Monday, September 12, 2011

Being in Prison While Muslim

By William Fisher

In March of this year, Reuters Correspondent David Morgan filed a story following a Congressional hearing stating that “American Muslims face a rising tide of religious discrimination in US communities, workplaces and schools nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks….”

Civil rights and Muslim advocacy groups hailed the hearing as a positive step forward for the Obama Administration’s efforts to stamp out Islamophobia. It had been preceded by a hearing sponsored by New York Congressman Peter King, which many felt was distinctly anti-Muslim in tone.

But one Muslim constituency went totally unnoticed at the hearing. It’s probably not a very important constituency for Congress people because it consists of Muslims who can’t vote – they’re serving time in Federal prison.

So most Muslim leaders were pleased when the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced they would be “probing fresh allegations that federal prison employees abused Muslim inmates.”

These allegations are contained in a DOJ quarterly report required by the USA PATRIOT Act. According to the Justice Department’s website, the report “disclosed several new complaints by Muslim inmates who allege they faced discrimination from BOP employees.” The report does not reveal the inmates’ names or specify where they are incarcerated.

What are inmates complaining about? And what is the Justice Department doing about it? Complaints range from a prison chaplain trying to deny Muslims access to the prison’s religious facilities, to prison staff telling others to stop helping Islamic inmates, to an employee spraying a Muslim inmate with chemicals while he was physically and mentally tortured, to providing meals containing pork products contrary to his religious diet, to “being placed in the [special housing unit] for no reason.”

Based on the material displayed on the DOJ website, the OIG’s investigators find most complaints without merit. Most but not all. For example:

The IG’s office is investigating two BOP employees who allegedly said they hated a Muslim inmate because he is Arab and insulted his religion. The inmate also said they told the other inmates to assault him and prevented him from receiving immediate medical treatment after the attack.

Several cases have ended in sanctions against BOP agents, according to the report. In one case, a bureau employee resigned and another received a
written admonishment after sending a racially inflammatory email. Another BOP officer retired after throwing a prisoner’s Quran into the garbage and later lying about his actions.

A Muslim inmate alleged that a correctional officer lied in an incident report in which he wrote that the inmate’s Koran and personal letters were confiscated and given to the sheriff’s deputy escorts for disposition. The inmate alleged that the correctional officer actually threw the items in the trash. A search confirmed that the Koran and letters had been thrown away and not given to the deputies. This correctional officer subsequently retired from the BOP because he reached mandatory retirement age.

But many complaints never reach the BOP or the IG. Here is an example of one that comes from a Muslim inmate. It deals with what appears to be a frequent source of inmate discontent: Placing indiscriminate restrictions on the inmates’ freedom to practice his faith. The inmate said:

"A good number of inmates fast Mondays and Thursdays as well as three additional days every month for religious reasons. This is something highly recommended in Islam. This practice was recognized from day one here [at the CMU]. On fasting days we will take our trays and keep them in our rooms until sunset when we eat. There is no special requirement from the
kitchen people whatsoever.

"As of Jan. 4 this year, Administration decided that no food is allowed to leave the eating area at all regardless of our fasting. We pleaded with them that this was unfair and is depriving us of a religious practice. An appeal to the Chaplain here went unanswered.

"This is a religious practice that we did not invent. It is something we did since day one and was recognized. We are not asking for any special arrangement, no special meals, no special added work. We simply are asking that we are allowed to have our own meals stored until we are allowed to eat at sunset. If they don’t like us to store it in our rooms ( which is what we did for over two years now with no problem), there is an empty refrigerator in the eating area where they can store it and lock it until sunset. We will not remove anything outside the eating area thereby complying with their regulations. (This) is a clear violation of our religious rights."

Of the complaints that reach the IG or the BOP, it appears that many more complaints are rejected. Here are a few:

· A BOP inmate alleged that during a “shakedown,” a correctional
officer took another inmate’s Koran and threw it in the trash. According to the complainant, the correctional officer allegedly stated that the Koran was institutional property and noted that it had been altered with various writings and markings on the pages. BOP interviewed the correctional officer who stated that she found a Koran while conducting a search of an inmate’s cell
and that the Koran had been altered from its original condition with markings on the pages and binding.

The Office of the DOJ Inspector General said that because the book did not contain the name of an inmate or a register number, the correctional officer discarded it as contraband. A BOP investigation determined that an inmate later retrieved the Koran from the trash. When a staff lieutenant asked the correctional officer about the incident, the correctional officer stated that, rather than throw it away, a better solution would have been to give the Koran to the prison chaplain for appropriate disposition. The correctional officer apologized to the inmate for discarding the Koran. The BOP decided that, since the Koran was not the personal property of the inmate and the correctional officer apologized for having exercised poor judgment, no disciplinary action was necessary.

· A Muslim inmate alleged that he was targeted by staff for no reason other than their hatred toward Islam and Muslims. The inmate alleged that he was sent to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) three times in 16 months because of staff discrimination against Muslim inmates. BOP’s investigation revealed that the inmate was placed in the SHU due to allegations that he was attempting to radicalize the Muslim inmate population and incite inmates to assault staff. Based on inmate interviews, information received from staff, and the fact that the compound became more secure when complainant and other inmates were temporarily removed from the general population, BOP concluded there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations and closed its investigation.

· A BOP inmate complained about being designated a terrorist and alleged unlawful continuation of Special Administrative Measures (SAM) restrictions. He alleged that the restrictions resulted in his being locked down 24 hours a day and having no communication with his family and friends. The inmate also alleged that he was denied necessary medication and was the victim of theft of personal property and legal work from his cell.

The inmate did not provide the names of any specific staff regarding his allegations. BOP determined there was no evidence that the inmate was designated as a terrorist. BOP found further that the inmate had previously been under SAMs, but was placed in the general population when the restrictions were no longer necessary. Moreover, according to the BOP, the
inmate was participating in a program that provided him the opportunity to be transferred to an open penitentiary upon demonstrating and maintaining good behavior. BOP investigators interviewed the prison staff and found no evidence that the staff failed to follow policy, discriminated against the
Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice inmate, or stole the inmate’s property. BOP concluded that the allegations were not substantiated and the investigation was closed.

(SAMS – Special Administrative Procedures -- are intended to prevent terrorists from threatening national security by communicating plans to the outside.)

At any given time, a substantial number of complaints is being investigated. This is a sampling:

· A Muslim inmate alleged that a BOP employee encouraged staff to issue fabricated incident reports against him and other Muslim inmates and to find the Muslim inmates guilty of the fictitious offenses. The inmate also alleged that Muslim inmates receive more restrictive sanctions than non-Muslim inmates for misconduct.

· A Muslim inmate alleged that he was assaulted because he is Muslim and of Arab descent. The inmate alleged he was unjustly placed in the SHU for 28 days, which caused him to lose his job at the facility. The inmate also alleged that every time he asked staff about filing an administrative remedy he was threatened with being sent to the SHU. The inmate stated that he believes the staff possesses a deep-rooted hatred toward Muslim inmates.

· A Muslim inmate alleged that (i) BOP employees have suggested that all Taliban and Al-Qaida should be killed; (ii) Muslim inmates are not permitted to pray individually at the workplace or to return to their cells for prayers during their work assignments; (iii) Muslim inmates are placed in the SHU more frequently than non-Muslim inmates; (iv) Muslim inmates’ administrative remedy requests are ignored; and (v) BOP staff, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, have threatened Muslim inmates to discourage them from filing administrative remedy requests. The complainant stated that efforts to address these issues have been unsuccessful.

· A Muslim inmate alleged that a BOP physician sexually harassed her during an examination. The inmate further alleged that she has been racially profiled since September 11, 2001. The inmate also stated that a BOP employee would not permit her to wear loose-fitting clothing and long sleeved shirts as required by her religion, and that she was placed in the SHU for having worn a loose-fitting shirt.

Complaints by inmates are expected by their captors. Even in general prison populations, the life of an inmate is difficult. According to one CMU inmate, in a CMU, with its severe restrictions on family visits and other restrictive regulations, life is palpably more trying. Under those conditions, inmates might tend to complain about more things more often.

They also point out that the Federal Bureau of Prisons is a huge bureaucracy and, like most bureaucracies, its members may be reluctant to “rat out” their colleagues and generally tend to support one another in denying wrongdoing.

While the OIG and the BOP do not reveal where the complainants are being held, some observers believe the Muslim inmates are located principally in one of the two Federal prisons that contain so-called “Communications Management Units (CMUs).

One CMU is located in Terre Haute, Indiana; the other is in Marion, Illinois.
The Units are prisons within prisons. They were opened to hold prisoners who had posed threats to national security via terrorism or other means. Most of their inmates are Muslims.

The rationale for keeping Muslims together is different depending on where you sit. Government officials say segregating people convicted of terror-related crimes prevents them from radicalizing other prisoners in the general population. In a remark that has to be considered gratuitous, one official says it’s better for the inmates since they all speak Arabic (they don’t). But no Federal official has publicly provided any reasonable rationale for CMUs.

Opponents of the CMU approach say the units were established to subject people convicted of terror-related crimes to rules and regulations that are far harsher than those applied to the general prison population. Opponents charge that prison authorities practice religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment. Terror-related crime is an overbroad phrase that can include someone who plants an IED at the door of a school house or a person who collects clothing to send to children on the wrong side of a war zone.

For example, inmates in a CMU are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. They may not hug, touch or embrace their children or spouse during visits.

David C. Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project, told Truthout, “These (CMU conditions) are extremely severe deprivations, imposed in a Star Chamber proceeding that lacks any meaningful safeguards. We don’t know that CMU placement decisions are made on discriminatory grounds, but given the utter lack of transparency in the process, it’s impossible to rule that out.”

David Shapiro of the ACLU told Truthout, “CMUs were created secretly in 2006. There were no hearings and the public was not given any opportunity to contribute ideas or raise objections.”

The result, he says, was “the most minimal standards, all written so broadly that almost any convicted person could be placed in a CMU.” Moreover, he adds, “The Bureau of Prisons devised a draconian set of rules governing the inmate’s relationship to the outside world. The visiting rules, for example, are designed to destroy families.”

Chip Pitts, a well-known law professor and human rights activist who is the
former chair of Amnesty International USA, told Truthout the CMUs “represent a dangerous new precedent.”

He said, “These overbroad, harsh, discriminatory, counterproductive, and probably unconstitutional restrictions on mainly Muslim prisoners suffer from defects in basic humanity as well as law. Even assuming the guilt of those incarcerated – which cannot be assumed given rampant over-incarceration, so-called “preemptive prosecution,” guilt-by-association, and the ambiguous and flawed definitions of “terrorism” these days – why deny a child or family member a hug as a means of supposedly ensuring security?”

He added, “Less intrusive means such as more competent observation clearly exist to address whatever legitimate ends the government may have. Instead of the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’, our nation has increasingly been reduced to the ‘land ironically imprisoned, paralyzed, and made ugly by our own fears’.”

Severe restrictions are also placed on inmates’ access to phone calls and letters, as well as work and educational opportunities. Transfers to the CMU are not explained; nor are prisoners told how to earn release into less restrictive confinement, as there is no review process.

Lawyers say that because these transfers are not based on facts or discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has emerged.

If that’s true, it should come as a shocker – and a wakeup call -- to members of the Judiciary Committees in both the House and the Senate. These Committees are mandated to maintain oversight over our country’s huge prison population, including the CMUs. They need to start doing so.

When Secrets Aren’t

By William Fisher

It’s been a bad week for keepers of government secrets. A very bad week.

First came a 2006 Wikileaks cable containing a letter from a UN Rapporteur to the U.S. Mission in Geneva revealing that in a raid by multinational troops on an Iraqi village called Ishaqi, 10 people were handcuffed and shot in the head - a farmer, his wife, family members and children ranging in age from five months to five years old. The incident was followed the by-now familiar cover up, which contended that weapons were being fired from the family house, so multinational forces called in an airstrike. The aircraft dropped a 2000 lb. bomb on the house to obliterate signs of the executions.

Then came the revelation from CNN that UK and US intelligence agencies had built very cozy links with Muammar Gaddafi since the King of Kings gave up his nuclear ambitions. According to documents found in secret files in Libyan government offices, and turned over to CNN by Human Rights Watch, the intelligence agencies allegedly handed over detailed information to assist his regime. The documents claim that the British MI6 supplied its counterparts in Libya with details on exiled opponents living in the UK, and chart how the CIA abducted several suspected militants before handing them over to Tripoli.

They also contain communications between British and Libyan security officials ahead of Tony Blair's visit in 2004, and show that British officials helped write a draft speech for Gaddafi when he was being encouraged to give up his weapons program.

Then, Yahoo News’s Laura Rozen revealed that details of the CIA's “extraordinary rendition” program – kidnapping terrorist suspects and jetting them to CIA black sites for interrogation--have been further exposed in a mundane court case upstate New York. The case involves a billing dispute between two charter flight companies that provided airplanes to the CIA.

The CIA has been fighting to keep cases of this type and all of its details out of courts for years, contesting that if any case were allowed to go forward it would inevitably lead to the disclosure of highly secret information. So the government has consistently invoked the “state secrets” privilege to persuade judges to throw the cases out. The bottom line is that not a single victim of “extraordinary rendition” has had his day in court. That includes the publisher of this journal.

The flight logs for a Gulfstream IV plane leased by a one-man Long Island firm are among the 1,500 pages of documentation in court records filed in conjunction with a 2009 breach-of-contract suit filed in Columbia County, New York. The records show, among other things, a curious itinerary for the plane over a four-day period in August 2003 -- northern Virginia's Dulles airport, Bangkok, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Tripoli, Ireland.

And the Washington Post's Peter Finn and Julie Tate report that, "The
Gulfstream IV's itinerary, as well as the $339,228.05 price tag for the journey, are among the details about shadowy CIA flights that have emerged….” from the case.

Despite the rhetoric of the leaders of both the US and UK pledging transparency, it is clear that these secrets might have remained secrets forever, save for some lucky coincidences and some very dedicated truth-tellers.

The Libyan rebels rummaging through old files in one of Gaddafi’s abandoned offices weren’t looking for CIA and MI5 files. Their discovery just happened, and it’s doubtful that they would have understood what they found without a CIA or similar presence. The UN rapporteur and the journalists who made the other violations public were simply doing their jobs.

We should be grateful to all of them.

Outsourcing War

By William Fisher

More than a quarter of a million security contractors have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, and between them they have managed to "lose" at least $31 billion of the $190 billion spent on their contracts and grants, or approximately 30 per cent of taxpayer funds they received, according to a government watchdog commission.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting estimates that the U.S. contractor workforce has at times exceeded 260,000, outnumbering deployed

It charged that the $31 billion loss was "due to lack of oversight" over the private companies providing national security and support services.

The eight-member, bipartisan Commission submitted its last report to Congress this week.

The Congressionally chartered panel has held 25 hearings, participated in more than 1,000 meetings and has previously published two interim reports and five special reports to Congress. Many of the group's findings have indicated a lack of strict oversight in keeping track of the more than 200,000 contractor employees working in Iraq & Afghanistan.

The Commission members include: Michael Thibault and Christopher Shays, co-chairs; Clark Kent Ervin, Grant Green, Robert Henke, Katherine Schinasi, Charles Tiefer, and Dov Zakheim.

Commission Co-Chair Michael Thibault, former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said, "The government has known for 20 years that contractors would be a key part of any major response to large or sustained hostilities or major disasters. Yet the government was not prepared to go into Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003 using large numbers of contractors, and is still unable to provide effective management and oversight of contract spending that will have exceeded $206 billion by the end of September. That has to change."

The Commission recommended reform objectives including improving federal planning for use of contracts, strengthening contract management and oversight, expanding competition, improving interagency coordination, and modifying or canceling U.S.-funded projects that host nations cannot sustain.

Co-Chair Christopher Shays, a former U.S. Representative for Connecticut, said, "The Commission finds the government is over-relying on contractors.”

He added, “Some contractors have been performing tasks that only federal employees should perform, while others are doing work that is permissible but still too risky or inappropriate for contractors. And overall, there is simply too much contracting for the federal contract-management and oversight workforce to handle. From every angle, that's over-reliance."

The co-chairs said the biggest problem in wartime contracting is waste. Thibault said, "We have founds billions of dollars of waste stemming from a variety of shortcomings-poor decision making, vague contract requirements, lack of adequately trained federal oversight people in the field, duplicative or unnecessary work, failure to revise or recompete contracts, unsustainable projects, inadequate business processes among contractors, and delayed audits."

The Commission estimates that waste and fraud could possibly reach as much as $60 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. The additional waste may develop if host countries cannot or will not sustain U.S.-funded projects and programs after the United States hands them over or reduces its support.

Shays said the Commission report lays blame at the doorsteps of both government and the contracting industry. "Many of the convictions and guilty pleas for bribery, kickbacks, theft, and other offenses involve federal civilians and members of the military," he said.

"Likewise, poor performance shows up both in government and contractor operations. We've had soldiers injured or electrocuted because of faulty wiring in base showers, and we've had federal officials tolerating a far greater supply of contract labor than was needed for military-vehicle maintenance. There is plenty of blame to go around." Shays called attention to a key paragraph in the executive summary of the Commission's final report. It said:

"Much of the contingency-contract waste and fraud could have been avoided. Unless changes are made, continued waste and fraud will undercut the effectiveness of money spent in future operations, whether they involve hostile threats overseas or national emergencies here at home requiring military participation and interagency response.

"Responsibility for this state of affairs lies with Congress, the White House, federal departments, the military services, agency leadership, contractors, and individuals who abuse the system."

Before President Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, Senator Harry Truman led a special investigative committee to go after war profiteers. Two years later, Truman's team discovered that aerospace firm Curtiss-Wright was delivering defective motors to the Air Force. While military officials denied the accusations, Truman took testimony from company employees and military officials confirming that the company was selling leaky motors to the government and covering it up with forged inspection reports.

While Truman's subject matter was different, the need now is even greater. The country has a compelling and urgent need for a permanent, dedicated, high-level, Congressionally-chartered watchdog unit capable of ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse, not in the past tense, as the current Commission was obliged to do, but in real time.

The military-contractor complex is likely to be with us for generations. And so is the need to continually look over its shoulder to ensure that taxpayer funds are going where they're supposed to go.

We have seen examples of the effective use of such units. Witness Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Mr. Bowen is tasked with auditing and investigating the use of taxpayer funds appropriated for the Iraq reconstruction effort. Since 2004, he has produced over 350 audits and inspections, resulting in financial benefits in excess of $1.1 billion; his investigations have yielded over 50 convictions, with recoveries in excess of $150 million via forfeiture orders, fines, and seizures.

Stuart Ackerman of Wired reports that Bowen is being stonewalled by Hilary Clinton regarding State’s contractor plans after US troops largely depart. There are also a few stealthy efforts by some in Congress to scuttle his whole operation. Yet it remains in place doing its job and doing it well.

Come to think of it, Stuart Bowen would be an ideal candidate to use his Iraq experience to head a new unit providing oversight of security contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But a watchdog like Bowen can only recommend. He needs the cooperation of Congress. And it's up to Congress to act - to move aggressively against those who can be found guilty of waste, fraud and abuse.

A New Gig for Trippi

By William Fisher

Joe Trippi, the Internet guru who was largely responsible for catapulting the 2008 John Edwards presidential campaign into the big leagues, has a new gig.

He’s just been hired as one of a growing cadre of PR flaks for the Kingdom of Bahrain. Yep, that’s the same Bahrain that human rights groups have been calling out as one of the most cruel and repressive of the Middle East’s Arab regimes.

From Trippi’s website, we learn that “In 2008, Trippi signed on with Senator John Edwards’ presidential bid as a senior advisor, focusing on messaging, Internet strategy and online engagement. He was also responsible for producing the campaign’s television spots, which were widely applauded as “innovative” and “highly creative” and among the best spots of the 2007-2008 election cycle.”

Trippi’s company, Trippi and Associates, will “provide strategic counsel, public affairs and other media communications services for the purpose of supporting the needs of the government of the Kingdom of Bahrain,” according to papers Trippi filed to register as an agent of a foreign power.

Trippi will be joined by another Washington, DC PR firm, Sanitas, which lists among its specialties Crisis Management, Global Media Relations, and
Reputation and Image Management.

Earlier, Bahrain appointed a PR firm called Qorvis Communications, which also represents Bahrain’s pal, Saudi Arabia. The firm’s fee is $40,000 a month plus expenses.

I guess it’s to be expected that a client with such a badly tarnished image would mobilize as many heavy hitters as possible to persuade the international community that the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the royal family didn’t really happen and that the whole thing has been a “breakdown in communications.”

Turns out that Bahrain is more worried about losing big chunks of its tourist trade than it is about its human rights record. Formula One auto racing, one of the centerpieces of Bahrain’s tourist business, recently put a scheduled event on the back burner. The sponsors of that event will need to be persuaded that it’s safe to drive in Bahrain.

That’s going to be a tall order. Because it would be a major stretch to describe Bahrain as safe. The fact is that King Hamad-Bin-Isa-Al-Khalifa has unleashed the full fury of the government security apparatus on peaceful demonstrators. His security police and army have killed many of these demonstrators. Hundreds have been wounded. Doctors and nurses who tried to treat the wounded in a main hospital were arrested, imprisoned, and scheduled for military trials.

The heads of two of the country’s leading unions, nurses and teachers, were arrested and jailed. They went on a 9-day hunger strike, and were joined by dozens of other demonstrators who were imprisoned for peaceful protests. According to reputable human rights groups, prisoners have been tortured and otherwise abused in prison, where they have little access to lawyers or even family members.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s neighbor, sent several thousand troops across the short causeway that separates the two nations. The Gulf Cooperation Council also dispatched troops from the United Arab Emirates. These forces are working with Bahraini police and soldiers to quell any further uprisings – yet the uprisings persist.

The King and his family are Sunni Arabs. Most of the rest of Bahrain’s population is Shia. The Shia complain that they are discriminated against in every facet of Bahraini life – frozen out of the better jobs and housing in better neighborhoods. The Royal family denies the charge.

Through this ordeal, most of the so-called international community – including the United States – has been dead silent. Its posture has been 180 degrees from its actions in Libya.

There are a few reasons. First, Bahrain is of strategic important to the US, which houses its Fifth Fleet there. Second, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are joined at the hip, and the US moves very cautiously when its actions might offend the Saudis. Saudi Arabia is important to the US because its Sunni population presents a counter-balance to Iran’s Shia majority. Bahrain has complained that Iran is secretly providing resources to the protesters.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince met recently with a number of State Department officials and with President Obama in the Oval Office. He expressed worry that Bahrain’s image was being damaged and said he feared the impact on the country’s tourism business.

The King has appointed an independent committee to look into the violence, but its report is not yet complete.

No doubt, Bahrain’s new PR team has its work cut out for it. What do PR firms customarily do with high profile clients with deeply tarnished “images?” They construct a narrative presenting the King’s version of what’s happened. They will have the King say, as he did this week, that he will forgive all the miscreants. He will make speeches about the openness of the government to “dialogue.” He may even empty his prisons of political prisoners as a pre-condition to dialogue.

They’ll issue an endless stream of press releases designed to reassure the world – and especially the tourist trade – that peace has been restored and all is well in the Kingdom. They might produce a film about Bahrain as An attractive tourist destination. They might sponsor intellectual symposia and high profile awards; I’m sure the world would welcome The First Annual Bahrain Human Rights Award. It will of course be judged by a distinguished panel of journalists, intellectuals, statesmen and human rights defenders. And of course there will be an award dinner with a keynote speaker of impeccable reputation, who has been convinced that Bahrain is aggressively laying the groundwork for an inclusive democratic society.

All this may also succeed in reassuring the sponsors of Formula One auto racing that it’s OK for them to drive in Bahrain.

Meanwhile, the improvised, home-grown PR machinery of the demonstrators will continue to push out story after story designed to heighten awareness of the dire human rights situation still prevailing in the tiny Kingdom. Journalists covering this story – and there are very few of them – will continue to receive pictures of corpses butchered by their jailers.

And e-mailed statements from those leaders not yet arrested or out on bail. And daily tallies of deaths and detentions and military trials and the usual array of police state toys.

The ensuing war of the press releases may help determine whether “the engineering of consent” – the phrase used by the father of PR to define this form of art – will trump the suffering of an undervalued, abused, and gutsy populace.

How will a public relations program explain – perhaps even attempt to justify – the death of a 14-year-old boy, Ali Jawad, who was participating with thousands of other peaceful Bahrainis in an Eid celebration. A member of the security forces fired a teargas canister at him at point-blank range.

The point is that most honest public relations practitioners will tell you that only very limited change can be made in people’s attitudes until there are substantial and well-communicated changes in the policies that caused the problems in the first place.

Only the most powerful public relations practitioners have the clout to effect policy changes; their customary role is to “sell” existing policies to the stakeholders. Often, when public relations people inject themselves into the policy arena with suggestions for improvements, their clients ignore them.

In any event, those policy changes haven’t visited Bahrain as yet. If they do, it will be a victory, not for the public relations practitioners, but for Bahrain.