Outside View: U.S. should prioritize the protection of U.S. citizens abroad

By TARAS KUZIO, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  May 17, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) -- The Obama administration states that it is concerned about human rights infringements of foreign citizens but seems indifferent to its own people who have been arrested and imprisoned on trumped up charges abroad.

Compare the tough U.S. response to Yulia Tymoshenko's imprisonment in Ukraine with Washington's silence on U.S. citizen Zack Shahin who has languished in jail in Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates.

On May 1, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement condemning Ukrainian opposition leader Tymoshenko's incarceration and her reported inhumane prison conditions. Clinton unequivocally called for Tymoshenko's release and "the release of other members of her former government and the restoration of their full civil and political rights."

In her four years in office as secretary of State, Clinton has never issued a similar public statement for U.S. citizen Shahin's release -- including during her January 2011 visit to Dubai.

In calling for Tymoshenko's release, Clinton was aligning with her European partners who have made similar demands.

Tymoshenko was sentenced last fall to seven years imprisonment and three years ban from public office. Tymoshenko was accused under Soviet-era criminal articles present in the Ukrainian criminal code of "abuse of office" when she was prime minister from in 2007-10.

The charge against Tymoshenko of "abuse of office" rests on her having made the wrong political decision in signing a bad natural gas contract with Russia in 2009. In democracies, voters -- not courts -- decide whether politicians have made poor or good decisions when they have been in office.

The real reason for Tymoshenko's imprisonment is Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's personal revenge against Tymoshenko for her leading role in the 2004 Orange Revolution and to remove his main political rival in his pursuit of a monopoly of power.

Shahin has been detained since 2008. He has been tortured, forced to sign documents he couldn't read because they were in Arabic and has yet to go on trial. He has been accused of embezzlement and fraud when he co-founded and headed Dubai's second largest developer, Deyaar Development.

Shahin is one of a large number of foreign nationals who became scapegoats for the 2008-09 near financial collapse of Dubai that was blamed on "foreign speculators." Internationally respected Ernst and Young accountants gave a clean bill of health to the bonus paid to Shahin and to Deyaar Development's company accounts.

A Sept. 8, 2008, cable from the U.S. Consulate in Dubai made public by WikiLeaks reported on Dubai's one-sided "anti-corruption" campaign that has scapegoated foreigners.

"Our sense is that there is an element of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in how Dubai is publicly presenting the ongoing investigations, i.e. painting the uncovering of a widening scandal as a pro-active, focused effort to uproot corruption," the cable said.

The U.S. cable reported "while SHAHIN remains in custody Kharbash, while most definitely disgraced, seems to have faded from the seminal DIB/Deyaar investigation, despite his central role at DIB."

Mohammed Khalfan al-Kharbash, former minister of State for Finance and chairman of Dubai Islamic Bank, was charged at the same time as Shahin but was held under milder conditions under house arrest and quietly released.

The United States has led the West's condemnation of "selective use of justice" by Yanukovych's administration against Ukrainian opposition leaders and the rollback of democratic gains in Ukraine. The United States hasn't pursued the same tough stance against authoritarian un-democratic policies in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. condemnation of "selective use of justice" against Tymoshenko follows similar denunciations of trumped up charges against Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He was sentenced in 2005 to nine years imprisonment and again in 2010 to further charges that will keep him incarcerated until 2017.

The United States has also led the way into the case of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky's death in police custody after he spent nearly a year in prison. Magnitsky's death generated an international scandal amid accusations, as in the Tymoshenko case, of inhumane prison conditions.

In October 2010, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-sponsored the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act that forbids entry to 60 Russians named in court documents related to the Magnitsky case. In July 2011, the United States revealed that dozens of Russian officials are on a visa black list for their possible involvement in the detention and death of Magnitsky.

With the support of the Obama administration, European leaders boycotted the May 11-12 Yalta summit of Central European leaders. On May 14, European leaders declared their intention to boycott Ukraine in next month's Euro-2012 soccer championship by only attending games that are played in Poland.

Perhaps the reason for U.S. passivity in the Shahin case is energy and strategic bases in Dubai close to Iran, which likes to portray itself as the "Singapore" of the Middle East, that trump America's concern for human rights. Yanukovych, a twice-convicted ex-felon who runs a highly corrupt administration, is an easier target than Dubai's authoritarian leaders. Ukraine has no energy resources and doesn't host U.S. strategic bases.

Clinton should publicly demand Shahin's release in the same way as she has demanded the release of Khodorkovsky and Tymoshenko. The United States -- like all countries -- should prioritize the protection of its citizens abroad and stand up for falsely imprisoned Americans such as Zack Shahin.


(Taras Kuzio is a non-resident Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, where he runs the Ukraine Policy Forum that brings together government policy makers, think tank experts and academics. He has been a frequent political consultant to the U.S. government on Ukraine.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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