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.