How much security do we really need? [Archives:2005/871/Opinion]

August 25 2005

One unusual phenomenon that one notices in Yemen and in many of the so called progressive Arab “revolutionary” states is the awesome reliance on a labyrinth of security apparatus. On the other side of this, one can fairly say that such extensive reliance on all sorts of security machines has neither the security that will make the citizens feel assured that he is indeed in good hands, or in some cases that he can walk the streets at midnight. This has raised the question, how much security do we really need and couldn't all the lavish spending on so many security organs be used better to prevent the social conditions that breed crime or feelings of contempt for the state and eventually insurrection.

A friend of this observer was relating how on the days of the last disturbances that shook all of Yemen on account of the removal of subsidies for oil derivative products knew the case of one of the unfortunate victims of arrest, who was picked up randomly without cause and without due process as he came out of his workplace just when the disturbances were at their peak in the streets of Sana'a. He was surrounded by a mixture of soldiers from the Central Security, General Security, Emergency Police and other forces he does not even know existed. After trying very hard to explain that he had just gotten out of the place where he worked – a workshop near the place where he was apprehended – he was thrown forcefully into a security vehicle (he couldn't identify the vehicle's security apparatus).

He eventually was taken to one of the camps of the Air Defense Forces. There for sixteen days he was subjected to interrogations day and night. Some hours, it would be the general security interrogating. In other hours, it would be political security that is interrogating him, and still in others it would be the military police. If that was not enough, he found himself later to be interrogated by a new security apparatus, he has never heard of before called the Air Police. But wait folks, there is more to come. As a crowning experience to the spate of interrogations he had to go through by all these various security apparatus he finally got the Home Security or National Security interrogators to contend with and the General Prosecution. Thank God for our poor suspect, he was eventually released after 16 days of grueling questioning and God knows what along the way.

Amazingly enough our friend took the matter somewhat lately as far as how he was treated, but his amazement at the number of entities involved in determining his guilt or innocence was clearly obvious.

This vast labyrinth of security organs raises many sensible questions: How do all these organs coordinate with each other? How much has security now taken out of the State budget? How is the performance of all these organs evaluated and how can one appeal against any transgressions of one's rights and to whom does one present an appeal or an objection?

Of course there are many other questions that are not necessarily related to the treatment of suspects. Why do we need so many organs to do the job that in all likelihood one entity can take care of rather sufficiently. Has the political security apparatus proven its inability to oversee political and national security matters that we need so many additional organs with obvious redundancy of tasks and overlap of responsibilities.

On the question of the need of r security organs, there is no question on this observer's mind about the importance of having an organ that deals with national security matters and all modern states have such organs. But the so called “War on Terrorism” have caused some states in the region to get carried away with what may be called as the “security phobia” that the citizens of these states. All security organs in existence in Yemen and in many of the states in the area with a multiple security system will swear that without their existence the national sovereignty of the country will be endangered and the country will turn into an anarchic state. In assessing the situation of the countries that resort to such a multitude of security organs, one is not assured that indeed these states have done away with all forms of crime or civil disturbance. Furthermore, one is not convinced that indeed he “War on Terror” is a primary focus of such organs, since no one has heard of any major success in rooting out any major terrorist cells or for that matter even identifying them. Oh sure, we hear of a few suspects rounded up here and there on the premise that they were found with arms in their homes or having “secret meetings”, which in Yemen, for example, would really call for suspicion as to the validity of such claims. For one reason arms are found everywhere in Yemen and in just about every home. On another side, Yemenis are prone to social gatherings that are generally open and democratic and anyone can just walk in to a qat chew session, without the host even recognizing half the attendants (some of whom may also be elements of any of the numerous security organs that oversee public gatherings as well).

If one thinks that would be all concerning security, one should be reminded that many of our social dignitaries and even political bosses have their own “mini security apparatus” that can arrest or hold people incognito for some time in their own cell blocks, where due process is a foreign term and human rights has not entered the vocabulary of most of its owners and personnel. This is not to mention the security apparatus of some of the executive organs like ministries that will sometimes apprehend employees of that entity or people seeking to complete processing a license or other need.

Shouldn't Parliament take a serious hard look at how we manage security affairs and give the public some comfort in the hope that we are not really getting more totalitarian than any of the totalitarian states that reigned supreme during the Cold War?