Clark: Muslim Brotherhood Trial in Military Court Is ’Pitiful’

Former U.S. Attorney General: Muslim Brotherhood Trial in Military Court Is ’Pitiful’

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark on Monday called Egypt’s decision to try 40 members of the country’s most powerful opposition group before a military tribunal “pitiful” and demanded their case be tried in an open courtroom.

Clark, who was one of Saddam Hussein’s defense lawyers, said the Egyptian government was abusing its power by trying the Muslim Brotherhood members, who are civilians, before a military court.

“That it can be done by this great Arab nation, largest Arab nation with its great history — it’s pitiful,” Clark told reporters in Cairo.

The 40 Muslim Brotherhood members, which include some top leaders, are on trial in a military court on terrorism and money laundering charges. Civilian courts have twice ordered the release of several of the defendants, but the Interior Ministry has appealed those rulings.

Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad have repeatedly condemned Egypt’s policy of trying civilians before military courts, which usually issue swift and harsh verdicts with no possibility of appeal — except for asking the president for clemency.

Clark, along with human rights activists and the defendants’ family members, were not allowed inside the military court for a hearing on Sunday.

“I have never been excluded from a courtroom. … What does the government of Egypt fear? What is it afraid of? Why is it ashamed of doing it can’t do it in broad daylight as the law requires?” said Clark, who was attorney general under U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson despite opposing the Vietnam War.

Clark said he has offered his help with the trial to the Muslim Brotherhood’s lawyers, but he was not expecting to return to Egypt to help with the case unless he was allowed inside the court. The trial’s next hearing is set for Aug. 5.

“I’ll come back if it is meaningful,” he said.

Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud has said having Clark’s support proves the case is politically motivated.

The trial is part of an ongoing government crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members hold almost 20 percent of the seats in the country’s parliament and pose the most significant challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but has continued to operate and is Egypt’s most powerful opposition movement. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament.

Besides Saddam, Clark has worked with blind Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a planner of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, convicted in a 1975 gunfight at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in which two FBI agents died.