The Cable

State Department confirms Egyptian military 'elements' participated in crackdown

The State Department now acknowledges that "elements" of the Egyptian military have taken part in the violent crackdown on journalists and activists in Cairo over the past few days, calling into question the positive influence and neutrality of the military, which the Obama administration praised last week.

Human rights activists in Washington and Cairo reported last week uniformed Egyptian military personnel were directly involved in the arrest, detention, and interrogation of human rights activists in Egypt, including the raid on the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, which included the arrest of Human Rights Watch researcher Daniel Williams. In a gripping first-hand account on Monday, Williams explained the extensive role of Egyptian military personnel in his incarceration.

"The initial impression was that the military sided with the demonstrators yet provided order amid the chaos, which is why I was surprised to see the soldier on the chair, harassing the human rights workers about a ‘suspicious meeting' with foreigners bent on ‘ruining our country,' Williams wrote on Monday at The Daily Beast. "There was no doubt that the army was in charge of the raid. At one point, a major general showed up at the Hisham Mubarak center and other officers worked hand in glove with a uniformed policeman, plainclothes state security agents and assorted abusive henchmen."

Williams was brought with other activists and a Japanese photographer to Camp 75, a military headquarters in northeast Cairo, where he was interrogated and held for 36 hours.

"The raid on the Hisham Mubarak Law Center exemplifies the persistence of abusive security practices under a military establishment, which claims it wants transition from the past," he wrote. "But in this and other cases, now being documented by Human Rights Watch, the army was clearly in charge of arbitrary and sometimes violent arrests, even if the beatings and torture had been "outsourced" to other agencies or thugs."

Pressed on the issue by The Cable at today's briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley said the State Department was aware that some military units participated in the raids but also pointed out that other military units played a role in protecting journalists and maintaining a measure of stability in Tahrir Square.

"To the extent that there were elements within the military that participated in these abuses of journalists and others last week, they should be held fully accountable," Crowley said. "By the same token, when you look at the streets of Cairo over the past several days since the violence on Wednesday, the military did play a constructive role."

Crowley said that the State Department has formally raised the issue of military involvement in the crackdowns with their Egyptian interlocutors but declined to relate the specifics of those conversations.

A State Department official, speaking on background, said that the Egyptian military was acting during the crisis "in some instances constructively, in some instances not." The official suggested that "elements" of the military were involved, specifically military police units, which have ties to the Ministry of Interior, the department believed to be orchestrating the crackdowns.

Regardless, the acknowledgement of Egyptian military involvement in the crackdowns on activists and journalists comes only four days after Crowley praised the military. "We are very impressed with the posture and the professionalism displayed by the Egyptian military," Crowley said at a Feb. 3 press briefing.

The military's involvement in the raids is a troubling indicator for the Obama administration and others that the army is not altogether playing a mediating role during Egypt's transition process.

"It's a worrying sign of things to come," Heba Morayef, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch," told McClatchy, "because the military is going to play a big role going forward."

The Cable

House Democrats call on Boehner for Egypt resolution

Following last week's unanimous vote by the Senate in support of political reform in Egypt, a group of House Democrats are calling on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to follow suit and pass an emergency resolution on Egypt.

"In view of the tragic violence unfolding in Egypt, we write to request that the House take up an emergency resolution in support of the Egyptian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy as soon as possible upon returning to session," wrote Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Keith Ellison (DFL-Minn.) in a Feb. 7 letter to Boehner.

The lawmakers said the resolution should call on the Egyptian government to halt the violence, stop blocking communications inside Egypt (which the regime already largely did last week), and call on the military to intercede on behalf of the civilians.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime has "exhausted its credibility," the lawmakers wrote, but stopped short of calling on Mubarak to step down immediately. Our sources report that the letter was crafted so as to have the best chance to build widespread bipartisan support, in the hope of moving ahead with House action at the soonest opportunity.

"This is a new day not only for Egypt and the Middle East, but for democracy worldwide," the lawmakers wrote. "The House of Representatives has an opportunity to show its support for the Egyptian people during their time of need and further their efforts to achieve freedom by passing the aforementioned resolution."

Boehner supported the Obama administration's handling of the crisis in his most recent remarks about Egypt on Feb. 4. However, he also warned about empowering some groups that are part of the opposition, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. "What we don't want are radical ideologies to take control of a very large and important country in the Middle East," he said.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images.