By Stanley Heller

    Saudi King Salman meets with Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency / AP)

Reproduced below are letters exchanged between Stanley Heller and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The letters were submitted to Truthdig by Heller, executive director of the Middle East Crisis Committee, based in New Haven, Conn. The exchange was initiated by an earlier letter that Heller wrote to Blumenthal concerning human rights violations by Saudi Arabia.

March 17, 2016

Dear Senator Blumenthal,

I’m rather stunned by your letter [see below]. The human rights problem in Saudi Arabia is much, much more than a need to “bring about equality to all its citizens.” It’s also a matter of grotesque punishments for actions that are perfectly proper or praiseworthy. The kingdom beheads people and crucifies them for non-crimes such as witchcraft, apostasy and defiance or criticism of the king. It’s also a problem of a lack of a justice system with the ability to know the charges against you and to mount a proper defense or to even know the date of your execution.

As an urgent matter Amnesty International is warning of an imminent execution of three Saudis whose “offenses” took place when they were teenagers. I hope you will communicate with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry about this matter immediately.

The need to “bring about equality” is in a sense true if we’re talking about the ability of non-Wahhabis to practice their religion, but your phrase minimizes the problem grossly. There are no churches or synagogues allowed in Saudi Arabia nor any possibility for those religions to be practiced openly. Saudis who follow the Shia interpretation of Islam (over a tenth of the population) are widely discriminated against and their religious ideas are mocked or denigrated.

There’s also the matter of the crimes of the Saudi monarchy against other peoples, most immediately those in Yemen. Saudi planes, with our help (via refueling and targeting assistance), have been bombing Yemen mercilessly for almost a year now. Just yesterday [Feb. 27] they killed 41 civilians in one airstrike. The Saudis had not been attacked by Yemenis in 2015, nor was there any imminent danger of attack. Instead, Yemen was wracked by a civil war. Saudi bombings, sea blockades and its sponsoring of ground attacks are an act of aggression, which as a lawyer you know is the gravest war crime. Since our government sells the Saudis the weapons, in addition to its direct aid in the attacks, the United States is complicit in the war crime.

I hope you would consider carefully the remarks of your [Connecticut] colleague, Senator Chris Murphy, about Saudi Arabia. He has called for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of what it is doing in Yemen and for the fantastic sums it spends to spreads its extremist Wahhabism. Or read what Congressman [Ted] Lieu of Los Angeles wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on March 2 of this year as he says the “apparent indiscriminate airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen seem to suggest that either the coalition is grossly negligent in its targeting or is intentionally targeting innocent civilians.”

Our country should not be allied with this terrible [Saudi] family that has seized most of the Arabian Peninsula and named a country after itself. I urge you to speak out against this collaboration which betrays all that is best about America.

Sincerely, Stanley Heller Executive Director Middle East Crisis Committee New Haven, CT

March 17, 2016

Dear Mr. Heller,

Thank you for your message regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations. I appreciate hearing from you.

Throughout my career, I have been a forceful advocate for human rights. The United States has a clear obligation to demonstrate global leadership in the promotion of human rights. Congress holds a critical role in this important effort by funding our international human rights monitoring programs and speaking out forcefully to prevent abuses.

Saudi Arabia remains an important non-NATO ally, albeit one that must do more to bring about equality to all its citizens. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to urge Saudi Arabia to abide by international standards. Likewise, I will continue to support robust funding for U.S. Department of State programs that defend human rights.

Thank you again for your message. I commend your commitment to human rights. Please feel free to contact me in the future with any additional questions or concerns.

Sincerely Richard Blumenthal United States Senate

Your support matters…

Independent journalism is under threat and overshadowed by heavily funded mainstream media.

You can help level the playing field. Become a member.

Your tax-deductible contribution keeps us digging beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that unearths what's really happening- without compromise.

Give today to support our courageous, independent journalists.