Middle East Eye reports: The British foreign secretary expressed serious concerns about allegations of Egyptian security service involvement in the killing of a Cambridge University student in Cairo weeks before the UK government called for a “full and transparent” investigation into the case, Middle East Eye can reveal.
In a 24 March letter obtained exclusively by MEE, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that reports that Egyptian security forces were involved in the death of Giulio Regeni would be an “extremely concerning development” if proved correct.
Regeni’s battered body was found in a ditch nine days after he had gone missing on 25 January, the anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution.
The 28-year-old was in Egypt researching labour movements – a contentious subject in the country – as part of his doctoral studies at Cambridge.
The government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has faced accusations that its security forces were responsible for Regeni’s torture and death. It has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Relations between Italy and Egypt have soured in recent days over the investigation. Officials from Cairo refused to hand over what Rome saw as vital evidence, including mobile phone records and CCTV footage from the night Regeni went missing.
On Friday, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations in protest of the lack of progress in the probe.
Two weeks earlier in his letter to the prime minister whom he addresses as “David”, Hammond writes, “My officials have followed the case of Mr Regeni closely since his disappearance”.
“The UK is aware of reports of the Egyptian security forces’ involvement in Mr Regeni’s death. If substantiated, this would be an extremely concerning development,” the Foreign Secretary added. [Continue reading…]
Ben Taub reports: The investigator in Syria had made the drive perhaps a hundred times, always in the same battered truck, never with any cargo. It was forty miles to the border, through eleven rebel checkpoints, where the soldiers had come to think of him as a local, a lawyer whose wartime misfortunes included a commute on their section of the road. Sometimes he brought them snacks or water, and he made sure to thank them for protecting civilians like himself. Now, on a summer afternoon, he loaded the truck with more than a hundred thousand captured Syrian government documents, which had been buried in pits and hidden in caves and abandoned homes.
He set out at sunset. To the fighters manning the checkpoints, it was as if he were invisible. Three reconnaissance vehicles had driven ahead, and one confirmed by radio what the investigator hoped to hear: no new checkpoints. Typically, the border was sealed, but soldiers from the neighboring country waved him through. He drove until he reached a Western embassy, where he dropped off the cargo for secure transfer to Chris Engels, an American lawyer. Engels expected the papers to include evidence linking high-level Syrian officials to mass atrocities. After a decade spent training international criminal-justice practitioners in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, Engels now leads the regime-crimes unit of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body founded in 2012, in response to the Syrian war.
In the past four years, people working for the organization have smuggled more than six hundred thousand government documents out of Syria, many of them from top-secret intelligence facilities. The documents are brought to the group’s headquarters, in a nondescript office building in Western Europe, sometimes under diplomatic cover. There, each page is scanned, assigned a bar code and a number, and stored underground. A dehumidifier hums inside the evidence room; just outside, a small box dispenses rat poison.
Upstairs, in a room secured by a metal door, detailed maps of Syrian villages cover the walls, and the roles of various suspects in the Syrian government are listed on a whiteboard. Witness statements and translated documents fill dozens of binders, which are locked in a fireproof safe at night. Engels, who is forty-one, bald and athletic, with a precise, discreet manner, oversees the operation; analysts and translators report directly to him.
The commission’s work recently culminated in a four-hundred-page legal brief that links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coördinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives, who reported the successes of their campaign to their superiors in Damascus. The brief narrates daily events in Syria through the eyes of Assad and his associates and their victims, and offers a record of state-sponsored torture that is almost unimaginable in its scope and its cruelty. Such acts had been reported by survivors in Syria before, but they had never been traced back to signed orders. [Continue reading…]
In his newly released book, Consequence: A Memoir, Eric Fair writes: I take the time to ask the general about his life and learn what I can about Iraq. I do this with most prisoners, whether they have intelligence value or not. When I write the report, I’m supposed to call this the approach phase. I’m supposed to be building rapport. Some interrogators talk about how good they are at this, how they develop relationships with prisoners and come to some sort of understanding, opening lines of communication that will eventually produce good intelligence.
It’s all bullshit. This is Abu Ghraib prison. The Iraqis hate all of us.
As I talk to the general about the village where he grew up, his service in the Iran-Iraq War, and how much he loves his sons, I ignore the memories from the previous night, when I interrogated a young man in one of the uncomfortable interrogation booths. I made him stand with his arms in the air until he dropped them in exhaustion. He lied to me, said he didn’t know anything about the men he was captured with or the bomb that had been buried in the road. So I hurt him. Now I’m in a decent room serving decent tea and acting like a decent man. The comfortable interrogation booth is all I need to convince myself that the general and I are enjoying this conversation. I’ve fallen for my own stupid trick. When I pour the tea and turn up the heater, I complete the illusion.
As we drink our tea, the translator starts a conversation with the general about what it was like growing up as a Christian in Iraq and how her Muslim neighbors always took good care of her. I was an Arabic linguist in the Army, and while my language skills have faded,
I understand enough to allow the translator to steer the conversation for a bit. The general says he was never very religious, but as he gets older he attends Friday prayers more often. The translator seems to like him. I do, too. I pretend the general feels the same way about me.
I talk about growing up in Pennsylvania and attending a Presbyterian church as a boy and how hearing the call to prayer from the mosques of Baghdad reminds me that I should be praying to my god more often. “No, no,” the general says in English. “Not a different god. Same god. Same god.” He points at both the translator and me.
“We are same god.” [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast interviewed Fair: Your upbringing as a devout Presbyterian plays a large role in the pages of Consequence, and you very openly explore the role that faith has had on your life, before, during and after Iraq. Why was that important to you?
It’s a foundational part of who I am and how I view my place in my world. And it has been my entire life, just how I was raised and how I’m raising my son now. It’s been a lifelong upbringing. I remember a youth pastor teaching me as child that faith was not this mystical experience, or not just it. Faith takes a lot of work and it takes a lot reading and care. Having that foundation helped me prepare for when things went totally wrong, which will happen one way or another to just about everybody.
Since Iraq, I will say that I’m far more cautious to suggest that my faith gives me any sort of right or privilege to tell anyone else what they’re doing is right or wrong. Approaching my faith with this type of humility is something I learned to do more of over time.
“I want him to be comfortable in the quiet.” This is my favorite line in a book full of beautiful writing. It’s about your son and his own developing faith, but what does Being Comfortable in the Quiet mean to you now, as a person, father and author?
Growing up in the Bethlehem community, the Presbyterian Church had this beautiful choir, a very well known choir, at least in our area. Bethlehem Steel had purchased this beautiful pipe organ for the church many years before … anyhow, every Sunday, they’d put on this incredible, incredible performance. Afterwards, though, there’d be nothing but silence. You were not to applaud or express outward admiration. And if you did, you were looked upon as someone who didn’t quite know what they were doing. The idea was that you modeled everything in your life after this approach—you don’t do things for show, or with expectations of affirmation. You simply just had to be comfortable in the quiet, and had to be willing to listen, and listen in a way that meant actually hearing what others were saying, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.
The theological side of that quiet is when a person can experience God, or the Holy Spirit, or something spiritual, or what have you. Those moments of quiet are when we all chart our course of life, whatever it may be. And that’s what I want for my son.
“War stories aren’t for me.” We’ve talked before about hearing that from friends and readers alike. What’s your response to that sort of mindset, especially in regards to Consequence?
Well, certainly a reader can make their own decision, but I’m of the thought that war stories are, unfortunately, for everyone. That’s particularly the case in a country such as ours, a democracy, a republic. On some level there’s an obligation to be engaged with some war stories … that doesn’t mean that people have to read mine, but I think that if someone wants to self-identify as well informed, and well-read, and as a good citizen of the country, you need to interact and encounter this stuff. Literature is just one way to do that. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The foreign minister of Italy said Tuesday that his government would take “immediate and proportional” measures against Egypt if it failed to help uncover the truth behind the death of an Italian graduate student in Cairo two months ago.
“We will stop only when we will find the truth, the real one,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told Parliament, adding that he would not accept any “fabrication.”
The threat by Mr. Gentiloni came the day before a team of Egyptian investigators was scheduled to land in Rome for meetings on the case of the student, Giulio Regeni, 28, a doctoral candidate, whose brutalized body was discovered on a roadside in February in Cairo. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Egypt has postponed a meeting in Rome at which a Cairo delegation was due to hand over evidence relating to the torture and murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.
The highly anticipated meeting was scheduled for Tuesday but is now expected later this week. There is a growing perception in Italy that cracks are beginning to emerge in Egypt over how the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has handled the murder investigation.
Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, will outline the government’s position on the case in a parliamentary statement on Tuesday, his ministry said.
Regeni’s body was found in a ditch off a desert road on 3 February, more than a week after the 28-year-old – a Cambridge PhD student researching labour unions in Egypt – disappeared. [Continue reading…]
Borzou Daragahi reports: A pudgy, graying middle-aged man in a brown sweater vest sat quietly sipping tea in the hotel lobby. If you noticed him at all, you might have thought he was a businessman, or an engineer, maybe a mid-ranking civil servant. He frowned occasionally as he contemplated the messages on his smartphone.
He allowed a smile as two men approached. They greeted each other as old friends, exchanging embraces, asking after relatives. One of the men complained a little about the state of business in the region, and warned he might have to head off at some point: “My daughter has a ballet recital.”
The entourage moved to a darkly lit corner of the hotel, their voices dropping, sometimes to a whisper. They looked up with paranoid glares each time a waiter or hotel guest walked by. The three men knew they could never be too careful.
The newcomers were retired colleagues; the first, a balding man in his sixties, works for a charity that helps African migrants in Libya; the second, in his late forties, is a real estate developer, dividing his time between the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and Europe.
But this was no workaday meeting of middle-aged businessmen. The three men are operatives from one of the most feared institutions in the Middle East: Libya’s mukhabarat, or intelligence agency. Formed shortly after the Second World War, the mukhabarat has worked behind the scenes to monitor and manipulate Libya for decades. And they have now joined the war against ISIS, as well as al-Qaeda and loyalists to the former regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. They have made many, many enemies over the years.
“Extremists are extremists,” said the man in the sweater vest, a senior ranking official of the agency’s counter-terrorism division. “It doesn’t matter if they’re government militias, ISIS, or Qaddafi loyalists. In my focus, I target them all. Political extremists are all the same. And I want stability.” [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Retired senior military officers and human rights advocates are reacting with disgust at Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s description of the Geneva Conventions as a “problem” for the conduct of US wars.
At an appearance in Wisconsin on Wednesday that was obscured by his suggestion that women who choose abortion should face punishment, Donald Trump was also quoted as saying: “The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight.”
Trump has previously advocated killing the families of terror suspects; torture “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding; and widespread bombing campaigns against Islamic State, which operates in civilian-packed areas. The Geneva Conventions provide the basis for protections against war crimes, privileging the status of civilians and detainees during wartime.
Several retired officers said the comments called into question Trump’s fitness to serve as commander-in-chief, saying that service members operating in line with his predilections would be tasked with behavior ranging from the disgraceful to the illegal.
“Donald Trump cannot possibly understand [Geneva] because he has neither the experience, the expertise or the moral compass to grasp it,” said Steve Kleinman, an air force reserve colonel and an interrogations expert. [Continue reading…]
Eric Fair writes: In March 2004, at Forward Operating Base St. Mere outside Falluja, Iraq, I was walking home from work. Ferdinand Ibabao, my close friend and fellow contractor, was walking with me. It had been a long day of interrogations, so we were looking forward to checking emails, and hearing about what our families were up to back home.
As we walked through a large open field on the base, the distinct sound of incoming mortar rounds interrupted our conversation. We’d been talking about finding new contracting jobs in Iraq. Conducting interrogations at places like Abu Ghraib and Falluja was beginning to take a toll. We both agreed it was time to move on to something less complicated, something that didn’t force us to set aside our humanity in order to go to work.
As the mortars detonated nearby, Ferdinand, always one to joke, ran around like a baseball player trying to catch a pop fly shouting “I got it, I got it!” He said it would be a mercy killing.
I found myself thinking about Ferdinand and his dark humor after Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump unapologetically endorsed the use of waterboarding at a Republican debate early last month. “I’d bring back waterboarding,” Mr. Trump said, “and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
I don’t know what drives a man to say such things. I just know that when they do, men like Ferdinand and me will be forced to shoulder the consequences.
In my role as a civilian contractor for the Department of Defense, I spent the first three months of 2004 torturing Iraqi prisoners. At the time, we were calling it enhanced interrogation, but that’s a phrase I don’t use anymore. Stress positions, slaps to the face and sleep deprivation were an outrage to the personal dignity of Iraqi prisoners. We humiliated and degraded them, and ourselves. [Continue reading…]
Middle East Eye reports: The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “the torture and assassination” of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, describing the killing as not being isolated but taking place in a “context of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances”.
The resolution called for a joint and transparent investigation into Regeni’s death by both Egyptian and Italian authorities and passed with a huge majority – 588 MEPs voted for it, just 10 voted against, and 59 abstained.
Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, who supported the resolution, told Middle East Eye that Regeni’s killing has served as a “wake-up call” to European politicians about the seriousness of the human rights situation in Egypt.
“It is sad that it took the torturing to death of a European student to act as a wake-up call for some that still needed one,” she said. “This case, along with the structural repression of Egyptians, including through torture, imprisonment and disappearances, should much more strongly guide EU policies towards Egypt.”
Regeni, 28, was a doctoral candidate at the UK’s Cambridge University, and was in Egypt researching the development of Egyptian trade unions when he disappeared on 25 January – the same day as the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s uprising that overthrew long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
On 3 February Regeni’s body was found on a road on the outskirts of Cairo bearing the hallmarks of severe beating and torture. There has been widespread speculation that Egyptian security services – known for their torture of detainees – were involved in the killing but the government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has denied this. [Continue reading…]
When the Bush administration developed its torture program, it deployed legal arguments to obscure the fact that the techniques being used, such as waterboarding, were indeed forms of torture.
Where it appears to have been non-deceptive was in claiming that the purpose — ill-conceived as this might have been — was gathering intelligence. (Abu Graib, on the other hand, demonstrated the inevitable proliferation of abuse that followed from presidentially sanctioned torture.)
The use of extreme methods was justified, the proponents of what were euphemistically described as “harsh interrogation techniques” said, because of the magnitude of threat posed by terrorist plots.
In contrast, when Donald Trump talks about torture and about reducing the legal restrictions on what is currently permitted, he’s not talking about interrogation. He’s talking about the use of torture as a weapon of intimidation.
ISIS doesn’t decapitate its captives in order to extract information. It’s use of brutality is designed to intimidate its opponents and to force populations into submission.
Like ISIS, Trump sees all things in terms of the power dynamics of domination.
Since brutality has been one of the most effective weapons in ISIS’s arsenal, when Trump says, “You have to play the game the way they’re playing the game,” he is arguing that the United States needs to become as capable of provoking terror as are any of the terrorists it wants to combat.
Reuters reports: An Egyptian forensics official has told the public prosecutor’s office the autopsy he conducted on an Italian student showed he was interrogated for up to seven days before he was killed, two prosecution sources said.
The findings are the strongest indication yet that Giulio Regeni was killed by Egyptian security services because they point to interrogation methods such as burning with cigarettes in intervals over several days, which human rights groups say are the hallmark of the security services.
In the past, the Interior Ministry has rejected accusations about human rights abuses. [Continue reading…]
The Observer reports: neutering United Nations criticism of Bahrain for its human rights record, including the alleged use of torture by its security forces.
Documents shared with the Observer reveal that the UN’s criticism of the Gulf state was substantially watered down after lobbying by the UK and Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of British-made weapons and military hardware.
The result was a victory for Bahrain and for Saudi Arabia, which sent its troops to quell dissent in the tiny kingdom during the Arab spring.
But the UK’s role has prompted concern among human rights groups. According to the international human rights organisation, Reprieve, two political prisoners in Bahrain are facing imminent execution and several more are on trial, largely due to confessions obtained through torture. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Egypt’s forensics authority handed over to the prosecutor general’s office on Saturday its final autopsy report on the Italian student who was tortured and found dead in Cairo last week.
Giulio Regeni, 28, had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt and had written articles critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government – prompting speculation that he was killed at the hands of Egypt’s security forces.
Egypt’s interior and foreign ministers both dismissed the notion of security forces being behind Regeni’s murder.
The prosecutor general’s office said it would not publicly disclose the contents of the report as the investigation was ongoing. Reuters was not able to obtain a copy to verify the contents.
However, a senior source at the forensics authority told Reuters Regeni, a graduate student at Britain’s Cambridge University, had seven broken ribs, signs of electrocution on his penis, traumatic injuries all over his body, and a brain haemorrhage.
His body also bore signs of cuts from a sharp instrument suspected to be a razor, abrasions, and bruises. He was likely assaulted using a stick as well as being punched and kicked, the source added. [Continue reading…]