Ian Henderson and repression in Bahrain: a forty-year legacy

IPS reports: Ian Henderson’s death announcement Apr. 15 in Bahrain brings to an end the life of a British expatriate who was the architect and supervisor of the harsh internal security policies of the al-Khalifa ruling family since the early days of independence over 40 years ago.

Henderson’s life’s work intertwined intimately with al-Khalifa, especially with the family’s all-powerful perennial Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman, the ruler’s brother.

The policies of discrimination, exclusion, and intolerance practiced by the Sunni minority ruling family against the Shia majority were designed and executed by Henderson and his subordinates and blessed by the prime minister. They have been grounded in fear, repression, systematic violations of human rights, and in some cases torture.

This is the legacy that Ian Henderson has bequeathed to the people of Bahrain.

Henderson was a British national and a colonial officer who was renowned for using violent tactics to subdue the anti-British Mau Mau movement in Kenya. After independence, the British government in 1968 removed him from Kenya and installed him in Bahrain as a security adviser to Al-Khalifa.

Three years later, when Bahrain acquired its independence from Britain, the Bahraini prime minister retained Henderson as his security adviser and head of Bahrain’s Security and Intelligence Service.

His department employed British, Bahrainis, Omanis, Jordanians, Sudanese, Pakistanis, and others. He was responsible directly to the prime minister and acted in his name. The main mission of Henderson’s BSIS was to penetrate dissident and pro-democracy groups – Sunni and Shia – and defeat them.

The Security Service under Henderson’s supervision and control commonly practiced fear, intimidation, and “enhanced interrogation methods”. Like the prime minister, in the early 1970s Henderson perceived all human rights advocates and proponents of the constitution and an elected parliament as “radicals”, “extremists”, and “terrorists”. Many were arrested without due process or clear charges and often beaten and tortured. [Continue reading…]

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