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Does the US really need allies who behead, crucify dissidents?

It was likely embarrassing for the United Nations Human Rights Council when, in a statement released last week and attributed to a group of human-rights experts, it called on Saudi Arabia to immediately halt executions of children. After all, Saudi Arabia is a member of the board.

But as Saudi King Salman considers giving his blessing to the sentence handed Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the case should also prove an embarrassment to the United States, whose alliances of convenience continue to force American values into compromising positions.

Al-Nimr, arrested in 2012 at age 17, is to be beheaded and his body publicly crucified in a spectacle more commonly found in regions controlled by Islamic State than that of a longtime U.S. ally.

Al-Nimr was convicted of terrorism for his participation in the Arab Spring demonstrations, which included such heinous acts as protesting, chanting anti-government slogans and using social media to express views critical of the kingdom’s absolute monarchy.

The government also alleges he sheltered wanted men and participated in anti-government riots, but has provided no evidence of those claims beyond a confession of dubious merit commonly produced at Saudi Arabian show trials, which are largely conducted in secret.

In reality, the death sentence probably has more to do with the fact that al-Nimr is the nephew of an influential cleric critical of the government, who has also been sentenced to death. It reeks of North Korean-style generational punishment.

Saudi Arabia has executed 134 people this year, most, it is believed, by public beheading, according to the United Nations. Further, according to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia is one of the top three executioners in the world, behind China and Iran.

The United States likely has no pull with those other two states, but Saudi Arabia’s position as a favored American ally affords the U.S. government the ability to relentlessly pursue the cause of al-Nimr. It should do so until he, and other prisoners held in contravention of American standards of the rule of law, receive a proper trial or are released.

And then, perhaps, we should reconsider our relationships with tyrannical nations.

​The Orange County Register, Sept. 30

A conversation on Syria: The world waits while Putin and Obama clash

The most important aspect of the reportedly somewhat frosty meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations this week was that it dealt in part with the continuing civil war in Syria.

The sparring between Russia and the United States, the wary personal relationship between the two presidents, continuing American pressure on Russia’s approach to neighboring Ukraine and general sniping on who did what to whom were there, but it was important that the two leaders met, after a long gap.

What was really important was whatever common approach they could have determined with respect to Syria. Syria itself, after more than four years of war, is a bloody mess. The government of President Bashar Assad holds firmly perhaps only a quarter of the territory of the country of 22 million.

That picture is grim enough. What is really bad is that the country is bleeding thousands of refugees, not only into neighboring states Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, ill-equipped to take them, but also into Western Europe, flooding its capacities and creating divisions inside the European Union.

Russia has stolen a march on the United States in the region to help combat the Islamic State group by creating a new intelligence cooperation collective that includes not only Iraq and Syria but also Iran. The most painful membership in the new group is ostensible U.S. ally Iraq, an object of U.S. affections and aid since the American invasion there in 2003, although Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was linked to the old Soviet Union as an arms customer.

U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria, as well as Afghanistan, is in tatters. A U.S. effort to train “moderate” Syrian forces has failed miserably in practice. Kunduz in Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban in the wreckage of U.S. efforts to train Afghan troops.

For humanitarian as well as regional political reasons, Americans and the world can hope that Obama and Putin reach some understanding on how to bring the Syrian civil war to an end, to stop the pointless carnage there.

​Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 30

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