Bahrain has brought Timoney and John Yates, former assistant commissioner of Britain’s Metropolitan Police, to “reform” Bahrain’s security forces.

Since assuming his new position, Timoney has claimed that Bahrain has been reforming it brutal police tactics in response to recommendations issued by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. He says that there is less tear gas being used and that while tear gas might be “distasteful,” it’s not really harmful.

I have no idea what country Chief Timoney is talking about, because it’s certainly not the Bahrain I saw this past week, a week that marked the one-year anniversary since the February 14, 2011 uprising.

I was in Bahrain for five days before being deported for joining a peaceful women’s march. During my stay, I accompanied local human rights activists to the villages where protests were raging and police cracking down. Every day, I inhaled a potent dose of tear gas, and came close to being hit in the head with tear gas canisters. Every evening I saw the fireworks and smelled the noxious fumes as hundreds of tear gas canisters were lobbed into the village of Bani Jamrah, next door to where I was staying. The villagers would get on their roofs yelling “Down, Down Hamad” (referring to the King). In exchange, as a form of collective punishment, the whole village would be doused in tear gas. I went to bed coughing, eyes burning, wondering how in the world the Bahrainis can stand this.

Tear gas is supposed to be used to disperse violent gatherings that pose a threat to law and order. It is not supposed to be used on unarmed protesters who are simply exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly.

“Shamefully, Bahrain has the highest tear gas use, per capita, in the world,” said human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. “And the police don’t just shoot outside to disperse crowds. They use the tear gas canisters as weapons, shooting them directly at people. And they shoot the gas right into people’s houses. If Mr. Timoney thinks the use of tear gas here is ‘moderate,’ he has obviously not spent many evenings in Bahraini villages.”

Timoney also told reporters that there is no evidence that tear gas has killed anyone. He should meet Zahra Ali, the mother of Yassin Jassim Al Asfoor.

On November 19, 2011, riot police—running around the village of Ma’ameer searching for a few people chanting anti-government slogans—fired three tear gas canisters directly into her home.

Everyone in the family started choking, especially 13-year-old Yassin, who suffered from asthma. Yassin could barely breathe.  Panicking, his parents called an ambulance. “I’m dying from the tear gas, I’m dying,” Yassin cried on the way to the hospital. He struggled desperately to survive for the next 29 days before his lungs simply collapsed.

Zahra lovingly showed me photos of Yassin donning a party hat, celebrating his 14th birthday in the hospital a few days before he died. “All the doctors and nurses loved him—Sunni, Shia, everyone. They even came here for his funeral,” she said proudly.

I asked Zafra if she had a message about the tear gas for Police Chief Timoney. “Just ask him if he has ever lost a child,” she whispered.

Timoney should also meet the parents of 14-year-old Ali Jawad al-Sheik. He did not die from inhalation. No. He was killed on August 31, 2011, when the police fired tear gas at protesters from roughly 20 feet away. A canister busted open the young boy’s face. To his parent’s furor, the autopsy said the cause of death was “unknown.”

The same thing happened exactly four months later to 15-year-old Sayyed Hashem Saeed. The police then used tear gas to disperse mourners at Sayyed’s funeral.

Faisal Abdali, a businessman who lives at the entrance of Sitra, would also love to speak to the police chief. He is hopping mad and wants some justice and accountability.

For months now, as the police enter the village of Sitra, they have been tossing tear gas directly into his house. Every time he lodged a complaint, the house would be targeted even worse the next day.

Faisal had taped up all the windows and sealed the air conditioners to keep the gasses out. On January 27, 2012 the police shot tear gas inside the garage. When Faisal’s wife opened the garage door, the gasses filled the house. Everyone felt sick, especially Faisal’s father—a healthy 58-year-old. He started vomiting, and went to bed early in the hopes that he would feel better the next day. When Faisal opened his father’s bedroom door the next morning, he found him lying on the floor. Five days later, he was dead. The doctor said he died from tear gas but he was not allowed to put that on his death certificate.

Faisal showed me about ten of the canisters that had been thrown into his house. Three of them came from Combined Systems in Jamestown, Pennsylvania and three from factories in Brazil. The rest had no markings at all. Faisal thought that the unmarked ones were the most toxic.

A Bahraini doctor told Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) about the different types of gas she found in the villages. “[There was] a white gas and a yellow one, but I also saw a third gas of a blue color from a distance. The gas felt like a poison, like a thousand knives and needles all over your body; what kind of tear gas is supposed to affect people this way? I have seen tear gas patients who are in a state of convulsion that never ends, like a prolonged seizure.”

Other Bahraini doctors have noted that the symptoms of the tear gas are unusual. When they asked the Ministry of Health to run tests on the gas canisters, their requests were denied.

Since the long-term effects of prolonged and repeated exposure to tear gas has never been studied, physicians and environmentalists in Bahrain have begun to worry about the impact that repeated exposure to these chemicals may have on the general population.

On January 26, 2012, Amnesty International called on Bahrain to investigate 13 deaths that followed the misuse of tear gas by security forces. At least three of those deaths occurred after Timoney was hired.

Environmentalist Moh’d Jawad Fursan told me that there are no accurate records of how many people have died from the tear gas, since doctors are not allowed to report this as the cause of death. He thinks more than 13 people have died and thousands have been affected, particularly the young and the elderly. Fursan says the rates of miscarriages and stillborn babies have increased, and he expects the rates of cancer will soar, as well as babies born with deformities.

The day before I was deported from Bahrain, I visited the home of a poor extended family where 44 people lived in an open-air complex. They had one tiny, windowless room that was covered; they called this the “safe room” for the little children. The day I visited, there was a nursing mother of a 2-week-old child, another baby and a two year old. This “safe room,” just like the open space around it, reeked of tear gas. “The babies cry, their eyes are all red and swollen, they get skin rashes, but what can we do?”, sighed the young mother. “We have no way to protect our children. We have nowhere to hide.”

Mr. Timoney, I suggest you take another tour of Bahrain, led not by government minders but by women from the villages. (Make sure you bring along a gas mask.) I also suggest you donate the blood money you’re taking from the Bahraini government to a fund for the tear gas victims.

Code Pink and Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin holding a teargas canister in Bahrain, Feb 2012

The following is a guest post by Tighe Barry who is a member of the peace group  Tighe Barry was part of an observer delegation in Bahrain with the peace group Code Pink.

As part of an observer delegation in Bahrain with the peace group Code Pink, I visited the village of Bani Jamrah with local Bahraini human rights activists.

In one of the many horrific cases we heard, a 17-year-old boy Hasan, his friend and his 8-year-old brother left their home to go to the grocery store. As they were entering the store they noticed some other youngsters running. Fearing the police would be following them, they decided to wait in the store. The 8 year old hid behind a refrigerator. The police entered the store with face masks on. They grabbed the older boys, pulling them out of the store and into the street.

Once outside the shop the police began to beat them with their sticks and hit them on the head, shouting obscenities and accusations. The police were accusing them of having been involved with throwing Molotov cocktails, asking over and over “Where are the Molotov cocktails?”

The four policemen, all masked and wearing regulation police uniforms, took turns beating the boys while one was instructed to keep watch to make sure no one was video taping. They seemed to be very concerned that there be no witnesses. Quickly, they forced the boys into the waiting police car. Inside the police vehicle was another youth about 18 who appeared to be “Muhabharat,” or plain-clothes police thugs associated with many dictatorships in the Middle East.

As the car sped off, the boys were told to keep their heads down “or we will kill you.” Soon they arrived at an open lot away from possible onlookers. As the two boys were being pulled from the car, the policeman who seemed to be in the charge shouted, “Make them lie down.” Once they were face down on the ground, the policemen took out their knives and stabbed both boys in the left buttock, leaving a gaping wound. The police thugs continued their “questioning”, using profanity to scare their victims. They threatened the boys that they would go to jail for 45 days for “investigation” and that they would never go back to school or get work.

When the thugs realized that they had no choice but to leave these victims, since they had no knowledge of the Molotovs, they searched them to see what they could steal. They took the boys’ mobile phones and asked them to hand over whatever money they had. When they discovered that the boys only had 500fils (about $1.50US), they kicked one of them in the raw wound, laughing as they left them bleeding.

“Who are these masked police and why would they do such things to children?”, you might ask. The boys said they were Syrian immigrants, part of a mostly foreign police force imported by the government and paid to inflict pain on the local people to dissuade them from protesting for their rights.

I asked if the police checked their hands, or smelled their clothes to detect the presence of petrol, since they were accusing the boys of carrying Molotov cocktails. Hussan, laying uncomfortably on his stomach, still in his bloody pants, answered, “No, they made no investigation. These police don’t investigate, they only accuse and punish. We had no contact with petrol, we are students.”

In the corner of the room was Husan’s aunt, holding a little baby that looked very sickly, the red hue of its skin almost burnt looking and its tiny eyes sore and red. I was straining now in my inquiry, like having to push words out my throat. “How old is your child?”, I asked. “Eight months old”, she replied. I knew about the nightly raids in this community, as I happen to be staying less than 200 meters from there and can see the light show each night as hundreds of teargas canisters are shot into this tight grip of middle class houses.

“How do you stop the teargas from getting in the house and affecting your baby?”, I inquired in a pained voice. I, myself, although not in village, feel the effects of the massive clouds of poison that pour over the entire area at night.

“Well, sir, wet towels, we place them each night under the doors,” she answers, as she lights down on the couch near a large flat screen television. “But, sadly, sir, this does not stop the gas. The baby suffers. I try to cover her face with a cloth but she does not like it and cries at the gas and the cloth at the same.”

“One way to stop the gas is to put plastic over the air conditioning unit,” she continued, “but the policemen always cut off the plastic and the gas seeps back inside quickly.”

They showed me a homemade video of those white-helmeted terrorists, using the very same issued knife that they used to cripple the boys, systematically, methodically removing the plastic that was placed to prevent the venomous gas from entering the house. Once removed, they can now shoot the gas, knowing that it will enter the house and poison all inside, especially the kids.

And so it goes in the Kingdom of Bahrain. So it goes in a world so addicted to oil, money and power that children can be stabbed, kidnapped, tortured, terrorized and gassed with nary a word from the outside world.

Are we, in America, so addicted to oil and beholden to powerful Saudis that we will block our ears to the cries of these Bahraini children? Or will we help them grow up in a world where they can know the joy and security that we all want for ourselves? The choice is ours.

Update added on 2/20/2012: Medea Benjamin was arrested and deported soon after the post below was published.

Here’s an update from Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, who is in Bahrain right now:

There would have been thousands of people today trying to make their way to the forbidden Pearl Roundabout, marking the first anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain. Thousands had tried, unsuccessfully, to get there the day before. They were turned away by overwhelming doses of tear gas, birdshot, rubber bullets and concussion grenades.

From early morning on February 14, it was clear that the government had called out all its forces to stop any protests. It was like a state of siege. The police had set up roadblocks and checkpoints everywhere, stopping people from getting near downtown. There were spanking new, armored tanks set up at every major intersection. Police cars were rolling up and down the streets, constantly on the lookout.

In the morning, a group of human rights activists, including a few of us international observers who had managed to slip by the immigration officials to get into the country, were on our way to visit a newly released prisoner. Our vehicles were stopped just three blocks from the house where we were meeting. We were detained for a 30-minutes while our papers were checked.

Then we moved on to visit Hasan Salman, a 28-year-old, extremely gaunt man with a long beard (I was told he shaved it off that evening). Hasan had just been released after three years in prison where he was constantly tortured. He was an articulate, amazingly brave man who, while celebrating his release, was also fearful that he could be picked up again for just talking to us. He had been accused of revealing the names of hundreds of human rights violators in Bahrain. He is the Bradley Manning of Bahrain. We were deeply moved by his conviction and will post the interview soon.

In the afternoon we attempted to make our way to Pearl Roundabout. There was a huge traffic jam because the police had put up roadblocks, and so many people were trying to get downtown. Today there was no permitted march like yesterday. People were simply planning to get as close to the Roundabout as they could. On the highway leading to the center of town, the streets were reverberating with the sounds of Down, Down, Hamad, Down Down, Hamad. Hamad is the King, and it’s illegal to speak against the King, the Prime Minister or the royal family. Some of the cars were just honking their horns to the beat of Down, Down, Hamad. It was a traffic insurrection, an uprising on the highway.

The police didn’t know what to do. One young man in the lane next to us stuck his head out the roof of his car, yelling Down, down, Hamad. The police started running after his car, firing tear gas, as if he were some hardened criminal.
In the car in front of us was the amazing human rights activist/organizer Nabeel Rajab. We saw him and some of his colleague get out of their car and start walking. We were still far away from the roundabout, but we jumped out of our cars to join the group. I put on my sign saying “Observer” and grabbed my gas mask. We, the observers, were declared illegal by the government, who wanted to keep all observers and most journalists out of the country so they wouldn’t see the demonstrations.

We hadn’t walked for more than a few minutes when the police ran towards us. BOOM, BOOM. They started shooting tear gas canisters—not in the air to disperse us, but RIGHT AT US, like bullets. Most of us started running. I ran with Tighe and Billy (two of the other US observers) and others right into the highway, sprinting as fast as we could and hiding behind the cars. BOOM, BOOM. Two of the canisters feel right next to me. People in the cars, perfect strangers, starting opening their car doors and pulling all of us inside. “Get in, get in,” they shouted.

Nabeel did not run. He had stood still, in the middle of the highway, with amazing calm and dignity. His is so famous, and so feared by the regime, that the police didn’t dare shoot at him. Right there, in the middle of the highway, hundreds of people got out of their cars to take photos with him and show support. After about 15 minutes, the police grabbed Nabeel and threw him into the police car.

Surrounded by three Pakistani policemen (mercenaries, as they are called here) and one Bahraini driver, they took Nabeel to the police station. He was kept there until 1:30am, accused of being in an “unauthorized gathering” and then released on bail. They confiscated his phone and tried to take away his most powerful weapon against the regime: his twitter account. Nabeel has over 100,000 twitter followers, the highest in the country and the fourth highest in the Arab world—which is why the regime is so afraid of him. (He was just named one of the 100 most influential Arabs on twitter.) They hacked into Nabeel’s account last night, using his phone. But no worries, he is back tweeting today. Nabeel’s IT hackers, including his 14-year-old son, are smarter than the government hackers.

Our group of American observers had a rough time as well. Two of us, Flo and Kate, were arrested almost immediately. The other seven of us, finding ourselves in different cars, tried to regroup. Unfortunately, when four members of the group got back together and started walking down the street, they, too, were nabbed by the police. At first it seemed they were just going to check their documents, but after hours and hours of waiting, the government decided to deport them all.

The three of us who managed to escape then spent the evening calling the embassy, the state department, lawyers, trying to gather their belongings and getting the bags to the airport. It was all very complicated because of the fear of the government confiscating their things, especially the electronic goods, but in the end we got most of their belongings out with them.
Then we waited at Nabeel’s house, along with Nabeel’s relatives, to make sure he was okay. At 10pm, the nightly ritual protest began, with people on their rooftops shouting God is Great, God is Great. We could hear the shouts coming from all directions. One huge voice, rising up in determination. With just those three words, they were saying “We will not be silenced, we will keep fighting this regime.”

It wasn’t long, perhaps a half-hour later, when we heard other voices rising up from a nearby village and the hooking of cars to the rhythm of “Down, down Hamad”—referring to the King. To punish those who were shouting, the whole village was punished with volley after volley of tear gas that lit up the sky like fireworks. The smoke started billowing up against the black sky. We were worrying about how the villagers, especially the children, were faring, when the breeze started to blow the tear gas our way. Suffering from just a fraction of the gas that was lobbied into the village, we were coughing, spitting, eyes tearing. Poor villagers.

“The government’s actions are working against them,” one of the local people told us. “Last year most people loved the King. Now you hear everyone, even the little kids, shouting “Down, down, Hamad.”
At 3am Nabeel returned home with his wife and children who had been with him at the jail. They brought buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken for a midnight snack. “They want to intimate us,” he said, downing the chicken and rice, “but they just strengthen us and give the people no other option but to keep fighting for freedom.”

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Medea Benjamin holding a teargas canister in Bahrain

Yesterday we shared with you a report by Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, who is in Bahrain right now. Today, 6 US citizens were arrested in Bahrain. Here’s  Medea’s latest message:

I write to you from the front lines of the violence rocking Bahrain. Today six US citizens– including CODEPINK’s very own Paki Wieland– were arrested by Bahraini security forces in Manama during a peaceful protest on the way to the Pearl Roundabout. Protesters had marched into the city center to reestablish a presence of nonviolent, peaceful protest on the one year anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain.

February 14 isn’t Valentines Day in Bahrain. It’s the one year anniversary of the people rising up to demand freedom – an effort brutally crushed by their government and Saudi tanks. This year, they are commemorating February 14 with massive demonstrations, and I am in Bahrain today for the demonstrations with an observer delegation.

Asked by courageous Bahraini human rights activists to come bear witness, what could we say but yes? What a great way to spend Valentines Day, showing our love for activists who put their lives on the line for freedom. Unfortunately, many on the delegation were not allowed into Bahrain, and since we arrived in the country two days ago, we have been incessantly teargassed along with thousands of Bahrainis, with teargas made in the USA. It is shameful to know that my government continues to sell weapons to this repressive regime.

Show your love for the brave Bahraini protesters by signing this petition calling on President Obama to stop new arms deals with Bahrain. Support the people in the street fighting for their rights, from Egypt to Bahrain and Oakland to Washington DC!

Paki, now in custody, holds a canister of Made in USA tear gas in Bahrain

Here’s more about the US citizens arrested in Bahrain today, from our friends at Voices for Creative Nonviolence:

The international observers were in Bahrain as part of Witness Bahrain, an effort aimed at providing civilian presence to report and monitor the situation on the ground. Leading up to February 14, the one year anniversary of pro-democracy protests, Bahraini authorities had prevented journalists, human rights observers and other internationals from entering the country, leading many to fear a brutal crackdown.

Just yesterday, Secretary of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that the US wanted to see the “security forces exercise restraint and operate within the rule of law and international judicial standards.” But she failed to condemn the violent arrests of US international observers, the detainment of numerous Bahraini pro-democracy activists (including President of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab) and the ongoing use of overwhelming amounts of tear gas.

The six US citizens were part of a peaceful protest marching towards the Pearl Roundabout – site of last year’s peaceful round-the-clock protest in Bahrain, modeled after Egypt’s Tahrir Square – when they were attacked. Bahraini authorities appear to have targeted the Witness Bahrain observers, as one volunteer was told that she was detained for reporting on the February 11th Manama protest.

The six observers remain in Bahraini custody in the Naem Police Station in Manama. This group of internationals is the second to be deported by the Bahraini government. Attorneys Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath were deported on Saturday, February 11th. The two were handcuffed for the duration of their flight from Bahrain to London.

Several international observers remain on the ground.

Biographies of the six arrested international observers:

  1. Kate Rafael works at a San Francisco law firm and is a radio journalist, blogger and political activist from Oakland, California.
  2. Flo Razowsky is photographer and community organizer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist with Witness Bahrain and several Palestine solidarity organizations.
  3. Linda Sartor teaches graduate school, and is a community activists based out of Northern California. She has been a human rights activist in Palestine, Sri Lanka, Iran, Afghanistan and Bahrain.
  4. Paki Wieland is a retired social worker/family therapist educator in the Department of Applied Psychology, Antioch University, Keene, New Hampshire. Since the 1960s, she’s also been a dedicated anti-war and civil rights activist.
  5. Mike Lopercio is a restaurant owner from Arizona and has visited Iraq with a Military Families delegation.
  6. Brian Terrell lives and works at Strangers and Guests Farm in Maloy, Iowa. He is a long time peace activist and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Take Action! Once again, sign this petition calling on President Obama to stop new arms deals with Bahrain. Support the people in the street fighting for their rights, from Egypt to Bahrain and Oakland to Washington DC!



Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, is in Bahrain right now. She shares her firsthand account of today’s demonstration in Bahrain’s capital, Manama.

Today’s  demonstration in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, started out as a festive affair. This was a permitted march, so parents felt it was safe to bring their children. Women with flowing black abayas, toddlers in tow, moved into position with a sense of determination and excitement. Today, February 13, was one day before the February 14 anniversary marking a year since the uprising began. All week long the demonstrations have been growing and growing in anticipation. Today was the largest yet.

Tens of thousands of people flooded the main Budayia road. First were the men, mostly young; then came the women. They were shouting defiant chants like “We won’t obey your orders; we will break the chains.” They were calling on the prime minister to step down, shouting “Forty years is enough!”

My favorite sign was one contrasting the U.S. views toward Syria and Bahrain. On one side was Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton above gruesome, Syrian bodies, chastising Assad. On the other side was Obama and Clinton above gruesome, Bahraini bodies, remaining silent. The Bahrainis want to know why the U.S. has such double standards. Not only is the U.S. government going ahead with multimillion dollar arms sales to Bahrain, but the tear gas that was about to envelop us came from the good ‘ol USA.

About 20 minutes after the march began, the group at the front arrived at Al Qadam roundabout. They were supposed to continue straight ahead, but some decided to veer off to the right to try to reach the coveted destination: the Pearl Roundabout. For those who haven’t followed the struggle in Bahrain, the Pearl Roundabout was like Egypt’s Tahrir Square, where Bahraini protesters had camped out for about a month before they were brutally evicted by the police. In an attempt to totally squash the protests, the government had bulldozed the entire square, including the iconic monument in the middle made up of six sails projecting up to the sky and coming together to hold a giant, shining pearl.

The men, trying to protect the women from any police repression, set up a blockade to push the women onward toward the permitted march. Meanwhile, thousand of young men started sprinting towards the Pearl Roundabout. Although the protest was totally peaceful, the police (most of whom are not Bahraini and many of whom don’t even speak Arabic), responded with an overwhelming barrage of teargas, as well as birdshot and rubber bullets.

We all began choking, struggling to breathe, our eyes on fire. I had put on my gas mask, but it did nothing to stop my eyes from burning. It was so bad I had to close them and walk, stumbling along blindly. Luckily, one of our local friends, Mohammad, grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side.

A person with a carload of passengers saw us. He pulled the car off the road and the passengers jumped out to make room for me, Tighe, Mohammad and two other Americans in our group. A perfect stranger, the driver took terrific care of us and thanked us for bearing witness to their struggle.

This is something we hear repeatedly. While we feel shame about our government’s role in propping up this regime, the local people have been treating us with such kindness and generosity. I hope some day we can repay them.

Several hours later, the protests subsided. At 10pm, the locals repeated what has been become a ritual this week: they stand on their balconies and shout—at the top of their lungs and over and over again—“God is great; God is great.” The words are not only a prayer, but also a warning to the government: “We will only obey God, not you.” The echoing of the chant through village after village is chilling. In each voice you can hear pent up rage, frustration, pride, determination.

Tomorrow, millions of Americans back home will be celebrating Valentines day with flowers and chocolates, perhaps even breakfast in bed. In Bahrain thousands upon thousands of peaceful freedom fighters will celebrate by getting out into the streets, showing their devotion to the country they love so dearly that they are willing to put their lives at risk to help set it free.


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Read This: What I Learned at the Airport in Bahrain by Just Foreign Policy’s Robert Naiman

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By Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis

When all you have is bombs, everything starts to look like a target. And so after years of providing Libya’s dictator with the weapons he’s been using against the people, all the international community – France, Britain and the United States – has to offer the people of Libya is more bombs, this time dropped from the sky rather than delivered in a box to Muammar Gaddafi’s palace.

If the bitter lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us anything, though, it’s that wars of liberation exact a deadly toll on those they purportedly liberate – and that democracy doesn’t come on the back of a Tomahawk missile.

President Barack Obama announced his latest peace-through-bombs initiative last week — joining ongoing U.S. conflicts and proxy wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — by declaring he could not “stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and … where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.”

Within 24 hours of the announcement, more than 110 U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired into Libya, including the capital Tripoli, reportedly killing dozens of innocent civilians — as missiles, even the “smart” kind, are wont to do. According to The New York Times, allied warplanes with “brutal efficiency” bombed “tanks, missile launches and civilian cars, leaving a smoldering trail of wreckage that stretched for miles.”

“[M]any of the tanks seemed to have been retreating,” the paper reported. That’s the reality of the no-fly zone and the mission creep that started the moment it was enacted: bombing civilians and massacring retreating troops. And like any other war, it’s not pretty.

While much of the media presents an unquestioning, sanitized version of the war — cable news hosts more focused on interviewing retired generals about America’s fancy killing machines than the actual, bloody facts on the ground — the truth is that wars, even liberal-minded “humanitarian” ones, entail destroying people and places. Though cloaked in altruism that would be more believable were we dealing with monasteries, not nation-states, the war in Libya is no different. And innocents pay the price.

If protecting civilians from evil dictators was the goal, though — as opposed to, say, safeguarding natural resources and the investments of major oil companies — there’s an easier, safer way than aerial bombardment for the U.S. and its allies to consider: simply stop arming and propping up evil dictators. After all, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi reaped the benefits from Western nations all too eager to cozy up to and rehabilitate the image of a dictator with oil, with those denouncing him today as a murderous tyrant just a matter of weeks ago selling him the very arms his regime has been using to suppress the rebellion against it.

In 2009 alone, European governments — including Britain and France — sold Libya more than $470 million worth of weapons, including fighter jets, guns and bombs. And before it started calling for regime change, the Obama administration was working to provide the Libyan dictator another $77 million in weapons, on top of the $17 million it provided in 2009 and the $46 million the Bush administration provided in 2008.

Meanwhile, for dictatorial regimes in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, U.S. support continues to this day. On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even gave the U.S. stamp of approval to the brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain, saying the country’s authoritarian rulers “obviously” had the “sovereign right” to invite troops from Saudi Arabia to occupy their country and carry out human rights abuses, including attacks on injured protesters as they lay in their hospital beds.

In Yemen, which has received more than $300 million in military aid from the U.S. over the last five years, the Obama administration continues to support corrupt thug and president-for-life Ali Abdullah Saleh, who recently ordered a massacre of more than 50 of his own citizens who dared protest his rule. And this support has allowed the U.S. can carry out its own massacres under the auspices of the war on terror, with one American bombing raid last year taking out 41 Yemeni civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, according to Amnesty International.

Rather than engage in cruise missile liberalism, Obama could save lives by immediately ending support for these brutal regimes. But for U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, arms sales appear to trump liberation. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute documented that Washington accounted for 54 percent of arms sales to Persian Gulf states between 2005 and 2009.

Last September, the Financial Times reported that the U.S. had struck deals to provide Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman with $123 billion worth of arms. The repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia accounts for over half that figure, with it set to receive $67 billion worth of weapons, including 84 F-15 jets, 70 Apache gunships, 72 Black Hawk helicopters, 36 light helicopters and thousands of laser-guided smart bombs – the largest weapons deal in U.S. history.

Instead of forking over $150 million a day to the weapons industry to attack Libya or selling $67 billion in weapons to the Saudis so they can repress not just their own people, but those of Bahrain, we – the ones being asked to forgo Social Security to help pay for empire – should demand those who purport to represent us in Washington stop arming dictators in our name. That might drain some bucks from the merchants of death, but it would give non-violent protesters throughout the Middle East a fighting chance to liberate themselves.

The U.S. government need not drop a single bomb in the Middle East to help liberate oppressed people. All it need do is stop selling bombs to their oppressors.

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( and Global Exchange ( Charles Davis ( has covered Congress for NPR and Pacifica stations, and freelanced for the international news wire Inter Press Service.

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The failure of the Obama administration to swiftly condemn the bloody crackdown in Bahrain that has killed four and injured hundreds points to the ongoing hypocrisy that defines U.S. Middle East policy. When pushed, our government eventually supported the multitudes of demonstrators in Cairo, but not before assuring that the U.S.-backed military is there to manage Egypt’s “transition to democracy.”

Bahrain, the tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf that harbors the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is a different story. There, demonstrators face a U.S. and Saudi backed monarchy that has just violently broken up a tent city that sought to emulate the actions in Cairo’s Tahrir square. The White House response has been to ask all sides to refrain from violence.

We must encourage the U.S. government stand for democracy and the people of Bahrain by condemning the violence inflicted by the Bahraini government and allow for peaceful protests. As Bahraini human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, told DemocracyNow! this morning:

[I]f Barack Obama could come out and speak about other countries like Egypt and Iran, so he could speak about Bahrain. Especially we have more dead people here than they had in Iran, that he should come out and speak and say to the Bahrain government, they should stop [this violence against the people]. Barack Obama and the United States are a very influential country here. … They are the people who could speak. But so far, unfortunately, we have not seen any positive statement made by the United States government.

Lend your voice and write your member of Congress and the White house asking that the US use its powerful influence to ask the army to go back to the barracks and allow peaceful protests to continue.