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Bahrani doctor: ‘We became automatic witnesses’

May 14th, 2012
05:52 PM ET

By Lucky Gold, CNN

We can’t rush into things

As the Middle East becomes ever more polarized and violent, a rare conversation took place Monday on Amanpour - between an authoritarian government and one of its most prominent and articulate victims.

The subject was the unrest in Bahrain and the guests were Dr. Nabeel Hameed, a Bahraini physician who was arrested and brutalized for the alleged crime of treating injured protesters; and Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a royal family member who speaks for the Bahraini government.

The tone was calm, even civil, but the import of their long-distance discussion was far-reaching.

Sheikh al-Khalifa, speaking from Bahrain, admitted that his government is moving slowly, when it comes to addressing reform and righting wrongs, and thereby risks allowing violent forces to fill the vacuum:  “Yes, I mean, we think that at the pace that some people think we’re moving, which is slow, will further radicalize the polarized society that we have.”

Still, he defended current policy:  “We can’t rush into things and we intend to move at a quicker pace and to achieve the goals that we have for a better future in Bahrain.”

That future will include bringing Dr. Hameed to trial when he returns to Bahrain next week.  Dr. Hameed is one of several doctors and nurses who were targeted by the Bahraini government during last year’s protests.

When the door opens, all hell breaks loose

On February 18, 2011, Dr. Hameed was on call, one of only three neurosurgeons at Salmaniya Hospital, when an injured protester was brought in.  “We treated basically patients and I still call them patients,” said Dr. Hameed, currently visiting the U.S.  “They’re not protesters for me and for my other colleagues, they’re patients.”

“I got an injured patient who got shot by a bullet to his head,” said Dr. Hameed.  “For treating him and then expressing my concerns about the way he was injured, I got labeled as a traitor.”

Two months later, he was arrested.  He was asked what happened next.

“Something very bad,” said Dr. Hameed.  “They took me into an interrogation center for about four days of torture.  I wasn’t alone, I was with other doctors. They made us stand for days together…without sleep, without toilet privileges, without anything.  And between that you get abused, you get spat at, you get insulted… and everybody who passes by beats you on the head or the back.  But the worst thing is a room, an electronically locked room….and when the door opens, all hell breaks loose.  And you start hearing these shouts of torture.  Of (other) people inside.  Your turn is next.  And my turn was next….Someone even took a gun to my head and threatened me with it.”

He and the others were made to confess to crimes they hadn’t committed.  In a bizarre twist, he was even forced to confess that he had killed the patient whose life he saved.

Asked why doctors and nurses were singled out, Dr. Hameed said, “We became automatic witnesses.  That’s a problem.  When we saw protesters, straightway we became witnesses…And to take our credibility away, accuse us of a crime.”

Even though he was later released and the charges reduced, he still awaits trial and the experience has changed him:  “We’re doctors, we’re never politicians.  But I’m a forced activist maybe now.”

We are all Bahrainis

Sheikh al-Khalifa acknowledged that there had been abuses: “Christiane, the period of last year was a dark period in the history of Bahrain.”

He also spoke of the independent human rights commission, created by the Bahraini government to look into such abuses:  “Everyone thought it was going to be a whitewash.   However, it was a very damaging report….And we’re in a much better place today than we were a year ago… And those cases have been transferred to the civilian courts.”

Dr. Hameed will be returning to one of those courts and its justice.  “We are all Bahrainis,” said Dr. Hameed. “We love this country.  And we want to go back to the old Bahrain.”  Then he turned to face Sheikh al-Khalifa on a far away screen in Manama:  “Why are we not building on this thing?  Why are we not dropping the cases against the doctors as a show of good faith in order to go on the road?”

CNN’s Claire Calzonetti produced this piece for television.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Amani

    Bahrain and Syria not the same and there is a big different between Syria and Bahrain. In Syria there is terrorist gangs which kills people innocent people they killed Christians people and some of Muslim people like shia'a and Alawee that because Saudi Arabia give thoese terrors orders to kill all Syrian people except Wahabi people why?????while in Bahrain government killed people because they ask for their own rights
    Why only Al-Khalifa rule the country and have the power and the the important ministries why they did not share the people with making their own decision or their government why???
    Why USA still sell Bahrain government weapons to kill their own people ???? Why USA see the Syrian problem from its own way and bahrainian problem from other way although you say the USA is a democrat country why??? All of this because of oil and money right USA people why???

    May 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
    • Akashdahariya

      AAAHHHHHH!!!!! YAY!!! PRAISE GOD! We are so thankful for this wourfdenl news! I know there is much more to find out, but Praise God for these amazingly encouraging initial results! I can't describe the feeling I had inside when I heard this news (Amanda Eick left me a voicemail). I was holding Reid when I got the message and all I can say is that as a fellow Mother of a son, my heart lept with joy and excitment for you! Reid and I celebrated the news together as I twirled him around frantically hugging and kissing him yelling PRAISE YOU LORD! After his initial look of shock and panic- he giggled 🙂

      July 9, 2012 at 4:26 am | Reply
  2. Richard Sollom

    The Bahrain government's ongoing militarization and politicization of its public health system only further shreds the fabric of a nation in political turmoil. Healthcare should be beyond politics. Today in Bahrain, those who would heal the country’s wounded have become objects of persecution. Bahrain’s prosecution of some of its leading medical professionals epitomizes a disturbing sectarian breach that must be addressed and mended. Dropping all politically motivated charges against each of the 48 medical workers is the way toward meaningful dialogue and reconciliation.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  3. gustav

    y isnt the western media dont put pressure on the pro western autocratic dictatorship countries such as bahrain and saudi and oman , y dont the americans and the west call for a goverment change in these countries where they oprres theyir nationals and steall all of the resources for themselves and their royal families . are these people humans and the rests are just subjects

    May 14, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  4. Nouf

    Ms. Amanpour those doctors were by no means "targeted" for bearing witness nor were they persecuted for treating petients. The fact that Dr. Hameed failed to mention was that our one and only fully equipped hospital was completely cordoned off for regular patients with actual diseases and made into a command center and protest ground for the so-called peaceful protesters. I don't know if you've seed pictures of the state of Salmaniya's ER which was completely blocked off such that people had to park very far away in order to get treated if at all. Tents were pitched in the parking lot and daily hate protests led by those doctors prevented treatment for cancer patients, women in labor, elderly who cannot walk 2 steps let alone have to park outside the hospital. The whole thing was a nightmare to all Bahrainis and what those doctors did was deny many people many treatment as if the whole hospital was reserved only for injured protesters.

    Yes Bahrain's government has made A LOT of mistakes and as it strives to correct them now people are still instigating those hateful rallies and what's worse street kids are driven to hurl fire bombs at policemen and blow up gas cylinders and many of us including those who supported the cause at the beginning have lost sight of the real aim of all these protests.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:05 am | Reply
    • Alia

      @Nouf: Well, if the government hadnt shot the protesters and caused life threatening injuries in the first place, there would have been no need to reserve space and access to medical care to treat them, would there?

      And if the police hadnt blocked the ambulances, or beaten the ambulance drivers, maybe there would have been less of a seige/ protection mentality.

      It is sick to blame the doctors and families, rather than the ones who opened fire, or ordered the shooting. They are the ones who hold responsibility for what ensued.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:08 am | Reply
  5. Zahra

    Because of the USA double standard this happened to the doctors in Bahrain.Doctors were targeted because they were credible witnesses on the atrocities & grave human right violations practiced by security forces.. The doctors are still in courts facing criminal charges after being sentencced with harsh sentences in front of military courts. This will go in history,nobody treated doctors as Bahrain did! It's a disgrace

    May 15, 2012 at 2:36 am | Reply
  6. Mariam

    I would have preferred to see another doctor interviewed with Dr. Hameed. Someone who was there and saw it all. Now that the people of Bahrain have a clearer picture of what happened in 2011 and who was behind the uprising and their objectives, I don't think it's right to make this a dispute between the government and people. It is more between some people who are using religion to drive forward their political agenda and other people who want to live in harmony and get on with their lives as normal. The Government is caught in between.

    In addition i don't see any reason to debate if this doctor was doing his job or not. He is a physician and his job is to
    treat patients. The question is "was he treating patients indiscriminately"? The hospital was under siege and I know of several incidents when patients were denied treatment and not allowed to go into the ER. Can he verify this as a
    doctor on call?
    Instead of continuing to claim they are being targeted and victimized, it is a much shorter road to admit to the grave
    mistakes committed against the country and their fellow citizens. Naturally I am not asking Dr. Hammed to admit to everybody's wrong doing. But he is one of the professional people respected for his knowledge and skills and rather then claiming oppression by a Government that supported his education from kindergarten till he became a neurosurgeon I expect him to be brave and give back something to his country – Love and respect of all people of Bahrain irrespective of their sect, religion, political affiliation, and all.

    May 15, 2012 at 3:13 am | Reply
  7. Alia

    What happened to the doctors was horrific, and the most obvious example of the government's brutality, though there are hundreds of other examples. The fact that people are trying to save face and justify it by saying that the hospital was politicized instead of just saying "Oh my God, these doctors were tortured into false confessions" is ridiculous. Reform? How do you untorture someone? Why should doctor Hameed have to answer for anyone else's actions other than his own as a doctor?

    And the hospital was politicized because it was dealing with vast numbers of injured citizens who were shot by ammunition and people were understandably upset and outraged. Its crazy to blame the reaction and not the cause!

    Until the doctors charges are dropped, apologies issued and amends made no-one will believe that this government is out of that Dark Period as the sheikh calls it. BTW he himself denied the plight of the doctors last year, so how can you believe him now? Same guy, different line.

    The Government should not be "caught in between"as Mariam says. They should LEAD. That is their job. If they cant do it and save the country from ruin, let us find people who can. Which is the underlying point of the whole thing.

    Watch the cases of the doctors and nurses and teachers and lawyers, it will show you how serious this country is about its citizens rights. It has been 16 months already since the first protesters were shot dead.
    How long will it take to put right?

    Dr Hameed, you are a reluctant hero. May you stay strong and find the support you deserve.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:59 am | Reply
    • Connie

      Good morning feirnd. I just love the authentic heart in your writing. I am praying for you and for this little baby boy.Reading your post about pouring into this little one, while risking that he may one day return to his birth parent(s) reminded me of Moses and his Mama. Although the situations is reveresed from yours, when Miriam was used to bring Moses back home until he was weaned , it is thought that he spent only 3 years (at most) with his Hebrew family. However, those three years and all that his Hebrew family poured into him in that relatively short amount of time proved OH so valuable as he fulfilled God's purpose for his life.Try to pour into him as the Lord would have you. In however long or short amount of time you have with him, you may be preparing this little one for a purpose greater than any of us could ever realize.I am praying for you. I love you :o)

      July 7, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  8. Duniya

    @alia, these doctors were being tortutred into fake confessions? It's a shame how forgetful one can be. We all witnessed the madness happening in SMC back during the unrest. Injured protestors are in no way more privileged than the young teenager who was left to die due to doctors negligence because of which sect she belonged to. Stealing hospital supplies and taking them to the roundabout? Camping outside of the emergency and accidents entrance and denying certain people treatment according to their religious background? Protesting inside the hospital and disrupting patients peace and comfort? Sending out fabricated reports to the media? Storing weapons in the morgue and false celings? What about all these crimes? "People being upset and outraged" does not justify these acts in any way. SMC is the biggest hospital in Bahrain and the only one with chemotherapy and dialysis treatment, these patients shouldnt be denied of treatment regardless of any reason. SMC is the biggest free public hospital and everyone should be treated equally there. People of Bahrain haven't forgotten any of the drs crimes. And this is till ongoing, what about Rania Zainalabudeen and her ten year old son? Yes, I agree, we are still in the dak period but because of the crimes still committed by the medics at the SMC. Charges against Drs might be dropped, but sadly the crack is there between the people and will remain for a very long time.
    Why are the teachers being tried? For going on protests? No maam, but for politicizing schools, and forcing young children to go on protests against the children's will and families consent, and threatening those who refuse to join them. For inciting hatred between students and witnessing students getting attacked by others and not taking action, all in favor of their sect.
    It truly was a dark period, God bless Bahrain and it's people. I truly hope one day, we could go back to the Bahrain we loved for who she was.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:10 am | Reply
    • Alia

      Dr Hameed was accused of the things that you mentioned (weapons in ceilings!) and oops it turned out that he didnt. Dont you have the capacity to be sorry that your government agents beat him, abused him, spat on him and held him for charges that had no evidence behind them? And some teachers WERE interrogated and fired for simply going to the roundabout to see what it was about. Many hundreds of other professionals were too. Step 1 in moving forward is stop the denial and find your heart.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:46 am | Reply
  9. Hussain

    They are travelling all around the world (incuding USA & UK) giving interviews wearing designer suits while there are cases and trials pending in the country? They hold country;s passport and pass throught the immigration without anybody asking them anything? wow....that government seems to be the most tolerent and wonderful and pity that still get accused and had to defend themselves.

    I can understand that journalist and News chanel staff need to have food on their families table. They have no choice but to sensationalised the news. I suggest those who have any interest in Bahrain story to talk to people on ground in Bahrain (Bahrainis and expats). They are better judge and will tell you how they been denied treatment by these doctors becouse they had reserved the only general hospital in Bahrain for protesters of their own sect.

    Rather then asking government to interfere in judiciary and get them pardoned, i would suggest that these medics bring the courage and ask forgiveness from the peopl of Bahrain for the horrible crime they commited just to get popularity. Instead of being on CNN studio wearing a suit and telling he been tortured and denied basic rights he would have a lot of inner peace if he commit on the international channel that he done injustice to his own people and country and feel ashamed of it.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  10. B

    Yes, because they are well dressed and because Christiane needs to feed her family, the torture must not have happened and the charges must be true. Is that the logic?

    May 15, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply

    All I can say is that we are suffering a lot of demonstrations in Bahrain, Which took from us the feeling of
    safety and freedom of movement, afraid to go the hospital because of sectarianism, which emerged with the events

    May 16, 2012 at 4:06 am | Reply

    Its so sad to see a small peaceful country like Bahrain being attacked on world media on many harming and damaging actions. When it is time that All Bahrainis should Admit that what happened a year ago Is nothing related to ARAB SPRING. It was a polotical group that claims it is the opposition when they use the respectful shiite religion to harm the whole country by causing chaos and a sectarian split. We should All admit that there were mistakes that happened in the country. But the biggest problem today is that since the begining of the crisis the opposition never admitted that they have done some mistakes which is what i consider an arrogant gesture and disrespectful to the Whole Bahrain Community. People who called themselves protesters started a peacful protest which was then turned into an agressive and barbaric movement by claiming that the head of all the country from King to PM and CP should be hanged in public by placing Heavy-Cranes with a rope tied around to reseemble the Hanging of the Ruling Family members. It has truly been a peaceful contry and i really wonder whther we can actually live as peaceful as we were before. I Think that some doctors have actually done serious violations that are totally not part of a doctors profession. But i think that doctor hameed was accused of very minor claims but he actually suffered becuase there was a big number of doctors that have actually done many violations. Honestly whats happenign in Bahrain cannot be compared to whats happpening in Syria , u can actually judge in bahrain since the crisis there werre a total of 35 deaths from all sides of the conflict ( sabotauers, police , civilian , colateral damage, ...etc).
    ANN one final observation is that the foreign interference was the main cause of our crisis, SOME diplomats and officials from countries within Bahrain were working on the seperation that has actually shaked the country and created CHaosssss. Hopin that when you actually cover the Bahrain story that you show the whoel story.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:32 am | Reply
  13. Jim Miller

    wow! I am shocked, I was under the impression Bahrain was a civilized country. People always win their voice. I hope this government steps down.

    May 19, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
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