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Accounts of torture, abuse from Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT — CAIRO, Egypt -- Ramadan Mahmoud Ahmed said his police interrogators blindfolded him, cuffed back his hands and stripped him to his underpants. They demanded to know about his law clients, who were accused of belonging to a violent Islamic campaign to overthrow the government.

When Mr. Ahmed refused to betray his clients, he said, his interrogators clipped electric wires to his toes and upper arms.

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"All my body would shake when they connected the electricity," he recalled in an interview. "A second or two. Then off. On and off for an hour or more. As a result of the torture, I would say anything. I would make things up. I would beg for help."

His account of torture by the Egyptian secret police echoes scores of such stories told to human rights monitors in recent months. By these accounts, the government of President Hosni Mubarak is not only torturing political and criminal suspects but also arresting their lawyers and torturing them.

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Mr. Mubarak is perhaps the preeminent leader in the Arab world and a staunch U.S. ally. Local and international human rights groups have sharply criticized his government in recent months, charging that the practice of torture is spreading in Egypt and has been adopted by local police, as well as Mr. Mubarak's security police.

"Over the past 18 months, at least 16 people have died in police custody in circumstances which suggest the deaths may have resulted from torture carried out by the State Security Investigations Department," Amnesty International has reported.

Three months ago, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said people detained by the government were routinely subjected to electric shocks, beatings and hangings and occasionally burned, sexually abused, and injected with contaminated materials, such as feces.

This month, in its annual report on human rights, the U.S. State Department said Egyptian security forces and militant groups were "locked in a cycle of violence."

It said rebels continue to bomb banks and attack and kill government officials, police, Egyptian Christians, and foreign tourists. In response, according to the report, the security forces have committed such abuses as torture, the arrest and harassment of defense attorneys, and "several extrajudicial killings."

Egypt gets $2 billion a year in U.S. foreign aid, making it the second-largest recipient of American largess. Human rights advocates say this should give the United States enough leverage to press for an end to such abuses.

There is little evidence, however, that the United States has used that leverage. Middle East Watch, a human rights group in New York, said it has been more than a year since a ranking American official even raised the issue of human rights with the Egyptian government.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Cairo turned down a request for an interview and said American diplomats there had decided not to discuss the issue for several months. Vice President Gore is expected to visit Egypt in March, but his press office declined to say whether he would raise the issue.

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American relations with Egypt are centered on Egypt's support of the Middle East peace process and of U.S. efforts to stem the influence of militant Islamic movements. Egypt also was an important ally in the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Egyptian officials deny that torture is systematically practiced. They consistently have failed to respond to complaints filed by victims, lawyers and human-rights advocates alleging abusive treatment.


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