Wednesday, February 29, 2012

SAUDI ARABIA: Cracking Down Quietly

By William Fisher

It is being reported that Saudi Arabia’s aging monarch, King Abdullah, is refusing to discuss the Syrian catastrophe with international colleagues. “There is nothing more to say,” he is being quoted as saying.

Well, OK, given the huge rebuff Syrian President Basher al-Assad handed the Arab League, maybe the king’s position is understandable. On the other hand, the King’s neighborhood is chock-a-block with calamity situations triggered by the so-called Arab Spring.

The King should be a tad relieved. Ongoing violence in Syria and Bahrain, continuing post-revolutionary conflict in Egypt and Yemen – all these situations have tended to draw media attention away from locales that don’t present journalists with enough blood-curdling visuals.

And Saudi is one of those locales where brutality has always trumped justice and human rights – and still does. While far more highly-publicized transgressions are pervading the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi has quietly put in place a carrot and stick strategy in an effort to keep the country stable.

The carrots have consisted of generous cash stipends for every Saudi family and the availability of more government jobs and more funds for job training. The sticks have come from the arsenal brutally used by every Middle East dictator in memory.

In March, Saudi Arabia announced that it would not allow any demonstrations or sit-in protests in the country that the government said are aimed at undermining the Kingdom’s security and stability.

“Laws and regulations in the Kingdom totally prohibit all kinds of demonstrations, marches and sit-in protests as well as calling for them as they go against the principles of Shariah and Saudi customs and traditions,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said such demonstrations not only breach the Kingdom’s law and order but also encroach on the rights of others.

Saudi Arabia has blamed an unnamed foreign power for clashes that took place in its oil-rich Eastern Province in which it says 14 people were injured.

Among the people, and largely under the press radar, there appears to be a substantial desire for more human rights. Many of these demands are coming from women who want to seek office and vote, women who want the right to drive, and women who are frustrated with their roles as men’s property.

The Kingdom’s minority Shia population says they suffer from widespread discrimination in housing, top government and private sector jobs, and access to finance.

The King has not hesitated to use the stick part of his carrot-and-stick strategy. He has jailed hundreds of citizens, including many journalists and bloggers. It has long been well documented that Saudi jailers practice torture of prisoners, as do most of the nations of the Middle East-North Africa region. Men and women detained by the Security Forces are likely to lack lawyers and even less likely to experience anything that could pass for due process. Defendants frequently languish in jail for long periods before they are tried.

The current poster-child for Saudi repression is an example. Khaled al-Johani is a 42-year-old Saudi teacher who was arrested in March 2011 over alleged support for anti-regime protests in Riyadh.

He was arrested on charge of supporting demonstrations, being present at the site of a planned protest, and talking to the foreign press "in a manner that harmed the reputation of the Kingdom," according to Amnesty.

The London-based human rights group released a statement late on Wednesday, condemning Johani’s trial earlier in the day as "utterly unwarranted."

The statement further urged Saudi authorities to release the jailed teacher
"immediately and unconditionally.”

He "shouldn't be standing trial in any court for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly," Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Director Phillip Luther stated.

On March 11, 2011, the Saudi regime launched a massive clampdown to prevent a planned "Day of Rage" protests, demanding democratic reform in the Persian Gulf monarchy.

Johani was apparently the only protester who was able to reach the location of the planned rally and was arrested minutes after he talked to BBC Arabic about the lack of freedoms in Saudi Arabia, according to the statement.

Amnesty said the 42-year-old father of five, including a six-month old who was born during his detention, is being tried at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, a court established to deal with terrorism charges.

The statement said that Johani has so far been denied legal representation, though the judge during Wednesday's hearing said he would be allowed to appoint one "within a week."

Johani's trial will resume in April, it added.

Finally, Saudi Arabia continued its refusal to register a human rights organization, the Saudi Society of Labor. It has been trying unsuccessfully to register since 2007. Its mission is to protect the rights of workers, tackle unemployment in Saudi Arabia, improve and develop the performance of Saudi workers, activate labor unions while adhering to the Kingdom’s laws, empower the female workforce, and offer foreign language courses and computer training.

Despite the fact that the Society has been denied permission to legally register, it reportedly has now more than 4,000 members and has developed an online forum,, in which members discuss job-related issues.

At the end of 2008, the founders of the Society complained to the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR). The NCHR advised the founders to wait until the establishment of a commission which will specialize in regulating civil society organizations. To date, no such commission has been formed.

According to Saudi law, civil societies are not allowed to form or conduct activities without prior authorization. Although permission to register was granted to the semi-official Saudi Human Rights Society, this has not been the case for independent human rights groups such as the Saudi Society of Labor, Human Rights First Society, and the Legal Support Society.

Finally, the US has moved to strengthen its alliance with Saudi Arabia, signing an agreement to sell F-15 fighter jets to the desert Kingdom.

Will Iranian Government Use Brutal Tactics After Parliamanetary Poll?

By William Fisher

Well, the big secret is out: Whatever it takes, Iran is determined to stamp out another season of mass demonstrations railing against the parliamentary elections set for next week.

In fact, for months Iranian authorities have been targeting everyone from students, lawyers, religious leaders and bloggers to political activists and their relatives as they unleash a wave of repression, including a new “cyber army” to block Internet and social media networks, thus cutting off access to the outside world, Amnesty International charged yesterday.

"The Iranian authorities have unleashed their ‘cyber army’ in an effort to cut off their citizens' access to information,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

“Meanwhile those who dare express any unapproved thoughts on the Internet can expect to be slapped with a prison sentence of more than a decade,” she said, adding, “The Iranian government is going to extraordinary lengths to impose a total information blackout on the Iranian population."

These charges are contained in the report, “We Are Ordered To Crush You: Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran.” The report says “anything from setting up a social group on the Internet, forming or joining an NGO, or expressing opposition to the status quo can land individuals in prison.”

The report documents a wave of arrests in recent months that it said “lays bare the hollowness of Iran’s claim to support protests in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Amnesty also called on the global community “not to allow tensions over Iran’s nuclear program or events in the wider region to distract it from pressing Iran to live up to its human rights obligations.”

Amnesty says Iran’s security forces – including the new cyber police force – can now scrutinize activists as they use personal computers in their own homes. A new and shadowy “cyber army” reportedly linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has carried out attacks on websites at home and abroad, including Twitter and the Voice of America.

“In Iran today you put yourself at risk if you do anything that might fall outside the increasingly narrow confines of what the authorities deem socially or politically acceptable,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s interim deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“This dreadful record really highlights the hypocrisy of the Iranian government's attempts to show solidarity with protesters in Egypt, Bahrain and other countries in the region.”
Iran’s current actions also confirmed that there will be no change, no “softening,” in the brutal tactics the government employed in the brutal crackdown following parliamentary 2009 elections. In the 2009 demonstrations, Western media were regularly provided with photographs of the violence. Most were taken with cell phone cameras.

In the wake of protests called by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in February 2011, the Iranian authorities steadily cranked up repression of dissent and the situation has worsened over the last few months in the lead up to the parliamentary elections this Friday (March 2).

The report finds that in recent months a wave of arrests has targeted lawyers, students, journalists, political activists and their relatives, religious and ethnic minorities, filmmakers, and people with international connections, particularly to media.

Embarrassed and humiliated by the fierce and prolonged protests following the highly controversial 2009 Iranian presidential elections, the Iranian Government has apparently decided to adopt the same strategy should massive protests erupt across Iran next week.

The Iranian government suppressed the protests and stopped the mass demonstrations in 2009, with only very minor flare-ups in 2010. However, not many of the protesters' demands were met. Hundreds of citizens were thrown into jail. Iran’s basij – its motorcycle-borne militia – roamed Tehran and other cities, beating citizens with batons. The government also employed security forces with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and, finally live rounds.

For a time, the protest movement went relatively quiet. Then, the 2010–2011 Arab world protests spread across the Middle East and North Africa. After the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia on 14 January 2011, millions of people began demonstrating across the region in a broad movement aimed at various issues such as their standards of living or influencing significant reforms, with varying degrees of success. With the successful ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 following that of President Ben Ali of Tunisia, renewed protests began in Iran.

On 27 January, the opposition Green Movement of Iran announced a series of protests against the Iranian government scheduled to take place prior to the "Revolution Day" march on 11 February.

On 9 February, various opposition groups in Iran sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior requesting permission to protest under the control of the Iranian police. Permission was refused by the relevant government officials. Despite these setbacks and crackdowns on activists and members of opposition parties, opposition leaders such as Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, called for protests.

On Feb.14, a man displayed a poster of one of those killed during the 2009 election protests. Feb. 15 was publicized as "The Day of Rage". But, the day before the protests were due to begin, opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi were placed under house arrest and denied access to telephones and the Internet. Their homes were blockaded and they were not allowed visitors. On 14 February 2011, thousands of protesters began to gather in a solidarity rally with Egypt and Tunisia. There was a large number of police on the streets to keep an eye on the protesters, but thousands were still able to gather together in Tehran's Azadi Square. The number of protesters has been given by different sources, from "thousands" to "hundreds of thousands".

The solidarity protests turned into an anti-government demonstration during which the police fired tear gas and paintballs at protesters. To protect themselves, protesters responded by setting fires in garbage bins. Video footage showed one civilian being violently beaten by a group of protesters. Two protesters were fatally wounded in Tehran. Both were university students. According to reporter Farnaz Fassihi, they were both shot by men on motorcycles who their friends identified as Basij members.

Protests were also reported in the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz, which police forcibly dispersed, as well as in Rasht, Mashhad and Kermanshah.

The protests that occurred on this day marked a setback for the government of Iran, as the regime has campaigned that Mousavi's Green Movement had lost momentum, but the revived uprisings helps prove otherwise.

According to some reports, 1,500 Hezbollah fighters assisted in the suppression of the protests in Azadi Square. Following the initial protests, Hezbollah fighters allegedly continued to participate, assisting local forces in suppressing protests.

On 18 February, thousands of pro-government supporters called for the execution of opposition leaders after Friday prayers. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that the opposition leaders had lost their reputation and are as good as "dead and executed." He said there should be more restrictions on Mousavi and Karroubi. "Their communications with people should be completely cut. They should not be able to receive or send messages. Their phone lines and Internet should be cut. They should be prisoners in their homes”

On February 19, the Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar stated that the protests set for Sunday, February 20, will "be confronted as per the law".

Electronic media is seen as a major threat. In January a senior police officer said Google was an “espionage tool,” not a search engine. The same month, the recently established Cyber Police required owners of Internet caf├ęs to install CCTV and to register the identity of users before allowing them to use computers.

Blogger Mehdi Khazali was this month sentenced to four and a half years in prison, followed by ten years in “internal exile,” and a fine for charges believed to include “spreading propaganda against the system,” “gathering and colluding against national security,” and “insulting officials.” It is not clear whether his “internal exile” will in fact be served in prison.

Having been originally charged in 2011 and released on bail, he was arrested again in January. He is being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where he has been on hunger strike for more than 40 days in protest at his detention, raising fears for his health.

Harassment, arrest and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including women’s rights groups, has also intensified and several NGOs have been shut down.

Abdolfattah Soltani, a founder member of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, was arrested in September and is held in Evin Prison awaiting the outcome of his trial on charges which include his acceptance of an international human rights prize. He has been threatened with a 20-year sentence.

The pressure on independent voices has extended to those outside Iran.

Earlier this month, the BBC said family members of its Persian language service had been subjected to harassment, including one who was arrested in January and held in solitary confinement and others whose passports were confiscated.

Amnesty International said the attacks on dissenting views come against a backdrop of a worsening overall human rights situation in Iran.

There were around four times as many public executions in 2011 as in 2010, a practice that Amnesty International said was used by the authorities to strike fear into society.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been sentenced to death in the past year, mainly for alleged drugs offenses. Iran continues to execute juvenile offenders – a practice strictly prohibited under international law.

Amnesty International called on the international community not to allow tensions over Iran’s nuclear program or events in the wider region to distract it from pressing Iran to live up to its human rights obligations.

"For Iranians facing this level of repression, it can be dispiriting that discussions about their country in diplomatic circles can seem to focus mainly on the nuclear," said Harrison.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bahrain in Wonderland

By William Fisher

Hey, great news!
The Arab Spring revolution in Bahrain is over!
And the way I know this is how?

Well, there was this announcement this week from the Board of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) that the 2012 Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix will be held from April 20 to 22 at BIC, ‘The Home of Motorsport in the Middle East,’ in Sakhir, a desert area just outside Manama, Bahrain’s capitol.

The directors noted that the race will mark the Kingdom’s eighth hosting of the prestigious Formula One event, and will feature plenty of top-class action being the fourth round of a record-breaking 20-race calendar that makes up the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Last year’s race was cancelled because of what sponsors called “unrest,” but which most of the rest of us described as mindless, heartless, brainless and unspeakable violence. We’re certainly happy that’s all over with now!

And how do I know it’s all over?

I know this also because Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, the prominent Egyptian judge who prepared the government-ordered report on the violence in Bahrain, “expressed his full backing for the race weekend scheduled to take place this April.”

Professor Bassiouni described the Bahrain Grand Prix as “a significant national event”, one that is of “deserved national pride”. He further lauded BIC’s decision to hold the race weekend under the slogan, ‘UNIF1ED – One Nation in Celebration’.

It’s surprising that Judge Bassiouni is endorsing this sporting event with such gusto. He must really believe it presents the opportunity, as he says, “for the people of Bahrain to come together.”

Well, maybe he’s right. After spending months leading a team of investigators looking into the year-long Bahrain “unrest,” few people would seem better prepared to know the situation and how to improve it.

He and his team interviewed government officials, members of the armed forces and the security services, participants in the peaceful demonstrations seeking a larger role in speaking out for respect for human rights, a more representative form of government, and an end to arrest and torture.

King Hamad, who received the report personally, surprisingly accepted all its findings and promised to initiate an immediate dialogue to address the demonstrators’ grievances and launch the reform process.

Well, insiders tell me Judge Bassiouni has either has a major epiphany or he has been snookered big-time. The King’s office has been issuing lots of press releases describing a “national dialogue.” But this dialogue seems more like a monologue. Most of the citizen groups that spearheaded and sustained the months of peaceful demonstrations say they have not been invited to participate in anything that sounds like a meaningful discussion.

Worse yet, security services are still shooting randomly at civilian demonstrators, babies and old people are dying from inhaling tear gas, people, including women and children, are being arrested and routinely tortured by their captors. The bodies of some of the kids, bearing the unmistakable marks of torture, are being returned to their families without explanation.

Doctors are being jailed for treating demonstrators, hundreds of people were fired from state-owned companies have yet to get their jobs back. Demonstrators remember when Saudi troops rumbled down the short causeway that connects the two countries, to help the Bahraini military put down the rebellion. Students expelled from the universities for demonstrating are still expelled. Members of the Shia Muslim majority in Bahrain still feel discriminated against by the Sunni Muslim King and his royal family insiders.

Some elements in the international press are reporting, likely with the helping hands of the army of PR experts hired by the King, that the uprising has been crushed and all is peaceful once again.

Well, I wouldn’t take that to the bank if I were you.

Nonetheless, Bahrain has a very active economic development apparatus, busily promoting high-end tourism, featuring fine dining and a ton of sporting events, including Formula One racing. Its work must go on!

The Crown Prince who met with President Obama told him how important it was for Bahrain to rebuild its image in the tourist community. For the US, Bahrain is also important. – strategically important. America’s Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain.

So, yet again, sport and money have trumped justice in this tiny oil-rich island nation.

Will those who are surprised please raise their hands?

Not to worry. Because we also have the blessing of Formula One Supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has promised, "there will be no problem with the Bahrain Grand Prix" even though petrol bombs, tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades were used in last week's clash between police and demonstrators in the Gulf kingdom.

I fervently hope Judge Bassiouni is right – that the big Formula One blowout, and all its attendant partying, may be just what’s needed to bring Bahrainis together.

Or not.

Watch this space!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Guns Bring Shock and Awe to My Inbox

By William Fisher

For all my professional life, I have waged as much war as I could against what I considered the Second Amendment Freaks in our midst. I don’t mean those folks who are just hunters, but those miscreants who just love the thrill of carrying a concealed weapon into church (presumably to deal with pastors who counsel compassion toward physicians who perform abortions), or to a wedding (the shotgun variety), or to a Congress Person’s Town Meeting (in the unlikely event that someone speaks up in favor of gun control).

I have written hundreds of articles about guns and why we should intelligently limit and monitor gun sales. I have signed more petitions than I can recall. I have loaned my tired bones to endless marches. And so forth. You get the idea.

So you can imagine my shock and awe when I opened my email inbox a couple of weeks ago to find a fund-raising pitch from one Dudley Brown, who introduces himself as the Executive Director of an outfit called the National Association for Gun Rights.

It was obvious right away that the sponsors of this letter bought the wrong mailing list – they certainly wasted their money with me. But I’m glad I received the missive, because it taught me a few things.

For example, I was really surprised to read that gun-owners apparently don’t have anything near the rights they think they should enjoy. I was also shocked that the National Rifle Association was highly conspicuous by its absence from Mr. Brown’s letter. I thought the NRA had secured more gun rights than any sane person could ever need, but apparently Mr. Brown disagrees. For Mr. Brown, the NRA virtually doesn’t exist. And Wikipedia tells me that Brown often criticizes the NRA for being soft on gun control.

So who is this Dudley Brown? Well, according to Wikipedia, he’s a pro-gun lobbyist whose lobbying activities have focused on influencing the Colorado Legislature, both in opposing new gun legislation such as that proposed in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, and supporting specific legislation to relax concealed carry regulations.
"We're not afraid to be called radicals on the gun issue," says Brown. "Because that's what we are."

In the wake of Columbine, Colorado voters passed Amendment 22, a voter-initiated measure requiring background checks of gun purchases at gun shows, closing the so-called “gun show loophole” Brown opposed the initiative, stating, "We're under assault right now. We feel like the Jews did in Nazi Germany.” That’s downright insulting – how the hell would he know?
Anyway, that’s Dudley Brown. But the central theme of Mr. Brown’s fund-raising polemic was the urgent need to destroy Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary.

“If ever there was a time for gun owners to charge up a hill together to reclaim the high ground from our anti-gun enemies, it's right now. And the man standing atop that hill is anti-gun Republican U.S. Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana,” is the gracious language Mr. Brown used.

Then he went on to explain: “For the last 25 years, the gun control lobby has counted on Dick Lugar to do their behind-the-scenes Senate dirty work on Capitol Hill. He's even been called "Barack Obama's Favorite Republican."

Then came the pitch: “The National Association for Gun Rights PAC thinks this race is so important to the rights of gun owners that we have given everything that the law allows ($5,000) to Lugar's opponent, pro-gun champion, Richard Mourdock.”

And Mr. Brown then inveighed: “If you care as passionately as I do about seeing Dick Lugar go down in flames at the polls, please chip in $15 or $20 to the Mourdock campaign -- right now.”

Warming to his subject, Brown continued: “You may remember in 2011 when he went on national television to call for a reinstatement of the so-called "Assault Weapons Ban. Brown also commented on some of the other legislation Dick Lugar has voted for: “’The Brady Instant Gun Owner’ Registration Scheme, otherwise known as the ‘Brady Bill’; the so-called ‘Assault Weapons Ban’ and called for it to be reinstated in 2011; and restrictions on private sales of firearms.”

Senator Lugar, Brown wrote, has voted with [the anti-gun movement] more than any Republican Senator in Senate history, “and that's just the tip of the iceberg.”

Senator Dick Lugar MUST be defeated in the upcoming Indiana primary, Brown cautions. “This race has national implications, which should make any concerned gun owner in America get involved in this race.”

And finally, “I'm encouraging all gun owners to get involved and ‘charge up the hill’ to take back our voice in the Senate from anti-gun Republicans like Dick Lugar.

And I’m encouraging all gun owners to ignore Mr. Brown’s sermon.

For as long as I’ve been following politics, when Democrats try to define an “intelligent Republican” they’re likely to come up with Dick Lugar. Because Lugar has been a symbol of what they mean when they talk about reaching common-sense consensus. Yes, he’s a conservative from a conservative state, which means he sometimes has to vote with his party leadership. But not on guns. And not on foreign policy either.

Dick Lugar has been one of the consistent voices of reason on US foreign policy and world affairs generally at exactly those times when all his colleagues appear to be losing their minds in lockstep.

And if you think there are no more examples in Washington of bipartisan civility, take a look at Lugar (R) and John Kerry (D). These two guys are each a Vice-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the two-headed body a creature of the time when politics in foreign policy was supposed to vanish at the water’s edge. They actually talk with one another. They respect one another. In fact, they like one another.

One would hope that Mr. Brown and his band of zealots might also vanish at the water’s edge. And that his war on Sen. Lugar fails because this is a time when the Senate needs as many common sense Republicans as it can find.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

For Prisoners in Afghanistan, Torture is the Old Normal

By William Fisher

While the debate about "nation-building" in Afghanistan shows no signs of cooling down, there's at least one thing that liberals and conservatives can agree on: Criminal justice in Afghanistan will not be improved by giving the police free rein of the prisons.

In fact, Human Rights Watch (HRW) finds that "greater police involvement in jails is likely to lead to more torture, not less."

This is the view of the organization's HRW's Asia Director, Brad Adams. He is asking that President Hamid Karzai to revoke a decree that puts detainees in Afghan-run prisons at heightened risk of torture and ill treatment."

The decree, signed by Karzai at the end of last year, would transfer control of Afghan prisons from the Justice Ministry to the Interior Ministry, which operates the Afghan National Police.

Placing all prisoners under Interior Ministry control increases the likelihood that the Afghan police, long implicated in torture and other ill treatment, would have direct authority over criminal suspects during interrogation, HRW said.

Despite Karzai's insistence on the transfer of all prisoners to Afghan control, "Criminal justice in Afghanistan will not be improved by giving the police free rein of the prisons," said Adams.

The proposed transfer reverses an August 2003 decree by Karzai that transferred prisons - which hold both pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners - from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry, an act then widely regarded as a crucial reform of the justice system.

But "Greater police involvement in jails is likely to lead to more torture, not less," Adams said.

"The snail's pace of human rights improvement over the past year heightens anxieties about Afghanistan's future," Adams said. "Basic rights are still not a reality for most Afghans. The country suffers from abuses without accountability, lack of rule of law, poor governance, laws and policies that harm women, attacks on civilians, and corruption."

"Under-resourced and poorly trained Afghan Police units frequently rely on abusive law enforcement methods. Giving police greater control over prisoners -in particular pretrial detainees - increases the risk of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment as they try to obtain confessions and other information from suspects," he asserted.

Karzai first proposed the transfer of authority following the escape of more than 470 prisoners from a prison in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in April 2011. International donor agencies and Afghan human rights organizations opposed the transfer on the basis that the Justice Ministry, despite its own limitations, was ultimately the more appropriate ministry to be running Afghanistan's detention facilities.

"The serious problems in Afghanistan's prisons won't be solved by turning over prisoners to another ministry with a worse record of abuse," Adams said.

An October 2011 report by the United Nations documented widespread and systematic torture and mistreatment in Afghan prisons, not only in illegal facilities operated by the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), but also in ordinary prisons, including some under Interior Ministry control. The allegations were so serious and credible that NATO immediately suspended transfer of prisoners to 16 Afghan prisons. The UN report highlighted that nearly all torture observed in Afghan jails took place during interrogations for the purpose of seeking confessions.

The Afghan government denied that torture was systematic, but acknowledged "deficiencies," including keeping prisoners in indefinite detention and not allowing them to see lawyers. The government asserted that abuses were due to a lack of training and resources. The government also pledged to uphold all national and international standards regarding protection of prisoners.

Karzai's decree further imperils the rights of prisoners, calling into question the government's stated commitment to end torture and ill treatment, HRW said.

In a related issue, another US-based organization, Human Rights First (HRF) has called on the Obama Administration "to finally begin to provide due process for the thousands of suspected insurgents the U.S. military holds without charge or trial at Bagram Air Base."

According to the organization, despite the Obama Administration's plan to withdraw troops by 2014, the U.S. government has no plans to shutter the Bagram detention facility anytime soon. In fact, after having quadrupled the number of detainees held there since President Obama took office, defense department officials recently acknowledged that they are doubling the prison's capacity. It currently holds about 2,600 detainees.

As Human Rights First explained in a May 2011 report following an on-the-ground investigation in Afghanistan earlier this year, the U.S. military is failing to provide detainees at the detention facility at Bagram a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves against charges that they supported the Taliban or otherwise participated in attacks against U.S. forces.

According to the organization, despite the Obama Administration's plan to withdraw troops by 2014, the U.S. government has no plans to shutter the Bagram detention facility anytime soon. In fact, after having quadrupled the number of detainees held there since President Obama took office, defense department officials recently acknowledged that they are doubling the prison's capacity. It currently holds about 2,600 detainees.

Prisoners are not allowed to have legal representation, and have no right to see the evidence against them. Although they receive rudimentary hearings where they are allowed to make a statement, based on our direct observation of these hearings, we believe they do not meet even the minimum international standards of due process, and do not allow the U.S. military to determine whether the detainee has actually participated in the insurgency or poses a danger to U.S. forces and therefore needs to be imprisoned.

In its report, HRF set forth specific recommendations that the U.S. military can implement immediately to remedy the situation. These include providing military lawyers for the detainees at their hearings, and de-classifying more of the evidence used against the detainees, so that they can meaningfully respond to the allegations.

Eviatar concluded that the recent 10-year anniversary of US and NATO operations in Afghanistan should have been a good time for the United States to re-assess its detention strategy there.

In an HRF report written by Eviatar, she linked the growth of the Bagram facility to the growth of the detention problems confronting both Afghan and US jailers.

She said that since President Obama took office, the number of prisoners held by the U.S. in Afghanistan has almost tripled-from 600 in 2008 to 1700 in 2011. The U.S. Prison at Bagram now holds almost ten times as many detainees as are being held at Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan now have the right to appear before a
board of military officers to plead for their release and challenge the claims that they are "enemy belligerents" fighting U.S. forces. But prisoners still do not have the right to see the evidence being used against them, or the right to a lawyer to represent them.

"Failure to provide due process to Afghan detainees is angering the local population and making Afghans less willing to cooperate with or trust U.S. forces. It is ultimately a counter-productive strategy that harms U.S. national security," Eviatar noted.

She concluded: "It is unconscionable that ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the United States still does not provide the minimum level of due process to its detainees there." Eviatar, who observed the hearings given to detainees in Afghanistan earlier last year, said, "The current system does not adequately distinguish between innocent men and those who pose a real danger to U.S. forces. Unfortunately, this is more likely to fuel the insurgency than to stop it."

Monday, February 20, 2012

AFGHANISTAN: Telling it Like it Is.

By William Fisher

“Rosy official statements” from top US military brass are misleading the American people into believing our occupation of Afghanistan is yielding solid results toward building a sustainable democracy.

Instead, says Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis – who traveled more than 9,000 miles and “talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces,” I witnessed the “absence of success on virtually every level,” Col. Davis said.

Col. Davis said that in his travels, he “saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.”

He declares that he “saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.”

He ads that, “From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.” He characterized their performance as “from bad to abysmal.”

While classification limits what he can say publicly, “I can say that such reports — mine and others’ — serve to illuminate the gulf between
conditions on the ground and official statements of progress.”

For example, he writes, on his first trip into the mountains of Kunar province near the Pakistan border to visit the troops of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry. he arrived at an Afghan National Police (ANP) station that had reported being attacked by the Taliban 2½ hours earlier, he said.

“Through the interpreter, I asked the police captain where the attack had originated, and he pointed to the side of a nearby mountain. “What are your normal procedures in situations like these?” I asked. “Do you form up a squad and go after them? Do you periodically send out harassing patrols? What do you do?”

“As the interpreter conveyed my questions, the captain’s head wheeled around, looking first at the interpreter and turning to me with an incredulous expression. Then he laughed. ‘No! We don’t go after them,” he said. “That would be dangerous!’ “

“According to the cavalry troopers, the Afghan policemen rarely leave the cover of the checkpoints. In that part of the province, the Taliban literally run free,” he said.

“In June, I was in the Zharay district of Kandahar province, returning to a base from a dismounted patrol. Gunshots were audible as the Taliban attacked a U.S. checkpoint about one mile away.

“As I entered the unit’s command post, the commander and his staff were watching a live video feed of the battle. Two ANP vehicles were blocking the main road leading to the site of the attack. The fire was coming from behind a haystack.

“We watched as two Afghan men emerged, mounted a motorcycle and began moving toward the Afghan policemen in their vehicles. The U.S. commander turned around and told the Afghan radio operator to make sure the policemen halted the men. The radio operator shouted into the radio repeatedly, but got no answer.

“On the screen, we watched as the two men slowly motored past the ANP vehicles. The policemen neither got out to stop the two men nor answered the radio — until the motorcycle was out of sight.

“To a man, the U.S. officers in that unit told me they had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area — and that was before the above incident occurred.

In August, Davis went on a dismounted patrol with troops in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. Several troops from the unit had recently been killed in action, one of whom was a very popular and experienced soldier. One of the unit’s senior officers rhetorically asked me, “How do I look these men in the eye and ask them to go out day after day on these missions? What’s harder: How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground. Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but
sustainable progress.

Davis arrived in country in late 2010 for the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

He says he interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division
commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

On Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the infamous attack on the U.S., Col. Davis visited another unit in Kunar province, this one near the town of Asmar, and “talked with the local official who served as the cultural adviser to the U.S. commander.”

“Here’s how the conversation went:”

Davis: “Here you have many units of the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]. Will they be able to hold out against the Taliban when U.S. troops leave this area?”

Adviser: “No. They are definitely not capable. Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban. [The ANSF] won’t shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won’t shoot them. “Also, when a Taliban member is arrested, he is soon released with no action taken against him. So when the Taliban returns [when the Americans leave after 2014], so too go the jobs, especially for everyone like me who has worked with the coalition.”

“Recently, I got a cellphone call from a Talib who had captured a friend of mine. While I could hear, he began to beat him, telling me I’d better quit working for the Americans. I could hear my friend crying out in pain. [The Talib] said the next time they would kidnap my sons and do the same to them.

“Because of the direct threats, I’ve had to take my children out of school just to keep them safe. “And last night, right on that mountain there [he pointed to a ridge overlooking the U.S. base, about 700 meters distant], a member of the ANP was murdered. The Taliban came and called him out, kidnapped him in front of his parents, and took him away and murdered him. He was a member of the ANP from another province and had come back to visit his parents. He was only 27 years old. The people are not safe anywhere.”

“That murder took place within view of the U.S. base, a post nominally responsible for the security of an area of hundreds of square kilometers. Imagine how insecure the population is beyond visual range. And yet that conversation was representative of what I saw in many regions of Afghanistan.”

“In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described — and many, many more I could mention — had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out,” He said, adding:

“Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war. As the numbers depicting casualties and enemy violence indicate the absence of progress, so too did my observations of the tactical situation all over Afghanistan.”

Davis notes that Anthony Cordesman, on behalf of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that ISAF and the U.S. leadership failed to report accurately on the reality of the situation in Afghanistan.

“Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full scale of the challenges ahead,” Cordesman wrote.

“They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.”

“Year after year, the congressionally mandated reports from the Government Accountability Office revealed significant problems and warned that the system was in danger of failing. Each year, the Army’s senior leaders told members of Congress at hearings that GAO didn’t really understand the full picture and that to the contrary, the program was on schedule, on budget, and headed for success,” he said.

“Ultimately, of course, the program was canceled, with little but spinoffs to
show for $18 billion spent.”

Davis concluded: “If Americans were able to compare the public statements many of our leaders have made with classified data, this credibility gulf would be immediately observable. Naturally, I am not authorized to divulge classified material to the public. But I am legally able to share it with members of Congress. I have accordingly provided a much fuller accounting in a classified report to several members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members.”

Unlike most whistleblowers, Davis did not report up his chain of command. Instead, he sent a report to Congress, another to the Defense Department’s Inspector General, and released a third for public consumption via the civilian press.

It remains unclear how the military will treat Davis’ unusual form of whistleblowing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Judith Miller Defends “The Hunted Men Who Brought Growth and Reform” to Egypt

Judith Miller, you may recall, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-New York Times journalist who left the paper after it was discovered that she was Bush-era Vice President Dick Cheney’s “stenographer.” A Times investigation found serious errors in many of her stories about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq War. She also spent three months in jail for refusing to reveal her sources in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. .

Well, Judy’s at it again!

She is trying to gin up support for two Egyptian men who have been convicted of corruption, and who are currently in exile.

The subjects of Miller’s current defense are Youssef Boutros Ghali, the former finance minister of Egypt, who Miller says was “once the highest-ranking Coptic Christian in the country since the revolution,” and Rachid Mohamed Rachid, who became Egypt's Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry in July 2004. Two years later, the ministry was expanded to include domestic trade within Egypt and was renamed the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). He has been described as the first businessman ever to hold a cabinet position in Egypt and as a reformer.

Writing in the conservative journal, Newsmax, Miller says, Only a year ago, Ghali was among Egypt's most prominent officials. “With a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he had given up a lucrative post at the International Monetary Fund to return to Cairo 18 years ago to help transform his nation's moribund state-owned economy.”

She added, “On several key issues, the reformers had finally won, making Egypt what the IMF called an ‘emerging success story,’ one of the region's ‘fastest-growing economies’."

“But since the January 2011 uprising at Tahrir Square, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak in only 18 days, the military-led civilian transitional government has been waging a judicial jihad against Ghali and others who helped free Egypt's economy,” she wrote.

Characterizing the two exiles as economic heroes, Miller said, “Once credited by U.S. officials for policies producing annual growth of some 7 percent for several years — foreign and domestic investment in industries that private investors had once shunned, and robust job creation — they have now been blamed not only for a culture of corruption that is nearly as old as Egypt's pyramids, but also for Mubarak's political failings.”

“Although the free-market policies resulted in a more equitable distribution of income than that of India, Mexico, Brazil, and several other emerging economies, the reformers are now hunted men,” she said.

Convicted by a Cairo criminal court of "squandering public resources," based on often bogus evidence in sham trials that in Ghali's case lasted only six minutes, they are either in jail, in exile, or on the run.

“Travel bans and Interpol warrants have been issued for them, passports canceled, visas revoked, and their property and other assets in Egypt have been frozen…The scapegoating of the reformers and the reversal of their policies have increased the likelihood of an economic meltdown,” she wrote.

In an interview, Rachid said that to reignite growth, Egypt must restore security, install a government that can rule for three or four years, rather than three or four months, and finally, stop attacking the free-market system for short-term political gain. "Without this, investor confidence in Egypt will not be restored," he warned.

Miller continues: “The reformers are now widely dispersed, exchanging news and political gossip through emails and by cellphone.”

Some, like Ghali and Rachid, “the first businessman ever to hold a senior Cabinet post in Egypt, have sought refuge in other countries. Others, like Ahmed Maghrabi, the former minister of housing, and Yusuf Wali, the former agriculture minister who hails from one of Egypt's most prominent land-owning clans, are in jail.”

“Once-powerful men courted by the world's financial elite, they are now largely isolated, abandoned by the country they struggled to change. Most have been assailed by Egypt's vituperative, scandal-mongering press,” she wrote.

After the six-minute trial in June, Ghali was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 30 years in prison for allegedly using a Finance Ministry printer in 2010 to produce election materials for his campaign for parliament. American officials say he was also convicted of squandering public money by using 102 cars held in customs for his personal use.

Ghali's lawyer had said that some 100 cars had been impounded for customs duty violations, and that Ghali had given them not to family or friends, but to fellow ministers and his own deputies who were entitled to official cars, but whose cars were old and kept breaking down. The transaction had saved Egyptian taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds, Miller wrote.

She continued: “Diplomats say Ghali's efforts to reform Egypt's bureaucracy required creative maneuvering. In 2004, the Finance Ministry, with its 20,000 employees and $50 million budget, had almost no computers. The ministry's two word-processors were reserved for the minister's office, which meant that Egypt's budget, all 49,000 accounts of it, had to be calculated and consolidated by hand. No ministry knew the size of another's budget, and the military liked it that way.”

“The revolution, with its insistence on Islam as the source of Egyptian identity, coupled with the military's traditional hostility to Christians, does not bode well for secular, pro-Western activists like Ghali.”

“Until he was named finance minister, no Copt had ever risen to so high a civilian post in modern times. Even then, a few extremist Salafi sheiks issued fatwas denouncing his promotion: Islam prohibited putting Christians in charge of Muslim treasure, they opined.”

Miller wrote that many of the “most savage attacks on Ghali in the Egyptian press have directly or indirectly touched on his religion, implying that a Christian's loyalty to Egypt may be questioned.”

Miller concludes: “Many Egyptians, friends say, are gradually acknowledging that those they have banished may not be corrupt, and that even if some of them are, Egypt's poverty and income disparities cannot be mainly their fault.”

Seeking confirmation of Miller’s assertions, we asked for the opinion of one of the most widely respected of Egypt scholars, Egyptian-born Samer Shehata, professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.

Here’s what he told us:

“I read the article when it came out and it is filled with inaccuracies and distortions. For example, Ms. Miller claims that, until Ghali, no Copt had ever risen to such a high position. In fact, his uncle Boutrus, was Foreign Minister under Sadat.”

Shehata concedes that “Ghali might not have been as corrupt as Ahmed Ezz (the billionaire steel tycoon who has emerged as perhaps the most hated symbol of the old system) but there is absolutely no doubt that he misused the 100 plus cars for personal use and advantage. We know this beyond doubt.”

Shehata continues: Ghali was part of a criminal regime justifying their actions, economic, political, etc. And although there were likely some bigoted reports about him in the press, the primary reason he is despised in Egypt has nothing to do with his religion (nor is it framed as such) but about his real estate tax plan, being part of the regime, and other more specific allegations.”

Shehata concludes: “Miller is hardly a serious journalist.”

Welcome back, Judy. Dick Cheney would be proud of you.

Iraq on Verge of Violent Chaos

By William Fisher

As Iraq proceeds with its grisly hangathon -- since the beginning of 2012, Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners – and 2007-type violence is threatening to bring the country to its knees, Iraq scholars are pointing to even deeper signs that the country is on the precipice of collapse.

Days after the last US troops departed, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position.

According to Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Maliki’s move triggered “a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocratic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements. Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi’i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.”

“But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed. The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan’s are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart,” she said, adding:

“The U.S. occupation tried to superimpose on Iraq a set of political rules that did not reflect either the dominant culture or the power relations among political forces. And while cultures and power relations are not immutable, they do not change on demand to accommodate the goals of outsiders.”

Ottoway believes that Iraq “is facing a real threat of political disintegration.” She reminds us that in 2007, “the United States held the country together forcibly, but the infusion of new troops could not secure a lasting agreement among Iraqis.”

However, she said,” This time, the outcome depends on whether the political factions that dominate Iraq and tear it apart find it in their interest to forge a real compromise or conclude that they would benefit more from going in separate directions.”

Ottoway concludes: The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan’s are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.

Meantime, Iraq is evidently shooting to overtake China and Iran as the world-wide leader in executions. Human Rights groups, the United Nations, and others, are aiming dire warnings toward Iraq.

For example, Human Rights Watch is calling on Iraqi authorities to halt executions and abolish the death penalty. HRW’s Joe Stork said Iraq must overhaul its justice system. The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the numerous executions “terrifying.”

Pillay said she was shocked at reports that 34 individuals, including two women, were executed in Iraq on 19 January following their conviction for various crimes.
“Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day,” Pillay said.

She added: “Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure.”

Iraqi authorities should halt all executions and abolish the death penalty, HRW said. Since the beginning of 2012, Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners, 51 of them in January, and 14 more on February 8, for various offenses.“The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will,”said Joe Stork, deputy HRW’s Deputy Middle East director. “The government needs to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions and begin an overhaul of its flawed criminal justice system.”HRW is particularly concerned that Iraqi courts admit as evidence confessions obtained under coercion. It says the government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, court records for their being charged, tried, and sentenced, and details of any impending executions.

A Justice Ministry official confirmed to Human Rights Watch on February 8 that authorities had executed 14 prisoners earlier in the day. “You should expect more executions in the coming days and weeks,” the official added.According to the United Nations, more than 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004. The number of prisoners executed during that period has not been revealed publicly. Iraqi law authorizes the death penalty for close to 50 crimes, including terrorism, kidnapping, and murder, but also including such offenses as damage to public property.Criminal trials in Iraq often violate minimum guarantees, Human Rights Watch said. Many defendants are unable to pursue a meaningful defense or to challenge evidence against them, and lengthy pretrial detention without judicial review is common.

The total number of individuals sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004 is believed to stand at more than 1,200. “Most disturbingly,” said Pillay, “we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress.”

“I call on the Government of Iraq to implement an immediate moratorium on the institution of death penalty,” the High Commissioner said, noting that around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, or introduced a moratorium.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Egypt: The Army’s Chess Match?

Egypt: The Army’s Chess Match?

By William Fisher

Tensions between long-standing allies Egypt and the US climbed to a new high this week as Egypt’s ruling generals arrested 43 employees of the country’s non-profit non-governmental human rights organizations – including several from the US

But many are suggesting that the US organizations are simply being used as pawns in a larger game -- the military’s increasingly desperate efforts to make a deal with the country’s Muslim Brotherhood that would define and secure the Army’s role in the future Egypt.

The Background: Last week the Egyptian Ministry of Justice swooped down on the offices of all the major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country, searched the offices, confiscated computers and other files, and arrested 43 employees and charged them with "accepting funds and benefits from an international organization" to pursue activities "prohibited by law" and carrying out “political training programs.”

Accepting foreign funds was Mubarak’s bogeyman under his repressive and restrictive NGO law. Now that law has been held over by Mubarak’s successors, the military, which threatens to make it even more draconian.

In a letter to the SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), Daphne McCurdy, a Senior Research Associate with the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) said: These groups have worked transparently and in cooperation with Egyptian authorities to help support Egypt’s democratic transition—a goal to which the ruling military council purports to be committed. Sixteen of those charged are American citizens, seriously threatening the future of the U.S.-Egypt relationship.”

This controversy is merely the latest chapter in a series of attacks against both Egyptian and international civil society organizations that escalated shortly after the ouster of President Mubarak one year ago.

The Egyptians gave Washington a heads-up regarding likely future developments back in July, when SCAF Major General Assar gave a talk at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington DC, in which he said that foreign funding to NGOs without government pre-approval “represents a danger, in light of the recent incidents where many police weaponry was lost, and about 20,000 prisoners escaped from the prisons of Egypt following the events experienced by the country.”

Later that month, Field Marshall Tantawy, head of the SCAF, said in an address to officers that “there are foreign players who feed and set up specific projects that some individuals carry out domestically, without understanding. It is possible that there is lack of understanding, that foreign players are pushing the people into inappropriate directions [since they do] not want stability for Egypt."

It’s now clear that the government’s “investigation” into NGOs has been ongoing for months and that dozens of other organizations are also at risk. A leaked ministry of justice report in September 2011 listed 39 of the most vocal human rights organizations in Egypt as not registered under the Associations Law and said a further 28 were receiving foreign funds without prior authorization. The vast majority of those named were human rights and democracy organizations.

POMED, the influential Project on Middle East Democracy, reported that US authorities and human rights advocates expressed displeasure with the SCAF investigation. For example, the group said, while excerpts of the investigation’s report were leaked to the Egyptian press in September, the official report has never been made public nor have suspects been officially notified of the charges against them.

POMED also declared that it was not until IRI employee Sam LaHood – son of President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood -- arrived at Cairo’s airport and was prohibited from boarding a flight that suspects were made aware that they were barred from travel.

POMED is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC, dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the United States can best support that process.

Most recently, the Ministry of Justice announced it was referring 43 individuals to face trial, but the formal charges have yet to be delivered to the suspects. U.S. policymakers have also received inconsistent messages from the Egyptian government, as the ruling military council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have sought to reassure the U.S. government and targeted organizations while the Ministry of Justice and Minister Aboul Naga have struck a defiant tone.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which earlier endorsed the investigation, denounced the American reaction to the NGO probe as inconsistent. “America does not allow any foreign organization to open branches and operate without a permit," said Brotherhood Spokesperson Mahmoud Ghazlan. U.S. lawmakers have threatened to halt the $1.3 billion in promised military aid to Egypt in response to the investigation.

Generally being overlooked is that the organizations whose offices were raided and employees arrested have been well known to the Mubarak government – and approved, tacitly and overtly, for many years. Mubarak’s NGO law made it extremely difficult to operate in the human rights, democracy-building, and related fields. There were occasional prosecutions for accepting foreign funds without prior approval.

That’s what’s going on at the surface. But the backstory is far more Machiavellian, according to one of the most credible witnesses to the current scene in Egypt. He is Samer S. Shehata, Assistant Professor of Arab Politics at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington.

We asked Prof. Shehata if the Egyptians should be prosecuting these NGOs.

His answer: “Of course not. There is no justification for prosecuting or harassing these organizations. Many of them were in operation with the full knowledge of the government previously. Moreover, their activities are not detrimental to the political process or sovereignty.”

He said the question facing the government vis a vis NGOs is whether in the post-Mubarak Egypt, the procedures for establishing an NGO will be made easier, transparent and standard.”

But Shehata emphasized his view that, “I don't think the moves against these organizations have much to do with what these organizations actually do (or what they did). This is political hardball between the SCAF and the US administration. One must assume that the SCAF knows what they are doing (escalating the challenge with the US administration) and they are trying to signal to the Obama administration that the US should not get involved or voice opinions regarding Egypt's internal politics in the next, crucial period, in which some kind of a "transition" will be worked out between domestic political forces, most importantly the Muslim Brothers and the military, about the future shape of Egyptian politics.”

He added, “I think the issue of the NGOs is being used in a much larger and more important attempt to limit US statements and actions in the coming period.”

Shehata cautioned that commenting on the current NGO problem requires a certain degree of “reading the tea leaves.”

“The best assessment -- and the one that makes the most sense -- in this period is that “the actions against the NGOs signal to other NGOs in Egypt concerned with human rights, personal and political freedoms workers' rights, etc. that the regime/SCAF could move against them. It must be a tremendous disincentive to vigorously criticize the current state of affairs, SCAF's responsibility or the ‘transition’ period for many other domestic organizations.”

Shehata was asked, “What should the response of the US be vis a vis military aid, and where's it all going to end?”

He replied, “I can only imagine that the Egyptian regime will eventually drop the charges against the Americans affiliated with these NGOs, allowing them to leave the country and avoid any kind of prosecution.”

Other observers tell much the same story. For example, Prof. Lawrence Davidson of West Chester University told us, “My guess is that this is part of an unwritten agreement between the generals and the Muslim Brothers. If you look at who these NGOs were helping, it was the elements that stand in opposition to both the Islamists and the army. It might be that going after these groups is the price the Egyptian generals have to pay to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from sending their followers into the streets to join the liberal/secular/youth folks presently protesting.”

Back in Washington, the NGO situation created a firestorm of protest, with Senators warning of a “Disastrous” Rupture of U.S.-Egypt Ties. In a statement, US Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Joe Lieberman warned Egypt's government that the ongoing investigation into foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations could result in a "disastrous" rupture in ties with the US, saying, "harassment and prosecution" of US citizens must end, and "support for Egypt, including continued financial assistance, is in jeopardy.”

In an article published yesterday, Amnesty International said that NGOs in Egypt were being held "hostage," and called for the "repressive laws on civil society" to be scrapped. "These international associations have become the latest scapegoats as the authorities desperately spin their story of foreign conspiracies," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

But Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri dug his heels in, declaring that Egypt "will not kneel" and "will not change [its] stance because of American aid."

The response to the Prime Minister’s bravado comes from Joe Stork, the veteran official of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

He said, “The Egyptian authorities are using a discredited Mubarak-era law to prosecute nongovernmental groups while proposing even more restrictive legislation. The government should stop using the old law, halt the criminal investigations, and propose a law that respects international standards.”

He concluded: “This campaign targets the Egyptian human rights and democracy groups that were prevented from registering by Mubarak’s security forces. Foreign funding is their lifeline. Egypt’s military government is now using the kind of tactics used by Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to silence independent voices.”


Reigning in the Prosecutors

By William Fisher

Writing articles about prisoners on Death Row is easy. Even after conviction, nagging questions about guilt or innocence often remain. Most of the colorful characters in the original cast are still around. All the suspense of a good whodunit is still there.

That’s the easy part.

The hard part comes when it emerges that an innocent person has been sentenced to die for a crime he didn’t commit. And when the alleged reason is misconduct by the prosecutors.

Doing something about that is the hard part. Because prosecutors are powerful people.

And so it was with Tyrone Noling, who has been sitting on death row since 1990, when he was convicted of murdering an elderly couple.

In 2009, 13 years after the original trial, prosecutors provided defense attorneys with handwritten police notes from the investigations in 1990 in which a witness identified another man as having committed the murders.

But the state is currently refusing to test DNA evidence collected from the crime scene that might place this “other man” at the scene of the crime.

As in the case of Troy Davis, who was put to death in Georgia last year, at the time Noling was charged there was no physical evidence and no witnesses to the alleged crime.

But Andrew Cohen, writing in The Atlantic, points out that when an aggressive investigator took over the case, some witnesses began giving statements against Noling. Cohen adds that all these witnesses have since recanted their statements, claiming they were pressured by the prosecutor.

And the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement, said, “We pause for a moment to highlight our concern about Noling's death sentence in light of questions raised regarding his prosecution. Noling was not indicted until five years after the…murders when a new local prosecutor took office. That new prosecutor pursued the cold murder case with suspicious vigor according to Noling's accusers, who have since recanted their stories and now claim that they only identified Noling as the murderer in the first place because they were threatened by the prosecutor.”

Nonetheless, Noling was convicted on that testimony and remains on death row.

What to do about it? Well, in such cases, organizations and individuals traditionally circulate petitions and contact their lawmakers. From time to time, we hear from the American Bar Association or the Association of Trial Lawyers, calling for investigations of prosecutorial misconduct, more oversight of prosecutors, or tougher penalties on lawyers who break the rules. Sometimes, the media may pick up the odd story. But it typically has a one-day life, failing to gain the traction needed to be widely publicized.

But now, four organizations are conducting a campaign do something about the dozens of cases in which prosecutors failed to take the actions demanded by the law and their professional code of ethics.

The Innocence Project, Veritas Initiative, the Innocence Project New Orleans and Voices of Innocence have embarked on a nationwide tour focused on Prosecutorial Oversight. Its objective is to explore policy reforms to discourage overzealous prosecutors from trying to make their own laws.

The tour, which includes stops in Arizona, California, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, will bring together participants from all aspects of the criminal justice system including legal ethics professors, members of bar disciplinary committees, prosecutors and judges. At the end of the tour, the groups will prepare a report with recommendations for reform.

“We recognize that this is a complex problem. It is not easy to develop internal systems in prosecutors’ offices that effectively distinguish between error and misconduct nor independent institutions outside of their offices that can adequately investigate and remedy misconduct when it occurs,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. The Innocence Project has become celebrated for freeing hundreds of prisoners who were wrongfully convicted.

John Thompson --- who lost his appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court last year and was stripped of his $14 million civil award for the intentional misconduct that caused his wrongful murder conviction and near execution -- will headline forums across the country with policy makers and prosecutors to spark a national dialogue on possible solutions.

“As someone who came within days of being put to death because of the intentional misconduct of prosecutors at the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office, I’m all too familiar with what can go wrong when the enormous power of prosecutors goes unchecked,” said Thompson, Founder and Director of Resurrection After Exoneration and Voices of Innocence.

“My case was not an isolated incident. Of the six men who received the death penalty at the hands of one of my prosecutors, five had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. I know that most prosecutors are as bothered by this behavior as I am, and I call on them to help us find a way to make prosecutors’ offices more accountable,” Thompson said.

Kathleen Ridolfi, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project and the Veritas Initiative, added, “Allowing this type of misconduct to persist undercuts public trust and undermines prosecutors who do their jobs properly. Prosecutors – who are no doubt just as concerned about misconduct as we are – are in an excellent position to help identify and correct improper prosecutorial actions. Their input will be invaluable as we move forward with collaborative discussions focused on solving this problem.”

At each stop on the tour, the groups will release new state specific research illustrating the scope of the problem. This research will mirror research that was released last year in California by the Veritas Initiative in Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, which documented 707 instances where an appellate court found misconduct during the 13 year period, but found that only 7 prosecutors were disciplined.

Similar research has been conducted by the Innocence Project in New York State. It concluded that only a tiny fraction of prosecutorial misconduct charges ever result in disciplinary action against the offending attorney.
“There’s no question that prosecutors have tremendous responsibility to protect our safety, but everyone suffers when prosecutors put their zeal for winning above finding the truth. We’ve seen too many situations where the innocent are unjustly punished because of prosecutorial misconduct. The current mechanisms of accountability are not working. These forums are an important step towards reform that is long overdue,” said Angela Davis, professor of law at American University's Washington College of Law and author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor.

Meanwhile, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) is collecting information on pending legislation related to the death penalty. For example, at least nine states will consider bills to repeal the death penalty in 2012. In California, a coalition called Taxpayers for Justice has been collecting signatures to place a death penalty repeal initiative on the ballot in November. Other states considering repeal bills are Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Democratic Elections in the Middle East: Why the Islamists Win

By Lawrence Davidson

Part I - Two Democratic Elections

There have now been two democratic elections in the Middle East as a consequence of the Arab Spring. One was in Tunisia in October 2011, and the recent staggered elections of December 2011-January 2012 for a lower house of parliament in Egypt. 

In both cases Islamist parties did the best. In Tunisia it was the Islamist al-Nahda (Renaissance) party that got 41% of the votes. In Egypt it was Hizb al-hurriya wa al-adala (Freedom and Justice Party), affiliated with country’s Muslim Brotherhood, that got 47% of the votes, while the hard-line Salafi group, the al-Nour (the Light) party got 29%.. In Tunisia the liberal parties came in a collective second with 34% of the votes, but in Egypt they did poorly. The liberal Egyptian Bloc Coalition only managed 8.9% of the vote.  

Actually, the biggest surprise was the good showing of the liberals in Tunisia, and not the fact that relatively fair elections put the Islamists in positions of power. No one should be surprised at this result. Why? It has to do with history. While what I describe below is simplified for the sake of brevity, it gives a basically accurate picture of how the past has given us the present we now witness.  

Part II - A Very Brief History Lesson 

The Middle East has been the home of an evolving Islamic civilization since the 7th century. Civilization means more than just religion and religious practice–it means values, outlooks, mannerisms, habits of thought and behavior. The dynamic nature of this way of life was such that up to, roughly, the 16th century every outside invader that pushed its way into the Middle East ended up being "Islamized." That is, whether they were Turks, Mongols, Crusaders, etc. most ended up adopting an Islamic way of life. But this changed sometime in the late 1500s.

It was about then that the military and economic balance of power between the Islamic world and Christian Europe shifted. From that point on European power allowed incursions into the Middle East by Western invaders who saw Islam and its civilization as inferior. These invaders proved not to be susceptible to "Islamization." 

In fact it was at this point that Western ways began to draw at least a certain class of Middle Easterners away from their traditional lifestyle. Those who became Westernized were largely the people who politically, economically, militarily and educationally interacted with the increasingly powerful Europeans. Many of them became secular in their outlook and some developed principled positions supporting liberal, open societies. Some sought to meld Western technology and educational techniques with Islamic tradition. Others, however, obtained leadership positions in which they behaved (and still behave) in corrupt and dictatorial ways. 

It is a mistake to think that this process penetrated deeply within Middle Eastern society. One way to think of the result is in terms of a volcanic landscape. Here you have a thin crust of surface material beneath which is a deep pool of magna under building pressure. When the pressure gets high enough the magna breaks through. The thin crust represents Westernized elites, the magna is the great mass of Middle Easterners who have always identified with Islamic civilization and increasingly resent the penetration of Western culture into their lands. Historically, the resulting occasional volcanic eruptions, if you will, have occurred in the form of revolution–a modern example of which is Iran in 1979.  

Of course Tunisia and Egypt had their own brief revolutions which led to democratic elections. You can think of these elections as controlled breakthroughs of the Islamic magna. Given the state of society in the Middle East, the results were predictable.  

Part III - The Price of Historical Ignorance 

On 22 January 2012 Juan Cole wrote a revealing piece on his blog Informed Comment. It was entitled "South Carolina & Gingrich, Egypt & the Muslim Brotherhood." What Cole notes is that you can get a large number of religious fundamentalists swaying the primary election in South Carolina and the media hardly considers it an event to be looked into. But let religious fundamentalists do well in elections in the Middle East and it automatically generates stereotyping and shallow, inaccurate analyses. Thus, Cole notes:
1. " is implicitly deemed illegitimate for Egyptians to be religious or vote for a religious party. But it is legitimate for South Carolinians to be religious, to vote on a religious basis, to seek to impose their religious laws on all Americans." 

2. What if Egyptians voted for religious parties for reasons other than just religion? Given the shallowness of U.S. media coverage how would we ever know? Yet, polls in Egypt indicate that many Egyptian voters chose the Freedom and Justice Party because the Muslim Brotherhood has a reputation for honesty and a commitment to social justice.  

3. And finally, "almost no Egyptians think that the revolution against [the military dictatorship of] Mubarak was made to establish a religious state." 

None of this makes much difference to U.S. politicians who usually know little or no relevant history and are therefore oblivious to reality in the Middle East. They are, however, deeply committed to ideologically driven stereotypes and conventions. And there are plenty of special interests out there pushing an Islamophobic message.  

How can one ever create reasonable and workable foreign policy under these conditions? The answer is, you can’t. You end up thrashing around this way and that, running scared and talking yourself into war-like scenarios. This is utterly crazy and utterly typical.

Let’s end with a quote from a religious leader who does have a penetrating sense of history, the current Dalai Lama: "Where ignorance is our master there is no possibility of real peace." Alas, that is reality!

Lawrence Davidson is a professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.


By Katherine Hughes

“What was the result of Feb 26, 2003 besides imprisoning of innocent people? Scores of innocent elderly American cancer patients died needlessly, innumerable tens of thousands of Iraqi needy (children, women and men) died, and more than that suffered malnutrition and the humiliation of poverty. An entire segment of our society here was treated as criminals, intimidated, interrogated and threatened. Never in the history of the Islamic Society of Central New York had we had so many cases of depression and suicide that the mosque had to engage the services of a psychiatrist to help out. The dream of this Republic being a sanctuary for the oppressed was shattered on that day and a new sad reality was erected in its place.” Dr. Dhafir’s Sentencing Statement , p.36

At approximately 6.30 a.m. on February 26th 2003, upstate New York oncologist Dr. Rafil Dhafir pulled out of his driveway in Fayetteville heading to his practice in the underserved area of Rome; he has never returned. Just moments later he was pulled over and arrested by two federal investigators and a New York state trooper on charges that he had violated International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by sending food and medicine for thirteen years through his charity Help the Needy (HTN) to sick and starving Iraqi civilians. Back at the house he had just left, Mrs. Dhafir was now standing in her entryway with five guns pointed at her head after government agents broke down the door because she had failed to answer quickly enough.

In this operation code named Imminent Horizon four others associated with the charity were simultaneously arrested: two in the Syracuse area, one in Boise, Idaho, and one in Amman, Jordan. From 6 to 10 a.m. that Wednesday 150 local Muslim families were interrogated. Immigration agents visited non-citizens, FBI agents visited citizens, and IRS agents visited doctors' offices and other businesses.

As Kelly Tubbs, Dhafir’s office manager and transcriptionist, pulled into her usual parking spot, her car was immediately surrounded by gun-brandishing government agents in flak jackets. She attempted to introduce herself but the agents told her there was no need to since they knew exactly who she was. Well trained by Dhafir to take the utmost care of patients, she begged to be allowed to call to tell them not to come to the office. She was not allowed to. (Had the office been raided on a Friday, when staff had their office meeting, no patients would have been present.) Agents seized the office contents including all the patients' medical records. It took six weeks before patients received their records back.

The arrests were accompanied by a media circus: helicopters hovering over Dhafir’s house and all day-reports of the comings and goings of eighty federal agents. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that “funders of terrorism have been arrested” and Governor George Pataki claimed the arrests proved the existence of “…terrorists living here in New York state among us…who are supporting or aiding and abetting those who would destroy our way of life and kill our friends and neighbors.”

Initially local prosecutors also followed the “terrorism” line and Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg West argued that because HTN defendant Ayman Jarwan had degrees in nuclear and radiological engineering he was capable of making a dirty bomb and therefore shouldn’t receive bail (he did). A groundswell of public support after the arrests meant that local prosecutors backed away from “terrorism” charges and instead said that Dhafir was a common thief. Dhafir was still held and denied bail on five occasions.

Seven government agencies had been conducting extensive surveillance on Dhafir and HTN for many years. They intercepted his mail, email, faxes and telephone calls; bugged his home, office, and hotel rooms; went through his trash; and conducted physical surveillance. On one occasion a hotel room in Washington D.C. was bugged and the government had seven translators listening in to the conversation (though none of the translators spoke Dhafir’s dialect). Nothing related to terrorism was uncovered and no charges of terrorism were ever brought against Dhafir.

The first indictment against Dhafir contained fourteen charges related only to the Iraq sanctions. Later, when Dhafir refused to accept a plea agreement, the government piled on more charges and he finally faced an indictment of sixty counts of white-collar crime at trial. State and national level government officials continued to tar Dhafir with the terrorism brush via the media, and just before his trial began when he had already been held for nineteen months, Governor Pataki described the case as a “money laundering case to help terrorist organizations … conduct horrible acts.” It was an announcement perfectly timed to reach potential jurors.


The trial was conducted on the twelfth floor of the Syracuse Federal Building, which was reached after passing two security points. Inside the courtroom there were two court guards who changed regularly, one at each exit. And because Dhafir would not submit to a strip search (on religious grounds) as he was ferried from prison to the trial, two federal marshals were also always present in the courtroom, one sitting adjacent to the jury and one directly behind Dhafir. There were five of these federal marshals who traded off approximately every forty minutes in full view of the jury. The changing of the guard took place at least 250 times during the proceedings and was a powerful non-verbal message to the jury.

Three prosecutors sat close to the jury while behind them, at another table, were three government agents who remained there throughout the trial except when they were testifying. FBI Agent Jim Kolbe testified for sixteen days, eight of them as the sole witness and eight of them as one of only two witnesses: it was his testimony that, essentially, convicted Dhafir. Social Security agent Michael McCole testified for about twenty minutes. The Defense Department agent, a young blonde woman who previously worked at the Syracuse Post-Standard, did not testify.

The defense team of Devereaux Cannick, Philip Gaynor, and Joel Cohen sat beyond the prosecution further away from the jury at two separate tables, one in front of the other. Dhafir mostly sat at the front table with whichever lawyer was cross-examining a witness, and the other two lawyers sat behind them. Cohen typed the proceeding on his laptop because the defense had no money for transcripts (at fifty cents a page) and the court had denied a request for transcripts at the expense of the court.

A motion granted by Judge Mordue before the trial began meant the defense could not challenge the government’s real reason for prosecuting Dhafir during proceedings. Such motions are often used in criminal trials by the defense to shield the jury from information that could be prejudicial to a defendant. Its use in this case had the opposite aim and effect: although prosecutors could hint at more serious (terrorism) charges throughout the trial, the defense team couldn't respond to these inflammatory innuendos head on.

Just days into the trial, FBI Agent Jim Kolbe told of items that had been found in the dumpster of an apartment building where HTN defendant Ayman Jarwan had been living. He described Islamic magazines showing military operations and said there was a gun cleaning kit also in the dumpster (this was later shown to be from a Thanksgiving hunting trip). When Cannick tried to explore this line of questioning the prosecution objected because a pre-trial motion it had been granted made this line of questioning inadmissible. The objection was upheld.

The defense objected and asked that the jury (and later Kolbe) leave the courtroom. In their absence, Gaynor argued that the defense should be allowed to follow up the line of questioning because it was the government that had introduced it. The defense aired other concerns about what they believed to be insinuation without proof by the government and then requested a mistrial because Kolbe’s testimony "left a ringing bell in the ears of jurors" with its powerful suggestion that Dhafir was still under investigation for more serious charges that were still pending. The request was denied.

At another point in the proceedings, the prosecution referred to the religious group of Islam that Osama Bin Laden was a member of, Salafi, and made the court aware that Dhafir was also a member of this particular Islamic religious tradition. (Salafi merely means a Muslim who is a strict adherent of the Koran and looks to the ancestors for guidance. It is comparable to someone in the Christian faith who looks to the Scriptures, Church Fathers, and traditions of the early church for guidance.)

Other testimony also hinted at more serious charges pending. Because the defense was not allowed to respond to these insinuations, the proceedings at times were surreal. This was the case in testimony of Colleen Williams, a tax preparer Dhafir had hired to help HTN sort out its tax returns and give advice on a 501(c)(3) application for the charity. (Up until then HTN had been under the 501(c)(3) umbrella of another charity, a not uncommon practice among charities. During the trial it became clear that the government had put a hold on the HTN application, preventing it from moving forward.) The government wanted Williams to inform on HTN and she described how FBI Agent Jim Kolbe, IRS Agent Mark Sweeney, and U.S. Attorney Brenda Sannes had spent three days, first individually and then together, asking her to wear a recorder in her meetings with HTN defendant Ayman Jarwan. She described them as “waving the flag” and telling her that, “9/11 may not have happened if people were involved.” She felt the HTN people “were being pursued” and got rid of them as a client after only three meetings. She never agreed to wear a wire and refused to refer the case to a government attorney.

The government called more than fifty witnesses to testify but neglected to call two key people: Kelly Tubbs, Dhafir’s office manager of ten years who was proud of the fact that Dhafir’s office had never failed an audit; and Maher Zagha, a co-defendant who was the HTN representative in Jordan. Zagha organized for food, clothing, and medicine to go by land and sea to Iraq. He also sent money to Dhafir’s elder brother (also a physician) in Baghdad so that animals could be bought, sacrificed, and given to the needy, particularly around Muslim holidays.

Arrested in Jordan on the same day as Dhafir’s arrest in the U.S., Zagha was held and questioned for three weeks by Jordanian authorities under FBI direction. In the end Jordanian authorities released him, satisfied that he had indeed sent aid to sick and starving Iraqi civilians on behalf of HTN. Zagha was presented as a fugitive at trial when, in fact, he was living in the house he had always lived in and would gladly have come to the U.S. to testify on Dhafir’s. Neither the prosecution nor the defense asked him to testify.

The government did not call Tubbs because it considered her a “hostile witness,” and, sadly, despite Tubbs calling the defense lawyers regularly asking to testify, they did not contact her either. The total extent of government’s reach in this case can be surmised by the surveillance conducted on Tubbs alone. Tubbs, who had nothing to do with HTN, had her home bugged and her telephone conversations monitored. On one occasion government agents even entered her house and copied her computer hard drive. Told of the bugging after Dhafir’s arrest, she and her husband began announcing their arrival when they got home, even alerting those “listening in” that they wouldn’t be able to hear anything on the evenings her husband’s band was practicing. She and her husband have since moved and although her experience has shaken her trust in the government to the core, her trust in Dhafir remains steadfast.

Witnesses who were obliged to testify against Dhafir in exchange for either immunity or a plea deal spoke of their respect for Dhafir and his kindness and generosity, often saying he was “like a father” or “like a brother” to them. Several Iraqi-born witnesses broke down on the stand as they talked conditions in Iraq during the sanctions. On the fourth day of the trial Walid Smare, a witness who had accepted immunity in exchange for his testimony, broke down as he was being cross-examined about circumstances of his family during the sanctions.

This prompted all hell to break loose in the courtroom: the government objected to its own witness crying, the defense objected to the government’s objection, and the witness insisted he wasn’t looking for sympathy. Once things calmed down, Judge Mordue, the presiding judge, instructed the jury, “[M]embers of the jury, we’re not here to judge whether it’s a noble thing in the world and the right thing, that’s fine. But the thing we’re here for is whether or not there’s been a violation of the law done according to what the allegations are by the government.”


The government was duplicitous in this case from the outset, yet no media outlet directly challenged the inconsistency. And because no terrorism charges were brought against Dhafir, only the local newspaper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, covered the trial. Prosecutors could not have written better articles themselves. Early in the trial the coverage prompted one of Dhafir’s three lawyers to write to the paper asking for better representation of defense cross-examination of witnesses. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) court watchers attending the trial also wrote letters asking the paper to give more balance in its coverage. And a multi-faith group who prayed together outside the courthouse each day before proceedings began met with editorial staff and was told that the defense’s side of the case would be more fully represented when it started calling its own witnesses.

In the fourteen-week trial the defense called one witness for fifteen minutes, Dr. Edward Cox, Director of Health Now, for Medicare, and his testimony appeared to confirm the defense reading of a rule in the Medicare Handbook on which all the Medicare counts rested. Next day the Post-Standard reported this testimony as it was given. However, the following day the paper ran a story on the front page, with a picture of Cox, in which he appeared to contradict his own testimony.

The paper did eventually give a couple of small challenges to the government duplicity in an editorial and a cartoon. Other than that it aided and abetted the government in transforming Dhafir’s image in the community from a compassionate humanitarian to a crook and supporter of terrorists.


In the end Dhafir was found guilty on fifty-nine counts of violations of the economic sanctions against Iraq; money laundering; mail and wire fraud; tax evasion; visa fraud (all of the above related to running HTN); and Medicare fraud. (The jury was not allowed to deliberate on one count in which the government had listed the wrong bank.)

Although the government acknowledged that Dhafir donated $1.4 million of his own money to HTN over the years, he was still convicted of spending more than $500,000 dollars of HTN money on himself and his friends. And despite receiving less reimbursement from Medicare for the previous year than he had spent on chemotherapy alone, he was convicted of Medicare fraud.

In 1993 Dhafir wrote a letter to Medicare complaining about its “ever-changing” rules and disrespect of his staff. For this action his office was put on a “pre-payment flag,” which meant that his office would not receive payment until someone at Medicare checked his office’s billing. At trial, the defense was unable to find out when, if ever, Dhafir’s office was taken off this flag. Medicare charges usually involve fictitious patients and made-up illnesses; Dhafir’s case had none of this. The government does not dispute that Dhafir’s patients received care and expensive chemotherapy; its argument for all twenty-five counts of Medicare fraud was that because Dhafir's Medicare claim forms had been filled out incorrectly, his office was not due any reimbursement for the treatment or chemotherapy his office had administered.

After the guilty verdicts came down, District Attorney Glenn Suddaby (now a federal judge) told reporters he didn’t want anyone saying anything about terrorism and that regardless of 9/11 this prosecution would have gone ahead. But six months later, on submitting a sentencing memo that asked for a sentence of not less than twenty-four years, he announced that Dhafir had links to terrorism. Dhafir and other HTN defendants are now listed on the government’s list of successful terrorism prosecutions along with Mrs. Dhafir and William Hatfield, Dhafir’s personal accountant.

The Post-Standard covered this announcement as if its reporter had not been present every day of the fourteen-week trial. A prominent front-page article with a very large headline announced, “U.S. Says Manlius Doctor Was Linked to Terrorists,” and a few pages later another headline announced “Prosecutors say video links Dhafir to al-Qaida founder.” The connection? On several occasions during the 1980s Dhafir was in Pakistan as a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders in mujahideen refugee camps. On one of these trips, he briefly met and interviewed Abdallah Azzam, who was later known as a teacher and mentor of Osama Bin Laden, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, future Taliban prime minister of Afghanistan. At the time Dhafir met these two, they were friends of the U.S. and the government even noted this in a footnote of its memo.

In fact they were very good friends of the U.S., which was funding them and other Afghan mujahedeen to the tune of millions of dollars to aid their fight against the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1980s both these people were welcomed to the U.S. and allowed to fundraise freely throughout its length and breadth. In 1985 Hekmatyar was part of a delegation of mujahideen leaders who came to U.S. to lobby diplomats at the U.N. General Assembly, and Ronald Reagan hosted this group of “freedom fighters” at the White House (although Hekmatyar declined to attend because he thought it would be bad for his image). Hekmatyar is a brutal warlord who killed and oppressed the Afghan people while in power and the U.S. is once again courting him as a partner who can help "bring stability” to the region.


That the government strategy for prosecution was premeditated can be seen in a 2003 “Terrorist Financing” paper published shortly after Dhafir’s arrest. Written by Jeffrey Breinholt, then Coordinator of the Department of Justice Terrorist Financing Task Force and Research and Practice Associate at Syracuse University Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), it sets out the game plan for prosecutions.

In the introduction Breinholt says:
“Persons cannot be convicted of the federal crime of terrorism because there is no such crime. Instead, terrorism crimes have developed in the same manner as other crimes, policymakers determine what evil (or ‘mischief’) should be prevented, and then craft criminal laws that take into account how such mischief is generally achieved. On occasion, acts that are criminalized are not ones that should necessarily be discouraged, if committed by persons not otherwise involved in the targeted conduct. In such cases, laws are crafted to criminalize such conduct only in particular circumstances.” (p.3)

Within weeks of Dhafir’s sentencing to twenty-two years in prison, Breinholt presented a lecture containing the essence of this paper to a group of third-year law students at Syracuse University. Entitled “A Law Enforcement Approach to Terrorist Financing” it highlighted the Dhafir and HTN case. Greg West, one of the three HTN prosecutors, helped present the lecture, while the other two prosecutors, Michael Olmsted and Steve Green, were in attendance to answer questions. Law school faculty was also present along with representatives from the INSCT, a sponsor of the lecture.

Breinholt told the students that Dhafir’s case had been under-prosecuted and in the context of the lecture’s title the implication was clear: West told the class that one of the biggest frustrations of his career was having access to intelligence and not being able to share it. Breinholt enumerated the statutes being used as powerful tools for prosecution of terrorist financing and explained that these tools were not widely known even among prosecutors. He voiced a hope that law schools could serve as a kind of farm system educating students in this new field of law and that this in turn would create lawyers who would be familiar with and who could use these new prosecution tools.

He explained that because the “American public won’t tolerate anything less than the rule of law,” creative ways had to be figured out to draft laws that can be used to prosecute what they are trying to prevent. According to Breinholt, this task was addressed by a Department of Justice Terrorist Financing Task Force that came together to craft ways to apply white-collar expertise to the problem of terrorism. A major tool that emerged from the work of this task force, Breinholt told students, is the use of IEEPA violations to gain convictions in terrorist financing cases. He said that to convict under IEEPA all that was necessary was to build a chain of inferences from available circumstantial evidence.
Dhafir and other HTN defendants are listed on p.20 of Breinhot’s paper under the heading “Clean money cases.” Others under this heading include: Enaam Arnaout of Benevolence International Foundation (BIF); Sami Al-Hussayen, a graduate student at the University of Idaho, associated with Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA); Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian professor from Florida; and the Holy Land Foundation, the biggest Muslim charity that was shuttered in 2001 but not prosecuted until six years later. (See Denial of Due Process To Muslims Disgraces Us All, for what happened to people in each of these cases. At the time of this article the HLF case had not yet been prosecuted. After being convicted in a second trial HLF’s two main principals each received 65 years, and three others received lesser sentences. )

Later in "Terrorism Financing," under the heading “Crimes of terrorist financing,” Breinholt lists the statutes used in prosecution of these cases. Statutes under this heading that were used in Dr. Dhafir’s case are 50 U.S.C. ss 1701,1702 (IEEPA) and U.S.C. ss 1956(a)(2)(A), “operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.”

Neither Breinholt nor West told the class that these “powerful prosecution tools” are being used mostly against Muslim charities and individuals associated with those charities, while violations by large corporations like Halliburton and Chevron Texaco, that did billions of dollars worth of business in defiance of IEEPA, go largely unpunished. At the most these corporations have gotten a slap on the wrist and a fine, but no individual board member or officer has ever faced prosecution. And although many non-Muslim charities work in the same troubled regions of the world as Muslim charities, not a single non-Muslim charity has been closed. None of this was mentioned at the lecture.

By hosting this lecture Syracuse University Law School gave credence to a charge never brought against Dhafir and HTN, and in doing so became an accomplice in the government’s subterfuge. After the lecture a request was made to Dean Hannah Arterian that (ACLU) court watchers who attended the trial be allowed to address the students; it was denied.


In the wake of 9/11 the FBI and Justice department indicated that their goal was to prevent terrorist attacks before they occurred by prosecuting under a new paradigm they called preemptive prosecution. The strategy used in the Dhafir and the HTN case is just one variant and the government has many tools in its arsenal to help gain successful prosecution. These include but are not limited to use of agent provocateurs/informants who help frame innocent Muslims and are rewarded with money and U.S. citizenship; use of staged press conferences and pre-trial publicity that hype unfounded and sensational terrorist allegations in order to scare communities, damage the reputation and credibility of Muslims, and influence the jury pool; use of strategies for intimidating juries into believing that the defendants are real terrorists by excessive security, by insisting on anonymous witnesses and/or jurors, and by constantly referring in trials to 9/11 and to known terrorists such as Osama bin Laden even when these references are irrelevant to the charges; excessive and inappropriate use of conspiracy charges and the use of guilt by association to smear those who have innocent contacts with known or suspected terrorists, including the accused having met these people years before they were labeled as such by the U.S. government; use of secret evidence and secret court opinions; and use of multiple trials – if it is unsuccessful in a first trial, the government keeps going until conviction is achieved either in a new trial or by coercing the defendant into a plea deal.

Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims), a group founded by two lawyers from one of these cases, has a database documenting these post-9/11 “terrorism-related” prosecutions that, “have included a significant number of Muslims and others who were severely overcharged and/or over sentenced.” Over the last 2 years Project SALAM has written a series of letters to President Obama and Attorney General Holder asking for review of these cases involving preemptive prosecution. It has yet to receive an answer.

Although this type of prosecution is currently being used mostly against Muslims and Arabs, it’s unlikely this will always be the case. A bill currently in the first step of the legislative process is titled in part “To direct the secretary of state to submit a report on whether any support organization that participated in the planning or execution of the recent Gaza flotilla attempt should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization…” If this bill passes and is used in conjunction with the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes the U.S. military to indefinitely detain anyone suspected of being a terrorism supporter, many more humanitarians could find themselves in a similar situation to Dhafir.


Dhafir has served most of his sentence in a Communication Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana, that houses almost exclusively Muslim and/or Arab men, many of them principals of now defunct Muslim charities. There are currently two of these special units; the other located in Marion, Illinois. Conditions in these units are extreme: visiting and phone calls are severely restricted; no contact visits are allowed; units are equipped with 24-hour video surveillance that covers every inch of the facility; incoming and outgoing mail is monitored through Washington; and prisoners have no recourse to challenge their designation to these units.

The Terre Haute CMU is housed in the old death row building and had been vacant for a number of years before Muslim prisoners from all over the country were moved there in December 2006. Because the building is old and dilapidated, prisoners are subject to extreme heat in the summer and cold in the winter, including snow in some of the cells.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sued the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in March 2010 saying the units were unconstitutional, but the case is not resolved and prisoners are still being held there. On October 7, 2011, Members of Congress wrote a letter to the BOP expressing concern about policies and practices at the CMUs including the extraordinary restrictions on communications, lack of due process, and disproportionate number of Muslims being held there. They have not yet received a reply from the BOP.


A decision handed down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2009 upheld Dhafir’s conviction, but suggested the district court look again at the Sentencing Guidelines. The Sentencing Guidelines range on which his sentence was based was erroneously increased as if he were a third-party (professional) money launderer rather than the reality, which showed that he transmitted funds derived from the very same offenses which he had been convicted for personally committing ("mail fraud" and "tax fraud"). Resentencing was scheduled for January 5, 2012, and just twelve days before it, Dhafir was suddenly moved out of the CMU into the general population at Terre Haute.

One might hope that this move is a preparation for release, but it’s more likely that it is in order to steal thunder from the seventy-five letters written to the Judge Mordue on Dhafir’s behalf telling of extreme conditions in the CMU and asking for clemency. People who have written to Judge Mordue on Dhafir’s behalf include Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, both of whom resigned from the UN because they were unwilling to implement a genocidal policy of sanctions against Iraq; Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire; and many other individuals including members of Dr. Dhafir’s family, families of his former patients, people from his faith community, and people across the world who greatly appreciate his humanitarian outreach.

On December 28th 2011, Dhafir’s lawyer submitted his resentencing memo and letters. Perhaps because of the volume of letters, the following day the resentencing was postponed until February 3, 2012. A new prosecutor, who initially planned to rely on previous memos submitted by the prosecution, will submit a memo for this new date. (The two main members of the HTN prosecution team have moved on to new jobs: As mentioned above, former District Attorney Glenn Suddaby is now a federal judge, and prosecutor Michael Olmsted is now INTERPOL Special Representative to the United Nations, and gives talks about his prosecution of the HTN case.) The prosecution is asking that Dhafir be given more time, and the defense is hoping for immediate release or, at the very least, a significant sentence reduction. It remains to be seen if justice will finally be done in this case.

February 26, 2012, marks the ninth anniversary of Dhafir’s arrest and incarceration. He is in his sixties now and has a number of health issues that certainly affect his ability to endure the circumstances in which he is serving his sentence. He developed a heart condition after his arrest and has not always had the heart medication his condition requires. He’s also had two extremely painful episodes of gout that could easily have been prevented if he had been given medication. And he had to wait a long time to have a painful hernia treated, which has unfortunately now recurred, requiring further surgery. He will likely die in prison if he does not get relief at resentencing.
Katherine Hughes has been passionate about the defense of civil liberties since seeing a documentary of the Allies going into Bergen-Belsen as a teenager 35 years ago. In the post-9/11 period she became alarmed at the demonization of Muslims and it was this that prompted her to attend Dhafir’s fourteen-week trial. She took notes every day and filled eight notebooks. Her website is: