Across the Bay

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Friendship and Hope?

Ammar Abdulhamid raises another crucial issue as he trashes Pelosi's truly irresponsible statements: political prisoners like Kamal Labwani who are rotting away in jail for speaking their minds.

Kamal, as we are told by his recent visitors, is now

"in a solitary cell. He looked very tired and yellow. He has lost about 10 kg in weight. He cannot eat properly because of the dirty smells that come from the toilet in his cell. The toilet is broken and full of sewage. His clothes are very dirty and he has not been able to wash with soap for fifteen days. They have not allowed him to take a bath. He is wearing a thin and dirty uniform. His skin is red and bleeding. He has scabies and lice. Also the room is cold and no sunlight enters it. We think he has been put in this cell because of his defense statement. The next hearing will be on the 10th April and it will be the final judgment session. The worst signals are that now, before the final session, they have changed all the judges in the case. We think they have changed them because they have prepared the verdict and want the chief justice just to read it. People say that this justice is weaker than the former one… His beard and hair are very long now. They are trying to kill him slowly because they cannot do it fast.”

There are more sad details about Kamal's inhumane treatment by the Syrian regime in this report.

I had linked to the State Department's press briefing on political prisoners in Syria ahead of Pelosi's visit.

Ammar also links to a piece by Nadim Houri and Radwan Ziadeh that covers this angle as well.

This actually reminds me of something that I had wanted to write about but didn't get a chance until now. It involves a repugnant piece on human rights in Syria by the deplorable Helena Cobban.

The piece is best described using the words of IraqPundit (who used these words, incidentally, to describe Cobban herself): "trolling for Arab Nationalist insight."

Indeed, Cobban went to Syria, trolling for Arab nationalist insight, in order to hear her views confirmed. To completely puff herself and her piece, she begins by describing it as a "ground reality view", which is aimed at giving the rest of the material she will peddle an aura of authenticity and authority that we won't be able to contest. It's "reality"!

It all would've been fine, if pathetic, had it not been for this craven bit in particular:

He said, "They don't torture people like Anwar al-Bunni or Michel Kilo, or the others who were detained last year for having signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration."

So pleased was Cobban with herself, and how this person was telling her exactly what she wanted to hear, that she wilfully set aside all sense of integrity, morality, or critical journalism, and swallowed this lie whole.

Now, suppose I was an Arabic-speaking Western journalist in the US, who was interested in this topic, and, naturally, not possessing Cobban's piercing "ground reality view." I go online and do a search for Anwar Bunni. Here's what I would find: A report from January 1 that documents how Bunni was brutally beaten after he made a statement in which he hoped that Saddam's execution will serve as a lesson to all those who commit crimes against their people, so that they know that no one is above accountability. (And Landis wanted to sell us that making an unsubstantiated and unsourced claim that Michel Kilo secretly met with the banned Muslim Brotherhood leader didn't endanger the already imprisoned Kilo!)

But not everyone knows Arabic. What about a Western journalist, of course with no "ground reality view," who only knows English? A search would've yielded the following letter by Anwar Bunni himself:

Torture is still being practiced on a wide scale. In prison I experienced first-hand the brutal methods employed to torture victims, notwithstanding that my prison was not a military or security prison but a civilian one. The civilian prisoners were treated harshly, and were denied their rights and had their property stolen and dignity trampled upon to humiliate them. We were housed in various wings with criminals who were ordered by the authorities to assault us.

Come to think of it, that would sound rather similar to something that an English-language blog, clearly without any "ground reality view," has apparently also picked up on a few weeks ago:

Bunni (along with other prisoners of opinion) was repeatedly abused in prison, as he was placed in the criminal ward and assaulted by common criminals, in the presence of the prison guards and with the knowledge of the prison administration, and at times even beaten by prison guards.

It's disgraceful, craven and morally repugnant with no critical sense or integrity whatsoever. And that's the "ground reality view."

Update: The NYT reports: Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, on Wednesday seized upon Ms. Pelosi’s comment on the “road to peace,” to say, in a briefing on Air Force One: “Unfortunately, that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq. It’s lined with the victims in Lebanon, who are trying to fight for democracy there. It’s lined with human rights activists trying for freedom and democracy in Syria.”