The ongoing investigation into torture videos made by a member of the ruling royal family in the United Arab Emirates was not mentioned in U.S. lawmaker's discussions this week as they examined the controversial nuclear cooperation agreement between the U.S. and the Gulf states.
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee met to discuss their concerns about the proposed U.S.-UAE nuclear agreement that is slated to take effect in October. While a variety of sensitive issues were raised concerning the agreement, a video that shows royal family member Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan brutally torturing a grain dealer, was never debated as a source of alarm with moving forward with the agreement.
The video received international attention and sparked a human rights outcry after ABC News' The Blotter broke the story. In fact, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) was the only leader at the hearing who raised the issue of human rights violations in the UAE.
"We know that the UAE has had some issues regarding human rights abuses," stated Jackson Lee in her questioning to State Department Undersecretary Ellen O. Tauscher. "Has that been part of the negotiations….and have we said anything in the context of this agreement?" Tauscher's responded "I'm going to have to get back to you." She went on to say, "I don't know what conversations there were."
In response to the lack of discussion over the human rights violations, Representative James McGovern, (D-MA), co-chair of the House Human Rights Commission, said, "I certainly recognize that there are a wide range of issues that must be addressed as we consider the nuclear cooperation agreement with the UAE. But I continue to believe that respect for human rights must be one of those issues."
In a letter submitted to the Committee, Representative James McGovern reminded his colleagues that the human rights concerns that still exist in the UAE "…were part of the reasons for the initial delay in submitting this agreement to Capitol Hill."
ABC News Broke Torture Tape Story
The committee hearing came two days after the UAE state-run news agency – WAM - released a report regarding the case of Sheikh Issa stating, "The Abu Dhabi Prosecution Office is currently carrying out its investigation."
As previously reported by ABC News, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, was shown on videotape torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and running over his legs with a Mercedes SUV. The shocking video has been seen around the world and prompted many Congressional leaders to question whether the U.S. should enter into such a risky nuclear agreement with the Arab country.
It was only after the Obama Administration delayed the agreement in May that the UAE announced that it would once again review the case of Sheikh Issa. The UAE Minister of the Interior – another brother of Sheikh Issa – reversed the initial ruling that no laws were broken. Days later he had a change of heart and announced that Sheikh Issa was being held in detention.
The UAE news agency said "the investigation relating to events depicted on video and widely broadcast in April 2009 is still ongoing."
A recent Associated Press article indicates Sheikh Issa is currently being held under house arrest and that no formal charges have been brought against him despite the video evidence and months long investigation.
"The videotape is crystal clear regarding the evidence against the Sheikh," stated Sarah Leah Whitson, of Human Rights Watch. "It's a clear cut case."
The UAE's relationship with Iran seemed to overshadow its human rights violations during the House of Representative Foreign Relations Committee meeting this week. Lawmakers repeatedly expressed concerns about the Gulf state's ties to Iran and the message the proposed agreement would send to other countries in the area.
"For many years the UAE has been the principal conduit of goods and materials intended for Iran's nuclear program, as well as for its ballistic missile and advanced conventional weapons system," said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a ranking member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Human Rights Issues
Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) agreed, saying his fundamental issue with the agreement is "…the extent to which the UAE has been a reliable partner of the United States in working to prevent Iran's effort to develop a nuclear weapons capability."
Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) also expressed apprehension over the broader implications of the agreement.
"Does it set off a nuclear energy reaction within the region, especially a region where opening any Pandora's Box is generally a dangerous thing to do?" commented Ackerman.
Undersecretary Tauscher ensured lawmakers that while the UAE still has a lot of work to do in addressing its many issues, "the UAE has made considerable progress" and had "taken the necessary steps to implement an effective export control system."
She went on to say that the UAE's expressed commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing capabilities represents a marked contrast to Iran.
"It is in some ways a groundbreaking agreement. It contains all the necessary nonproliferation conditions and control that Congress has written into law," insisted Tauscher.
Still, some members of Congress believe the UAE's human rights issues should play a large role in determining the fate of the nuclear agreement. They insist the agreement is one of the last major opportunities to bring meaningful human rights changes in the Arab nation.
"This is the time we clearly have the ear of the UAE government," cautioned Representative McGovern. "We must make it clear that if Sheikh Issa were to be released after the Agreement enters in force, this would severely affect our relationship with the UAE."
The review period for the nuclear agreement is expected to end Oct. 17. Both the House and the Senate must approve the agreement in order for it to be enacted.