CAIRO – Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the military have closed ranks to deny charges that soldiers had killed and tortured protesters, following leaks of an investigatory report implicating officers.
The findings — if confirmed, since the report has not been made public — are potentially embarrassing for the military, which has presented itself as the ally of protesters in the 18-day uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who is also head of the army, denied in a televised statement Friday that the military had committed abuses after he held talks with Morsi, who set up the fact-finding inquiry shortly after taking office last June.
“I swear, by God, the armed forces did not kill nor order killings. It did not act treacherously, nor did it order treachery,” said al-Sissi, standing beside Morsi.
The president in turn praised the armed forces for “protecting Egypt when it started its march on Jan. 25,” referring to the uprising that overthrew Mubarak and ushered in interim military rule.
The Egyptian press and Britain’s The Guardian newspaper have published leaks from the fact-finding panel’s report implicating the military in killings, torture and disappearances.
According to The Guardian, the inquiry found that army officers ordered doctors to treat wounded demonstrators without anesthesia after they clashed with soldiers during protests against military rule in 2012. The inquiry also reportedly documented cases of soldiers committing killings and torture during the 18-day uprising that overthrew Mubarak after he had deployed the military to quash the unrest.
The committee in early January submitted its report to Morsi, who referred it to a “revolutionary prosecution” he created to investigate crimes during the revolt and under military rule. It was not immediately clear whether the leaked sections were from drafts or the final report.
The U.S. State Department urged Morsi to release the report, which he had ordered at a time of tensions with the military in 2012. “For the sake of transparency, we do believe it should be made public and we urge the government of Egypt to credibly and independently investigate all claims of violence and wrongdoing and promptly bring the perpetrators to justice,” deputy department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
He stressed that U.S. officials have not yet seen the report.
The New York-based lobby group Human Rights Watch said that “releasing the fact-finding report would be the Egyptian government’s first acknowledgment of two years’ worth of police and military abuses.”
Despite reports in January that the inquiry would be published shortly, the document has been shrouded in secrecy, prompting some to accuse the government of suppressing the findings.
A presidential aide said the report detailed “16 new incidents, which have been assigned to 16 prosecutors to investigate.” The presidency’s responsibility over the inquiry ended when he referred the findings to the prosecution. “The presidency created the committee and assisted its work, but now it’s in the prosecution’s hands,” the aide added.
Beyond the issue of the report, the high-profile meeting between Morsi and the defense minister appeared to be putting an end, for now, to weeks of behind-the-scene tensions between the military and the presidency. The statements by the two leaders seemed to be a mutual recognition of the need to work together at a time of increasing polarization in the country that has threatened to slip into sustained bloody violence.
There have been suggestions of friction between the military and the presidency over a string of issues, including the army’s clampdown on smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip — ruled by Hamas, an ally of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — and over the fate of a border region claimed by Sudan, whose Islamist government is also close to the Brotherhood.