Late in April, ABC News showed a controversial tape of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan — a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates — ruthlessly torturing an Afghan merchant accused of cheating him over a shipment of grain. In the video, the Sheikh can be seen firing at his victim with an M16, beating him with a nail-laden wooden plank, and driving over him repeatedly in a Mercedes S.U.V. Scenes with content even more graphic (censored from network television), show the imperiled merchant being sodomized with an electric cattle prod and having his testicles set on fire. The tape was recorded for the sheikh’s later viewing pleasure by one of his men.
I heard about the story when it broke, but it was sitting on my back-burner for a while until I totally forgot about it. Back then, I had probably assumed that politicians and business leaders would have been quick to respond with sharp, reproachful words. However, the fear of losing the oil-rich Emirates as a strategic ally has prevented those in Washington, and on Wall Street, from speaking out.
The release of these harrowing images flashes a light on the private lives of a ruling dynasty whose members place themselves above the law in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is a shocking reminder that even in the 21st century, it is still possible for the descendent of a royal household to presume that his rank gives him license to assault subordinates and even commit human-rights violations. Worse still, the images are yet another telling story that our greed takes precedence over our ethics and our values, even when there is a glaring evidence.