General Fouad Allam: Negative Incidences Happen, but Torture is not a Prevailing Phenomenon
Activists, human rights activists, and politicians directed serious attacks against the policies of the Egyptian government and its practices of torture. They demanded an immediate end to the phenomenon of torture that spread throughout Egyptian police stations and prisons. They placed some of the blame on the silence of the Arab media, which covers up crimes of torture and human rights violations in the Arab world that occur on the hands of local authorities. The media only vocalized such violations when they were committed by foreign actors. However, when the problem was in Egypt, the media was silent.
Bahey El Din Hassan, president of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), contrasted the vast coverage that the Arab media showed with great emphasis on the torture that occurred on the hands of the American occupying forces in the prison of Abu Ghreib in Iraq to the miniscule attention given to current practices in Egyptian prisons, that are not any less repugnant. This reveals the contradictory nature of the Arab and Egyptian media when measuring the gravity of issues.
CIHRS organized a seminar under the scope of the Ibn Roshd Salon on July 11th titled, “The Torture in Abu Ghreib and the Torture in Egypt . . . What is the Difference?!” At the seminar, Mr. Hassan stated that this issue is dependent on the dealings and surveillance of the Egyptian and Arab media of human rights issues. The media’s concern is highlighted and made bold when the violations are committed by foreign forces. However, these crimes against humanity are ignored when they occur on the hands of local actors or by national forces.
Hafez Abu Se’da, General Secretary of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, stated the following: The issue of torture attracted wide attention in the Arab region after the occurrences of the Abu Ghreib prison. It is perhaps the first time that people view torture in a direct manner with their own eyes and not simply through hearing it on the news. The conscience of the writer, the intellectual, and the Arab press is not moved except by statements issued by Arab Organizations addressing torture in local prisons, However, their conscience was quickly moved when the actor who committed torture was foreign as shown by the incident of Abu Ghreib despite the fact that reports by Arab Organizations confirmed that torture is systematically used across different Arab countries.
Abu Se’da mentioned that along with the international consensus to combat terrorism, there is a similar decree issued against the practice of torture with respect to the United States arresting Arab citizens abroad. After arresting them, the US planed to deport them back to their countries of origin, where information can be obtained from them in the manner desired by their own governments.
Abu Se’da attributed the spread of torture in Egypt to several causes. The first reason is the failure to identify and specify a legislative definition of the crime of torture and for clear prescription of punishment for those who are guilty of administering torture. In addition, there is the challenge of proving such crimes since Section 126 of the Egyptian Criminal Law only refers to crimes of torture that are committed for the purpose of confession in the past twenty years. According to studies conducted by Abu Se’da, there has only been one case in 1986, where 25 officers were sentenced with the crime of torture. Then, starting with the year 2000, the sentencing of officers accused of torture has not exceeded six months to a year in prison with chances for parole.
Abu Se’da called for modifying the legislative definition of torture. He suggested that these modifications include the conviction of all individuals who administer torture as well as those who agreed and allowed it to happen. Also, if the action of torture falls within anyone’s authority, then that person should also be convicted of the crime. In addition, Abu Se’da recommended that the Criminal Procedures Law should remove the cases of torture from under the authority of the Attorney General. Under the review of the Attorney General, the cases are covered up and only a small number of cases are tried in court.
The seminar moved on to Mohammad Zaree, Director of the Human Rights Association for Assisting Prisoners. He stated that there is a major similarity between what happens in Egyptian prisons and what happened in the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghreib. According to the Organization for Helping Prisoners, 1,124 people have been exposed to torture in 70 different ways including beating, whipping, kicking, electric shock, sexual assault, deprivation of food and drink, extinguishing of cigarettes in the prisoners’ bodies, and burning with fire.
Zaree pointed to the fact that torture in Egypt existed prior to the incidents of Abu Ghreib. Unfortunately, the Egyptian media does not broadcast these incidences transparently. In addition, the reality of the torture in the case of the Muslim Brothers has shown that the officers ordered the torture to be administered in the way of “Abu Ghreib.”
Zaree also pointed out that the government sometimes moves petitions for prosecution proceedings of accused officers along prior to when Egypt presents its reports to the United Nations. After the UN ends its discussion of the report, rulings of innocence are issued in the favor of the officers who are convicted with the practice of torture and they are freed.
Zaree stated that there are ten prisons in Egypt which fall outside the scope of legality. It is evident that what happens in Egypt is greatly worse and more constant than what happened in the isolated incident of Abu Ghreib. The only difference is that what happened at Abu Ghreib occurred on the hands of an occupying force, American officers who were later prosecuting and accused of the crime of torture.
Dr. Suzan Fayad, member of the Nadeem Institute for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, pointed to the difficulties faced by the workers at the institute when trying to convince victims of any logical explanation for the cause of their torture, especially since none of the victims were criminals, murderers, or drug offenders.
She pointed out that some of the victims suffer from physical injuries that ruin their chances of any fruitful future. According to doctors from the institute, there are 40 cases of victims whose spinal cords were broken as a result of being hanged causing paralysis along with the harsh emotional trauma suffered by the victim. The lack of self esteem transforms these individuals into weak and cowardly people. These effects are multiplied when the victim is innocent. She clarified that the chances for rehabilitation are especially miniscule when the victim cannot find legal means by which to punish the person who tortured him/her.
Dr. Suzan proceeded to say that the response given to victims who say they want a gun to kill the officer who tortured them is very difficult. She stated that this is the origin of terrorism and that the Attorney General uses this to drop cases even when they are proven and confirmed.
Dr. Suzan also ensured that torture has a political purpose and that it is amongst the most violent. That is the reason behind the rise in prices of torture machines. By specifying torture, she means that officers and soldiers are instructed to carry out means of torture outside the realms of their duties that are given to them by the government or by the Ministry of the Interior. The officers and soldiers sometimes perform these tortures in order to please certain individuals who might benefit them. She added that she has little hope for reform or for the formation of a new government, implemented to help those who suffer, those who are convicted from civil society organizations, political parties, syndicates, and audiences to stop the phenomenon of torture.
Dr. Suzan asserted that the National Counsel for Human Rights should start pushing for an end to the state of emergency. Reform will not be realized without internal pressure that is not possible through the efforts of civil society’s organizations alone. External pressures must be applied as well.
The discussion moved over to Dr. Samir Fayad, Deputy Chief Editor of Al-Tagamou Party newspaper. Al-Tagamou Party declared that torture in Egypt has been practiced long before 1952 and that its existence has caused a recession in the social state of Egypt as well as its economy, culture, organizational structure, and institutional systems. This is a whole agenda that needs to be faced.
Fayad stated that a police officer is made to believe that he is above everyone else and is cultured to being arrogant when dealing with others. Democracy is not dependent on whether a country is developed or not. There are underdeveloped nations like India who value human rights and are highly concerned with democracy.
The instigation of change always starts from external actors, but the spark for reform must be based upon a pre-existing reality within the country. A collaboration between internal and external actors is necessary. The external sources of pressure can serve as umbrellas overshadowing internal efforts. It is not possible to deny or do away with the value and importance of collaboration. Fayad proposed a number of requests that need to be realized in order to improve the situation in Egypt to eradicate the phenomenon of torture. Initially, the chances for family visitation of prisoners should be granted on a regular basis. Prisoners should also be given publications informing them of their rights and of the appropriate treatment they should be receiving. Also, they should be given the chance and shown the means by which they can file complaints in case of any violations committed against them. They should be allowed access to psychological treatment and investigations should be administered on both the aggressor and the victim. Rehabilitation steps should be taken to treat victims of torture and to help them identify those who tortured them.
Fayad added that there should be numerous sources across Egypt responsible for writing reports to describe the conditions of prisons and holding stations as well as opening doors for complaints to everyone. The cases of torture should also be officially confirmed by doctors, the media, and the law. In addition, requests should be made to force prisons to consent to regular monitoring and evaluation. Fayad called for reforming methods of interrogation far away from those of torture, psychological manipulation, and physical coercion. Thus, there must be a separation between the police sector and the judiciary branch in government to prevent laws from being applied haphazardly.
Civil society organizations should empower and help the poor in identifying the procedures for filing cases against those who tortured them. They should also try to push for increasing the punishment of those who are convicted of torture crimes. Fayad also asked for the reform of the police and internal security systems to ensure change in the nation’s systems and inspection agencies in relation to torture.
General Fouad Allam, Assistant of the former Minister of the Interior, proceeded in the discussion defensively. He indicated that the above notions describing the situation is unrealistic as if the society has been destroyed, while Egypt is in good conditions and that there are shortcomings in many other Egyptian systems and institutions. Allam spoke of his cooperation with Dr. Ahmad Kamal Abu El-Magd, Vice-president of the National Council for Human Rights in writing a brief on ending the state of emergency. A theoretical proposal was introduced to try to end the emergency state since non-emergency laws are sufficient. Also, emergency laws allow for many injustices and too much freedom on the part of the authorities.
Allam showed his restrained view towards photographing some of the crimes of torture because it is a disgrace to the country. However, he does not deny the existence of corruption and crimes of torture in Egypt.
Allam considered Egypt the only nation in the world whose law dictates against not dismissing the crimes of torture!! He affirmed that he is not defending torture, but is only asking for investigations to identify the reality concerning the numbers of detained prisoners in Egypt in order to try to disaffirm figures spread by reports of Human Rights Organizations. He noted that the largest number of prisoners, 3650, detained in Egypt was after the former President Anwar El-Sadat was detained.
Allam called on organizations concerned with the issue of torture to take steps to understand both perspectives of the victim and the aggressor. Examining both points of view is essential because it is common to be convinced of one opinion even if it is the view of the aggressor. General Allam noted that the crimes of torture do not exceed one half of 1,000 crimes amidst millions of other cases and crimes in Egypt.
General Allam was reluctant to say that the Attorney General should not deal with the cases of torture. He said that the Attorney General is the one who initiates the proceedings in these cases and that he deals with them methodically. In 2002, 22 rulings of torture cases were adjudicated and in 2003, 18 rulings were issued in other cases of torture.
General Allam asserted that Egypt is in need of political reform to widen democracy and increase participation and expression of opinion. As shown by the incidences of September 11th, freedom in the US was altered. American laws issued after September 11th were laws of the police that are nonexistent in the Arab region.
Allam further stated that the Red Cross revealed the incidences in the Abu Ghreib prison and that it was not the US who did so.
Bahey El Din Hassan ended with his disapproval of the last point made by Allam. Bahei mentioned that the Red Cross, contrary to what General Allam said, stayed within certain parameters which prevented them from announcing the information they collected about the Abu Ghreib prison. Given the use of similar torture in Egyptian prisons as was seen in Abu Ghreib, Egypt has no boasting right.
In reference to what was mentioned about the torture being practiced by only individuals, Bahei contested that the importing of torture machines from abroad could not be the acts of individuals, but rather that of bodies and corporations. Bahei assured that arriving at the reality surrounding those who are detained and tortured needs the cooperation of authorities with Human Rights Organizations. Unfortunately, the authorities do not answer to the complaints that they receive about torture cases, but in fact ignore replying to these complaints even in front of the National Council for Human Rights. Furthermore, the government practically does not cooperate in responding to foreign organizations that are aware of the responses of the Interior Ministry based on reports of Egyptian Human Rights Organizations as declared by the American Watch. The American Watch sarcastically toyed with changing the name of the National Council to the American Council for Human Rights until the government would respond!!
Counselor Samia Al Motayam, Vice-President of the Organization of Administrative Attorneys, suggested the instigation of research in all aspects contributing to the phenomenon of torture in Egypt as suggested by Mohammad Zaree and Hafez Abu Se’da since there are more than 16 thousand individuals detained.
General Fouad Allam asserted that even though he does not deny the presence of torture crimes, he thinks that it is strategically applied and that it is not a wide-spread phenomenon. Exaggerating the problem is unnecessary. Allam admitted that the biggest reason behind the existence of torture is the process of being admitted to the military college. Acceptance is random and arbitrary based on connections and other corrupt factors. Besides, the rules that do exist are overlooked.
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