February 19, 2012

John Timoney: Bahrain’s “Super” Spokesman

If February 14th’s massive security blanket is any indication of his future policies - and it is - Bahrainis from all segments of society should prepare themselves for another prolonged uprising.

First hired by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in late December, John Timoney’s critics wasted no time predicting a clone of his policies in Miami-Dade and Philadephia counties. Bahrain’s new “supercop” was paired with John Yates, an ex-assistant commissioner from Scotland Yard, as part of U.S.-UK efforts to sell the King’s “Independent Commission of Inquiry” (BICI), an shallow internal review that cherry-picked the lowest abuses. King Hamad would deny accountability at the highest levels, instead passing the blame to subordinates and foreign personnel. Comprehensive political reform was then minimized by promising to reform Bahrain’s security forces, which Timoney and Yates are now overseeing.

“Timoney's supporters view him as a tough, smart cop with a record for turning failing police departments around and controlling mass demonstrations,” writes The Guardian’s Ryan Devereaux. “In effect, they argue, he's the perfect candidate to improve Bahrain's security forces, which have been linked to the killing, torture and flagrant suppression of dissident protesters. The chief's critics, however, say Timoney's handling of protests and gatherings in each of the cities he's served in are wrought with examples of police abuse, illegal infiltration tactics, fear-mongering and a blatant disregard for freedom of expression.”

According to his own interviews, Timoney has established human rights training for police and is attempting to minimize the use of tear gas against Bahraini protesters. Yates recently touted this program, saying "the government has made excellent progress here.” Except a proper education flies out the window when ordered to disperse and quell protesters, as the government does on a daily basis, nor does any transparent system exist to document the behavior and crimes of foreign security contractors. After oppositional elements reported no change on the ground - February 14th’s crackdown was doused in tear gas - Timoney resorted to making his presence felt in the U.S. media.

Drawing on his (and the King’s) contacts, Bahrain’s “supercop” sounded more like an official spokesman as he conducted a high-profile bombing of Bahrain’s protesters.

“We have seen women taking active part in facilitating or assisting young men with these Molotov cocktails and those women should not be surprised if they are going to be arrested by the police,” he told the Christian Science Monitor in response to accusations of female abuse. “There is no systemic policy for dealing with women in general, that’s absolutely untrue. All that is, is a pure excuse for these young rioters to carry out their criminal behavior.”

The answer to many of Bahrain’s problems, in Timoney’s mind, is the infamous “Molotover.” These fearsome beasts attack helpless security forces and wreck havoc on society: “Police are responding to assaults they find themselves in.” In reality police and military personnel are people like everyone else, and thus possess the right to defend themselves, but disproportionate force flips the moral ground on top of them. Timoney also makes a valid point that tear gas offers an alternative to live rounds, even admitting that “tear gas unfortunately does impact on people who are not involved.” However the neutralization of international attention represents the strategic objective of King Hamad’s low-intensity crowd control.

"When you saw Occupy Wall Street, when people begin to engage in unauthorized marches that begin to cripple traffic and emergency vehicles," Timoney told Reuters earlier this week. "There's a reason why you have to go to the police department. It's not that they say, yea or nay regarding your right to speech, but can this be handled that it doesn't dramatically and drastically impact the rest of society?"

This seemingly-logical thinking is also rendered obsolete during a popular uprising that intends to impact the rest of society. Timoney has no sympathy for civil disobedience and revolution, viewing the phenomena as unwanted pests in need of crushing. The “supercop” utilizes U.S. media to criticize the violent elements of Bahrain’s youth, ignoring security forces who apply excessive force and, according to oppositional elements, continue to abuse detainees. Molotovers aren’t surfacing in vacuum but as a reaction to Bahrain’s lack of political representation and ongoing crackdown; Al Wefaq lacks control over these elements. Their direct action also sits below the government's level of force.

More than 40 officers were reportedly injured during the events surrounding February 14th, compared to over 100 on the oppositional side.

In addition to his praise of the King (and his new boss), Timoney welcomed the newly-appointed chief of public security for “understanding that reform is necessary and that in any organization people resist change.” Tariq Al Hassan separately claimed that the government is operating under a zero-tolerance policy: "We would never cover it up. We have nothing to hide." The bulk of Bahrain’s opposition views the BICI as a coverup, and tear gas as one of many physical manifestations. Radhi Mohsen al-Mosawi, deputy secretary general for political affairs of the Wa'ad party, called Timoney and Yates’ appointments a “public relations stunt.”

He was confident “that Bahraini people are not crazy to believe what they say.”

By combining an unflinching use of force with political resistance, King Hamad continues to shrink the prospects of dialogue while blaming the opposition for Bahrain’s collapse. Abdul-Jalil Khalil, who heads Al Wefaq’s parliamentary caucus, recently confided that senior Wefaq figures met two weeks ago with Royal Court Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad at the government’s request. The delegation presented “a referendum on how to move toward full parliamentary democracy,” leading the King to ask “if we are ready for dialogue, and we said ‘yes’, but a serious and constructive one.”

“We presented our views on how to get out of this mess,” Khalil explained. “He said they’ll get back to us. Now we are at the first anniversary of Feb. 14, and security action has not worked. They realize they need to have a political solution.”

Unfortunately Al Wefaq’s president, Sheikh Ali Salman, doesn’t sound optimistic despite confirming the meetings at a news conference. His rhetoric toed a hard line around February 14th, at all times doubting the government’s sincerity to reform, and Salman spelled out the island’s violent spiral in basic terms: “This is because the government didn’t listen to its people and used a lot of force. The cocktails were used just in the last month. All the 11 months before there was nothing.”

CSM or Reuters should have asked Mr. Timoney why Salman is supposed to trust the government’s “dialogue” after his own home was teargassed during February 14th’s runup.

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