AMERICA AGAINST THE PEOPLE

Richard Reeves

Why Is Obama Coddling Egyptian Dictator?

NEW YORK--Here is Egypt, America's neo-con dream come true. Democracy! In the Middle East! And it isn't costing us a single soldier. You'd think American policy makers would be pleased as punch. So why are they messing it up?

At first glance the uprising in Cairo and other Egyptian cities puts the United States in an awkward spot. We've propped up Hosni Mubarak for three decades. If we cut him loose, our other pet dictators will stop trusting us. If we don't, all that yapping about democracy and freedom rings hollow. Which do we choose, our purported principles or our actual allies?

Actually, it's not that hard. We lost the trust of our puppet tyrants when Saddam dropped through the trap door. We lost the people with a zillion CIA-backed coups, not to mention the $37 billion we've paid to Mubarak. The dictator's wealth is estimated at $40 billion. That's right: no one dime of U.S. foreign aid made it to the Egyptian people.

The Obama Administration has an easy way out. They can disavow the policies of the past 30 years, policies they merely inherited. The president can make a clean break, announcing that he is cutting off U.S. funding to the Mubarak regime until things settle down. Then shut up.

Simple. Yet the president is handling this Middle Eastern crisis with all the class and diplomacy of a George W. Bush.

There's the arrogance. On Fox News he agreed with Bill O'Reilly that he doesn't want the Muslim Brotherhood to take over. "I want a representative government in Egypt," Obama said. Dude, it doesn't matter what you want or what we want. What matters is what the Egyptians want.

There's the shortsightedness. Like previous presidents, Obama doesn't understand that repression isn't a synonym for stability.

There's the failure to recognize the broader implications. Hated for Egypt's joint blockade with Israel of the Gaza strip, Mubarak is viewed throughout the Muslim world as the embodiment of American-funded corruption. Obama's refusal to cut him loose fuels radical Islamists' argument that the U.S. will never allow the Palestinians to live with dignity.

Last but not least, there's that classic Cold War-era mistake: backing the wrong side. In this case, Mubarak's new vice president Omar Suleiman. Since 1993 Suleiman has run Egypt's feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency. He is Egypt's chief torturer.

As head of the General Intelligence Directorate Suleiman was the Bush Administration's main liaison and coordinator for its "extraordinary rendition" program. Victims of extraordinary rendition are kidnapped by CIA agents and illegally transferred to other countries for the purpose of being tortured.

According to experts on the war on terror, Suleiman is a torturer's torturer, a hard man who sets a high bar--from which he hangs his bleeding victims. Personally.

One of the CIA's victims was Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. U.S. agents bought him from Pakistani intelligence and shipped him to Egypt. "In Egypt," reports Lisa Hajjar for Al Jazeera, "he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman. Frustrated that Habib was not providing useful information or confessing to involvement in terrorism, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled prisoner in front of Habib, which he did with a vicious karate kick."

Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was a former trainer in the Afghan jihadi camps who famously "confessed" a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda while under torture in one of Suleiman's dungeons. Colin Powell cited al-Libi's "information" in his 2003 speech of lies to the U.N. arguing for war against Iraq.

Note the word "was." Al-Libi died in a Libyan prison in 2009.

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst for NBC News, cites a classified source: "Al-Libi's death coincided with the first visit by Egypt's spymaster Omar Suleiman to Tripoli. "The Egyptians were embarrassed by this admission [that he had lied under torture...Omar Suleiman saw an opportunity to get even with al-Libi and traveled to Tripoli. By the time Omar Suleiman's plane left Tripoli, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had committed 'suicide'."

Suleiman's fearsome resume may come as a surprise to you. But Egyptians know all about him. Headlines like "Obama Backs Suleiman-Led Transition" (from the New York Times) aren't making us more popular.

(Ted Rall is the author of "The Anti-American Manifesto." His website is tedrall.com.)

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