Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Human Rights Group Says Army Rulers “Worse Than Mubarak”

By William Fisher

Nassary Hassan is an Egyptian citizen living in Germany. Last March, he was in Egypt and, during a visit to Hurghada – a resort town on the Red Sea -- he saw piles of garbage in the streets. He carried a banner reading, “The people want to clean Hurghada,” heading towards the City Council. He was asked to leave by one of the military police officers.

When he refused, he was beaten and verbally abused by him and his soldiers, until he lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. Moreover, after he awakened, he requested a doctor to write a report about his injuries; but unfortunately, the doctor refused after he knew that he was assaulted by the military police.

Later on, Hassan was able to obtain the Military Governor’s phone number, whom he called and told him about what happened. However, the Military Governor told him to go back to the City Council and meet him at his office there, and when he did, he found a large number of police officers waiting for him, beating and verbally abusing him.

They took him to the military prosecution location that maltreated him and participated in fabricating charges of libel and slander of Armed Forces and a military officer. He was referred to the Military Court at Qena; which sentenced him to 3 years imprisonment and a 5 thousand LE fine on 24 March. However, in May, an appeal was filed against the ruling, and after consideration of the appeal, the court decided to alleviate the sentence to 6 months imprisonment, a fine of 5000 LE.

An appeal was submitted by the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information (ANHRI) defense team. It was successful in being able to alleviate the unjust sentence of imprisonment and the fine issued by the exceptional Military Tribunal against Hassan.

ANHRI claims the charges were fabricated by military police officers and the military governor of Hurghada, as a result of [Hasan’s] “civilized and peaceful way of expressing his views.”

The sentence by the military court in Qena was amended to be six months imprisonment instead of three years, and a fine of 5000 Egyptian pounds. Since last March, he spent more than 8 months in prison -- more than the allotted prison sentence.

Hasan was finally released Nov. 30.

ANHRI says this is one of thousands of cases where Egypt’s “temporary” rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have performed “even worse than Mubarak,” referring to the country’s dictator of thirty years who was overthrown February 11 in a people’s revolution that took only 18 days.

There are some 12,000 men and women in Egyptian military prisons, sent there after perfunctory military trials, some of which took less than five minutes. Their crimes were largely peacefully demonstrating, carrying placards listing their demands, and expressing themselves through blogs and social networks.

The “no more military trials” movement has become a powerful rallying cry against the army, which is said to be considering how it can free these prisoners without losing face completely.

Meantime, the Associated Press reports that Amnesty International says Egypt's military rulers have "completely failed" to fulfill their promises to protect human rights.

In a report released Tuesday, Amnesty accuses Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of adopting oppressive tactics used by the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, including targeting critics, banning critical media coverage and torturing protesters.

The military council took control after Mubarak's fall in February.
The report comes after three days of clashes between security forces and
protesters calling for a transition to civilian rule. More than 40 people have
been killed and thousands injured.

The group called on the military council to repeal the Mubarak-era "emergency laws," and protect human rights.

Egyptian human rights organizations claim to refer interior leadership and military police to criminal trials. Five Egyptian human rights organizations said that the brutal attacks, by security forces of the Ministry of Interior and the military police under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, over the past three days against the protestors in Cairo, Alexandria , Suez, Ismailia, Assiut and other few cities , are criminal offences. They demanded that perpetrators be referred for criminal prosecution.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hisham Mubarak Center for Law and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of violence and ANHRI , pledged to continue working on listing the names of civilian and military officials involved in the killing of demonstrators or bursting their eyes or breaking their bones , according to what was followed up or documented by them or media over the past few days.

Moreover, the organizations stated that the list of officials being prosecuted has so far skipped a number of high ranking military men, mostly from the Interior Ministry. The dreaded security police operate under the authority of the Interior Ministry, which has a long and bloody history of repression, torture and death in detention.

In recent days, it has become clear that the SCAF is not in control of the Interior Ministry’s police forces. Last week, with protestors closing in on the Ministry headquarters, and armed security forces standing on the front steps
with their rifles pointed at the protestors, SCAF actually had to ship in large concrete blast walls and lay them down the middle of the street to keep police and protestors apart..

The Human Rights groups condemned the “false statements made by military officials to the media. These claimed that the role of the military police has been limited to securing the Ministry of Interior building without exposure to the demonstrators. They also affirmed that their delegates had seen military police forces storming Tahrir Square at about five o’clock on November 20th brutally assaulting the demonstrators with batons.

“That was before setting protestors’ tents and belongings and a number of motorcycles, on fire. Moreover, the video clips broadcast from the sites of the newspapers and television stations Masry Al-Youm and Al Jazeera Mubasher MISR, show the attack of members of the military and civilian police on unarmed demonstrators in three sides to Tahrir Square, using tanks, tear gas and batons. It shows also the demonstrators being hit several times on the head with sticks and military forces feet after falling on the ground and stopped moving.”

In the two most recent days of demonstrations, there have been 17 attacks against journalists, including shooting, arrests and beatings while in detention by unidentified security agents. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned these attacks, demanding the Egyptian authorities to end them immediately.

“Journalists should be allowed to do their job without being attacked. Moreover, there is an obligation on prosecutors to investigate allegations of abuses committed by the army and police against journalists” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa of the committee to protect journalists.

Since Saturday, Tahrir Square in Cairo was occupied by protestors, demanding an end to military rule. The security Forces fired live and rubber bullets at them threw grenades, tear gas and attacked dozens of people according to news report. By Monday, several media reported the number of people killed was at least 33 people in addition to thousands of people injured as a result of the clashes.

The IPS news service, reporting from Cairo, quotes rights activist Sherif Azer, as saying, “The military council is dealing with the Egyptian people as if it is running a military camp. It took decades for enough anger to build up against Mubarak for a revolution; it has only taken nine months to have another."

GITMO Forever? Looks That Way!

By William Fisher

The Congress that was so fearful that trying accused terrorists in civilian courts would hasten Armageddon is now proposing to go one mindless step further. It may soon vote to make indefinite detention and unfair military trials permanent.

Earlier this week, the Senate voted to increase the military’s role in the detention of those suspected of being members of Al Qaeda or its allies – even if the arrests are made in the U.S.

The Senate defeated, 61-37, an effort to strip a major military bill -- National Defense Authorization Act -- of a clutch of controversial provisions – for example, one requiring the government to place into military custody any suspected member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies connected to a plot against the United States or its allies. And a related provision that would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens.

“These provisions stretch the law of war beyond all recognition, and threaten to dramatically undermine national security by taking civilian tools of justice off the table when dealing with suspected terrorists,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Intelligence and military leaders have overwhelmingly condemned these provisions — they will make us less safe, imposing a blunt one-size-fits-all approach in an area where the executive branch most requires flexibility to do its job.”

In an editorial, the Washington Post noted that Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) praised the provisions as “an improvement over the originals, which were decried by the Obama administration and even former George W. Bush Defense Department officials as too heavyhanded.”

But the Post said, “The new proposals are as problematic as the old and should be scrapped.”

It continued: “Since President Obama took office, some lawmakers, including Democrats, have tried to force him to adopt their military-centric approach to fighting terrorism. The original Senate plan permanently banned use of defense funds to build or modify U.S. facilities to hold Guantanamo Bay detainees; ordered
military detention for terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens, captured on
U.S. soil; and made it very difficult to transfer detainees deemed fit for
release to their homes or third countries. This approach, we have argued,
unacceptably limited the president’s flexibility to thwart attacks and react to
terrorism threats.”

Amnesty International (AI), in a statement, said, “We are facing one of the biggest crises at Guantanamo since “war on terror” detainees were first transferred there nearly 10 years ago: Congress may soon vote to make indefinite detention and unfair trials permanent. The 89 people there who are approved for release could remain forever. The 46 slated for detention without charge could be denied due process forever. The 36 referred for prosecution could only be tried in unfair kangaroo courts Military Commissions). Guantanamo would be permanent.”

The group urged its members to let their lawmakers know they ”oppose any legislation that would further entrench indefinite detention, denial of due process and military commissions—at Guantanamo, Bagram or any other US facilities—in US law and practice.”

The organization added, “Indefinite detention, denial of due process and the unfair military commissions are violations of human rights and contravene international law. There is a better way to ensure justice and security for all of us: either charge and fairly try Guantanamo detainees in US federal court, or release them immediately to countries where their human rights will be respected. The United States government should be protecting human rights, not violating them.”

When Barack Obama took office, he pledged on his very first day in the White House that he would close Guantanamo. Part of his plan was to try prisoners before our regular Article 111 civilian courts, where hundreds of accused terrorists had already been tried over a number of years.

But Congress had collective apoplexy. It hastily passed a law denying the president funds to move prisoners from Guantanamo to Federal Court in lower Manhattan. Lawmakers, including some of Congress’ leading so-called liberals, raved and ranted themselves into a frenzy. They went all-out stoking the flames of fear. A terror trial in lower Manhattan would provide terrorists with a readymade target to attack. Traffic would be tied up for days. Business would suffer. And if the defendant, heaven forefend, was acquitted, he would be “walking up and down Main Street and having coffee in the local diner.”

What? Not running for the School Board?

The first prospective trial was to have been KSM (Khalid Sheik Mohammed), the alleged mastermind of 9/11. But that never happened. And now it’s never going to happen. It’s unlikely that KSM will ever appear before a Military Commission. So he will be at GITMO until he dies. As a consequence, 45 other people will have been denied due process to petition for their release. And 89 prisoners scheduled to be released, won’t be.

And the world will continue to wonder how and why this happened in the country the world used to look to as safe harbor for civil liberties and human rights.