Saturday, September 08, 2012

Bahrain: Despite Sham Ruling the Revolution Continues

This article originally appeared in Prism Magazine.

By William Fisher

As a Bahraini appeals court upheld life sentences for seven “activists,” the tiny kingdom’s public relations apparatus appeared to be on steroids as it issued multiple press releases trumpeting positive developments toward ending a year of violent death and destruction.

The appeals for 13 other opposition figures were also denied. Most life sentences were upheld and a few sentences were reduced.

The near-simultaneous actions of the court and the government left some observers scratching their heads, seeking clarity for what they saw as the country’s schizophrenic policies. But human rights organizations were in no doubt: they condemned the harsh sentences and largely ignored the King’s claims of progress.

“The regime fears that releasing them means they will lead the revolution and gain more momentum,” Maryam Al-Khawaja told Prism. She is Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and one of two activist daughters of one of the eight activists whose life term in prison was confirmed by the Appeals Court. Her father is leading rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who staged a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year in protest.

The strategically important island nation, which is home to the US Fifth Fleet, is ruled by Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim. The majority of the population, however, is Shia. The Shia majority charges that it is systematically discriminated against.

Bahrain has been gripped by conflict since the winter of 2011, after protesters took to the streets, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. At least 50 people have died in the conflict thus far.

In the Appeals Court, seven activists’ life sentences were upheld. The sentence of a prominent Sunni opposition activist was reduced to five years. A government prosecutor said many of those convicted were in “intelligence contact” with Iran and Hezbollah, and the official charges range from “violation of the Constitution, conspiring to overthrow the government, [and] espionage.” Seven of the defendants were tried in absentia.

In addition to the eight sentenced to life in prison, 12 others were given lesser prison terms, ranging from five to 15 years, with seven of them convicted in absentia.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, condemned the sentences. “The decision by Bahrain’s appeal court to uphold sentences against 13 opposition activists and prisoners of conscience is outrageous and the authorities must ensure it is overturned and the activists immediately and unconditionally released,” he said.
But the consensus is that release is not going to happen any time soon. Rather, a number of observers said the Bahraini authorities may want to try to use the imprisoned activists as bargaining chips to further their leverage in peace talks.
This week’s sentencing of the 20 is only one of the Kingdom’s many court actions that have drawn angry charges from the human rights community.

The group Physicians for Human Rights denounced the sentences and called on the government to set aside the verdicts against all the medics. “Eighteen of the accused medical professionals have alleged that Bahraini security forces tortured them while in detention,” the group said in a statement.

Maryam Alkhawaja, vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and daughter of one of the men receiving life sentences, tweeted that the nine acquittals should not be seen as an achievement, because “they shouldn’t have been arrested and tortured to begin with.”

Some of the medics say they were treating people injured in last year’s protests against the government. Many were arrested in the hospital while treating patients.

Of the 11 whose convictions stand, two are at large, five will be released on time served and the other four can appeal their sentences again, the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority announced.

Meanwhile, the Bahraini government says it is proceeding with implementation of recommendations made by the independent commission facilitated and funded by the king. One of those recommendations was the establishment of an Ombudsman for the Ministry of Interior, which deals with most police matters.

The Ministry has announced that “the new office will conduct independent investigations and adopt an honest, neutral, professional and transparent approach to all investigations of police misconduct.”

The Office of Ombudsman will investigate complaints from civilians against public security force personnel; and is also in charge of overseeing the Internal Affairs Office, keeping records and evidence relating to the investigations and proposing disciplinary actions in appropriate cases.
The Ministry said it was committed to upholding the principles within the new Police Code of Conduct and know that this is an important step in beginning to build trust and mutual respect between the community and the police.”

In another development announced by the government, three human rights organizations will address Family Law for Shiite Women at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on September 19, headed by Faisal Fulad. The groups will attend the event in Geneva in which the Government of Bahrain will provide their responses on 176 recommendations, including the one concerning the Jaffari(Shi’ite) Court’s ruling on family law.

Amending the family law to cover Shiite women has been cited by HRH Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa as a necessity for the protection of Bahraini families. MPs of the Bahrain Bloc have made the proposed family law for Shiites their top priority for when they resume their sessions in October.

Meanwhile, arrests and violence continue. But on the whole only human rights organizations and large international bodies like the United Nations are raising their voices in full throated opposition.

For example, ANHRI (Arabic Network for Human Rights Information) is condemning renewal of the imprisonment of the Journalist and blogger Ahmed El-Radah on charges of assembling and breach of public security.

The public prosecution renewed the imprisonment of the journalist and the blogger Ahmed El-Radah for another 15 days due to new charges by Bahraini authorities. These include “initiation of fire in execution of terroristic purposes and having combustible materials (Molotov) and assembling by the intention of breaching the public security through using violence.”

ANHRI charged that the renewal of Ahmed El-Radah’s imprisonment of “proves that the statement of the king of the country that no journalist will be imprisoned because of his opinion, is deemed to be ink on a paper.”

While encouraging royal accommodation leading to peaceful resolution of the conflict, the Bahraini Government’s actions have “put US foreign policy makers in an awkward position,” according to Abolghasem Bayyenat, an independent political analyst and a current Ph.D candidate of political science at Syracuse University .

Writing in Foreign Policy Journal, he said:

“The US government has largely lent its diplomatic weight to the Saudi regime in stifling popular uprising in Bahrain for fear that any democratic transformation in that country would work in Iran’s advantage, thus undermining its own interests in the Persian Gulf region.”

He added, “This posture has further undermined the image of the US before the Middle Eastern public due to its perceived double standards towards regional political developments, and it is likely to work to the detriment of US strategic interests in the region in the long run.”

And, last month, a group of independent United Nations experts voiced serious concerns about the “campaign of persecution” by the Bahraini authorities against those working to promote human rights in the country, and called for the prompt release of a prominent human rights defender recently sentenced to three years imprisonment.

“It is time for the Bahraini authorities to comply with the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and immediately release those arbitrarily detained for exercising their legitimate freedoms,” the experts said in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Back to the Future With the GOP

By William Fisher

When my friend Brian Foley sent me a copy of the Republican Party 1956 Platform, I had to ask him whether he was acting as a law professor (which he is) or as a stand-up comic and author of a very funny book (which he also is).

“You read it. And then you decide,” he told me. “But read it.”

OK, with such a challenge how could I refuse?

Would the platform bring me visions of Dickens’ Scrooge? Or would it be more like Florence Nightingale?

Only time would tell, so I jumped in feet first.
The GOP Platform that year was 49 pages long. I couldn’t possibly critique it all. So I decided to look at a few 1956 issues that are still issues today, and one or two issues today that seem to have been hidden in plain sight back then. That, plus stuff that just jumped off the page into my computer!

Maybe a bit of context would help the reader (maybe the writer as well). 1956 was the year our President, Dwight David Eisenhower – Ike – was running for his second term. His first term is sometimes described as “quiet” – decompressing from World War Two. But no sooner that war ended, we began the combat of the Cold War, which was expensive and also shaped the national psyche for generations to come. There was the Korean War, to which an “honorable” peace had come. There were what we then called “The Communist Chinese” – once brave allies in the hot war, now being denied by the US a seat at the UN security Council. There were, of course, the expected labor troubles, Taft-Hartley and such, and the usual ups and downs of the capital markets. The biggest worry people seemed to have back then was inflation But, by and large, these were years of pretty good prosperity for many people and years of embarrassing wealth for the very few – and, on many critical issues, a parade of ostriches whistling past the graveyard (how’s that for a mixed-up metaphor?).

So now I began my digging into the Platform and the first thing that jumped off the very first page was this: Our great President Dwight D. Eisenhower has counseled us further: "In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people's money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative."

Could you find a paragraph like that in today”s GOP platform? I doubt it.

Or this one: “We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance —improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people.”

Then came this bit of triumphalist rhetoric: “We have balanced the budget. We believe and will continue to prove that thrift, prudence and a sensible respect for living within income applies as surely to the management of our Government's budget as it does to the family budget.”

Funny, didn’t we believe that Bill Clinton was the first president in decades to balance the federal budget?

What the Grand Old Party really meant to say was that Ike became the first Republican in 40 years to balance a budget.

(Dwight Eisenhower was last Republican President to preside over a balanced budget. He had a balanced budget in 1956 and 1957. Since then, there have been two presidents to preside over balanced budgets, LBJ in 1969 and Clinton in 1998 through 2001. During the last 40 years there have been five budget surpluses, all five were under Democratic Presidents: 1969, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.)

Then came a familiar meme: “We hold that the major world issue today is whether Government shall be the servant or the master of men. We hold that the Bill of Rights is the sacred foundation of personal liberty. That men are created equal needs no affirmation, but they must have equality of opportunity and protection of their civil rights under the law.”

Sure, we’re familiar with that clarion call for small government. Ike used it. Reagan patented it – “government is the problem.” Bush mouthed the words and grew the government until it collapsed.

This year, both Republicans and Democrats are trying to frame their conventions and campaigns as “choices for the voter” – government should get out of the way or government should provide a strong safety net for all Americans.

We’re also all-too-familiar with other GOP mantras, which they apparently think never wear out and need replacing. For example, the 1956 Platform pledges: “

“Gradual reduction of the national debt; further reductions in taxes with particular consideration for low and middle income families; initiation of a sound policy of tax reductions which will encourage small independent businesses to modernize and progress; continual study of additional ways to correct inequities in the effect of various taxes.”

Holder: Torture Investigation Adieu

The article below By William Fisher originally appeared in the pages of Prism Magazine.

When President Obama said of the issue of the CIA torturing our prisoners that he’d rather go forward than backward, many of us saw this decision coming. Others were hopeful that justice would rise above politics. We wanted those who designed, administered and implemented torture to be held accountable in the only way that matters in our rule-of-law country.

We lost.

“The End,” as described by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine:

“Mr. Holder had already ruled out any charges related to the use of waterboarding and other methods that most human rights experts consider to be torture. His announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The closing of the two cases means that the Obama administration’s limited effort to scrutinize the counterterrorism programs carried out under President George W. Bush has come to an end.”

What this decision means is that, unless it is undone at some point, the United States will hold no one accountable for the stain of shame that will forever more blemish the reputation of the country that has held itself out as the gold standard for justice under law. What it means is that we will face the same kinds of problems when the next war rolls around.

I’m writing this over Labor Day weekend, but I’m far from the only one who’s livid over this decision.

One of Prism’s sources struck a philosophical tone. He is Col. Morris Davis (USAF Ret.) He was appointed to serve as the third Chief Prosecutor in the Guantanamo military commissions but resigned as a protest to the military commissions. He retired from active duty in October 2008, and now teaches law. Here’s what he told us:

“The decision was disappointing, but frankly it came as no surprise. We’re always slow to hold up the mirror to see the warts that detract from our self-image as the most exceptional people on the planet. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, internment of Japanese-Americans, forced sterilization of those labeled ‘defective’, gender discrimination: it’s often many, many years before we’re able to acknowledge a wrong. In the meantime, those who turned us into a torture state are held up as heroes and rewarded – they write books and appear on television, and they hold top positions on government boards, in major corporations, in academia, and even the federal judiciary – while most of us who spoke out against torture are persecuted and, in some cases, prosecuted.”

He added, “It’s a bizarre twist that in America talking about torture, but not committing torture, can get you sent to prison. It’s easy to get discouraged, and the current decision to keep our head buried in the sand awhile longer adds to the discouragement, but I reminded myself every day what Winston Churchill said in 1941: ‘Never, never, never give in.’ We have to keep lifting up the mirror until people look and see the ugly reflection.”

Anger more than disappointment is evident in the comment of Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, who told Prism, “That the Justice Department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal. The Justice Department has declined to bring charges against the officials who authorized torture, the lawyers who sought to legitimate it, and the interrogators who used it. It has successfully shut down every legal suit meant to hold officials civilly liable.”

He added, “Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment and sends the dangerous signal to government officials that there will be no consequences for their use of torture and other cruelty. Today’s decision not to file charges against individuals who tortured prisoners to death is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record.”

Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment and sends the dangerous signal to government officials that there will be no consequences for their use of torture and other cruelty.

And this was the view expressed in the Huffington Post by Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel at Human Rights First:

“In his statement yesterday, [Attorney General] Holder said he’d declined to prosecute anyone in the CIA ‘because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt’. He didn’t explain what kind of evidence he’d judged not ‘admissible’. But certainly all CIA agents who’d participated in or witnessed the abuse of the two detainees whose deaths were being investigated would have similarly ‘had access to classified intelligence sources and methods’ that the government doesn’t want revealed.”

Eviatar noted that, in a 2006 report, Human Rights First “documented that up to 12 men had been tortured to death in U.S. custody since 2002. Reviewing documents we’ve received more recently through a Freedom of Information Act request to the government, it now appears that up to 19 of 247 deaths involved torture. In only six of those cases was anyone held criminally liable. According to military documents, many more detainees — we’ve counted 72 so far — are believed to have been murdered. While in some cases charges were brought, in many they were dropped or the perpetrators received only administrative sanctions.”

Then she reminded us that CIA Director “David Petraeus sent a statement to CIA employees assuring them that the matter has been put to rest. ‘As intelligence officers, our inclination, of course, is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past’.

She concluded with: “That may be the CIA’s inclination, but the agency is still obligated to investigate when its agents break the law. And surely the Justice Department has no excuse. Its role is always to investigate what happened in the past and to hold those responsible for crimes accountable. When it comes to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, many of whom were clearly tortured to death, all relevant branches of the U.S. government have fallen down on the job.”

Chip Pitts, former CEO of Amnesty USA and now a lecturer at Stanford and Oxford, weighed in with this:

“When those in power break the rules merely because they can, it inspires mistrust and derision instead of trust and confidence. The reverberations from this nauseating decision extend much farther than the Obama administration realizes, because (contrary to the arguments of its defenders) it cavalierly ignores the rule of law just as the Bush administration did – and on a subject (torture) and an area (legally required accountability) of universal import.”

Such “hypocritical and politically opportunistic decisions have systemic implications. Those systemic implications cannot be avoided or cloaked by the administration’s ludicrous claims of insufficient evidence in these well-documented extreme cases (in which not even one person has been held accountable for torture), or by this obviously self-interested precedent established in hopes of avoiding the administration’s own future accountability for assassination and other illegal acts.

Pitts added, “All of this is exquisitely ironic in light of the administration’s aggressive pursuit of the whistleblowers who’ve sought to shed light on such crimes. The implications for US foreign policy and for international law generally could not be clearer: Our country’s actions will be less effective and our calls for legal compliance more ridiculed, than before.”

And he concluded: “The trust reposed in those in power and in our legal and other institutions erodes further, whether from the perspective of those at home or abroad.

And greater play is given not only to torturers but more generally to similarly horrendous and illegal ongoing and future policies and to the coarse, violent, and uncivilized actions currently continuing to lead our nation in a downward spiral of dramatic relative decline.”
So there you have it. It’s over. As Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Guardian, “The Obama administration’s aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the ‘war on terror’ crimes committed by Bush officials is now complete. Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program: one that resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison near Kabul, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen while in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. This decision, says the New York Times Friday, “eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.

This news was consigned to the Friday afternoon dump, and distributed during the Republican National Convention, so as to attract minimal media attention. By and large, our stenographic press corps obliged; few major publications carried this bombshell.

Romney was their dish of the day.

Well, the Romneys of the world will come and go. But the historic nature of this day – September 1st, 2012 — will be with us forever.
But perhaps there is one more slender chance left. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) reminds us:

“Once again, the United States has shown it is committed to absolving itself of any responsibility for its crimes over the past decade. Today’s announcement belies U.S. claims that it can be trusted to hold accountable Americans who have perpetrated torture and other human rights abuses, and underscores the need for independent investigations elsewhere, such as the investigation underway in Spain, to continue. Impunity does not always cross borders.”

Morsi Between Censorship and Freedom of the Press

The article below originally appeared in the pages of Prism Magazine.

By William Fisher

Ten years ago, when I retired from my work with USAID and the US State Department, I reverted to my first love – journalism.

My plan was modest: I would draw on my experience in the Middle East and elsewhere to report on US reactions to developments in the region, particularly in Egypt, which had been my last posting, I had no idea how labor-intensive this work would become. I had no idea that an Arab Spring was in the offing. Lamentably, I expected to be writing pretty depressing pieces about the worst excesses of the Mubarak regime – the crony capitalism, the highly partisan justice system, the torture in prison, the imposition of the so-called emergency laws, the faux elections, and the absence of any semblance of free speech and free expression.

These were the same ugly deficits I experienced during my years in Egypt while trying to help the country’s trade sector to compete effectively for world markets and begin to realize the promise of globalization.
I remember that my first articles were submitted to the Middle East Times. When I received copies of that paper from the publisher, I didn’t know whether to be enraged or amused. There were large sections of the front page where nothing was printed. I learned later that one of those blanks was what I’d written. Well, at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that the editor intended to put my work on his front page.

Now what I had written was totally non-controversial. It was clear that it was chopped simply because the government censors didn’t understand it.

An inauspicious beginning, to be sure. But I decided there was nothing to gain from being enraged and so I settled for being amused.
Then came The Arab Spring, as the media named it. The promise was that everything would be different. The people would write a new constitution and be allowed to vote freely for multiple candidates for the first time in centuries. There would be jobs for all the college graduates now driving taxies. There would be trials and convictions and incarcerations for the members of the Mubarak inner circle who had become wealthy from the favors heaped on them by the supreme dictator. That inner circle included the military, which had effectively ruled the country since the Tahir Square revolution of January 25, 2011.

But now, eleven months after the Revolution, too many aspects of current Egypt are slipping back into standard Mubarak behavior.

One of these is the heavy-handed censorship of print and electronic media actually taking place in real time – almost as if there had never been a Revolution.

For example:

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI ) Condemned the Monitoring and Confiscation Policy through Stopping the Opinion Articles in the National Newspapers

ANHRI denounced the attack on the freedom of opinion and speech, which represented in the stopping of publishing of several articles in the national newspapers. The organization said, “The attack reached its climax when ‘Al-Akhbar’ stopped publishing the articles of the writer and the novelist Ibrahim Abdulmeged, which used to be published on every Thursday morning.

The writer said, “The decision of stopping my articles is consistent with the new editing policy launched by the new editor in chief, “Mohamed Hasan El-Bana” the writer, who was appointed by the Shura Council.

“Abdelmeeged” indicated that the policy of the new editor in chief is to stop dealing with the writers who criticize the Muslim Brotherhood Group. He quoted the newspaper’s officials saying that “all the opinion articles, for whom outside of the newspaper, will be stopped.”

He added “it is regretful to say that the editors in chief appointed by the National Democratic party were more professionals”.
In the same context, “Medhat El-Adl” said that he stopped writing to Al-Akhbar after the clear interference in his articles, “due to the editing policy changed in the favor of the Islamic trend.”

The news spread that the stopping of “Free Opinion Page” in “Al-Akhbar” Newspaper”, which is a page full with several Egyptian writers and creators as “Mohamod El-Werdani”, “Medhat El-Adl” and “Abdelmeeged”.

“Al-Qaeed” said this matter is conducted because the writings that criticizes the Muslim brotherhood policies, as well as accusing the editors-in chief that he tends to them and he won’t publish opinions against the MB in the newspaper.

Last week “Al-Akhbar” banned the publishing of an article to the big writer “Ableeah El-rewaini” as she described the appointing of the new editor in chief as “Brotherization” of the newspapers. The publishing officials asked her to delete the expression of “Brotherization”, but she refused so the article was banned.

“Al-Ahram” took the same steps through banning the publishing of the ex-leader in MB article, who used to criticizes them in his articles.

It is also stopped the publishing of “A hundred days of the president’s promises” by the decision of the new editor in chief, Abdulnasser Salama, without reasons. The page aimed to monitor the president to fulfill his promises of the first hundred days of his rule.

ANHRI said it resents this “severe attack targeted the freedom of speech and opinion.” It warned of “getting back to the practices of the old regime which aim to silence the mouths and harass the freedom of journalism which are the important guarantee to a good political life.”

ANHRI said, “We fear that the newspapers’ new policy aims to ban criticisms of the Muslim brotherhood group in the light of the control, of Shura Council of the MB’s majority, on the process of appointing the leaders of these newspapers. ANHRI calls for the necessity of changing the ownership of these newspapers and liberating it from the government as well as taking the procedures to fix the media to guarantee creating an independent, professional and credible media.

The reaction of Egypt’s human rights community was predictable and expected. It was also surprising that it was triggered so soon after the Revolution under the steel-soled boots of the military-led government.

For example, in a statement, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) “expressed its most sincere concern at the continued use of censorship as a State policy in dealing with media and journalism professionals.”

EOHR charged that “the most recent implementation of this stifling practice includes the State order to confiscate a series of publications by the ‘El Dostor’ Newspaper that were scheduled for publication on Saturday, 11th of August, 2012. This action was based on the investigations carried out by the Prosecutor General within the context of the reports submitted to the Prosecutor General’s Office. The ‘El Dostor’ Newspaper was charged with the alleged incitement of sectarian sedition, the insult of the President, and the incitement of social chaos.”

Several individuals were noted to have submitted formal complaints to the Publishing Crime Department within the Ministry of Interior, accusing the “El Dostor” Newspaper, and the Newspaper’s Chairman, Reda Edward and Editor-in-Chief Islam Afifi, of slandering the President and inciting sectarian sedition in several consecutive issues.

Could there be a move torn more directly from the Mubarak playbook?

Furthermore, the issued complaints also held that “El Dostor’s” headlines were a principle cause to the sectarian clashes of Dahshour, and subsequently requested that appropriate legal action be taken against the Chairman of the Newspaper, as well as the Editor-in-Chief. Authorities called for the appearance of Editor-in-Chief Islam Afifi before the Prosecutor General for questioning in light of the submitted complaints and the investigation’s findings.

ANHRI is severely annoyed of the increasing of the Monitoring and confiscation policy imposed on the Egyptian newspapers. Algomhuria stopped a page deal with the freedom of speech and confiscation in Egypt, which is the culture page. El-Mosawr Magazine stopped publishing the rest of the series of the book "returning from the Brotherhood's paradise". In the same time, an edition of El-Shab newspaper was confiscated, which was prepared to be distributing due to an article of the Egyptian Intelligence body.

The group said, “This is the most violent attack on the Egyptian newspapers and media after the 25th revolution and after Dr. Morsi became the president, such attacks contradicted with the president Morsi speech of respecting the freedom of speech as a guarantee to the civil state.”
ANHRI said, “The attempts to justify the confiscation, monitoring and the criminal prosecution bring the journalists back to square zero and threatens of an era free from criticizing and fears of jail or oppression due to a word and an opinion".

It also declared “the absence of the political will to fix the Egyptian media, which suffers from a long decades of un-professionality and the lack of impartiality and was the reason of several crimes against the revolution and the revolutionaries, such as incitement against the Egyptian Christians which has become known as ‘Maspero’.

But President Morsi found himself under extreme public pressure from the journalists. In what appeared to be a rush by President Morsi to create distance between his actions and the press, Morsi backed off the decree that jailed journalist Islam Afifi, a newsletter editor. The Associated Press reported that Morsi “intervened to release a journalist jailed over accusations of insulting him.” The AP reported that Morsi issued a law for the first time since he assumed legislative powers earlier this month.

President Morsi's ban on detention for journalists accused of publishing-related offenses takes precedence over a court decision that kept the editor in prison pending trial this month. It was the first decree Morsi enacted since taking office.

The court's decision and case against Afifi, accused of slandering the president and undermining public interest, has caused uproar in Egypt among journalists and intellectuals, with dozens holding a protest Thursday night in Cairo demanding the protection of free speech.
It seems clear at this point that Morsi is hearing Egypt’s journalists. They need to be able to write whatever seems true to them. Much of this prose is not going to cause Morsi to break into a smile. He will be very angry with much of it.

But this is one of the prices that has to be paid by those who would govern a multi-factional Egypt. Democracy is messy. Dictatorship is far more orderly and predictable. But Tahrir Square proved that Egyptians favor democracy over order and predictability.

Which means that, over time, Mr. Morsi will learn to live with his critics – he will not throw them in jail. Just as hopefully, Egypt will continue to develop a mature, independent, responsible, fact-based press capable of criticizing its Government without committing treason.

No Accountability for Torturers

The article below was written by Marjorie Cohn and published in the Huffington Post. It is repreoduced here with the author's permission. Marjorie Cohn is a professor at the Thomas Jefferson Scool of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She testified before Congress in 2008 about Bush interrogation policy. Her book, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, was released this year in paperback. Visit her blog.

The Obama administration has closed the books on prosecutions of those who violated our laws by authorizing and conducting the torture and abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his office would investigate only two incidents, in which CIA interrogations ended in deaths. He said the Justice Department "has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted."

With that decision, Holder conferred amnesty on countless Bush officials, lawyers andinterrogators who set and carried out a policy of cruel treatment.

Now the attorney general has given a free pass to those responsible for the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi. Rahman froze to death in 2002 after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison known as the Salt Pit. Al-Jamadi died after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists which were bound behind his back. MP Tony Diaz, who witnessed al-Jamadi's torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like "a faucet had turned on" when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy concluded that al-Jamadi's death was a homicide.

Nevertheless, Holder announced that "based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt."

Amnesty for torturers is unacceptable. General Barry McCaffreydeclared, "We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered > dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces andthe CIA." Major General Anthony Taguba, who directed the Abu Ghraib investigation, wrote that "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." Holder has answered Taguba's question with a resounding "no."

Some have suggested that Holder's decisions have been motivated by political considerations. For example, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, wrote that "dredging up the crimes of the previous administration was seen as too distracting and too antagonistic an enterprise when Republican votes were needed." And closing the books> on legal accountability for Bush officials may remove one more Republican attack on Obama in the next two months before the presidential election.

But the Obama administration's decision to allow the lawbreakers to go > free is itself a violation of the law. The Constitution says that the > president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, we promised to extradite or prosecute those who commit, or are complicit in the commission, of torture. The Geneva Conventions also mandate that we prosecute or extradite those who commit, or are complicit in the commission of, torture.

There are two federal criminal statutes for torture prosecutions--the U.S. Torture Statute and the War Crimes Act; the latter punishes torture as a war crime. The Torture Convention is unequivocal:> nothing, including a state of war, can be invoked as a justification for torture.

 By letting American officials, lawyers and interrogators get away with torture - and indeed, murder - the United States sacrifices any right to scold or punish other countries for their human rights violations.

Israel Says: Rachel Made Me Do It – An Analysis

The article below was written by Lawrence Davidson, Professor of History at West Chester University.


Part I – The Death of Rachel Corrie

On 16 March 2003, the last day of her life, 23 year old Rachel Corrie was in the Gaza town of Rafah standing in front of the Palestinian family home (not just a house) of Dr. Samir Nasrallah. Dr. Nasrallah was a local pharmacist and Ms Corrie had been staying with his family while serving as part of an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) cadre seeking to disrupt the Israeli army’s (IDF) on-going demolition of Palestinian homes. Between 2000 and 2004, the Israelis had destroyed enough homes in the Rafah area to leave some 1700 people homeless.
The Israeli army claimed they did this because these homes were used as “terrorist hiding places.” The result, they claimed, was frequent gunfire at Israeli settlements and soldiers. Yet for the time that Ms Corrie stayed with the Nasrallahs, everyone in the home had slept on the floor and away from the windows to avoid a constant barrage of gunfire from Israeli snipers.

On the day that Ms Corrie died, she had interposed herself between the Nasrallah home and a very large “D9R” armored Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier. This was one of those infamous, made-in-the-USA machines sold to Israel by the Caterpillar Inc. even though the CEO, Board of Directors and sales staff know that their product is used to destroy homes in ways that violate international law. At the time the bulldozer in question stood twenty to thirty meters from Corrie, who was wearing a “high visibility” fluorescent orange jacket and was speaking through a megaphone calling for the tractor driver to stop or turn away. The tractor moved toward her and the home slowly in an operation the IDF later described as the “clearing of vegetation and rubble” so as to remove “explosive devices.” As it approached, the driver lowered the tractor blade and began accumulating a mound of dirt and debris as the machine went along. When the bulldozer was close to the outer wall of the Nasrallah home, Corrie climbed on top of the accumulating debris. At that point she was so positioned that she could look directly into the tractor cab, and the driver could look directly out at her, from no more that three or four meters. The machine kept coming. In the next few seconds, she lost her balance, fell backwards, and was run over twice by the tractor blade. The bulldozer driver later testified that he never saw Corrie until he noticed “people pulling the body our from under the earth.”

There was, of course, an internal military investigation of the incident, an investigation that then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised then President George W. Bush would be “thorough, credible and transparent.” Senior U.S. officials, including the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, later observed that the military investigation was none of these things. The military exonerated both the driver of the tractor and his commander, saying that neither had seen Corrie and also they weren’t even trying to destroy the Nasrallah home that day.

The judgment followed a long-standing practice of the Israeli military, reconstructing scenarios after the fact in order to rationalize just about any action soldiers take against the Palestinians, no matter how criminal. In the Rafah area during the years that Corrie and other ISM volunteers worked there, the Israeli military was in the habit of targeting Palestinian children, killing some 400 of them, one-fourth of whom were under the age of 12. In almost all cases there was no penalty for committing these murders. The practice of granting immunity has also been followed by Israeli police and courts with reference to crimes committed by Israeli civilians, especially settlers, against Palestinians. To date, “91% of investigations of such criminal acts committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property are closed without indictments being served.”

Part II – The Corrie Family Civil Suit

In 2005, frustrated by the apparent whitewash of their daughter’s murder, Corrie’s parents filed a civil suit in an Israeli court against the country’s Ministry of Defense. They hoped that the trial would provide the “credible and transparent” accounting that had so far been denied. Subsequently, fifteen court sessions were held in the city of Haifa and just 23 witnesses testified. Yet the whole thing dragged on for seven years–until 28 August 2012 when the presiding judge, Oded Gershon, finally issued his ruling.

“I reject the suit,” Gershon stated in his 62 page decision, claiming that Corrie and the other ISM activists had purposely chosen to enter a “daily combat region” where they acted “to protect terrorists.” The judge accepted the army’s claim that the bulldozer driver had not seen Corrie. In any case, according to the judge, she was acting irrationally. “Corrie could have simply gotten out of the way of the bulldozer as any reasonable person would have done,” but she did not, and so she was ultimately responsible for her own death. According to the Corrie family lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, Judge Gershon’s judgment was “so close to the state’s attorney’s version of events that it could have been written by him.”

The Judge’s mind-set is perhaps the most telling part of the judgment. In Gershon’s world, the Israeli army was not seeking to engage in a siege that was turning Gaza into the world’s largest outdoor prison while illegal Israeli settlements expanded. And, because that was not what was going on, any response by the people of Gaza could not be seen as legitimate acts of resistance or self-defense. No, the people of Gaza were at best supporters of terrorists or at worst terrorists themselves. That was the paradigm into which both the judge and all the Israeli army witnesses were locked. These witnesses spoke from behind a curtain, using aliases. This was done “for security reasons.” And, they all said basically the same thing: we did not see Rachel Corrie and even if we had we would not have seen a civilian. Why? Because Israel is at war with the Palestinians and, as one testifying IDF officer (aka Yossi) put it, “during a war there are no civilians.” There are only terrorists and their allies (Corrie) and Israel does not prosecute its soldiers for waging “war” against them.

The resulting a priori immunity is not unique to Israel. Just days after the Corrie decision was announced, another decision, this time by the U.S. Justice Department, was made public. The Department ended its investigation into deaths occurring during CIA interrogations conducted using torture. No charges were brought against the torturers in these cases due to insufficient “admissible evidence.” That is, the evidence which the government itself would declassify so as to make it admissible was not sufficient to “sustain a conviction.” The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision “nothing short of a scandal…Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment.” How Israeli of the American Justice Department–or is the other way around?

Part III – Conclusion

If you come across an individual who condemns an entire category of people and is also willing to violently act on the basis of that belief, you might call him or her a pathological racist, or a pathological xenophobe, or a pathological paranoid chauvinist. But what happens when those same sick sentiments get institutionalized in powerful bureaucracies? When, say, all Arabs (be they Muslim or Christian) are suspect and subject to government surveillance, segregation, collective punishment and worse. What then do you call this? National security? All too often that is exactly what we call it. The “we” here includes almost all politicians, media newscasters, security personnel, talking head “experts,” and the like. What it comes down to is that, in the name of “national security,” we can justify almost anything, including killing kids in Gaza and torturing people to death in some dungeon, the whereabout of which is classified, as well as running over a 23 year peace activist with a massive bulldozer.

That is certainly what the Corrie episode has shown to be the case in Israel. And it does not matter what is driving this obsessive stereotyping of the Palestinians as collective enemies by both individuals and entire government departments. The Israelis and their Zionist supporters can evoke the Holocaust (and, for that matter, the Americans can talk about 9/11) until the end of time. The actions stemming from such ultimately racist perspectives are still thoroughly dehumanizing and criminal. Such is perpetual “war.”