Last week's announcement that Saudi Arabia -- easily one of the world's most brutally repressive regimes -- was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel provoked indignation around the world. That reaction was triggered for obvious reasons. Not only has Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people already this year mostly by beheading (a rate of one execution every two days), and not only is it serially flogging dissidents, but it is reaching new levels of tyrannical depravity as it is about to behead and then crucify the 21-year-old son of a prominent regime critic, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted at the age of 17 of engaging in demonstrations against the government.
Most of the world may be horrified at the selection of Saudi Arabia to head a key U.N. human rights panel, but the U.S. State Department most certainly is not. Quite the contrary: they seem quite pleased about the news. At a State Department briefing yesterday afternoon, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was questioned by the invaluable Matt Lee of AP, and this is the exchange that resulted:
QUESTION: Change topic? Saudi Arabia.
MR TONER: Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?
MR TONER: I'm not aware of the trial that you -- or the verdict -- death sentence.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when was 17-years-old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he's been scheduled to be executed.
MR TONER: Right. I mean, we've talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don't have any more to add to it.
QUESTION: So you --
QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?
MR TONER: Again, I don't have any comment, don't have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it's -- we would welcome it. We're close allies. If we --