At State Dept: I Ask About Torture, Saudi Arabia and Israel


Went to State Department briefing on Thursday, March 22. Summary: Spokesperson Heather Nauert announced at the start of the briefing a "new regional counterterrorism academy in Jordan." ... In response to a question from another reporter about Israel sentencing Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, she stated: "I’m not going to weigh in on a case that took place in another country." ... Nauert finally called on me about the Jordanian announcement. I asked, given known use of torture in Jordan, if State viewed torture as illegal. She responded: "are we rolling back the clock to 15 years ago again today?" I responded that given the Trump's CIA nominee, Gina Haspel, "this administration is winding back the clock." ... In response to another question about China, she said, referring to me: "despite what our friend here from The Nation may think, the United States consistently stands up for human rights." I started asking about Saudi Arabia, she tried to duck. Matt Lee of the AP referenced my Saudi question and asked about Bahrain. She started talking about talking to Saudis and Bahrain about human rights. She then did call on me, I asked about Saudi Arabia and Israel, noting she talked about Bahrain, but not Israel. End briefing. Relevant portions below with emphasis added in bold: 

(1:13)   NAUERT: A couple things going on today. First, I’d like to announce a project that we’re pretty excited about, and this is in -- over in Jordan. We’re pleased to announce today that the Department of State and the Government of Jordan have inaugurated a new regional counterterrorism academy in Jordan.


(19:41)  SAID ARIKAT: Yesterday, the Israeli court, behind closed doors, sentenced [Ahed Tamimi] to eight months in prison for slapping an Israeli soldier. On the same day, they reduced the sentence of an Israeli soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian in cold blood to almost the same amount of time. Is, in your view, the Israelis sort of deal with the Palestinians with a different scale of justice altogether? …

(20:05)  NAUERT: See, I don’t think that I’m not going to answer that question.  That would be entirely up – no that would be entirely up to law enforcement.  I’m no there to see all the details of the case, so it would be very unfair for me to comment on that.  You know we have talked many times about the importance of – of fair trials; about the importance that all individuals be treated humanely. ... I am just saying I’m not going to weigh in on a case that took place in another country. That would entirely be a matter for them to address with you, okay?


(33:26)  HUSSEINI: You made a Jordan announcement.

(33:27)  NAUERT: Yes, I did.

(33:29)  HUSSEINI: Yes. So, can you tell us more about this so-called counterterrorism site? Jordan -- if you look at human rights organizations, there’s use of torture in Jordan. What is the State Department position on torture, including methods like waterboarding? Does the State Department regard that as illegal?

(33:47)  NAUERT: I – uh - think that the United States’ long-term cooperation with our strong partner in the Middle East, Jordan, is very well known, very well established. Our relationship with Jordan is as strong today as it was a few years ago, as it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and much further back than that. They have an excellent military. They have an excellent police force. They are close cooperating partners of the United States and, frankly, many other countries as well. I think our position --

(34:18)  HUSSEINI: (Off-mike.)

(34:21)  NAUERT: I think our position on that, on the part of the U.S. Government, is very clear. We will work with this government and we work with many other governments around the world in the fight against terrorism, and the fight against ISIS.

(34:31)  HUSSEINI: So you’re fine with torture, including waterboarding, with cooperating --

(34:35)  NAUERT: Are we – are we doing this again? Are we doing this? Are we – are we rolling back the clock to 15 years ago again today?

(34:42)  HUSSEINI: Well, it’s just that the CIA --

(34:45)  NAUERT: It’s my friend from The Nation here.

(34:46)  HUSSEINI: -- the CIA nominee destroy – among other things oversaw a site in Thailand that’s been accused of conducting torture and destroyed the video evidence of it --

(34:56)  HAUERT: I’m pretty sure that I work for the State Department --

(34:58)  HUSSEINI: Right.

(34:59)  NAUERT: -- and not the Central Intelligence Agency. So if you have --

(35:00)  QUESTION: So –  I’m not the one winding back the clock --

(35:03)  NAUERT: So if you have any questions about that --

(35:04)  HUSSEINI: This administration is --

(35:05)  NAUERT: -- I’d refer you over to that building.

(35:05)  HUSSEINI: This administration is winding down the clock, so I’d like an answer to the question rather than a divergent that I’m winding back the clock, because this administration is winding back the clock.

(35:15)  NAUERT: I don’t know – I don’t know how you --

(35:16)  HUSSEINI: So you don’t want to answer the question.

(35:17)  NAUERT: I don’t know how you think that. I think our position on torture, on human rights, is very well known.

(35:25)  HUSSEINI: What is it then?

(35:26)  NAUERT: We support the Government of Jordan. We do not support, we do not encourage, any of that kind of use that you – that you allege.

(35:32)  HUSSEINI: Is waterboarding legal, in your view?

(35:35)  NAUERT: The U.S. Government has declared that. Uh - I don’t recall the exact year, but a few years back, maybe it was seven or eight years ago, said that that is not a technique that the U.S. Government endorses. There was a time that the U.S. Government had told personnel that it could use that.

(35:50)  And I will remind you, let me just remind you and go on a little sidetrack here, that our military forces, when our Special Ops go through that training to become Special Forces, Navy SEALs, all of that, they go through that training. They go through what you’re referring to as torture. I just want to put that out there, that that still exists today.

(36:08)  HUSSEINI: So the State Department view is that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?

(36:11)  NAUERT: I’m not gonna – I’m not going to go back and have this conversation --

(36:13)  HUSSEINI: It’s a simple question.

(36:14)  NAUERT: -- with you once again. Okay?

(36:16)  HUSSEINI: It’s a simple question.

(36:16)  NAUERT: I think we’ve taken enough time on this and let’s move on. Said, go right ahead. 
...

(40:47)  QUESTION: Thank you very much, madam. As far as China actually is concerned, finally this president took action against China, because I have been saying for many, many years, according to the press report, China has been using as far as prison labor and also cheap labor. So, my question is: Are you sending message to China that respect human rights and rule of law, freedoms of press and freedom of religion, among others? And also, stop arresting the prison – the innocent people for their cheap labor.

(41:21)  NAUERT: Yeah. Sir, despite what our friend here from The Nation may think, the United States consistently stands up for human rights. China is one of those countries where we may have those conversations, where we talk about the importance of freedom of religion, human rights, fair trials, and all of those other things and ideals that the United States Government holds near and dear to our hearts, because that’s fundamentally what we believe in. We speak to other governments, China in particular, about media freedoms and all of those things consistently in all our diplomatic conversations.

(41:51)  HUSSEINI: (Off-mike.)

(41:52)  NAUERT: I’m going to have to leave it at that.

(41:53)  QUESTION: One more.

(41:54)  NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(41:55)  HUSSEINI: Heather, can you tell us about Saudi Arabia?

(41:56)  QUESTION: I want to ask you about --

(41:55)  HUSSEINI: Can you talk about the meetings with Saudi Arabia --

(42:01)  LEE: Bahrain.

(42:00)  HUSSEINI: -- since my name was just invoked?

(42:01)  NAUERT: Go right ahead. Go ahead.

(42:01)  QUESTION: Or, do you --

(42:02)  QUESTION: Heather, I’ve got one --

(42:03)  QUESTION: Before you get to – before --

(42:03)  HUSSEINI: So she’s mentioning my name and not respond --

(42:04)  LEE: Excuse me. Before you get to Saudi, can you uh–

(42:07)  NAUERT: Yeah.

(42:07)  LEE: I have this question I’ve been trying to ask for three days now about this case in Bahrain, about Duaa Alwadaei, who was convicted yesterday and sentenced to two months in absentia. Do you have anything to say about that, given what you just said about the calls for free – fair trials and --

(42:19)  NAUERT: Yeah. Sure. And – and - that is something that we talk with our partners in Bahrain. We have those conversations with the Government of Bahrain, with Saudi Arabia. We have difficult conversations with countries that we also have relationships with. That is a fact. We hold our ideals near and dear to our hearts. Those consistently come up in our private conversations with other governments, who don’t adhere to those ideals that we believe are so important. You ask about – you ask --

(42:47)  HUSSEINI: (Off-mike.)

(42:47)  NAUERT: Excuse me. I’m talking to Matt here. You ask about Duaa Alwadaei. She is residing in London. So, we saw the report that a Bahraini criminal court sentenced her in absentia to two – I believe it was two months in prison for allegedly insulting a state institution. Really? For allegedly insulting a state institution, they sentenced her to two months in prison. So we would say to the Government of Bahrain – and this is a way that we can deliver a message to governments around the world – we strongly urge the government to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that includes the freedom of expression.

(43:25)  Okay.

(43:25)  HUSSEINI: Heather, when you were -- earlier, about Israel you refused to comment.

(43:26)  QUESTION: Heather, yesterday --

(43:28)  NAUERT: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

(43:29)  QUESTION: Excuse me, sir. Excuse me.

(43:30)  HUSSEINI: You refused to comment on Israel.

(43:30)  QUESTION: Heather, yesterday Susan Thornton met with an official from Taiwan. Can – do you have a readout of that?

(43:38)  NAUERT: I do not. I do not. I’m sorry. I don’t.

(43:40)  QUESTION: There was a tweet and a photograph of them meeting yesterday.

(43:44)  NAUERT: Okay. I’ll see if I can provide a readout of that meeting for you, okay? Okay.

(43:48)  QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

(43:49)  NAUERT: Sir, I will let you take that last question. Then we got to go. Go ahead.

(43:52)  HUSSEINI: So you talk about – first of all, could you address Saudi Arabia and why is it that your closest ally in the region seems to be Saudi Arabia -- and Israel? You talk about a trial in Bahrain, but you don’t address it when it comes to the -- when the -- when it comes to Israel. Why is that?

(44:09)  NAUERT: Look, that is a -- uh a uh -- a very sensitive matter, and we handle conversations with different governments differently about sensitive matters. We don’t take the same approach with every single government, the kinds of conversations we have.

(44:22)  HUSSEINI: So Israel’s off the hook?

(44:23)  NAUERT: And uh - No, I’m not saying that at all. Not saying that at all. We have to leave it there. Thank you.

(44:30)  QUESTION: Thanks, Heather.

(44:31)  == Briefing Ends ==

Video and full but somewhat problematic transcript at State Department website. YouTube.