Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark denounces Brotherhood trial
|Saturday, November 10,2007 23:19|
|By Liam Stack|
Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general of the United States, is visiting Cairo this week to denounce the military trial of Khayrat El Shater and 39 other leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
In a wide reaching speech delivered at the Lawyer’s Syndicate, Clark drew parallels between the Brotherhood case and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
He accuses the Mubarak regime of trampling on human rights and the rule of law, and says that respect for both is the key to peace and prosperity throughout the Middle East.
“The major reason for the tragedy of Palestine in my lifetime has been the world’s failure to live up to the sacred covenant enshrined in Article 22 of the League of Nations Charter, which promised a free and independent Palestinian state on Palestinian soil more than 80 years ago,” he said, referring to the document that founded the now defunct League in 1919.
Clark argues that by trying the civilian Brotherhood leaders before a military court, the government is violating a “sacred covenant” of its own. The 40 members standing trial are accused of money laundering and membership in a banned organization.
He says the trial is illegal, and in violation of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights that the regime signed in 1984. The treaty guarantees defendants the right to a fair public trial before a legally competent court that is both fair and impartial, and forbids the referral of civilians to military courts.
“The violation of this covenant against the Muslim Brotherhood is as clear as anything before law and life may be,” said Clark.
“But we know why the military court is trying this case — because the president told them to,” he added. “In a free society living under the rule of law, the president cannot tell the court who to try and how, especially if he is sending people to a military court.”
Clark served as attorney general from 1967 to 1969 under the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
During his time as the head of the Justice Department, he supported a number of important advances in the American civil rights movement, including the desegregation of schools that had formerly divided black and white students.
Since then, he has embarked on a second career as an international human rights campaigner.
But his activism has brought him a controversial reputation as the outspoken defender of men such as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian dictator Charles Taylor.
“I feel like the most important cases are those that involve the most hated and feared people,” he said. “Whatever they have done, they are still human beings and still have the same civil rights as anyone else.”
“If you don’t stand up for these people, then you say that not everyone has the same rights all the time,” he added. “And that is a world of enormous sadness and danger.”
The controversy surrounding political Islam in the West drew Clark to the Brotherhood case. He sees the trial as an important test of Egypt’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
He says the group is a beneficial part of Egypt’s national life.
The Brotherhood is the country’s largest political opposition group, but has been banned since 1954.
Despite the ban, the group has long been tolerated. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the group startled both the government and its allies in Washington by capturing 88 of the 454 seats in the lower house of parliament. The members ran as independent candidates.
Since then, more than 1,000 members of the group have been detained by the government.
Many analysts say the military trial against El Shater is part of a larger crackdown meant to weaken the group.
Clark says that the United States has been scared away from previous commitments to democracy in Egypt by the war in Iraq and Hamas’ election victory in the Palestinian Territories.
Unwilling to upset an old ally, he says the American government has decided to turn a blind eye to the military trial and other human rights abuses committed by the Egyptian government.
“A case like this is a dilemma for the United States,” he says. “For its own domestic politics, it needs to support democratic rulers and democratic societies. But the US wants to stay away from this case because it is an assault on democracy that they don’t want to appear to support.”