The Corner

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Saudi Arabia, Torture, and Us

Loujain al-Hathloul (Courtesy of the Hathloul family)

Today on the homepage, I have a piece called “A Saudi Woman: The story of Loujain al-Hathloul, political prisoner.” Here on the Corner, I’d like to make a point about torture. It can knock the confidence and composure out of just about anybody. That’s why they do it — why the torturers do it.

In January 2019, Alia al-Hathloul wrote about her sister’s ordeal. She described the first visit their parents were allowed to have with Loujain in prison:

My parents saw that she was shaking uncontrollably, unable to hold her grip, to walk or sit normally. My strong, resilient sister blamed it on the air-conditioning and tried to assure my parents that she would be fine.

Three weeks ago, Abdullah Alaoudh wrote about another Saudi political prisoner: his father, Salman Aloudah.

During the Nov. 18 court proceeding in Riyadh, my siblings were struck by how significantly weaker and emaciated our father was. Having lost half of his hearing and vision in prison, he was incoherent and had difficulty hearing and seeing them clearly. They felt that our proud, determined father seemed completely submissive and nodded at whatever he was told. They feared that in his precarious state, he could be forced into signing any kind of confession.

See if you can take a little more (sometimes I can’t):

My father’s physical and mental decline has accelerated over three years of abuse and isolation. During the first three to five months of his detention, in Dhahban prison in Jeddah, guards shackled his feet with chains and blindfolded him while moving him between interrogation rooms and his cell. Interrogators deprived him of sleep and medication for many days in succession, he told our family during visits.

See if you can take a little bit more:

On one occasion, the guards threw a plastic bag of food at him without removing his handcuffs. He was forced to open the bag and remove the food with his mouth, causing considerable damage to his teeth. Following this prolonged mistreatment, in January 2018, he was hospitalized for a few days for dangerously high blood pressure.

Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly an important ally of the United States. But do we not have any leverage? Leverage that might help spring some of these political prisoners? People who ask for the same rights that you and I take for granted? The right to express an opinion, to assemble with others, to worship freely, and so on?

Donald Trump’s first trip abroad as president was to Saudi Arabia. On landing, he announced, “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

That is music to dictators’ ears. For it is their job, as they see it, to “tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be,” etc. Leaders of free countries ought to remember people struggling for freedom in unfree countries — especially when those people are in prison cells, being tortured.

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