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UAE: Torture video threatens to sour relations with Washington

April 30, 2009 |  7:40 am

A videotape allegedly showing an Afghan grain dealer being savagely tortured by a member of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family is apparently casting a gloom over relations between the United States and its oil-rich ally.

The release of the 45-minute tape last week by the U.S. network ABC was met with condemnation by international human rights groups, especially after authorities in the Persian Gulf nation tried to suppress the incident. CNN, quoting senior U.S. officials, reported Wednesday that the tape was slowing down the ratification of a civil nuclear deal between Washington and Abu Dhabi.

According to CNN, the U.S. administration has judged that “sensitivities over the story can hurt” the closing of the deal. 

Excerpts from the tape, which reportedly involves Sheik Issa bin Zayed al-Nuhayyan, a brother of the UAE crown prince, showed a man being beaten with whips and a plank of wood with nails, assaulted with an electric cattle prod, having sand shoved into his mouth and salt poured on his wounds and finally being run over by a car.

The 2004 incident, which allegedly involved a policeman, was said to have taken place in the desert at the prince’s ranch in Abu Dhabi. The prince allegedly sought revenge against the Afghan dealer for cheating him of more than $5,000 in a grain deal.

Judicial officials in the UAE said Wednesday that an investigation into the tape had been launched. A statement by the Abu Dhabi Justice Department said that the government “unequivocally condemns the actions depicted on the video.”

Human Rights Watch denounced the alleged torture. The international watchdog said that the UAE would be considered as the entity torturing individuals if those responsible for the incident and those commanding them were not prosecuted.

The tape was leaked to the media by Bassam Nabulsi, a U.S. national and a former business associate of Sheik Issa. Nabulsi, who said he was also detained and tortured by police in the UAE under orders from the prince, has filed a lawsuit in Texas, citing the video as evidence of the royal’s brutality.

The Afghan man has reportedly survived the torture after spending months in a hospital recovering from serious injuries and bone fractures. According to local officials, the case was closed in 2004 after the dealer and the prince had settled the matter privately with no charges pressed on either side.

The question remains whether UAE’s rulers will conduct a serious investigation of the case so as to save the reputation of the nation depicted in brochures and ads as a haven for business and tourism.

The incident pries open a window on the abuses and the harsh conditions to which laborers, especially those from poor Asian countries, are subjected in the Arab state. 

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut 

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