In response to news that a woman in Saudi Arabia who had been raped by seven men was subjected by judges to 200 lashes with a whip and jail time, Republican State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack could only shrug and mumble the following:
Question: Are you going to exert any pressure on the Saudi Government to say that this constitutes some kind of human rights violation?
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack: Well, look, it is within their, it is within their ability to take a look at this and to make changes, I’m sure. That, however, rests entirely in their hands. We have expressed our astonishment at, at such a thing, at the, I think, I think that when you look at the crime and the fact that now the victim was punished, I think that gave us surprise and astonishment. But that is within the power of the Saudi government to take a look at the verdict and change it.
Question: Why won’t the United States Government go further and condemn this in an outright way?
McCormack: Look, we’ve said, we talked about this yesterday, we talked about it today, uh, um, as we said, it’s within their power to change.
Contrast that Pontius Pilate handwashing with what Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had to say on the matter:
“In 1995, I went to Beijing and said, â€˜It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.â€™ We have made some progress since then. But we have not made enough. The latest example is the punishment of 200 lashes that a Saudi Arabian court has given to a victim — the victim — of a gang rape. This is an outrage. The Bush administration has refused to condemn the sentence and said it will not protest an internal Saudi decision. I urge President Bush to call on King Abdullah to cancel the ruling and drop all charges against this woman. As President I will once again make human rights an American priority around the world.”
And Barack Obama has sent an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking the Bush administration to more strongly condemn the human rights travesty, asserting that the incident should at the very least be included in the Department of State’s annual human rights bulletin. Obama writes:
According to news accounts, last week a Saudi court sentenced a 19-year old woman, who was the victim of a gang rape, to six months in jail and to 200 lashes. Reportedly, this is more than a doubling of her initial sentence. The court took this step of doubling the sentence because the defendantâ€™s lawyers raised the case in the press in an effort to call attention to it. That the victim was sentenced at all is unjust, but that the court doubled the sentence because of efforts to call attention to the ruling is beyond unjust.
I strongly urge the Department of State to condemn this ruling. Moreover, since your Department is finalizing this yearâ€™s country reports on human rights pursuant to Sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), I ask that this unjust case and any efforts to correct this demeaning ruling be given a prominent place in that report.
If you care about human rights, who do you trust more? Ho hum Pontius Pilate Republicans, or more activist alternatives?
(Sources: State Department Briefing with Sean McCormack November 20 2007; Hillary Clinton Statement of November 21 2007; Letter from Barack Obama to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice November 20 2007)