SINCE 1759

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Torture Annex
Egypt's Patriot Acts

Mohammed Abdullah and Mohammed Gaber Sabbah, convicted for bomb attacks in Taba, Egypt [AP]

In the menagerie of hypocrisies that is American foreign policy in general and Bush administration policy in particular, it matters what countries like Egypt do. It matters when they torture, when they flout democratic reforms, when they devour billions of dollars in American taxpayer “aid.” It matters, because it speaks to the kind of duplicity other Arabs (including repressed Arabs in Egypt) and Muslims witness daily from the United States, when they see that American policy speaks the language of pluralism and human rights with one voice while enabling the machinery of repression and brutality with the other. Most Americans don’t see the duplicity, and not just because they choose not to see. They don’t see it because no American news organization is going to devote so much as a few paragraphs or a minute or two of air time analyzing the kind of ties the United States maintains with countries like Egypt, or the kind of strings and bloody tatters attach to it. Here’s a brief primer.

Egypt is, after Israel, the second-biggest recipient of American foreign aid. “The United States,” the Congressional Research Service reported in 2005, “has provided Egypt with an annual average of over $2 billion in economic and military foreign assistance since 1979.” (The United States will allegedly reduce aid to about $400 million per year by 2008, “in keeping with a plan to reduce aid to Israel,” but that’s only economic aid. Military “aid” isn’t about to be reduced, because the way military aid packages are designed, the money is essentially a loan to the recipient nation, which must then spend the money exclusively by buying American armament. It’s money-laundering of sorts: instead of the U.S. government subsidizing the American defense establishment directly, which it does generously enough, it does so through a third party. And never mind what arming other nations in volatile areas, like the Middle East, to the teeth will do to American interests. Witness Iraq, a long-time recipient of American military “aid,” whose weaponry, now turned on American soldiers, has American manufacturers stenciled all over it. Never mind that Egypt is actually (if wisely) opposed to the American occupation of Iraq. Never mind that Egypt is one of the most repressive tyrannies of the Middle East. And by the way, on On September 14, 1990, according to another CRS report(see p. 10), “then President George H.W. Bush asked Congress to transfer Egypt’s $6.7 billion military debt from the Federal Financing Bank of the Treasury Department to the Department of Defense, and to cancel the debt. President Bush was rewarding Egypt for cooperating with the Desert Shield operations against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.” The debt was officially cancelled on November 5, 1990.

Finally, there’s this fresh report from Amnesty International:

The Egyptian authorities are committing systematic abuses of human rights in the name of national security -- and a planned new anti-terror law could make the situation worse, according to a report which Amnesty International (AI) published on 11 April in Cairo. Thousands of Egyptians have been locked up, with many sentenced after grossly unfair trials in emergency and military courts. Torture and prolonged detention without trial are rife in detention centres across the country. A planned new anti-terrorism law, expected to be introduced following last month's controversial amendments to the constitution, could pave the way for further abuses. Egypt's State Security Investigations (SSI) services enjoy huge powers under the state of emergency the government has maintained almost continuously for the past 40 years. Torture is widely used by the SSI officers, but allegations are rarely investigated. The country has also been a key destination in the "war on terror", with many Egyptians and others suspected of terrorism transferred by the US and other governments to Egypt, where they have been detained and tortured. The fate of some, who were victims of unlawful "rendition" by the US, remains unknown. "The Egyptian authorities must come clean and disclose the number, names, nationality and current whereabouts of all terrorism suspects extradited, subjected to 'rendition' or otherwise transferred into their custody from abroad," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of AI's Middle East and North Africa Programme. “It must also lift the shroud of impunity that protects those who torture in the name of the state." As the government prepares new anti-terrorism legislation, AI urged it to allow UN human rights experts on torture and on countering terrorism to visit the country.

Our friends the Egyptians. Of course, they have a fine model in the Bush administration. Asking them to clean up their act would elicit smirks and squeals of sardonic delight. And who could blame them.

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