WASHINGTON – In what may be the first concrete example of the effects of the
Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq, lawyers and human rights groups in
Egypt, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, say that local police are increasingly
resorting to new torture tactics similar to those used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Several lawyers and human rights groups told IPS in phone interviews over
the past two weeks that the Egyptian State Security Police used methods that
mirrored those in Abu Ghraib, like stripping some detainees naked – a rare practice
in Egyptian prisons, even though the country has a long record of human rights
abuses and prison torture.
Other practices include taking pictures or threatening to take pictures of
prisoners naked, which the groups say was a hugely uncommon occurrence in the
past; and blindfolding and handcuffing detainees for long periods of time, which
also prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, such as praying
five times a day.
But perhaps most disturbing to domestic human rights groups is the growing
use of the name "Abu Ghraib" by officers to threaten further torture of detainees,
and its significance as a code term for applying electricity to the genital
"It is clear that the U.S. has now spread the culture of barbaric torture,"
said Gamal Tajeldeen Hassan, a lawyer who heads the Sawasya Human Rights and
Anti-Discrimination Center in Cairo.
"Torturers here seem now to compare their methods to what happened in Iraq
and say 'hey, there are more things that we need to try'. And now they try the
most horrendous kinds of torture."
U.S. soldiers and private interrogators working for the U.S. military in Iraq
abused prisoners often stripped them naked and took pictures of them.
Leaks to the media of those photos, and first-hand reports by U.S. military
personnel, led to the scandal over abuse and torture in Abu Ghraib in Baghdad,
and many human rights groups warned that the debacle could put a major dent
in the human rights cause across the world.
The Egypt developments may come as a speedy vindication of those fears.
"There are certainly striking similarities," said Hany Fawzy, a human rights
lawyer who attended interviews by the attorney general's office of abused detainees.
The abuses in Egypt unraveled earlier this month after the Egyptian police
arrested some 58 members of the non-violent Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest
opposition group, whose goal is to set up an Islamic state in Egypt through
Days after the arrests, on June 3, one of the detainees, 43-year-old engineer
Akram Zohiri, died in prison, apparently under torture and neglect of his deteriorating
His death prompted parliamentary demands for an independent inquiry into police
brutality. The government of President Hosni Mubarak eventually acceded and
approved an investigative visit – which proved to be short-lived – to a prison
Lawyers, human rights groups and members of parliament who attended the trip
heard testimony from detainees supporting the charge that what happened in Abu
Ghraib inspired torture elsewhere.
Some detainees, including Hesham Dooh and Mahomd Zein el-Abideen, told the
independent visitors in the presence of lawyers from human rights groups that
they were stripped naked and ordered to parade around, blindfolded with hands
bound behind their backs, for at least two hours a day.
Some said they were also photographed naked, while others said they were only
threatened with being photographed in the nude.
An officer identified as Ayman Shaheen threatened el-Abideen that his picture
would be displayed in the neighborhood where he lived to further humiliate him,
so that he would give up his religious and political beliefs.
Lawyers and human rights groups say Dooh was interrogated naked three times
for three hours each session.
According to a complaint made available to IPS by a group of lawyers and submitted
to the newly formed semi-official Egyptian Council on Human Rights, Abideen
reported to the attorney-general that he was electrocuted in different parts
of his body, including his genitals.
He said that officers used terms like "give him estakoza" – which meant that
he would be electrocuted on his head, chest and back – and the new code term,
"give him the Abu Ghraib way" in which soldiers would use electricity on his
penis and anus.
"Torture in Egypt is far from new. They have used all methods before and tried
it all," said Mohammed Zaree, an anti-torture activist, who heads the Human
Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners (HRCAP), and was himself a
victim of torture in 1980s.
"What may be new here is that it's become fashionable to refer to Abu Ghraib
in prisons. The idea behind referring to Abu Ghraib now is to tell the victims
that they have no hope, that they are really in the remotest part of the world,
that nobody will hear or care about them, just like Abu Ghraib."
Another detainee, Desoki Sayed Deskoki, reported that he and others were threatened
that their "wives, daughters, mothers" would be raped in front of them unless
they admitted to accepting foreign financing and working to topple the regime.
Several local human rights groups condemned the abuses in a statement earlier
"What is happening in Egyptian police and state security intelligence stations
is not different from what happened in Abu Ghraib prison," said the groups,
which included El Nadim Center, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Arab Network
for Human Rights Information.
"The geography might be different, the nationality of the torturers might
be different, but torture remains the same: a crime against humanity, against
life," they said.
The Egyptian Organization
for Human Rights (EOHR), another leading group in Cairo, also condemned
the abuses, blaming U.S. actions at Abu Ghraib prison for the escalating torture
"What Abu Ghraib did was to give legitimacy of torture practices not only
in the Egyptian security system but in security systems across the region [the
Middle East]," said Hafez Abu Seeda, secretary general of the EOHR.
"The Abu Ghraib practices actually left a major impact in the region. We noted
that there is an increase in torture practices than before, which we documented.
It is my opinion that Abu Ghraib emboldened and made torture more brazen here."
International human rights groups say they are monitoring the developments
in Egypt and that they expected the Abu Ghraib scandal to reverberate for a
long time to come.
"I wouldn't be surprised at all if in Egypt and all over the world that repressive
governments feel more able to resort to torture and that torture is more blatant
and that it is more widespread," Elisa Massimino, director of the Washington
Bureau of Human Rights First.
The reports are particularly ironic because the George W. Bush administration
says it invaded Iraq in March 2003 part to bring human rights and democracy
to the Middle East, a region whose nations have long been suffering under dictatorships
that came to rule after colonial powers.
(Inter Press Service)