Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses
“Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems. Notwithstanding the frustrations of doing business here, we cannot write off Tunisia. We have too much at stake. We have an interest in preventing al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold here. We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral. We also have an interest in fostering greater political openness and respect for human rights”.
This is what a classified US Embassy/Tunis Diplomatic Cable dated 17 July 2009 that was dispatched to Washington said why the U.S. needs to stand by Tunisia.
Tunisia stands at number 143 out of 179 countries when it comes to freedom of the press. It's a place, where, according to a 2008 Amnesty International report, human rights abuses by its security forces "continue unabated and are committed with impunity".
The question posed was as to why the U.S. turned a blind eye to the abuses in Tunisia.
One commentator put it: “The simple answer is that President Ben Ali's regime, unlike those in Tehran or Minsk, was pro-western, and was supported by both the US and major European nations, including France, the former colonial power.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, the mainstream western media focuses on the democratic failings of regimes, which don't do the west's bidding, while ignoring the often much greater abuses in countries that toe the western line.
Despite Washington’s understanding of Tunisia’s blatant human rights violations, abuse of power and the existence of a police state, it here’s what the United States offered Tunisia.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress June 30 (2010) of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Tunisia for the refurbishment of 12 SH-60F Multi-Mission Utility Helicopters, being provided as Excess Defense Articles, and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $282 million.
The Government of Tunisia has requested a possible sale for the refurbishment of twelve SH-60F Multi-Mission Utility Helicopters being provided as Excess Defense Articles (grant EDA notification is being submitted separately), 29 T700-GE-401C engines (24 installed and 5 spares), inspections, spare and repairs parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $282 million.
This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for economic and military progress in North Africa.
This proposed sale would enhance the modernization of the Tunisian Air Force’s overwater search and rescue capability and enable continued interoperability with U.S. Armed Forces and other coalition partners in the region. The proposed sale would further improve Tunisia’s overall ability to perform humanitarian missions, search and rescue, medical evacuations, fire-fighting, and to maintain the integrity of its borders. Tunisia will have no difficulty absorbing the helicopters into its armed forces.
The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
The prime contractor for the engines will be General Electric in Lynn, Massachusetts. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale. Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of two contractor representatives to Tunisia for familiarization training, for two years. U.S. Government and contractor representatives will also be required to participate in program management and program and technical reviews, training, and maintenance support for one week intervals, semi-annually for three years.
There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale. This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.
Last year, the Obama administration asked Congress to approve a $282 million sale of 12 “excess” Sirkorsky military helicopters to Tunisia, with engines by General Electric.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for economic and military progress in North Africa,” said the Pentagon’s formal Congressional notification of the helicopter deal.
It has been reported that before the riots and the fleeing of President Ben Ali the U.S. in total has provided US$631 worth military aid to Tunisia.
US military aid to the government of Tunisia, 1987-2009
The grand total at the bottom $349 is $349 million
1987 - $62,996
1988 - $31,894
1989 - $30,400
1990 - $32,158
1991 - $13,231
1992 - $9,484
1993 - $22,312
1994 - $17,100
1995 - $9,786
1996 - $6,740
1997 - $16,670
1998 - $5,810
1999 - $1,693
2000 - $8,817
2001 - $1,735
2002 - $9,682
2003 - $7,239
2004 - $17,517
2005 - $1,189
2006 - $7,721
2007 - $9,504
2008 - $10,160
2009 - $15,182
Total - $349,020 million
The Asian Tribune gives here two accounts of the special relations between Tunisia and the United States:
(a) "The Tunisian Government is an important ally for the US in its resource-driven colonial wars with Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. A United Nations report on secret detention practices lists Tunisia as having secret detention facilities where prisoners are held without International Red Cross access. Intelligence services in Tunisia are coordinated with US efforts in the War on Terror and have participated in interrogating prisoners at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and in Tunisia.
Recent WikiLeaks diplomatic cables reveal that the US not long ago was concerned about the growing anger on the streets and the corruption of Ben Ali and the Trabelsi family (his wife's family) who treat everything in the country as theirs.
A list of WikiLeaks cables from the US Embassy in Tunisia posted on The Guardian newspaper website indicate that the US considers Tunisia as a police state 'with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems', and the Ben Ali family as 'quasi mafia'.
Nevertheless, the State Department boasts about the active support the Tunisian security forces receive from the US in spite of Ben Ali's government record of serious human rights violations. According to the State Department website: 'The US and Tunisia have an active schedule of joint military exercises. US security assistance historically has played an important role in cementing relations. The US-Tunisian Joint Military Commission meets annually to discuss military cooperation, Tunisia's defense modernization program, and other security matters'." (Tunisia: IMF 'Economic Medicine' has resulted in mass poverty & unemployment, Basel Saleh, globalresearch.ca, 31/12/10)
b) "[T]he Obama administration tried last year to give [Ben Ali] what would amount to a parting gift: $282 million worth of upgrades to Ben Ali's helicopter fleet. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency - which handles military hardware sales to US allies - informed Congress on June 30 [last] that it wanted to send 'equipment, parts, training and logistical support' to Tunisia for 12 SH-60F Sikorsky-made multimission helicopters. It's a twin-engine 'copter used - as the name suggests - for attacking targets as well as airlift. The navy uses them as the Seahawk.
Tunisia's military supposedly was to use the SH-60s for 'over-water search and rescue capabilities'. It's unclear if the deal ever went through. The DSCA didn't return a request for clarification. But our pals at War Is Business report that since Ben Ali came to power in 1987, US military assistance to him has totaled $349 million - meaning the SH-60 sale represented a massive escalation in aid." (US had helo deal with ousted Tunisian dictator, Spencer Ackerman, wired.com, 14/1/11)
- Asian Tribune -