Egypt’s Mursi, top general deny army abuse claim

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With the Islamist president by his side, Egypt’s army chief warned against slandering the military, denying in remarks broadcast Friday that the military committed any abuses against protesters during the turbulent transition of the past two years.

The joint appearance by President Mohammed Mursi and the top general seemed to have been prompted by media leaks from a report commissioned by the president himself that found the army unlawfully detained protesters and possibly killed some during and after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Mursi created the fact-finding mission soon after he took office in June to investigate all abuses against protesters during the uprising and the nearly 17 months of military rule that followed, after promising in his campaign to bring justice in the nearly 1,000 people killed over that time.

The mission’s report was finalized in late December but has yet to be made public.

Report charges army with torture

The British newspaper The Guardian quoted parts of the report that it obtained, describing the military’s torturing of detained protesters, its role in the forced disappearance of others, and its possible responsibility for a number of killings of some who went missing and then turned up dead with signs of torture and beatings during the 18-day protests against Mubarak.

The leaked findings are consistent with previous allegations against the military by international and local rights groups. But the leaks provide specific testimonies and details of abuses, which the military has always denied.

Such findings would be potentially embarrassing for the military, which has presented itself as a supporter of the anti-Mubarak uprising. The findings would also be sensitive for Mursi, who himself commissioned the report but also has sought to maintain good ties with the powerful military.

Any attempt to prosecute members of the military would likely bring a backlash from the generals. At any rate, newly adopted, Islamist-backed constitution protects much of the independence and privileges of the military and introduced new clauses that ensure only the military can prosecute its own members.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch urged Mursi to release the report, saying it would be an acknowledgement of two years of military and police abuse, and a way to stem a culture of impunity.

Heba Morayef, Egypt’s director at Human Rights Watch, said the fact that a formal government commission documented such abuses and recommended questioning senior military officers is a “very serious fact” that can’t be underestimated.

Prosecutions not likely after report

The report is not likely lead to prosecutions since the military’s own judiciary has never brought “real accountability” over previous allegations, Morayef said. But she said it should be published at least for people to know what happened.

“It will be a long battle for the amendment of the constitution and the military code of justice,” she said. But the findings are “not something they can contain anymore.”

But the comments by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Mursi appeared to rebuff such calls, though they did not directly mention the fact-finding mission’s report or the media leaks.

“You must understand the armed forces is a very, very honorable institution, and very loyal and very careful of its nation,” el-Sissi said, standing next to Mursi and a line of the country's top brass after they met late Thursday.

You must understand the armed forces is a very, very honorable institution, and very loyal and very careful of its nation

Egypt’s army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi

“I swear by God the armed forces since January 25 (2011), and I swear by God, didn’t kill or order any killing, didn’t cheat and didn’t order any treachery, didn’t betray and didn’t order any betrayal.”

“I want to tell all those who listen to me that they must really watch out before defaming the military and its forces,” el-Sissi said. “It is honorable, nationalist and loyal and is very affected by any defamation it is subjected to.”

Mursi came to the defense of the military, saying, “I will not ever allow slanders in any way, shape or form or ... any means to attack any member of the armed forces starting from its leaders ... to its smallest member.”

“This is something I tell the whole society. Any slandering of any member of the armed forces is a slandering for us all,” he said.

Mursi said Egyptians appreciate the role of the military.

“I tell the world about the great role the armed forces played in protecting the security and safety of this nation inside and outside from any aggression, and its role during a period we all know for in protecting its internal security and it still does,” he said.

Mursi also announced the promotion of the heads of Egypt’s air force, air defense forces and navy to the rank of lieutenant-general during the meeting with the generals.

Trying military officers, as well as police, for alleged abuses during and after the uprising remains a top demand by many revolutionary groups. During the uprising, the military declared it was neutral and it refrained from widely cracking down on the protesters demanding Mubarak’s ouster. Since then, it has touted its role protecting the uprising.

When the fact-finding mission first handed its report over to Mursi’s office in late December, a member of the panel that drafted it told The Associated Press that it included details of killings and torture of protesters by the military. The leaked parts of the report also had testimonies of abuses by the military during its rule, before it handed over power to Mursi, following presidential elections in June 2012.

The elected leader’s relations with the military have been a subject for much speculation, because it is the first time Egypt is ran by a civilian president. Mursi’s office and military have repeatedly denied reports of strained relations between the two sides.