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Controversial US police chief hired by Bahraini Interior Ministry

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I missed this, but it turns out that in addition to a bevy of lobbying – much of it centered on English-language media management – before and after demonstrations peaked, Bahrain’s government was also quick to tap American expertise in containing public demonstrationsfollowing the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report:

… the former police chief of Philadelphia and Miami, John Timoney, has been recruited by Bahrain’s Interior Ministry to advise the Bahrainis on policing strategies, will come as no comfort to those in the opposition hoping that the next American intervention would be more constructive. They may be particularly sceptical considering his policing style was so notorious it came to be dubbed Timoney’s ‘Miami Model’ by Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who covered the chief’s heavy-handed policing of protests around the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit meeting in Miami in 2003. Timoney’s militarized crowd control strategy involved ‘the heavy use of concussion grenades, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges to disperse protesters.’

Timoney has a reputation as a turn-around police chief from his work in the US, but his handling of these demonstrations has made him controversial. Another controversial cop, John Yates of the UK, (who gained notoriety during the News of the World voicemail hacking scandal) is also working with the Interior Ministry now. Given the charges of torture presented against Bahraini police, I imagine everyone in these circles is keeping the case of Ian Henderson in mind, a former British colonial officer who led Bahrain’s secret police for 32 years and gained the sobriquet “Butcher of Bahrain” because of the security apparatus’s use of torture against dissidents during that time.

Security ties such as this are by no means uncommon in the region, though the focus is usually focused on counterterrorism rather than public demonstrations. The Monitor Group, a Massachusetts-based lobbying firm, helped Muatassim al-Qadhafi train and staff his proposed National Security Council before the Libya uprising curtailed its creation. The New York Times reported last May that Erik Prince, former Blackwater chief, was building up a mercenary army in the UAE on the Crown Prince’s dirham. Israel and the US often share counterterrorism techniques and trainings. The US has been involved in past Bahraini police trainings, as have trainers from the UK: “British police have helped to train their counterparts in Bahrain, Libya, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” The Independent reported. The Saudi National Guard, which was deployed in force to Bahrain last spring, also received UK training. Military and intelligence training for security forces is also common – Iraq, of course, is the most notable Middle Eastern example of such a (multinational) effort, but the US has also funded and trained Lebanese, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, and West Bank Palestinian security forces.

Although Washington places great emphasis on the place of ethical conduct in these courses, ethics don’t mean much when the police in question are not held accountable to civil society and operate as a state within a state. WikiLeaks shows that the FBI had trained members of the notorious State Security Investigations in Egypt.

Elham Fakhro and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen note that while “recruiting John Yates and John Timoney to re-train Bahrain’s security services may play well in London and Washington,” it “leaves unresolved the structural exclusion of large numbers of Bahraini citizens from an organisation many perceive as exclusionary and deeply-partial.”

Blogger and Bahrain watcher Justin Gengler is a bit more forthright in his criticism:

Bahrain is covering all of its bases. If you are going to bring in a expert trainer in police brutality [Timoney] then you are definitely going to want someone [Yates] specialized in illegal wire-tapping and police surveillance as well, not to mention someone who recognizes the need to withhold a page or two (or 11,000) of evidence for reasons of political expediency.

This post originally appeared on The Arabist.

Paul Mutter

Paul Mutter is a contributor to Mondoweiss, Foreign Policy in Focus and the Arabist.

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5 Responses

  1. pabelmont on February 12, 2012, 4:32 pm

    It is, of course, reassuring to see the USA helping to keep the peace in peace-loving countries, especially considering all the black-mouthing about the USA’s human-rights record we’ve been treated to in recent years. Considering, for example, the recent heart-felt demonstration of anger by the USA’s UNSC Rep. at Russia’s and China’s use of a veto to prevent UNSC from intervening in a humanitarian manner in Syria, it has been especially hard to listen to the suggestion that the USA itself has used its own veto in a similar way to prevent UNSC interventions to protect human-rights abuses (doubtless by Palestinians against Israelis) in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    Comforting, therefore, to be reassured.

    • ToivoS on February 12, 2012, 9:29 pm

      the recent heart-felt demonstration of anger by the USA’s UNSC Rep. at Russia’s and China’s use of a veto to prevent UNSC from intervening in a humanitarian manner in Syria,

      I hope you are being ironic here. The Syrian uprising is not even close to a spontaneous, peaceful uprising by the Syrian people. It is terrorist movement that is being given weapons by outside nations, mostly from the Arab monarchs. The suicide bombing attacks against civilians in Damascus and Allepo are not any kind of a people’s insurrection we should applaud. Al qaida is taking credit for these mass killings. In addition, we are beginning to witness Muslim Brotherhood attacks against civilian Alawites and Christians.

      Russia and China did the right thing to stop the UN from backing these factions in that, what can only be called, a civil war being fought by religious fanatics on one side against a tyrant on the other.

  2. radii on February 12, 2012, 9:24 pm

    Bahrain is the new Guam – all your base are belong to us

  3. hasanmatani on February 13, 2012, 10:08 am

    The Syrian uprising started as a spontaneous, and part of the Arab spring. The “support” of the uprising by the Arab monarchs is not heartfelt and came to settle an old score with the Asaad family and to desguise their repression of their own people. This fact can’t change the reality and make the uprisingais pushed by foreign agenda, or that tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians, who demonstrate every day because they are paid for from the monarchs. This fact also can’t change the fact the Asaad’s regime is despotic and should be down.

  4. Justice Please on February 13, 2012, 12:23 pm

    Isn’t it ironic that nowadays, aspiring dictators come to the US for help against their democratic citizens?

    If there ever was a time when the US genuinely supported democratic movements without regard to US economic and geostrategic interests, that time is long gone.

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