The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was one of those formative events that triggered the modern era of research protections. But these protections aren’t working when it comes to poor minority families.
In shades of Tuskegee, word comes of a study conduced at Johns Hopkins in which families with African-American children may have been deliberately induced to move into lead-tainted public housing so the lead levels in the children could be assessed. Families of those showing elevated lead levels were never told and were never offered treatment.
The fact that this study could be conducted at a major university is further evidence that the system of research protections is broken. These protections often appear to be protections only for the researchers and institutions, not those subject to the research, who apparently are considered expendable. Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, the head of the institute where the research was conducted said the
“research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.”
Evidently, in his view, poisoning young children with lead and keeping knowledge of their poisoning from them is in the “best interests” of poor African-American children. We need have no doubt that “Dr.” Goldstein would never consider such treatment appropriate for his children or the children from his social circle.
One wonders how this study got funded and how it got approved. The “Informed Consent Form,” which would better be called a “Disinformation Form,” lists no risks of participating in the study. Nor does it list any procedures should participating children be found to have elevated lead levels, as happened to some of the children.
Here’s a New York Times account:
Racial Bias Seen in Study of Lead Dust and Children
By Timothy Williams
A class-action lawsuit was filed Thursday against a prominent Baltimore medical institute, accusing it of knowingly exposing black children as young as a year old to lead poisoning in the 1990s as part of a study exploring the hazards of lead paint.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that more than 100 children were endangered by high levels of lead dust in their homes despite assurances from the Kennedy Krieger Institute that the houses were “lead safe.”
The institute, a research and patient care facility for children that is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, periodically tested the children’s blood to determine lead levels.
But, the lawsuit said, Kennedy Krieger provided no medical treatment to the children, who ranged in age from 12 months to 5 years old. Lead exposure was a significant cause of permanent neurological injuries in some of the children, according to the suit. Johns Hopkins, which approved the study, is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children’s blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures,” said the suit, filed in state court in Baltimore. “Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning.”
Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement on Thursday that the “research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.”
“Baltimore city had the highest lead poisoning rates in the country, and more children were admitted to our hospital for lead poisoning than for any other condition,” he said. “With no state or federal laws to regulate housing and protect the children of Baltimore, a practical way to clean up lead needed to be found so that homes, communities, and children could be safeguarded.”
“Over all, the blood lead levels of most children residing in the study homes stayed constant or went down,” the statement read, “even though in a few cases, they rose.”
The lead paint study, which started in 1993 and continued for six years, was designed to determine how well various levels of lead abatement would reduce lead in the blood of young children. The buildings where the study was carried out were generally in poor neighborhoods of Baltimore. Litigation surrounding the research has gone on for more than a decade, and in 2001 the Maryland Court of Appeals compared the study to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which withheld medical treatment for African-American men with syphilis.
According to the lawsuit, Kennedy Krieger helped landlords get public financing for lead abatements and helped select families with young children to rent apartments where lead dust problems had been only partly eliminated so that the children’s blood could be measured for lead over a two-year period, according to the lawsuit.
“What they would do was to improve the lead hazard from what it was but not improve it to code,” said Thomas F. Yost Jr., one of the lawyers who filed the suit.
Mr. Yost said that although parents signed consent forms, the contracts failed to provide “a complete and clear explanation” about the research, which aimed to measure “the extent to which the children’s blood was being contaminated.”
David Armstrong, the father of the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, David Armstrong Jr., said that after his son, age 3, was tested for high levels of lead in 1993, he went to a Kennedy Krieger clinic for help. The father said the family was provided state-subsidized housing by Kennedy Krieger and was told they would be part of a two-year research project. Mr. Armstrong said he was not told that his son was being introduced to elevated levels of lead paint dust.
Mr. Armstrong said blood was collected from his son for two years, but that no one told him the lead levels had increased. After the two-year mark passed, Mr. Armstrong said he continued to live in the two-bedroom apartment but did not hear from Kennedy Krieger.
During those two years, he said his son, now 20 years old, received no medical treatment for lead. Later, when Mr. Armstrong took his son to a pediatrician, the doctor detected blood lead levels two and a half to three times higher than they had been before the family moved into the apartment.
“I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place,” Mr. Armstrong said. “They said it was ‘lead safe.’ ”
September 26th, 2011
The US commission investigating STD research unwittingly conducted on Guatemalans in the 1940s has concluded that “at least 83 people died as a result of the “study” AFP reports We are still waiting for a comparable investigation of, and governmental apology for, similarly unethical CIA torture research.
Unethical U.S. research killed 83 in Guatemala: panel
WASHINGTON — At least 83 people died as human guinea pigs in macabre US research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala in the 1940s, a commission ordered by President Barack Obama concluded Monday.
Nearly 5,500 people were subjected to diagnostic testing and more than 1,300 were exposed to venereal diseases by human contact or inoculations in research meant to test the drug penicillin, the presidential commission found.
Within that group, “we believe that there were 83 deaths,” said Stephen Hauser a member of the commission, which has pored over 125,000 documents linked to the shocking episode since being set up by Obama last November.
Among the 1,300 people exposed to STDs during research between 1946 and 1948, “under 700 received some form of treatment as best as could be documented,” Hauser said.
Obama personally apologized to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom in October before ordering a thorough review of what happened. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the experiments as “clearly unethical.”
This sentiment was clearly expressed by the commission, which said US government researchers must have known they were contravening ethical standards by deliberately infecting mental patients with syphilis.
Commission president Amy Gutmann called it an “historic injustice,” and said the inquiry aimed to “honor the victims and make sure it never happens again.”
“It was not an accident that this happened in Guatemala,” Gutmann said. “Some of the people involved said we could not do this in our own country.”
The US researchers “systematically failed to act in accordance with minimal respect for human rights and morality in the conduct of research,” she said, citing “substantial evidence” of an attempted cover-up.
A Guatemalan study, which was never published, came to light in 2010 after Wellesley College professor Susan Reverby stumbled upon archived documents outlining the experiment led by controversial US doctor John Cutler.
Cutler and his fellow researchers enrolled 1,500 people in Guatemala, including mental patients, for the study, which aimed to find out if penicillin could be used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
Initially, the researchers infected female Guatemalan commercial sex workers with gonorrhea or syphilis, and then encouraged them to have unprotected sex with soldiers or prison inmates.
Neither were the subjects told what the purpose of the research was nor were they warned of its potentially fatal consequences.
Cutler, who died in 2003, was also involved in a highly controversial study known as the Tuskegee Experiment in which hundreds of African-American men with late-stage syphilis were observed but given no treatment between 1932 and 1972.
The Guatemalan president has called the 1946-1948 experiments conducted by the US National Institutes of Health “crimes against humanity” and ordered his own investigation.
August 30th, 2011
In cool scientific news, MIT scientists are investigating a drug with the potential to attack virtually any virus. Such a broad spectrum antiviral, should it pan out, would be an amazing development.
n a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.
In a paper published July 27 in the journal PLoS One, the researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.
The drug works by targeting a type of RNA produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. “In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology.
Because the technology is so broad-spectrum, it could potentially also be used to combat outbreaks of new viruses, such as the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, Rider says.
Of course, it will be a long while till we know if this really works.
August 15th, 2011
Bioethicist Carl Elliott, in a New York Times op ed, calls attention to a type of “research” which is devoted simply to exposing physicians to new drugs, not to acquiring knowledge. That is, research as marketing ploy, and a marketing ploy that5 leads to patient deaths. He points out that the increasingly ineffective research regulatory structure is unwilling and incapable of dealing with these abuses.
Useless Studies, Real Harm
By Carl Elliott
LAST month, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a scathing reassessment of a 12-year-old research study of Neurontin, a seizure drug made by Pfizer. The study, which had included more than 2,700 subjects and was carried out by Parke-Davis (now part of Pfizer), was notable for how poorly it was conducted. The investigators were inexperienced and untrained, and the design of the study was so flawed it generated few if any useful conclusions. Even more alarming, 11 patients in the study died and 73 more experienced “serious adverse events.” Yet there have been few headlines, no demands for sanctions or apologies, no national bioethics commissions pledging to investigate. Why not?
One reason is that the study was not quite what it seemed. It looked like a clinical trial, but as litigation documents have shown, it was actually a marketing device known as a “seeding trial.” The purpose of seeding trials is not to advance research but to make doctors familiar with a new drug.
In a typical seeding trial, a pharmaceutical company will identify several hundred doctors and invite them to take part in a research study. Often the doctors are paid for each subject they recruit. As the trial proceeds, the doctors gradually get to know the drug, making them more likely to prescribe it later.
In an age of for-profit clinical research, this is the new face of scandal. Pharmaceutical companies promote their drugs with pseudo-studies that have little if any scientific merit, and patients naïvely sign up, unaware of the ways in which they are being used. Nobody really knows how often companies conduct such trials, but they appear with alarming regularity in pharmaceutical marketing documents. In the marketing plan for the antidepressant Lexapro for the 2004 fiscal year, Forest Laboratories described 102 Phase IV trials — the classification under which seeding trials fall — in a section labeled “Marketing Tactics.”
Oversight bodies like the Food and Drug Administration generally don’t view seeding trials as research scandals: seeding trials are not illegal, and the drugs in question have already received F.D.A. approval. But even after particularly egregious seeding trials have been exposed, the F.D.A. has not issued sanctions. Take the notorious Advantage study, a seeding trial of the pain reliever Vioxx conducted by Merck. According to a 2008 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, litigation documents show that the Advantage study was conceived and managed by Merck’s marketing department. Three subjects died in the Advantage trial; five more subjects experienced heart attacks. Oversight bodies should treat the Advantage study as a violation of research ethics.
How can studies that endanger human subjects attract so little scrutiny? Forty years ago, when most clinical research took place in academic settings, the main dangers to research subjects came in service to genuine scientific aims. A large regulatory apparatus was developed to protect human subjects from the ambitions of overweening academic researchers. In the early 1990s, however, pharmaceutical companies realized that it was faster and less expensive to conduct trials in the private sector, where the driving force is not knowledge, but profit. And the regulatory apparatus designed for the old era has proved woefully inadequate for the new one.
The main source of protection for research subjects is a patchwork system of ethics committees known as institutional review boards, or I.R.B.’s. These are small, federally empowered bodies that review research proposals before they are carried out, to ensure that the studies are ethically sound. But they don’t typically pass judgment on whether a study is being carried out merely to market a drug. Nor do most I.R.B.’s have the requisite expertise to do so. Even worse, many I.R.B.’s are now themselves for-profit businesses, paid directly by the sponsors of the studies they evaluate. If one I.R.B. gets a reputation for being too strict, a pharmaceutical company can simply go elsewhere for its review.
Last week, the federal government announced that it was overhauling its rules governing the protection of human subjects. But the new rules would not stop seeding trials. It is time to admit that I.R.B.’s are simply incapable of overseeing a global, multibillion-dollar corporate enterprise. They should be replaced with an oversight system that is financially and administratively independent of the research it oversees. The system must have the power to impose sanctions, and its responsibilities must extend to fraud, bribery and corruption.
Many patients volunteer for research in the hope that the knowledge generated will benefit others. When a company deceives them into volunteering for a useless study, it cynically exploits their good will, undermining the cause of legitimate research everywhere.
Carl Elliott teaches bioethics at the University of Minnesota and is the author of “White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine.”
July 29th, 2011
A bill in New York would ban health professionals involvement in torture. It is a sad comment that such a bill is needed. The state medical association is opposed. In contrast, the state psychological association supports it. We are pushing a similar bill in Massachusetts, as are psychologists in other states. Here is an article from the AMA newsletter:
Medical board could discipline physicians for torture under N.Y. bill
The unique proposal would give the state board the authority to punish doctors and others who take part in, or conceal evidence of, torture
By Kevin O’Reilly
A New York bill that is the first of its kind in the nation would make participation in torture or interrogation of prisoners grounds for board discipline of physicians and other health professionals.
Dozens of medical students and other health professionals in training lobbied in favor of the legislation in late May, meeting with nearly 40 New York state legislators, said Allen Keller, MD. He helped organize the lobbying trip and directs the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture in New York City.
The bill, which was introduced in March by Democratic Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried and has 39 co-sponsors, would give the state medical board and other health professional licensing boards the explicit authority to suspend or revoke practice rights based on evidence presented in accordance with the state’s usual due-process procedures (assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=%0D%0At&bn=A05891&term=&Summary=Y).
Under the bill, physicians and other health professionals would be barred from directly participating in torture, treating patients with the intent of determining when torture could continue, concealing medical evidence of torture or taking part in individual interrogations. Health professionals could generally advise interrogators on rapport building or other nonabusive techniques.
The bill is needed to give medical licensing boards clear authority to discipline doctors and others for participating in torture, supporters say. In 2007, a complaint was brought against one psychologist alleged to have participated in abusive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, but the New York state body that licenses psychologists said it did not have jurisdiction to investigate the matter.
“We want to clarify that this is, indeed, grounds for discipline and also to achieve a preventive effect,” said Dr. Keller, associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine. “It’s easier for individuals to torture than we’d like to think, because of hierarchies and environments that allow it. We believe this legislation would help physicians who are put in an untenable position to say, ‘I can’t do this; I’d lose my license.’ ”
A state matter?
The American Medical Association and the Medical Society of the State of New York have policy opposing physician participation in torture or direct participation in interrogations. But the MSSNY said the matter is best handled at the federal level, noting that torture is already criminal under federal law. In a June 2 letter to the New York State Assembly, MSSNY Senior Vice President and Chief Legislative Counsel Gerard Conway noted other concerns.
“The bill provides no practical recourse for physicians who are intimidated by military superiors into withholding reports of torture,” Conway wrote. “There are inherent challenges and barriers to evidentiary discovery for accusations of torture in the military and prisons. Physicians may be poorly positioned to defend themselves since, ostensibly, many of these incidents would occur overseas. Physicians would have to overcome claims of national security and national defense and would have to operate in domains in which civil authority will be limited.”
In response, Dr. Keller said that, with regard to accessing classified documentary evidence, physicians would be on a level playing field with anyone bringing a complaint. If the evidence were classified, then neither the medical board nor the physician would have it to use in a proceeding. On the other hand, if national-security documents were brought into evidence, then both the physician and the board would have equal access to them.
And, he said, it is appropriate for state medical boards to act because they are the bodies charged with regulating physician practice.
“Health professionals — whether they practice in their state or in the Army or wherever — they do so because they have a license that is issued not by the federal government or the Army but by a state,” Dr. Keller said.
The New York legislative session is scheduled to end June 20. Advocates are pushing to have similar legislation proposed in other states.
June 10th, 2011
e The New York Times has an interesting article on how physicians’ attitudes, interests, and politics are changing as the profession moves towards becoming more female and more likely to be (high paid) workers rather than self-employed business people. As they report, doctors are now less concerned about tort reform and insurance reimbursement and more concerned about healthcare access and public health. This change could presage an important change in healthcare politics in the country, as physicians come to identify with other workers, not other business people.
As Physicians’ Jobs Change, So Do Their Politics
By Gardiner Harris
AUGUSTA, Me. — With Republicans in complete control of Maine’s state government for the first time since 1962, State Senator Lois A. Snowe-Mello offered a bill in February to limit doctors’ liability that she was sure the powerful doctors’ lobby would cheer. Instead, it asked her to shelve the measure.
“It was like a slap in the face,” said Ms. Snowe-Mello, who describes herself as a conservative Republican. “The doctors in this state are increasingly going left.”
Doctors were once overwhelmingly male and usually owned their own practices. They generally favored lower taxes and regularly fought lawyers to restrict patient lawsuits. Ronald Reagan came to national political prominence in part by railing against “socialized medicine” on doctors’ behalf.
But doctors are changing. They are abandoning their own practices and taking salaried jobs in hospitals, particularly in the North, but increasingly in the South as well. Half of all younger doctors are women, and that share is likely to grow.
There are no national surveys that track doctors’ political leanings, but as more doctors move from business owner to shift worker, their historic alliance with the Republican Party is weakening from Maine as well as South Dakota, Arizona and Oregon, according to doctors’ advocates in those and other states.
That change could have a profound effect on the nation’s health care debate. Indeed, after opposing almost every major health overhaul proposal for nearly a century, the American Medical Association supported President Obama’s legislation last year because the new law would provide health insurance to the vast majority of the nation’s uninsured, improve competition and choice in insurance, and promote prevention and wellness, the group said.
Because so many doctors are no longer in business for themselves, many of the issues that were once priorities for doctors’ groups, like insurance reimbursement, have been displaced by public health and safety concerns, including mandatory seat belt use and chemicals in baby products.
Even the issue of liability, while still important to the A.M.A. and many of its state affiliates, is losing some of its unifying power because malpractice insurance is generally provided when doctors join hospital staffs.
“It was a comfortable fit 30 years ago representing physicians and being an active Republican,” said Gordon H. Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association. “The fit is considerably less comfortable today.”
Mr. Smith, 59, should know. The child of a prominent Republican family, he canvassed for Barry Goldwater in 1964, led the state’s Youth for Nixon and College Republicans chapters, served on the Republican National Committee and proudly called himself a Reagan Republican — one reason he got the job in 1979 representing the state’s doctors’ group.
But doctors in Maine have abandoned the ownership of practices en masse, and their politics and points of view have shifted dramatically. The Maine doctors’ group once opposed health insurance mandates because they increase costs to employers, but it now supports them, despite Republican opposition, because they help patients.
Three years ago, Mr. Smith found himself leading an effort to preserve a beverage tax — a position anathema to his old allies at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party but supported by doctors because it paid for a health program. The doctors lost by a wide margin, and the tax was overturned.
Mr. Smith still goes to the State Capitol wearing gray suits, black wingtips and a gold name badge, but he increasingly finds himself among allies far more casually dressed, including the liberal Maine People’s Alliance and labor groups. And while he still greets old Republican friends — he is a lobbyist, after all — he spends much of his time strategizing with Democrats.
Representative Sharon Anglin Treat, a powerful Democrat who was first elected in 1990, said that she and Mr. Smith were once bitter foes. “But Gordon’s become like a consumer activist,” she said with a big smile. “I’ve seen him more times in the last few years than I can count.”
Dr. Nancy Cummings, a 51-year-old orthopedic surgeon in Farmington, is the kind of doctor who has changed Mr. Smith’s life. She trained at Harvard, but after her first son was born she began rethinking 18-hour workdays. “My husband used to drive my son to the hospital so that I could nurse him,” she said. “I decided that I really wanted to be a good surgeon, but also wanted to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids I would actually see.”
So she went to work for a hospital, sees health care as a universal right and believes profit-making businesses should have no role in either insuring people or providing their care. She said she was involved with the Maine Medical Association, for the most part, to increase patients’ access to care.
Dr. Lee Thibodeau, 59, a neurosurgeon from Portland, still calls himself a conservative but says he has changed, too. He used to pay nearly $85,000 a year for malpractice insurance and was among the most politically active doctors in the state on the issue of liability. Then, in 2006, he sold his practice, took a job with a local health care system, stopped paying the insurance premiums and ended his advocacy on the issue.
“It’s not my priority anymore,” Dr. Thibodeau said. “I think Gordon and I are now fighting for all of the same things, and that’s to optimize the patient experience.”
Many of Mr. Smith’s counterparts in other states told similar stories of change.
“When I came here, it was an old boys’ club of conservative Republicans,” said Joanne K. Bryson, the executive director of the Oregon Medical Association since 2004.
Now her group now lobbies for public health issues that it long ignored, like insurance coverage for people with disabilities.
Even in Texas, where three-quarters of doctors said last year that they opposed the new health law, doctors who did not have their own practices were twice as likely as those who owned a practice to support the overhaul, as were female doctors.
Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, the president of the A.M.A., said that changes in doctors’ practice-ownership status do not necessarily lead to changes in their politics. And some leaders of state medical associations predicted that the changes would be fleeting.
Dr. Kevin S. Flanigan, a former president of the Maine Medical Association, described himself as “very conservative” and said he was fighting to bring the group “back to where I think it belongs.” Dr. Flanigan was recently forced to close his own practice, and he now works for a company with hundreds of urgent-care centers. He said that in his experience, conservatives prefer owning their own businesses.
“People who are conservative by nature are not going to go into the profession,” he said, “because medicine is not about running your own shop anymore.”
May 30th, 2011
The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has released the following press release announcing a statement opposing US support for the Bahrain government, currently brutally suppressing its own population with the aid of foreign troops. The statement was signed by Psychologists for Social Responsibility, which is acknowledged in the press release, along with 1,200 individuals, including hundreds of Bahrainis who signed at great personal risk.
If you would like to sign or donate to help publicize the statement, please do so now at the CPD website.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 24, 2011
Contact: Joanne Landy firstname.lastname@example.org
HUNDREDS OF BAHRAINIS JOIN
U.S. CAMPAIGN AGAINST U.S. SUPPORT
FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF BAHRAIN
NEW YORK, N.Y., May 24 2011 – In a response that surprised U.S. organizers of a campaign calling on the United States government to repudiate its partnership with the Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain, hundreds of people from Bahrain joined in signing the Campaign for Peace and Democracy’s launching statement “End U.S. Support for Bahrain’s Repressive Government.”
“The statement was originally circulated for signatures in the United States, but we have been deeply moved by the fact that hundreds of Bahrainis have added their names,” said Joanne Landy, CPD Co-Director. “Given the violent government crackdown in Bahrain, the very act of signing is incredibly courageous. Bahraini signers have implored us to pressure the Obama administration to decisively repudiate its support of their brutal and authoritarian government.”
On May 16, the New York-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD) began circulating its statement, which has thus far gathered more than 1200 signatures including those of Ed Asner, Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky, Martin Duberman, Daniel Ellsberg, Mike Farrell, Chris Hedges, Adam Hochschild, Jan Kavan, Kathy Kelly, Dave Marsh, Frances Fox Piven, Katha Pollitt, Alix Kates Shulman and Cornel West. The statement is below and on the CPD website. Signatures are still being accepted. The statement will be sent to President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and key members of Congress, as well as to domestic and international media.
In the United States, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) gave organizational endorsement to the statement. Stephen Soldz, PsySR president, stated, “We cannot be silent. Many of our members are health providers. The government of Bahrain has arrested nearly 50 doctors and other health providers, many of whom have been tortured. Their ‘crime’ is refusing to let injured protesters die and informing the world press about the abuses they witnessed.” [See the report by Physicians for Human Rights.]
In the face of mounting complaints against Washington for muting its criticisms of repression in Bahrain, President Obama did say in his May 19 speech on the Middle East, “…we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens. The only way forward is for the government and oppositi on to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.” However, in the same speech Obama referred to Bahrain as a “friend” and “partner” of the U.S., thus signaling that the massive human rights violations in that country would not stand in the way of continuing U.S. support for the regime or the continuing presence of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a naval force supporting an interventionist foreign policy.
In words reminiscent of the Administration’s disgracefully neutral stand on the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt up until the last moment, when the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes were clearly no longer sustainable, President Obama has called on both the government and the opposition in Bahrain to “engage in dialogue.” What is needed now, however, is not episodic toothless reprimands to Bahrain’s government or pressure on the opposition to engage in dialogue with the regime, but a clear U.S. break with the Al Khalifa government. This would involve:
- An unambiguous statement from Washington that because of the atrocious government repression, Bahrain is not a “partner” or “friend” of the U.S.
- An immediate end to all U.S. aid to Bahrain
- Vigorous condemnation of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for sending in forces at the request of Bahrain’s government to back up the repression
CPD has launched this campaign in order to build pressure on Washington to stop propping up the Al Khalifa government. The brave people of Bahrain deserve no less.
THE TEXT OF THE CPD STATEMENT FOLLOWS:
End U.S. Support for Bahrain’s Repressive Government
Statement by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy
May 16, 2011
(Add your name, donate or share at http://www.cpdweb.org/stmts/1019/stmt.shtml )
On Feb. 13, 2011, inspired by the forced resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, peaceful democratic protests erupted in Bahrain. Protests grew and, in response, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa invited other Gulf states to send security forces into the country to assist in violently suppressing the demonstrators. The March 15 invasion by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates brought an intensification of torture, secret trials, demolition of Shia mosques, and repression against human rights activists, journalists, labor, lawyers, medical professionals, students, political figures, and others. On March 18 the regime destroyed the Pearl Monume nt that had served as the protest center.
Like many other autocracies in the region Bahrain has been a key U.S. partner. It has provided a home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, responsible for naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and the coast of East Africa as far south as Kenya. This is why Washington’s response to the vicious repression in Bahrain has been so muted and pro-forma, in contrast to forceful denunciations of repression in countries outside the U.S. orbit, such as Iran and Libya.
Richard Sollom from Physicians for Human Rights says health care workers in Bahrain have been targeted on a scale he has never encountered. Government forces have invaded hospitals; doctors have been dragged out of the operating room, abducted and detained for giving care to wounded protestors. The government says it will try 47 medical workers it accuses, incredibly, of causing the deaths of protesters by inflicting additional wounds on them.
Hundreds of workers, including union leaders, have been fired for striking for democratic change. Security forces closed down the General Bahraini Federation of Trade Unions headquarters. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights writes, “Bahrain is currently considered a dangerous zone for the freedom of press and journalists.” On April 3 the government suspended the country’s only independent newspaper, Al Wasat. On May 2 it arrested two politicians belonging to the opposition Al Wefaq party.
Bahrain’s population is 60 percent or more Shia, with the government dominat ed by a Sunni minority. There is systematic discrimination against the Shiite majority in political representation, employment, wages, housing, and other benefits. The government has tried to split the opposition along Shia-Sunni lines, but uprising leaders insist their struggle for democratic rights is non-sectarian.
Zainab Alkhawaja wrote to President Obama after her father, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, former head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was beaten unconscious in front of his family and arrested by masked men: “if anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the Al Khalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American, Syrian or a Libyan and that regional and political considerations should not be prioritized over liberty and human rights.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, the International Crisis Group and many others have exhaustively documented the brutal terror of Bahrain’s government. No further evidence is needed. As long as the repression continues, the promise to lift the state of emergency is only an empty public relations gesture. The United States should end all aid to Bahrain, condemn the invasion by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and sharply denounceBahrain’s horrific suppression of democratic rights.
As the Arab Spring has swept through North Africa and the Middle East, the role of the United States has been truly shameful.Washington’s rhetoric cannot conceal a deep fear of democracy. Its first instinct was to stand behind its old friends. Only when it became obvious that Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s days were numbered were they abandoned. As for Saudi Arabia, this ultra-reactionary monarchy, with its appalling treatment of women and religious minorities,is almost never criticized by U.S. officials.
There are those who, while deploring repression in Bahrain, justify continuing U.S. support for that country’s brutal tyranny as “realism”; in a dangerous world, they argue, our security depends on having a Middle Eastern state willing to host the Fifth Fleet. This argument is profoundly mistaken. Interventionist naval forces are part of a foreign policy that, by siding with despots and pitting the United States against the Arab people’s longing for responsible government and a better way of life, guarantees endless terrorism and bloodshed and an even more dangerous world for everyone. For good reason, democratic movements around the world today do not trust the United States, which they see as motivated by imperial interest. That is why the U.S. desperately needs a new foreign policy, one that welcomes democratic forces — not hypocritically, in order to manipulate them and blunt their impact, but to stand in solidarity with their struggles to win political power for the people and achieve social and economic justice.
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THE CAMPAIGN FOR PEACE AND DEMOCRACY advocates a new, progressive and non-militaristic U.S. foreign policy — one that encourages democratization, justice and social change. The Campaign sees movements for peace, social justice and democratic rights, taken together, as the embryo of an alternative to great power politics and to the domination of society by privileged elites. Founded in 1982, the Campaign opposed the Cold War by promoting “detente from below.” It engaged Western peace activists in the defense of the rights of democratic dissidents in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and enlisted East-bloc human rights activists against anti-democratic U.S. policies in countries like Nicaragua and Chile.
Recent CPD campaigns include: support for the democratic revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; New York Review of Books letter to Iranian officials in defense of human rights leader Shirin Ebadi and a statement “End the War Threats and Sanctions Program Against Iran, Support the Struggle for Democracy Inside Iran.” Additional CPD statements have been Opposition to the U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on Gaza, “No More Blank Check for Israel!”
Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Co-Directors Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison, 2790 Broadway, #12, NY, NY 10025. Email: email@example.com Web: www.cpdweb.org
May 24th, 2011