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US Response Muted on Acquittal of UAE Royal Shown Torturing on Tape

The typically restrained Obama State Department couldn’t raise itself to strenuously protest the most outrageous miscarriage of justice in quite a while. United Arab Emirates royal family member, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country’s Crown Prince, was caught on tape brutally torturing and attempting to murder a man he thought had cheated him on a business deal. The tape surfaced last year, but the crime occurred in 2004.

According to an ABC report last year:

A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates shows a member of the country’s royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails….

Nabulsi says the video tapes were recorded by his brother, on orders from the Sheikh who liked to watch the torture sessions later in his royal palace.

The Sheikh begins by stuffing sand down the man’s mouth, as the police officers restrains the victim.

Then he fires bullets from an automatic rifle around him as the man howls incomprehensibly.

Now, a UAE court has acquitted Sheikh Issa for the torture of Mohammed Shah Poor, which ended when the brother of UAE’s President and Abu Dhabi emir, Sheikh Khalifa, drove his SUV over and over the prostate body of Mr. Shah Poor, who subsequently spent many months in the hospital. Most people who have watched the savage attack were amazed Shah Poor survived at all.

“The court acquitted Sheikh Issa after establishing he was not responsible,” for the torture, lawyer Habib al-Mulla said on Sunday.

“The court accepted our defence that the Sheikh was under the influence of drugs [medicine] that left him unaware of his actions,” al-Mulla said.

If anyone were ever under the influence of drugs, it’s the UAE emirate court. The acquittal has been condemned by human rights groups. The co-chairman of the House Human Rights Commission, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA),  said the verdict “would be a joke if the crime wasn’t so terrible.” Meanwhile, the men who filmed the torture and smuggled it out of the country were sentenced in absentia to several years in prison. One of the men, Bassam Nabulsi, of Houston, Texas, and “a former business associate of Sheikh Issa,” is suing his former partner in a Houston court, alleging he was tortured by UAE police when he wouldn’t turn the video over to them.

As for the United States, State Department spokeperson P.J. Crowley couldn’t have been more, uh, measured, that is, cold-blooded in his response, assuring the world that the U.S. would “monitor” the situation:

We would welcome a careful review of the judge’s decision and an assessment of all available legal options to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met in this case, and we will continue to closely monitor it.


UAE: “America’s Largest Military Customer”

As an article at The Majlis points out, the United Arab Emirates is “a strategic ally in the region, America’s largest military customer.” There’s also an important nuclear energy agreement, begun under the Bush Administration, that has been in the works between the UAE and the U.S. Who would want to spoil such an important alliance just because the Royal Family likes to indulge in some barbaric behavior, like rape, mayhem, and torture, once in awhile?

Just as it did in Kosovo, Somalia, and Lebanon, the UAE have sent “peacekeepers” to Afghanistan to aid the U.S.-led coalition there.  According to a report this January in The National,  last year “the UAE became the largest foreign purchaser of US defence equipment with sales of $7.9bn, ahead of Afghanistan ($5.4bn), Saudi Arabia ($3.3bn) and Taiwan ($3.2bn).” Further, President Obama and the U.S. Congress recently approved a nuclear energy deal between GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and the UAE government worth $40 billion, despite, according to World Nuclear News, “recent reports of alleged human rights abuses” (italics added).

There was also the irony that the same day Sheikh Issa got off on the torture rap, the UAE Ministry of Defense and the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis opened its Middle East Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (MEISR) conference  in Abu Dhabi. The Director of Operations and Training from the UAE Ministry of Defense took the opportunity to prattle on about the “non-linear” nature of the battlefield and how  “the enemy can be anywhere across the national borders of any country.” Of course, that will necessitate buying a lot of state-of-the-art technology.

The conference was a star-studded affair, if you drool over the national security set. The Commander of U.S. Air Force Central Command was there.  So was Rear Admiral Jean Goursaud, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence at the French Defense Ministry. Even the head of Italian Military Intelligence got to tout the Italians’ unique contributions to the Intellience/Surveillance/Reconnaissance world. Meanwhile, “John Brooks, President, Northrop Grumman International chaired the first session.”

The U.S. military and industrial alliances can’t be made to bother themselves with Sheikh Issa’s self-made how-to tape on torture and mayhem, nor the fact that their erstwhile allies can get away with horrific crimes. Should justice stand in the way of the billions of dollars in profits to be made? I only ask one thing: Watch the tapes, and consider how far down you, as a citizen of the United States, really wish this country to fall.

The ABC report and video of the torture can be found here. It’s very brutal, so beware. Al Jazeera has also posted a video selection from the 45 minute torture tape.

Leaving this country in the hands of the people running it is turning out to be a very awful thing, not just for the people of the world, but for the people of this country. How many “terrorists” will crimes and injustices such as those documented in the tapes and in the stories on Issa’s acquittal create? How many Americans now will die because the U.S. government wanted to play footsie and fill its war chest with the likes of the UAE Royal Family? How many others have been and will be tortured in the UAE, or by other U.S. allied governments, like Egypt, or Afghanistan itself?

We need change we can truly believe in. When it comes to this government’s tolerance of torture by its allies, little has changed from the days of Bush and Cheney. As an aside, for those of us wondering what might have happened if we could get our hands on the videotapes of the CIA torture interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and others, apparently destroyed by CIA officials, this story makes me wonder if having those tapes would really make a difference. That’s how powerful the forces that push torture have become.

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.