Despite Bahrain's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the U.S. has continued to provide weapons and maintenance to the small Mideast nation.
Defense Department documents released to ProPublica give the fullest picture yet of the arms sales: The list includes ammunition, combat vehicle parts, communications equipment, Blackhawk helicopters, and an unidentified missile system. (Read the documents.)
The documents, which were provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and cover a yearlong period ending in February 2012, still leave many questions unanswered. It's not clear whether in each case the arms listed have been delivered. And some entries that only cite the names of weapons may in fact refer to maintenance or spare parts.
Defense Department spokesman Paul Ebner declined to offer any more detail. "We won't get into specifics in any of these because of the security of Bahrain," said Ebner.
While the U.S. has maintained it is selling Bahrain arms only for external defense, human rights advocates say the documents raise questions about items that could be used against civilian protesters.
"The U.S. government should not be providing additional military equipment that could make matters worse," said Sunjeev Bery, Middle East advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.
There have been reports that Bahrain used American-made helicopters to fire on protesters in the most intense period of the crackdown. Time magazine reported in mid-March 2011 that Cobra helicopters had conducted "live ammunition air strikes" on protesters.
The new Defense Department list of arms sales has two entries related to "AH-1F Cobra Helicopters" in March and April 2011. Neither the exact equipment or services being sold nor the delivery timetable are specified.
The U.S. is also playing a training role: In April 2012, for example, the Army News Service reported that an American team specializing in training foreign militaries to use equipment purchased from the U.S. was in Bahrain to help with Blackhawk helicopters.
Bahrain's ambassador to the U.S., Houda Nonoo, said the country's military has not targeted protestors. Bahrain's military "exists to combat external threats," Nonoo told ProPublica. "[T]he potential for U.S. foreign arms sales to be used against protestors in the future is remote."