The Miami Model - a documentary on the militarised policing style developed by John Timoney
Bahrain Feature: Meet "Yates of the Yard", The Policeman Supervising "Reform" br>
Bahrain Feature: Rubber Bullets --- Another "Non-Lethal" Weapon For The Police br>
Tuesday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: A Year Ago at Pearl Roundabout
Today is the one-year anniversary of the Bahrain uprising, with large protests expected as people across the island head to the capital Manama and attempt to reoccupy Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic centre of the demonstrations.
Last March security forces --- some from outside Bahrain --- violently assaulted protesters as they overran the Roundabout. So today claims that the security services have "reformed" will be tested.
The mass tear gas and often reckless approach yesterday, and the excessive violence observed Sunday do not bode well. Indeed, Monday's tactics were cited by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland as a reason behind Washington's decision to block a $53 million arms deal.
Today, however, may well see a different policing model --- one with a much more militarised and structured approach. The Special Security Force Command (SSFC), the paramilitary police unit which has historically worked alongside US Marines in Afghanistan, is likely to take a leading role. To date, videos tend to show the SSFC deployed in street battles against youth protesting in villages, where their heavy armour and weaponry combines with greater command and control to contain the demonnstrations. The SSFC was also the unit which attacked the peaceful protest in Manama, where leading activist Nabeel Rajab was beaten and Zainab Alkhawaja was sprayed in the face.
The large-scale rallies organised by the opposition movement Al Wefaq have increasingly been policed with restraint. However, those gatherings are always undertaken with advance permission by the authorities. Today's demonstrations not only may be much larger; they will be far more fluid, with no guarantee that the more violent faction in the opposition will heed calls for peaceful protest.
So what will be the outcome?
In an interview yesterday, Bahrain police advisor John Yates spoke of how the protest will likely be "about allowing people to gather and containment" through techniques such as kettling which "would work really well around here."
Kettling --- surrounding protesters in a confined space and refusing to allow them to leave --- has a controversial history as a tactic, not least under Yates' watch. In 2010, the chair of the UK police watchdog panel described scenes of students kettled on Westminster Bridge (see image above) --- with police continually advancing and crushing those inside the kettle --- as "appalling" and "ghastly". A senior doctor caught up in the same kettle described it as "the most disturbing thing I've ever seen", adding that he was "surprised that no one died there".
Kettling is often undertaken in concert with a range of other tactics, both overt and covert, to not only control a protest, but to undermine the movement. The modern pioneer of such total policing is John Timoney, Bahrain's other new police advisor. Known for the so-called "Miami Model" of policing demomstrations, Timoney's tactics have been much questioned and critiqued. In 2003, journalist Jeremy Scahill wrote of his encounter with Timoney's police force:
No one should call what Timoney runs in Miami a police force. It's a paramilitary group. Thousands of soldiers, dressed in khaki uniforms with full black body armour and gas masks, marching in unison through the streets, banging batons against their shields, chanting, "back ... back ... back". There were armoured personnel carriers and helicopters.
Such aggressive policing is often undertaken on the premise that one is facing an intractable, violent threat. Or rather, such tactics are often later justified as necessary measures to quash a dangerous force that threatens the social status quo.
In an interview with Reuters, Tiomey was quick to point out the rise in youth protesters engaging in street battles with police, often with Molotov cocktails and iron rods: "There were five or six dozen [Molotov cocktails] flung in Sitra the other week. Police are responding to assaults they find themselves in." He offers little concessions to those who have criticised not only the policing and treatment of youth protesters, but also the attacks on peaceful protests and public sit-ins."
The police officer then dismisses the idea that the youth protesters are engaged in anything but violence.
Kids appear on a scene and taunt police officers and fling Molotovs and iron bars, usually in back alleys. It's hard to dissect a political message coming out of that. It's rage more than anything"
Whilst this is undoubtably true for some protesters, in the daily collective rage against the regime, Timoney's word establish that he is unwilling to engage with the political demands of the February 14 Youth Coalition and other opopsition groups. The recent BahrainFist action which initiated much of the recent increase in violence --- where youth protesters decided to start taking more offensive action against police, who had been making nightly raids and attacks on villages --- did not occur in a vaccum but was the consequence of growing anger at seeing families teargassed daily in their homes. By ignoring this history and the statements from the Coalition, Timoney eschews any resolution of grievances, further entrenching the street battles. and the escalating militarization of the Bahraini security forces.
Timoney also notes perhaps the greatest concern in the current make-up of the Bahraini police: the majority Shia population has little or no representation in the security forces. Timoney regards this as an essential long-term issue, commenting that the Ministry of Interior "is in the process of hiring 500 new police officers".
Timoney's statement is a nod, perhaps unwitting, to the issues beyond police tactics. With sectarian tensions on the increase in Bahrain, and propaganda becoming ever more inflammatory, the island is a potential tinder box. "Kettling" and the other methods of the security forces could inflame rather than pacify the situation.