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Fathi El-Jahmi and Bush’s Legacy


President Bush and Condoleezza Rice appear to be flailing for their legacy. They might turn no farther than imprisoned Libyan dissident Fathi El-Jahmi.

On March 12, 2004, Bush declared:

We stand with courageous reformers. Aung San Suu Kyi is a courageous reformer and a remarkable women who remains under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy to her nation. Earlier today, the Libyan government released Fathi Jahmi. [He's] a local government official who was imprisoned in 2002 for advocating free speech and democracy. It’s an encouraging step toward reform in Libya. You probably have heard, Libya is beginning to change her attitude about a lot of things. We hope that more such steps will follow in Libya, and around the world.

Bush remained silent when Qadhafi re-arrested Jahmi two weeks later. According to a press release from Amnesty International today:

Prisoner of conscience Fathi el-Jahmi is being denied adequate medical treatment for his diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. His health is deteriorating, and without proper treatment his life may be in grave danger.

He is in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location, believed to be an Internal Security Agency facility on the outskirts of Tripoli. People who have seen him have said that he barely had the strength to speak and appeared emaciated, but with swollen legs. He is held in conditions which may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Libya is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, both of which prohibit such treatment. He has been allowed only sporadic visits by his family; in 2007 he reportedly received no visits at all. He is apparently not allowed to receive mail, books or newspapers….

Amnesty International believes that Fathi el-Jahmi is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the non-violent exercise of his right to freedom of expression. The charges against him appear to relate to his contact with US diplomats before his arrest and to his outspoken interviews in March 2004 with satellite news channels, including Dubai-based Al Arabiya and US-based Al Hurra. The organization believes that he has been detained solely for acts which involved the non-violent exercise of his right to freedom of expression and that he is therefore a prisoner of conscience.

This is likely the end for Fathi. If only Condoleezza Rice would take a minute from her toasts with various Libyan officials to toast to Fathi’s life and the principles for which at least one of the two of them stood. Bush will be remembered throughout the Arab world for his abandonment of freedom-seekers rather than his enabling of them. The fact that the Libyan state will have killed ElJahmi for the crime of meeting with a U.S. diplomat, and the U.S. responded by embracing his jailers, eviscerates what little credibility U.S. diplomacy has left in the Arab world.


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