Sunday, July 15, 2007

Food for thought

Al-Masriyoun, an Egyptian opposition newspaper, reports on two cases of mass arrests carried out over the past several months by Egyptian authorities, under a media blackout, on terror charges (the first of which was laid only yesterday), for which there doesn't appear to be any actual evidence apart from some prison confessions obtained under pressure.
Al-Masriyoun learned from reliable sources that National Security investigators in Alexandria have held over 50 salafis in custody for over a month, under a media blackout, and without bringing any charges against them. The sources said most of those arrested are residents of popular [meaning poor] districts in east Alexandria. They could be charged with belonging to a "terror" organization with ties to AlQaeda, in spite of the lack of any convincing evidence in support of such a charge.
The journalist says this news comes a day after the announcement of the arrest of a different group of 35 people from the provinces of Bani Suwayf and Al-Qalyubyah, arrests that have been going on since April, on allegations of belonging to AlQaeda, plotting to overthrow the government, and planning terrorist bombings. The journalist says his sources say in this case too the authorities are "having difficulty coming up with any actual material evidence, apart from confessions that have been obtained under pressure." The authorities disavowed to family members any connection with the arrests, and lawyers were not told where these people were being held. National security authorities "exploited" the publication three weeks ago of a call by Mohammed Khalil al-Hakayama (alleged AlQaeda regional chief in Egypt) for attacks on Israeli and American assets in Egypt, using it as the occasion to announce the Bani Sawyf/Qalyubyah group, and to prepare for announcing the Alexandria arrests.

That's a pretty straightforward account: They arrested two different batches of salafis over the last several months, held them incommunicado and obtained some confessions under duress, in the absense of other evidence, then waited for an appropriate PR moment to announce any actual charges.

But wait. There is another account of some of these same events, this one in Al-Hayat. There the story goes like this:
The Egyptian chief prosecutors office announced the transfer to prison ...of 40 fundamentalists from Bani Suwayf and Al-Qalyulyah belonging to a radical Islamist group connected with AlQaeda, held since March, aned they accuse them of planning to strike American targets and attack tourists.
The journalist cites AFP as having discovered that the police have been patrolling the Cairo subway with dogs and bomb-detecting equipment, for the last few days. He goes on:
It was learned that these 40 accused persons all come from [the above-mentioned two provinces], and that their leader, Khalid Mustafi, was able to escape to the Gaza Strip with the help of Palestinian fundamentalists. Authorities discovered the existence of this group after the explosion of a primitive bomb at the house of one of them. And the investigations showed that some of the accused persons had telephone conversations with AlQaeda members in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq...
after they had been initially recruited over the internet.

What the authorities told this Al-Hayat reporter could be a pretty good indication where they are headed with this.
Al-Hayat has learned [he writes] that among the accused persons there is a Palestinian, Mohammed Sayyed Ibrahim by name, who lived in Bani Suwayf, and worked with computers, and he had been reading at his home news summaries on a regular periodic basis, posted on an AlQaeda site on the internet.
Another thing the reporter says he learned is that group-leaders transported members for training to Iraq, Afghanistan--and Palestine. He says the authorities said the group-members have been accused of "belonging to a secret illegal organization" advocating terror, whose purposes include interfering with the exercise of state authority.

The Al-Hayat reporter doesn't say anything about the Alexandria group, no doubt because the authorities haven't decided to announce that one yet.

At least the Egyptian procedures are somewhat better than those of the Bush Justice Department, because following the secret detentions and the confessions, there is apparently going to be an actual court proceeding. And there is another thing to consider. In the comparable American case, with police patrolling the subways and all the rest of it, would you have been able to read both versions--the government and the opposition--in the newspapers? Or would you not have been limited to the stenographic version of what the authorities leaked to the New York Times?