THE BLOG
05/28/2016 05:34 pm ET Updated May 29, 2017

May 30 Judgement Day for Americans Tortured In UAE

On Monday, two Americans who have been held in an Emirati jail for almost two years will find out in court whether they will be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Successful businessmen Kamal Ahmed Eldarat, age 58, and his son Mohamed, who is 33, were tortured into making false confessions and given a sham trial.

Monday's verdict will also be a judgment on how the Obama Administration responds when U.S. citizens are violently abused by a repressive ally. The case not only exposes the harsh truth about the "business-friendly" United Arab Emirates, but also Washington's reluctance to publicly criticize its repressive ally.

The Eldarats were disappeared into the UAE's secret detention complex run by the State Security Apparatus in August 2014. Originally charged with terrorist-related offenses, they now face the reduced charges of providing foreign aid without the necessary permission after sending humanitarian aid to a Libyan city during its civil war.

The U.S. government's response has been shameful, failing to publicly call for the men's release despite U.N. rights groups calling for them to be freed immediately. "We have received credible information according to which the detainees were tortured and forced to sign confessions," said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez.

But the Obama Administration has shown little nerve to call out abuses by its allies in the region, even when Americans are involved. While the president rightly describes ISIS's public beheading of captives as "an assault on all humanity," he falls silent when his friends the Saudis do the same, when Bahrain continues to routinely torture people in custody, or when the UAE crushes peaceful dissent and targets entrepreneurs.

The State Department only engaged properly with the Eldarat family--after months of prevarication and stalling--when the U.S. media began to highlight the case. The recent media coverage has revealed that behind Dubai's commercial glitz and claims of being an "attractive business environment," foreign businesspeople can be seized by security services, tortured in secret detention, denied proper access to lawyers, and given sham trials.

The UAE's long record of torture, beating and electrocuting prisoners, is getting rare press and social media attention, as is the country's wider system of repression. People from hundreds of cities around the world are posting Freedom #May30 pictures on Twitter, drawing attention beyond this case to the wider pattern of UAE repression.

Political parties are forbidden in the UAE, and the authorities have suffocated the country's civil society, jailing dozens of dissidents after unfair trials, throwing out international think tanks, and disbanding local organizations. Internationally prominent academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, educated at Case Western University in Ohio, is also in jail after peacefully expressing his views. Even when high-profile cases like the Eldarats' get to trial, it's difficult to find defense lawyers to represent them because so many attorneys are intimidated from doing this sort of work.

But the case has also revealed how weak the Obama Administration is in standing up to its Gulf allies, with the State Department cravenly calling for a vague "expeditious resolution to the case," and rather ridiculously urging "a fair and transparent legal process," knowing there is no such thing in the UAE. It took many months to get the State Department to take much notice of the case at all.

There are several key things it has failed to do--Ambassador Barbara Leaf could have attended the court hearings, as senior U.S. officials have in other places, sending a strong diplomatic signal of disapproval. But instead the embassy sent more junior officials to observe the unfair trial. Still these officials should have publicly declared that the trial fell far below international legal standards, but they have stayed silent. State Department spokespeople could have publicly called for independent forensic doctors to be allowed to examine the Eldarats' injuries to document the torture and have it admitted as court evidence. When President Obama met the UAE leaders at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia last month, he could have publicly raised the case and called for the Americans to be freed immediately and unconditionally. Meanwhile, the State Department announced last week approval of $476 million in new missile sales to the Emirates.

The Eldarats are in the dock on Monday but so is the reputation of the UAE's business environment and the U.S. government's record on protecting Americans falsely accused and tortured abroad. This being the Emirates, there is no appeal if the men are convicted. An acquittal Monday would finally end the men's nightmare. If they are convicted, the U.S. and Emirati governments should brace for intense international media scrutiny of how all this was allowed to happen.