Face to Face with Ian Henderson at Heathrow Airport

by Sa’id Shehabi

The weather was cloudy when we arrived at the airport on Sunday morning on 22 July 2007. The place was full of travelers who wished to flee to other, less cloudy and rainy places. Indeed, Heathrow was packed. Airport officials were stopping people at the entrance to organize the travelers, asking them to wait in a large tent outside the terminal, until they could enter.


Ian Henderson and Sa’id Shehabi, in a tent, at Heathrow


An old man with his wife were near me, their trolley full of baggage. Hang on, isn’t that  Ian Henderson, the man who has been torturing our youth for forty years? Then my daughter whispered in my ear, ‘I read on his luggage a tag saying, I.H. Henderson’. That confirmed it, that it was indeed an official of the Bahrain torture apparatus. Not only that, but the chief engineer of a policy of torture since coming to our country in April 1966. He whispered something to his wife. I gathered enough courage and approached him, asking the question,

‘Are you Ian Henderson?’.

‘Yes’, he replied.

I said, ‘do you recognise me?’

He said ‘You’re Sa’d Shehabi’.

I said, ‘It’s a strange turn of fate that a torturer and his victim end up in the same picture’

Henderson smiled a little, and I approached him and said: ‘Isn’t it about time you apologised to your victims?’

Henderson replied ‘I haven’t done anything wrong’.

I said, ‘ the whole world says that you have tortured innocent people, you only have to Google and type “Ian Henderson Bahrain” to see what has been written about you’

Henderson simply said ‘It doesn’t concern me what they write about me’.

I asked, ‘Do you have a special file on me?’

Henderson smiled, incdicating with his hands that the file was large.

I said, ‘What about in 1990, when you misled the British intelligence service and the Bahraini Minister of Interior, and convinced them that my friends and I were terrorists, and they locked us up’.

Henderson: ‘I don’t remember’. He paused, and then continued,’but you and your cohort were doing wrong, and working to undermine the reforms that we were working towards’.

‘What reforms are you talking about?’ I replied, ‘ I mean how many times have I proposed reforms. I am surprised a person like you comes from a democratic country, and has come to defend a tyrannical regime such as the Al Khalifa’

Henderson said, ‘I was working to solve the problems’.

I said, ‘by torture’.

Henderson and his wife were clearly keen to change the subject. His wife kept saying ‘change the subject’, and they made frequent references to the poor organization at the airport. ‘Why are we waiting here all the time? We might miss the plane’.

Then my daughter asked, ‘Is it not true that you practiced torture?’

He did not like this.

Then I asked,’It would be brave if you did what the torturers in South Africa did, and admit what your role in the torture apparatus is, and apologised to your victims’.

Henderson said, ‘I haven’t done anything that deserves an apology’

I asked him, ‘who was it that tortured Saeed Al Iskafi and Noah, the latest martyrs of the Uprising?’

He said, ‘In these problems you have to expect casualties’.

I was really surprised as he didn’t express any emotions at all, or show any feelings of humanity towards the victims.

I said to him  ‘Aadil Flaifel is your best student, and he is accountable to you’.

Henderson said, ‘Adel Flaifel is a good man’.

I laughed scornfully.

Then Henderson asked me, ‘Why don’t you support the project of Shaykh Hamad and his policies’?

I said, ‘Would you support the person who went back on all his promises? Did he not cancel the legitimate constitution between the people of Bahrain and the Al Khalifa’.

He said, ‘There was an opportunity in front of you for political participation but your stance  prevented progress, and your movement failed’.

Then I said ‘You are extremely wrong. In truth you are the one who has failed, despite continued repression. Our movement succeeded against the past and present system. I look today and compare it with the situation forty years ago. Political movements have returned, and the opposition are galvanised against the ruling family, becoming united. This makes it possible to achieve real future change’.

Henderson said, ‘Naturalisation is good’.

I said, ‘Do you think that the security of Bahrain will be achieved by naturalizing those from areas in which Al Qaeda flourish, such as Syria, Jordan, Saudi, Yemen and Pakistan?

Then I said, ‘Where do you spend your time?’

Henderson said, ‘I was in the UK at the moment for two weeks for treatment, and my son lives in London. I am returning to Bahrain for two weeks, and then I am going to South Africa, where our other children live. I move between these three countries!’

I said to him, ‘The people will remain opposed to the regime until they achieve two things: recognition that the people of Bahrain are a real political partner, and an end to illegal political naturalisation that’s been happening since 1975’.

He said, ‘do you know how old I am’.

I said, ’78?’

He said, ’81 years, I’ve outlived a lot of security officers in my time, from Bill and Langdale, to Muqbil and Muhammad Mohsin, and seen many opportunities for reform’.

I said to him, ‘But you’ve served the Al Khalifa throughout your life, and you are the one who allows them to continue doing what they do, and allows our youth to fall at the hands of torturers. Are you not able to convince them about the value of freedom for citizens’.

He said, ‘The Al Khalifa do what they want and do not listen to what I say’.

After the meeting ended, and the remaining passengers entered the building, I recalled the noble verse, “And Moses said, Our Lord, indeed You have given Pharaoh and his establishment splendor and wealth in the worldly life, our Lord, that they may lead [men] astray from Your way. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful punishment’.[ Allah ] said, “Your supplication has been answered.” So remain on a right course and follow not the way of those who do not know.”

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