Journalism in the Public Interest

Congressman Unfriends Bahrain

American Samoa Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, once Bahrain’s best friend in Congress, changes his tune

Last month we told the unlikely story of how Eni Faleomavaega, the congressional delegate from American Samoa, had become one of Bahrain's most reliable friends on Capitol Hill. Faleomavaega had traveled to the Gulf Nation and made a series of statements in support of the government and criticizing popular protests that broke out there early last year. As we documented, he was turned on to the issue by the Bahrain American Council, a group created by a Washington lobby shop run by a close friend and campaign contributor of Faleomavaega's.

But something unexpected happened after the publication of our story: Faleomavaega's view of the situation in Bahrain shifted dramatically.

Since the protest movement began in February 2011, Faleomavaega had repeatedly criticized protesters as pawns or agents of Iran who were violently destabilizing an important U.S. ally. In comments submitted to the Congressional Record last March, for example, Faleomavaega argued that the monarchy that rules Bahrain had met all of the protesters' demands, and added, "I have to ask why the demonstrators returned to protesting again, even after all their demands were agreed to."

Human rights groups, meanwhile, have consistently criticized the government for suppressing protests with sometimes deadly force and for prosecuting activists and those that aided them.

Our story was published April 2, which happened to coincide with the start of a trip Faleomavaega and two other Democratic members of Congress took to Bahrain (paid for by the government there). On April 3, the group met with Bahrain's human rights minister. During that meeting, Faleomavaega called on the government to implement reforms that were recommended by a commission of inquiry last year. He also raised the case of Jaffar Salman, a man detained for allegedly participating in an illegal assembly who had complained he was not getting medical treatment after being shot in the face with birdshot.

Salman was subsequently brought to the hospital, according to a letter Faleomavaega received thanking him from opposition party Al-Wefaq published on his congressional website last week.

In a statement accompanying the letter, Faleomavaega called for reconciliation, adding that “after the government crackdown on government protestors, the situation in Bahrain is alarming.”

This kind of rhetoric is an about face for the congressional delegate. On his last trip to Bahrain in October, Faleomavaega delivered a speech vigorously defending the government's response to the protests. He worried about “the prospect of anarchy or the violent overthrow of a peaceful government by infiltrators from another country” — Iran.

Faleomavaega also met with Al-Wefaq officials on that October trip but they had expressed disappointment after the meeting, complaining that he did “not show enough understanding for the legitimate demands for reform.”

What caused Faleomavaega to change his view of the situation? He did not respond to requests for comment.

“This kind of rhetoric is an about face for the congressional delegate.”

While I agree that the guy probably deserves more mockery, I’m very disappointed at the implied jab that there’s a problem with someone changing their mind in the face of better information.

If there’s reason to suspect corruption—that he changed his stance because the opposition is bribing him more, for example—then by all means look into it.  But the situation there is, in fact, alarming.  That he was wrong before shouldn’t be taking away from that, should it?

Justin Elliott

May 2, 2012, 4:02 p.m.

John—there’s absolutely no implied jab here. I’m documenting his shift on this issue.

Even if this article is a jab; I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be published.
1) It shows the effect such articles can have in influencing government officials to take a proper just stance on issues as opposed to the ones that solely benefits the interests he represents
2) Perhaps they will think twice in the future about expounding on a topic they themselves have very little direct and well researched knowledge of. Just because an aid presents you with incorrect data that you touted to the media about doesn’t let you off the hook for not having done your due diligence on the matter. You are a Congressman for crying out loud. Acting responsibly doesn’t get any more serious than that!

i don’t see at all that this signals a change. If you read the whole letter -
and not the 1 sentence you singled out - you would see that the congressman acknowledges the historically important alliance with Bahrain but like majority of us recognizes we have to keep reforming and follow the BICI recommendations.

Your article (like the others you have written on Bahrain) seems more about what you want to believe and sell, rather than an analysis of what was actually said.

Carlton Williams

May 3, 2012, 9:46 a.m.

It takes a man of questionable character to make a remark that would suggest End was taking bribes. I personally know Eni. He is a man of unquestionable character. FYI I am a Republican defending my Democrat friend.

Defending ur demo friend is one thing…but how do any of you justify standing behind and endorsing a government that used and continues to use lethal force against peaceful demonstrators seeking democracy? Even going so far as to bring in arabic mercs to do their killin for them?

Frankly, any politician that doesn’t condemn the Bahraini government out of principal is complicit in its crimes. “Friends to freedom loving people” the president said. More like friends to oil producing tyrannies. Capitol hill. and ur friend - are a bunch of whores that have sold out the american people and the american ideal across the world. They have turned our country intoh a propaganda machine…and the only ones that believe any of it are us. We may never recover from the damage being done to international relations, or the encroachment upon liberty being joined by america as it spreads around the globe. Sorry if that sounds hateful…but I’ve seen too many dead people murdered by the governments we support.

The real question not answered in the article is who is the lobbyist mentioned and what is his relationship to the Congressman?

Justin Elliott

May 3, 2012, 11:59 a.m.

@Joe I got into the lobbyist question in depth here

Like I said - “whores”. Or is that too base a description for a congressman? How about person of many interests surrounding sums of money and questionable ethics? Nah…“whore” says it all.

My mistake, then, Justin.  I’m just getting very tired of “news” that shows that some politician said one thing one day and another a few days later, as if changing one’s mind is, in itself, a sign of problems.

Carlton, if you’re referring to my comment, then my only response is that accepting lobbyist gifts is taking bribes.  A bribe is a gift intented to influence the recipient, and everything a lobbyist does is—by their job description—an attempt to influence.  Eni accepted a trip to the Bahrain from the Bahraini lobby.

Whether Congress permits this (it does, because why would they pass a law forbidding themselves from getting free vacations just because of the ethical ramifications?) or whether Eni allowed the bribe influenced his actions is an entirely different matter.

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