Egypt army chief warns on slandering military

Apr 12, 2013, 10:13 AM EDT
In this Thursday, April 11, 2013 image released by the Egyptian Presidency, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, poses with military officers after a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo, Egypt.
(AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

CAIRO (AP) — With the Islamist President by his side, Egypt's army chief warned against slandering the military, denying in remarks broadcast Friday that the military committed any abuses against protesters during the turbulent transition of the past two years.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi spoke following a late night meeting Thursday between the country's top brass and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The meeting appeared to have been prompted by recent media leaks of parts of a report by a fact-finding mission commissioned by Morsi to investigate the deaths and abuses of protesters during and after the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The mission, whose report was finalized in late December but has yet to be made public, reportedly found that the army unlawfully detained protesters and was possibly involved in killings of some during the uprising and during the military's nearly 17-month rule of Egypt after Mubarak's ouster.

The Guardian, the British newspaper, quoted parts of the report it obtained, describing the military's torturing of detained protesters, its role in the forced disappearance of others, and its possible responsibility for a number of killings of some who went missing and then turned up dead with signs of torture and beatings during the 18-day protests against Mubarak.

The leaked findings are consistent with previous allegations against the military by international and local rights groups. But the leaks provide specific testimonies and details of abuses, which the military has always denied.

Such findings would be potentially embarrassing for the military, which has presented itself as a supporter of the anti-Mubarak uprising. They would also be sensitive for Morsi, who has vowed to bring justice for slain protesters but also has sought to maintain good ties with the powerful military.

Any attempt to prosecute members of the military, however, would likely bring a backlash from the generals. At any rate, newly adopted, Islamist-backed constitution protects much of the independence and privileges of the military and ensures that only it can prosecute its own members.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch urged Morsi to release the report, saying it would be an acknowledgement of two years of military and police abuse, and a way to stem a culture of impunity.

But el-Sissi and Morsi's comments late Thursday appeared to rebuff such calls, though they did not directly mention the fact-finding mission's report or the media leaks.

"You must understand the armed forces is a very, very honorable institution, and very loyal and very careful of its nation," el-Sissi said, standing next to Morsi and a line of the country's top brass.

"I swear by God the armed forces since January 25 (2011), and I swear by God, didn't kill or order any killing, didn't cheat and didn't order any treachery, didn't betray and didn't order any betrayal."

"I want to tell all those who listen to me that they must really watch out before defaming the military and its forces," el-Sissi said. "It is honorable, nationalist and loyal and is very affected by any defamation it is subjected to."

Morsi came to the defense of the military, saying, "I will not ever allow slanders in any way, shape or form or ... any means to attack any member of the armed forces starting from its leaders ... to its smallest member."

"This is something I tell the whole society. Any slandering of any member of the armed forces is a slandering for us all," he said.

Morsi said Egyptians appreciate the role of the military.

"I tell the world about the great role the armed forces played in protecting the security and safety of this nation inside and outside from any aggression, and its role during a period we all know for in protecting its internal security and it still does," he said.

Morsi also announced the promotion of the heads of Egypt's air force, air defense forces and navy to the rank of lieutenant-general during the meeting with the generals.

Trying military officers, as well as police, for alleged abuses during and after the uprising remains a top demand by many revolutionary groups. During the uprising, the military declared it was neutral and it refrained from widely cracking down on the protesters demanding Mubarak's ouster. Since then, it has touted its role protecting the uprising.

When the fact-finding mission first handed its report over to Morsi's office in late December, a member of the panel that drafted it told The Associated Press that it included details of killings and torture of protesters by the military. The leaked parts of the report also had testimonies of abuses by the military during its rule, before it handed over power to Morsi, following presidential elections in June 2012.

The elected leader's relations with the military have been a subject for much speculation, because it is the first time Egypt is ran by a civilian president. Morsi's office and military have repeatedly denied reports of strained relations between the two sides.