Bahrain Probe Finds Torture Was Systematic

The $53 million worth of arms and military equipment from the US was set to go to Bahrain last month. After pressure on the Obama administration to stop giving weapons to dictatorships that will almost surely continue to use them against their own non-violent citizens peaceably assembling, the deal is now dependent on the findings of the international panel set up by Bahraini King Hamad to investigate abuse of Arab Spring protesters.

That probe is set to release its full findings on November 23, but yesterday the head of the investigation, Cherif Bassiouni, said that torture has been systematic since the onset of the Arab Spring protests:

“It is not possible to justify torture in any way, and despite the small number of cases, it is clear there was a systematic policy,” Bassiouni said in an interview with Egyptian daily Almasry Alyoum on Monday.

“I investigated and I found 300 cases of torture and I was helped in that by legal experts from Egypt and America.”

There were reports out more than a month ago saying as much. And at the time, it was hard for the Bahraini regime to employ the “bad apple” excuse because the princess had in fact been accused of administering such torture. Some of the medical professionals who had been detained for the crime of treating as patients those protesters who had been injured by the Bahraini security force’s crackdown claimed they had been beaten with sticks and rubber hoses, given electric shocks to the face with cables, sexually abuses, etc. All of the abuse was on the discriminated Shia majority and often explicitly racist, as one nurse recalled being screamed at with “Shia pig!”

But to be clearer still, Bahrain has long engaged in torture in its time as a US ally. One year before the Arab Spring protests broke out, Human Rights Watch released a report noting torture on the rise despite a decade of promises from the regime for reform. The torture included “electro-shock devices, suspension in painful positions, and beatings” while many detainees reported being threatened with rape or murder, or that it would be done to their families.

The 89-page report, “Torture Redux: The Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain,” is based on interviews with former detainees and a review of forensic medical reports and court documents. It concludes that since the end of 2007, officials have repeatedly resorted to torture for the apparent purpose of securing confessions from security suspects.

“Torture is back in the repertoire of Bahrain’s security services,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The return of torture is especially distressing since Bahrain showed the political will a decade ago to end this scourge.”

A confidential State Department cable was issued at the same time acknowledging the widespread torture, so its clear the Obama administration knew about it. Yet the support continued unabated.

Ineffectual Intimidation

Journalism is a tough gig. Do not get me wrong, it is an extremely privileged role and one that any reasonable human being would very much treasure. However, you receive no training for the bombardment of abuse that follows much of what you put out there. There is no opportunity to reply to criticism – unless you wish to be labelled unprofessional – and there is no follow-up window in which to provide your evidence and justify yourself to detractors. You merely have to take it on the chin.

Recently, legendary veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk found himself at the centre of a journalistic storm when his article concerning the Syrian trial of 48 medical professionals was lambasted by Syrian officials. With threats to sue his newspaper, The Independent, for libel and potential to ruin what must surely be one of journalism’s greatest careers, this incident brought to light the serious repercussions that result from ones writing.

Writing on the affairs of the Middle East, rather unsurprisingly, leads to insults. People with a difference of opinion challenge your viewpoint and angrily defend what they believe to be correct. There are ample examples. Take Fisk’s latest predicament. Or my own recent skirmish with a pro-Israeli website. Following an article I wrote, “Transparent and Trustworthy Israel“, I found myself featured heavily on My article had been well and truly analysed and scrutinised. No stone left unturned. Lazy attempts were made to tag me as anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. This was nothing more than an ineffectual effort to intimidate.

But why should I have been surprised. Journalists such as the brilliant Israeli reporter Gideon Levy have been dealing with this treatment relentlessly for over a decade now. He has been shot at and terrorised for merely speaking the truth and detailing the appalling situation in the Israeli-occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank. My episode is not worthy of comparison. Nevertheless, it is the nearest I have come to the brutal realities of the Israeli propaganda network; hard at work in their efforts to silence truth-tellers.

In respect of Robert Fisk’s case, a story today provided abundant proof that what he had spelt out in his article last month was nothing but stark reality. Al Jazeera, in their reports on anti-government demonstrations taking place in Yemen, revealed how the crowds were chanting “tell Saudi Arabia that Yemen is a republic” and “Yemen is not Bahrain”. These protests act as evidence to Fisk’s – and my – claims that Bahrain is being ‘occupied’ by the Saudis. It is clearly a sentiment felt throughout the Middle East. There is no denying now.

Worse still, critics of journalists fail to gather any concrete proof to their claims despite aiming hypocritical criticism at the fact-collecting of their victims. To criticise Mr Fisk for not knowing the Middle East inside-out is preposterous. And to accuse me of being anti-Jewish without evidence is disgraceful. My issue is not with the majority of Israelis – who, on the whole, support my views – but with the malfeasant government that continues to torment and abuse the people of Palestine.

No matter how much abuse I receive, and however much intimidation is thrown my way, I shall never stop telling it as it is. A journalist’s number one priority should be to challenge those in power and stick up for the ‘little’ people. The voiceless. The victims. Not enough mainstream journalism is about that. Conflicts are treated and reported as if they were sporting events. Equal time offered to both sides. Equal admiration and denouncements. No ‘bias’ – a word I am sick of hearing – or subjectivity.

Instead, warfare needs to be emotionally conveyed. We are not robots. If we witness death and destruction, then what is so wrong with reporting it with passion and feeling? Why can we not state who the perpetrator is and provide a voice to the sufferers? Perhaps I am unprofessional. Too attached to my work. Perhaps I ought to transform myself into a robot, possess a completely neutral state of mind and merely report uncritically. Thankfully for my employers – and readers – this is not something I intend to do.