US President Joe Biden’s controversial visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank has already been set for 13 July. News of the visit, which had been leaked before Biden made up his mind about it, triggered angry reactions as it signalled a betrayal of his campaign pledge to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” because of the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashogji. But the anti-Russian boycotts the US has pushed have forced him to come hat in hand to Saudi Arabia to ask Riyadh to increase petroleum production to make up for the shortage in Russian oil and gas. In the face of the onslaught of criticism, the White House denied that the reason for the visit had anything to do America’s energy needs. It cited, instead, a reason no one in US political circles would dare object to: Israeli national security.
Naturally Israel would figure on the agenda of Biden’s talks during his visit, as it has with every visit to the region undertaken by a US head of state. But there can be no doubt that the unprecedented rise of energy costs in the US due to sanctions against Russia and the consequent impact of this on already serious inflation will be foremost on his mind during his visit to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the White House does not share as much interest in human rights as the US media does. If Biden mentions the subject at all it will be primarily to reference it in his press statements on the visit. In addition, there is a risk of such mention rebounding.
In a recent article in Arab News, Prince Turki Al-Faisal pointed out that the US human rights record is nothing to boast about. He suggested that Arab leaders should remind Biden of certain facts, such as how the US government incarcerated over a thousand people on terrorism charges without recourse to the US’s own constitutionally guaranteed rights. Eventually it established a prison for that purpose overseas, away from domestic oversight. Many were Saudi citizens and many were tortured in that facility. Faisal, who served as the director of the Saudi Intelligence Directorate and then as his country’s ambassador to the US, said that Biden had committed to closing that prison and that he should pledge to the Saudis that he would live up to that commitment. He added that, according to American sources, there are 20,000 people who have been falsely convicted and incarcerated in the US. Only 850 have been released since the 1980s. Those who live in glass houses, Prince Faisal concluded, should not throw stones.
A version of this article appears in print in the 23 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.