Revealing the Secrets of Egyptian, U.S. Leaders

By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

Television functions at its best in showing us so vividly the street demonstrations and counter-rampages that likely mark the end of the three-decade rule of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak. But written work, often published in obscure locales at least slightly protected from political pressures, better helps us understand the all-important question: “Why?”

To explore motivations by Egyptian and United States leaders that are not readily captured on our nation's TV cameras, we excerpt below recent comments by experts in security and human rights. Some are mainstream. On Feb. 4, the Washington Post published, “The Right Message for Mubarak” by a Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-born scholar at Drew University in New Jersey who was tried and convicted in absentia on charges of "defaming Egypt's reputation" for writing a Post column in 2007 in support of democratic change. By then in exile, he wrote, “Though Mubarak vowed this week to finally step down in September, few believe him, and with good reason: He has reneged on every election promise for political reform made since coming to power in 1981. Only hours after offering this 'concession,' Mubarak unleashed thugs and provocateurs on unarmed protesters amassed in Tahrir Square. At least five demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured.”

TV vividly portrays such riots. But why doesn’t Mubarak simply retire with his family's ill-gotten, U.S. taxpayer-provided billions to live his last years in peace at a secure locale? Lawyer and commentator Scott Horton, right, provides clues in his column “Gimme Shelter,” recently published in Foreign Policy. “It may be because exile isn't what it used to be; over the last 30 years, things have gotten increasingly difficult for dictators in flight,” Horton writes, adding:

Successor regimes launch criminal probes; major efforts are mounted to identify assets that may have been stripped or looted by the autocrat, or more commonly, members of his immediate family. I witnessed this process myself, twice being asked by newly installed governments in Central Eurasia to advise them on asset recovery measures focusing on the deposed former leader and his family. More menacingly, human rights lawyers and international prosecutors may take a close look at the tools the deposed dictator used to stay in power: Did he torture? Did he authorize the shooting of adversaries? Did he cause his enemies to "disappear"? Was there a mass crackdown that resulted in dozens or hundreds of deaths? A trip to The Hague or another tribunal might be in his future.

Closer to home, other analysts with law or national security backgrounds describe shameful practices that Mubarak's too-sudden departure might reveal, especially if he leaves behind documents before they can be shredded. Marjorie Cohn is a law professor and author of the new anthology, “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse” published by New York University Press. She also just published a blog, “U.S. Chickens Come Home to Roost in Egypt” describing our government’s long complicity with Mubarak’s dictatorial procedures. A few days previous, Jane Mayer at the New Yorker described how Mubarak’s suddenly anointed vice president and potential successor was in fact his country’s longtime liaison to the CIA on security matters, including rendition and torture.

Digging deeper, investigative reporter Wayne Madsen, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer, published on his subscription-only website, “Obama's Gambit: Holding Egypt for Holder.” This column suggests that U.S. policy toward regime-change in Egypt is deeply compromised because Obama Attorney General Eric Holder cooperated with CIA-requested rendition to Egypt of terror suspects when he was deputy attorney general in the 1990s during the Clinton administration. During Holder’s 2009 confirmation hearing, Republicans elicited admissions from Holder on such complicity with Egyptian authorities in what turned out to be torture. Madsen surmises that this complicity by Democrats in torture is a strong factor in the Obama administrations “look forward, not backward” approach to official misconduct. We at the Justice Integrity Project have previously documented as remarkable whitewashes of the key internal investigations of destruction of torture evidence and political prosecutions by such means as appointing investigtors who had themselves already been compromised by judicial findings of misconduct.

In 2009, this theme was anticipated by blogger “Frank USA” in the conservative Free Republic website. He wrote, “Eric Holder, an Accessory to Murder and Torture?”  The column said, “U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's ‘enhanced interrogation’ program. Ironically, though, it is Mr. Holder himself who should be investigated for the role he played in the Clinton administration's extraordinary rendition program.”

Progressive human rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon, raised similar concerns, data and questions as early as 2008 – albeit while giving a “preliminary” endorsement to Holder's prospective nomination to be the nation's chief law enforcer. Yet Greenwald has bluntly revised that assessment, most recently on Feb.4, as dramatically illustrated below. The Washington Post's "Spy Talk" also summed up such developments this week. Bringing it all closer to home is the due process scholar Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a former Wall Street Journal editor and Reagan Administration Treasury Department assistant secretary. Roberts published research suggesting that law enforcement abuse of U.S. citizens is alarmingly high, with scant oversight or other concern by the Justice Department.

Citations to these articles are immediately below. Links to the full text are available via  “News Reports,” a chronologically arranged section that you may access via a button at the top of this home page.

Washington Post, The Right Message for Mubarak, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Feb. 4, 2011.
After supporting him with money and weapons for 30 years, the United States and all democracies must insist that Hosni Mubarak heed the voices of his young citizens who call for him to step down immediately and spare Egypt further bloodshed and economic loss. When Mubarak became president after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, he vowed to serve only one six-year term. But he has ruled under a "state of emergency" since those chaotic days.

Foreign Policy, Gimme Shelter, Scott Horton, Feb. 2, 2011. Why is Hosni Mubarak clinging to power? Maybe because the life of an exiled dictator isn't what it used to be.

Global Research, U.S. Chickens Come Home to Roost in Egypt, Marjorie Cohn, Feb. 2, 2011. Barack Obama, like his predecessors, has supported Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the tune of $1.3 billion annually, mostly in military aid. In return, Egypt minds U.S. interests in the Middle East, notably providing a buffer between Israel and the rest of the Arab world. Egypt collaborates with Israel to isolate Gaza with a punishing blockade, to the consternation of Arabs throughout the Middle East. The United States could not have fought its wars in Iraq without Egypt’s logistical support. Now with a revolution against Mubarak by two million Egyptians, all bets are off about who will replace him and whether the successor government will be friendly to the United States.

New Yorker, Who is Omar Suleiman? Jane Mayer, Jan. 29, 2011. One of the “new” names being mentioned as a possible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects. Since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.

Wayne Madsen Report, Obama's Gambit: Holding Egypt for Holder, Wayne Madsen, Feb. 3, 2011. WMR has learned from a well-informed political insider that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have waffled on support for Egypt's pro-democracy revolution in order to safeguard a covert U.S.-Egyptian rendition and torture program that dates back to the Clinton administration.  Clinton's Deputy Attorney General, Eric Holder, now Obama's Attorney General, has long been a coddler of torturous regimes.

Free Republic, Eric Holder, an Accessory to Murder and Torture? Frank USA, Aug. 27, 2009.  Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation" program. Ironically, though, it is Mr. Holder himself who should be investigated for the role he played in the Clinton administration's extraordinary rendition program.

Salon/Unclaimed Territory, Preliminary facts and thoughts about Eric Holder, Glenn Greenwald, Nov. 19, 2008. The bulk of what I've read about and from Holder suggests, with a couple of ultimately marginal exceptions, that this appointment would be a very positive step….The most disturbing part of Holder's background are his comments in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 concerning the legal status of "War on Terror" detainees….He should be asked about his views of holding Bush officials accountable for lawbreaking.  e was undoubtedly involved with polices at the Clinton DOJ that many civil libertarians will oppose.  Some of those early post-9/11 comments are definitely disturbing.  And one can never really know what someone will do with power until they wield it.

Salon Unclaimed Territory, Guantanamo death highlights U.S. detention policy, Glenn Greenwald. Feb. 4, 2011. A 48-year-old Afghan citizen and Guantanamo detainee, Awal Gul, died on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack. Gul, a father of 18 children, had been kept in a cage by the U.S. for more than 9 years -- since late 2001 when he was abducted in Afghanistan -- without ever having been charged with a crime.  Gul's death -- and what turned out to be his due-process-free life sentence -- is an important reminder of the heinous detention policies of the U.S.: not as a matter of the Bush/Cheney past, but very much the current U.S. posture as well. The only difference is that there is no more partisan gain to be squeezed from the controversy, so it has blissfully disappeared into the harmonious dead zone of bipartisan consensus....All of this finds a nice symbolic parallel in the Obama administration's apparent efforts to install Omar Suleiman as interim Egyptian leader; Suleiman is not only steadfastly pro-American and pro-Israeli, but was long the U.S.'s point man for renditions and the severe torture which accompanied it. This is what is meant when we hear repeatedly about what a stalwart "ally" the Mubarak government been in the "War on Terror": they've dutifully detained and brutalized anyone we wanted.

Washington Post, The CIA's complicated relationship with Egypt, Jeff Stein, Jan.30, 2011. Like a long and mostly unhappy marriage, the CIA’s relationship with Egypt is complicated, with plenty of ups and downs. The Egyptian security services and the CIA have been co-dependents for over six decades, from 1952, when the young agency supported the Free Officers movement that toppled the monarchy, to the twilight partnership against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism that began in earnest in 1995.

OpEd News, Police Brutality -- Americans Are Oppressed, Too, Paul Craig Roberts, left, Feb. 2, 2011. Police in the U.S. now rival criminals, and exceed terrorists, as the greatest threat to the American public. Rogelio Serrato is the latest case to be in the news of an innocent person murdered by the police. Serrato was the wrong man, but the Monterey County, California, SWAT team killed the 31-year old father of four and left the family home a charred ruin....But most cases of police brutality never make the news. Most who suffer abuse from the police don't bother to complain. They know that to make an enemy of the police brings a lifetime of troubles. Those who do file complaints find that police departments tend to be self-protective and that the naive and gullible public tends to side with the police. I have just searched Google for "youtube police brutality" and the result is: "497,000 results." In contrast, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2009 (the most recent year for which data is compiled), there were 806,000 aggravated assaults (not including assaults by police against the public) by criminals against the public, of which 216,814 were committed by hands and feet and not by weapons.

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