Obama Avoids Discussing Harsh Punishment Received by Dissident Saudi Blogger

January 27th, 2015 6:00 PM

During an interview with the Cable News Network's Fareed Zakaria in India on Tuesday, Barack Obama avoided directly addressing the severe punishment of 1,000 lashes -- 50 at a time -- received by Raif Badawi, a blogger who criticized the government of Saudi Arabia even though that nation has been a longtime ally of the U.S.

When asked by Zakaria why Saudi Arabia remains a close partner with America and the next stop on the president's international tour despite its poor civil rights record, the Democratic occupant of the White House responded:

Well, what we’d say to them is that it is important for us to take into account existing relationships, the existing alignments within a very complicated Middle East.

Obama then indicated that one common interest is their ongoing battle with terrorists.

However, the Indian-born CNN reporter pressed on, specifically addressing the political blogger who expressed dissatisfaction with his country's government and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, as well as the cruel torture he received until doctors warned that any more lashing would cause his death.

The president stated: “I think on this visit, obviously, a lot of this is just paying respects to King Abdullah, who, in his own fashion, represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom” -- referring to the recent death of the 90-year-old monarch -- and meeting Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, the country's new king.

“But we have maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and with all the other countries that we work with,” Obama said before adding:

What I’ve found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure even as we are getting business done that needs to get done. And oftentimes, that makes some of our allies uncomfortable. It makes them frustrated.

Sometimes, we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability. And you know, some of them listen and some don't.

Regarding those who don't listen, the president recalled the unraveling of the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt who was overthrown in a 2011 revolution. Mubarak was one of the U.S.'s closest allies in the region during his three decades in office, thanks in large part to a strong security agreement and Mubarak's work to maintain peace with Israel.

Obama noted he warned Mubarak that the massive protests in Tahrir Square were not simply going to vanish, urging Mubarak to "get out in front of reform" and become "the father of the Egyptian democracy."

"I said, 'Mr. President, I don't think this is a genie that you can put back in the bottle,'" the U.S. president recalled. "He said, 'Ah, Mr. President, you don't understand society here. This is all going to be fine. It'll blow over.'”

“And it didn't," Obama said.

"But the trendline is one that I will sustain throughout the rest of my presidency,” Obama continued, “and that is to make an argument to those friends and allies of ours that if they want a society that is going to be able to sustain itself in this age, then they're going to have to change how they do business.”

Also during the interview, Zakaria stated: “Americans are interested in the drone that landed in the White House, in your back yard. ... Are you confident that you understand how you can keep the next one from being armed?”

"The drone that landed in the White House you buy in Radio Shack,” Obama replied before using the incident as an opportunity to call for ever more government regulations to restrict use of that technology.

“There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife,” Obama said.

According to a CNN report, the man “operating the drone that crashed on the White House grounds called the U.S. Secret Service on Monday morning to 'self-report' his involvement in the incident.

"The drone's owner and operator works for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a government entity with mapping and national security duties.”

The Secret Service locked down the White House shortly after 3 a.m., when an officer on the south grounds of the White House spotted the drone -- described as a two-foot wide "quad copter" -- flying around before crashing on the southeast side of the complex.

That agency has been in the national spotlight for the past several months, ever since a man climbed over the fence and got inside the White House through an unlocked door. That incident led to the resignation of the service's director and reassignment of other top-level officials.