Colonel Ian Henderson, who from 1966 until 1998 was Bahrain’s security chief, is alleged to have instituted and overseen a brutal torture regime in the Gulf state, as a result of which he came to be known as the “Butcher of Bahrain.” Numerous human rights organizations have investigated and confirmed the allegations against him, yet an investigation by British police was suspended in 2008 due to a lack of co-operation from the Bahrain government.
“Ian Henderson has played a very dirty role,” said Saeed Shehabi, Bahrain Freedom Movement, in 2002. “Ever since he came to Bahrain in 1966, he embarked upon an era of terror and thousands of people were arrested — arbitrarily arrested — and tortured under his command. Until he retired, two or three years ago, he was the strong man behind the whole repressive regime in Bahrain.”
Blind Eye to the Butcher (2002)
In a report on Bahrain’s reliance on foreign nationals in its security services, Ian Black adds:
Bahrainis often complain that the riot police and special forces do not speak the local dialect, or in the case of Baluchis from Pakistan, do not speak Arabic at all and are reviled as mercenaries. Officers are typically Bahrainis, Syrians or Jordanians. Iraqi Ba’athists who served in Saddam Hussein’s security forces were recruited after the US-led invasion in 2003. Only the police employs Bahraini Shias.
The secret police – the Bahrain national security agency, known in Arabic as the Mukhabarat – has undergone a process of “Bahrainisation” in recent years after being dominated by the British until long after independence in 1971. Ian Henderson, who retired as its director in 1998, is still remembered as the “Butcher of Bahrain” because of his alleged use of torture. A Jordanian official is currently described as the organisation’s “master torturer”.
Channel 4 report on human rights abuses in Bahrain (1999)