There is a dance going on between American officials and media outlets about a proposed visit by US President Joe Biden to the Kingdom.
It seems that after much soul-searching by the president, the visit might actually take place.
The White House spokespersons take on the visit evolved from June 1: From a short and curt reiteration of the president’s previously and famously vocalized denunciations of the Kingdom and its government — to June 7, a lengthy retelling of the two countries’ more than 80 years of friendly and mutually beneficial relations.
Of course, it was added that the president seeks to benefit the interests of his country, as the previous presidents’ encounters with Saudi leaders were for the same purpose. The spokespersons used words such as strategic partners to categorize the relationship. As a Saudi, I am pleased that Mr. Biden recognizes the importance of the relationship in containing disruptive Iranian conduct in general, the threat of terrorism, achieving peace in Yemen, shared military operations, and other considerations.
I also recognize that the president may publicly refer to the Jamal Khashoggi murder and so-called human rights presumed infringements to the Kingdom. He is beholden to a Democratic Party that demands these things from him. He probably believes that he should do that to justify his previous public statements and his conscience.
Whether he does or not, I am certain that our leadership will still consider the benefits accruing from our relationship as a continuing story that justifies hosting the president.
The media dance is best exemplified by The Washington Post. One of its most justifiably respected columnists, David Ignatius, wrote a long article referring to real politics as a reason for President Biden to make up with the Kingdom. Alas, when referring to the Khashoggi murder and, it seems, to protect himself from the Post acolytes who, I am sure, have already denounced him for “whitewashing” the Kingdom, he reiterated his condemnation of the murder.
However, the Post editorial board, while not asking the president to cancel the visit, have chosen to issue him instructions on what he should do and say to our leaders and whoever is listening.
One amusing reference was to the legitimacy of our crown prince. It is the tanking popularity of the president that brings him to us. It is his legitimacy that he hopes to bolster by meeting with our crown prince.
I, on the other hand, respectfully ask our leaders to remind the president, whether in private or in public, of the following: First, the US government has incarcerated more than a thousand individuals in various prisons and camps on terrorism charges without recourse to habeas corpus or any US Constitution guaranteed rights. It went to the extent of setting up a prison camp in foreign territory so as not to give them those rights.
While the camp was set up under a previous administration, Joe Biden, vice president under President Barack Obama and now president, is committed to closing the prison camp. He should promise our leadership that he will adhere to that. Second, with help from the Innocence Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions in the US estimates that there are about 20,000 people who are falsely convicted and in prison. Only 850 have been exonerated since the 1980s.
The president has the right to pardon prisoners. He should do what he can to end this injustice. He should work with Congress to reform a judicial system that is so broken as to infringe on the human rights of so many people.
Finally, according to a Reuters article on June 28, 2021, the US Supreme Court rejected an Abu Ghraib contractor torture appeal, allowing three former Abu Ghraib detainees to sue the contractor for torturing them. What happened after that is still unknown. What is also unknown is whether the rest of the hundreds of Abu Ghraib incarcerates have received legal recourse and compensation in court. The president should rectify that, as he supported the invasion of Iraq when he was senator.
These are a few human rights infringements in the US that require not only presidential action but also Congressional and Senate adjudication. Members of both houses have been vociferously critical of the Kingdom on human rights issues.
Those who live in glass houses should not cast stones.
I am sure President Biden, should he finally alight on Saudi soil, will receive all the due honors bestowed on all the previous US presidents who alighted here. So, we say Ahlan wa Sahlan, meaning (welcome) Mr. President.
• Prince Turki Al-Faisal was chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, Saudi Arabia’s main foreign intelligence service, from 1977 to 2001. He was Saudi ambassador to the UK from 2002 until July 2005, and thereafter ambassador to the US until 2007. He is the founder and trustee of the King Faisal Foundation and chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.