In an interview with The Washington Times--which incidentally also ran an op-ed attributed to King Hamad back in March; not sure what is going on there--Bassiouni tells that he was "promised" their release, explaining that
all 147 had been under the custody of military prosecutor general, accused of misdemeanors, and that the king had agreed to his request that they all be transferred to civilian courts prior to the royal order establishing the commission last month. Due to a bureaucratic mixup, however, he said the cases were not immediately transferred and he realized that most would linger in jail due to the onset of Ramadan, in most cases exceeding the maximum 6-month sentences for their alleged crimes.Oops! Well, you know how those crazy Bahraini bureaucracies work: sometimes you're given access to a lawyer and charged with actual crimes and allowed to talk to your family while in prison for several months, and sometimes due to some clerical error you're not. That's just the way things go.
It's strange, moreover, that all of a sudden the two most prominent defendants (who by the way are only free pending trial) are now being accused of mere misdemeanors. Are people accused of misdemeanors usually chased through the streets along with their wife and kids by masked commandos brandishing machine guns? (See the story Matar Matar's wife tells Al-Jazeera English in the video below.)
Notably, finally, today's announcement sits in stark contrast to Bassiouni's widely-circulated comments to Reuters just two days ago, when he seemed to attempt once again to lower the expectations for the BICI investigation:
The investigation itself, he warned, cannot right relations between Bahrain's rulers and its Shi'ite population, which says it is systematically denied access to land, housing and state employment on sectarian grounds.He also seemed in the interview to offer a prelude to the likely findings of the inquiry, namely that while there were obvious mistakes made by individual police and military personnel, "there was never a policy of excessive use of force or torture...that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I think it was a case of people at the lower level acting, and there not being an effective chain of communication, control." That is to say, no one at high levels is (or will be held) accountable.
"This doesn't address the endemic problems, doesn't address the need for political change, for a new constitution, the economic disparities or the political division of Sunnis and Shi'a. All the underlying problems remain," Bassiouni said.
"That's not going to solve the problems of power disparities between the Shi'ite population and the Sunni rulers, nor the feeling of injustice the Shi'a community has."
Well, in any case, some 185 people awaiting opaque military trials have been released from prison over the past week or so and will at least be tried under more reasonable circumstances. We can all agree to be happy in that, right? You would think so, wouldn't you?
Except that many on the pro-government side are not. Already pissed off by the Al-Jazeera English documentary and by the State of Qatar more generally, they are in no mood to welcome this newest development that smacks of BICI "interference in Bahrain's internal affairs." Quick: can someone check to see if there is a city in Iran called Bassioun?
Thus, for example, we have this commentator, who is representative of the general lot (although admittedly there are some who say if this is what the king wants then we should support him):
"Bassiouni needs to be thrown out of the country before there is no more country.
There's nothing left but for Bassiouni to bring us an elected government too; that's what was missing."
Perhaps this is why the Prime Minister "has instructed all ministries and government bodies to speed up the implementation of the visions agreed upon at the National Consensus Dialogue," according to the BNA. The sooner he can take over more power the better!
On the subject of bureaucratic mix-ups, finally, there seems to have been another apart from the one that affected Matar Matar et al. Qatar's The Peninsula is reporting that "Bahraini authorities are so upset with Doha-based Aljazeera TV Channel that they are reportedly not allowing the Channel’s staff — both Qatari nationals and expatriates — into the country." This comes a day after the Bahraini Foreign Ministry denied any diplomatic rift. I'm sure their immigration paperwork was just misplaced!
Perhaps not, however. Both of today's top Al-Watan columnists are running anti-Qatar stories. The first, by Faisal al-Shaykh, is explicitly so, going so far as to group Al-Jazeera as a state-sponsored propagandist along with Al-Manar and Al-Alam; and even to accuse Qatar of using the documentary to get back at Bahrain for taking the al-Hawar Islands. For these and other staggering revelations, see here:
The second, by our friend Al Bin Khalil, is a bit more subtle but addresses the issue of "The Electronic Sectarian War."
Moreover, pro-government forum-goers are even planning some sort of rally in front of the Qatari Embassy. A vote about whether to hold one reveals around 75% in favor.
Where is the National Unity Gathering when you need it most?!
We end, finally, with two strange news items, even by Bahrain standards. The first is an 'Ali Salman sighting. His extended time outside the country has led many to speculate about his whereabouts. So, is he in London starting the new Lulu TV channel? In Beirut hanging out with Nasrallah? In fact, he is in ... Turkey?
Anyone want to take a crack at a conspiracy theory for this one?
The second news item is the unlikely reappointment of Mansur al-Jamri as editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat after a shareholders' meeting today. The decision evidently has the blessing of the government (see comments section). Now everyone can thankfully stop saying the terrible name Obaidly al-Obaidly.
Update: Al-Jazeera English is actually running a segment on the new London-based LuLu TV channel, which evidently has begun airing after all. Al-Wifaq still denies any relationship with it.
Update 2: You have to feel for the pro-governments. Not only are they unhappy about the Al-Jazeera documentary, unhappy about the prisoner release today, but now they are also unhappy about the rumor (which I suppose is now all but confirmed; see the comments section below) that the crown prince directly intervened to help Mansur al-Jamri return to the head of Al-Wasat. Muhammad Khalid says: "Some official from His Highness the Crown Prince's court needs to confirm or deny the news of the crown prince's phone call to help Mansur al-Jamri, because it is provoking Bahrain's Sunnis and they aren't happy." If only there were some less compromising members of the royal family to take over leadership of the country!
Also, as another one of our informed commentators predicted, 'Ali Salman is said to be back in Bahrain.
Update 3: Matar Matar and Jawad Fayruz tell the BBC that they were tortured while in custody. What was that headline in Al-Watan English again? I think it's time Matar Matar got a new lawyer!
Update 4: yet more hilarity is ensuing--or rather issuing--from Al-Watan English on the topic of its newest enemy Al-Jazeera. First we have "The Despicable Jazeera TV" which is rather self-explanatory. But there is also a new offering from Yusif Al Bin Khalil in which he charges Qatar with aiding and abetting the February 14 uprising. He writes in part,
One of the coup d’état leaders, who wanted to establish the Bahraini Islamic Republic, was caught red-handed in an abandoned area on the Southern Coast of Bahrain. As soon as the forces of Peninsula Shield put an end to the occupation of the Gulf Cooperation Council Roundabout, he was arrested before secretly leaving the country on board of a Qatari boat. Suffice me to mention these two anecdotes to talk about the Qatari foreign policy towards the Gulf countries and in particular towards Bahrain. This policy is so biased and dishonest that it provokes not only the feelings of Bahraini people but also Qatari people themselves. Al Jazeera Channel coverage of the events in Bahrain is not innocent either. Its sneaky methods and dirty tricks are dubious. The Qatari foreign policy towards Bahrain and the role of Doha in the last February and March events in Bahrain have been veiled in secrecy due to the sensitivity of the relations between both countries. But it is so obvious that some people want to damage these relations. Therefore, it is high time we identified the agenda ,put forward in our relations and analyzed its future trends so that we can reach a more in-depth understanding of the nature of our relationship.Update 5: The ever-entertaining Lee Smith at The Weekly Standard has a new piece on Bahrain titled "The Bahrain Crack-Up."