Sudan: Committer of Genocide, Friend
I finally got around to seeing Hotel Rwanda last night, and I found it completely commendable, entertaining, thrilling, and horrifying all at once. The extras on the DVD< which included Paul Rusesabagina's first return to his homeland, and to a memorial site (at a former technical college on a hilltop) where 45,000 Tutsis were slaughtered, was even more horrifying. You could see the bodies, preserved in lyme and encased in white, and despite the fact that they are mere skeletons you can feel the despair, the hopelessness on their skulls. I'd been interested in the Rwanda story since I read the excellent "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" by Phillip Gourevitch, and it's always baffled me how the entire Western world could be so wilfully ignorant as to turn away from a genocide (or, as it was so humiliatingly parsed by Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers in 1994, "acts of genocide").
So you could imagine my shock and revulsion today when I picked up the morning paper to read that the latest African nation practicing this butchery on their own people is now our friend and ally:
KHARTOUM, Sudan — The Bush administration has forged a close intelligence partnership with the Islamic regime that once welcomed Osama bin Laden here, even though Sudan continues to come under harsh U.S. and international criticism for human rights violations.
The Sudanese government, an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against terror, remains on the most recent U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the same time, however, it has been providing access to terrorism suspects and sharing intelligence data with the United States.
The United States can talk all it wants about strange bedfellows and doing what it must to protect American citizens; claiming to have the goal of spreading freedom and democracy throughout the Muslim world and then supporting a regime which kills its own people is INCOMPATIBLE. What we're really saying to the world is that as long as you play nice with the CIA, maybe give up a terrorist suspect or two every now and again, the US will stay off your case. You'll be free to rule by despotism, silence dissent, jail the opposition, engage in torture, commit genocide, whatever you basically wish.
Over 300,000 native Sudanese have died in the western province of Darfur, and millions more have been forced from their homes, fleeing the racist Arab militia known as the janjaweed. The only substantive difference between the janjaweed in Darfur and the machete-wielding interahamwe in Rwanda are the names. Both are engaged in ethnic cleansing, and both act with the tacit approval of the local government. In the Sudan that approval is not so tacit; frequently military air assaults precede janjaweed attacks, and the militia is armed by Khartoum. These are our friends in the war on terror; terrorists. Turning a blind eye to human suffering is bad enough, but actively partnering with the very people committing that suffering is far worse.
An illustration of the slippery slope we're headed down here is embodied in Sudanese intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh. Here's what the LA Times article has to say about him:
The paradox of a U.S.-Sudanese intelligence partnership is personified by Gosh.
Members of Congress accused him and other senior Sudanese officials of directing military attacks against civilians in Darfur. During the 1990s, the Mukhabarat assigned Gosh to be its Al Qaeda minder. In that role he had regular contacts with Bin Laden, a former Mukhabarat official confirmed.
Today, Gosh is keeping in contact with the office of CIA Director Porter J. Goss and senior agency officials.
But Samantha Power was able to uncover more in a piece for The New Yorker last year, including a display of how our moral relativism in this sphere will come back to bite us in the ass:
Sudanese officials like Salah Gosh have developed two methods for deflecting American criticism. First, they meet every charge with a reference to the quagmire in Iraq. In Khartoum, when I asked Gosh about the Sudanese attacks on civilians, he told me that armies are made up of individuals. “In Abu Ghraib, there are violations by the U.S. Army,” he said. “But the violations are not from the whole Army. The violations are from individuals. You cannot generalize.” When I asked why Sudan had not complied with American demands that it disarm the janjaweed, he said, “The United States is facing those terrorist people in Iraq. Is it possible for the United States to disarm those criminals? Is it possible for the United States, with all of its equipment—it is a superpower—to disarm these people in one month, two years? Danforth stands there in the United States and says, ‘The government of Sudan has just a few days to control the janjaweed and to stop those attacks.’ If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it in Iraq?”
When I broached the prospect of international intervention, he said, “It will make things worse. People in Sudan do not like foreigners to control them. They would love to fight them. The United States should take care of the information it is building its decisions on. We have lots of cases where the United States was fooled by bad information—the bombing of the Al Shifa factory, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq . . . We told the United States, ‘We have bin Laden in Sudan. We can monitor him and divert his efforts.’ They ignored our claim. We were told to send him out. What is the loss for the United States? How many people died?”
The government in Khartoum has also attempted to hide the evidence of its ethnic-cleansing campaign. It has integrated the janjaweed into the regular Army and police forces, pretended to arrest and prosecute war criminals, and tried to break up large camps of displaced persons.
Sudanese officials say that some eight thousand new police officers are starting to patrol Darfur. But refugees told me that they recognize many of these policemen as former janjaweed. Around the town of Kas, in South Darfur, where forty thousand refugees had taken shelter inside and outside local schools, the new police were visible. But it was clear that they had not been trained. One policeman, riding a camel, was wearing the navy-blue trousers of the Sudanese police and the green camouflage top of the Sudanese Army. Others were loitering in the Kas market wearing crisp blue police uniforms, but their turbans, the rifles slung over their shoulders, and their flip-flops gave them away as former janjaweed. In the local parlance, they had been “re-hatted.”
When I met with Salah Gosh, on July 11th, he said that forty-six janjaweed had been arrested in Darfur. A week later, a government official upped the number to sixty-seven. The state-owned media reported that in Nyala, a town in South Darfur, ten janjaweed had been sentenced to amputation of their right hands and left feet for their role in recent assaults. To confirm this, I scheduled an appointment with Nyala’s top judge and got his permission to visit the jail on July 21st. He presented me with files on the recently arrested. Seventeen janjaweed had been convicted so far, he said, and nineteen were awaiting trial. “This isn’t just talk,” he said, handing me the indictments. “This is proof.” The documents were neatly filled out, and each listed the name of the prisoner and the section of the criminal code that had been violated. But when I looked more closely the papers seemed suspicious: every one of the nineteen new arrivals was said to have been processed on July 14th and was scheduled to begin trial on July 30th. I made my way into the prison courtyard, where sixty-three inmates were gathered. The men who had already been convicted were sitting cross-legged on the right side, wearing mud-brown prison uniforms, and those awaiting trial sat on the left, dressed in grimy white djellabahs. The prison director urged me to question them. I asked how many had been arrested in 2004. Only four men raised their hands. Who had been accused of rape? None. Had any of them arrived at the jail on July 14th? No. Had any of them even been arrested in the past three months? No. The Sudanese government was attempting to pass off criminals arrested several years ago as janjaweed but hadn’t informed the prisoners of the ploy.
Playing patty-cake with thugs like this has "blowback" written all over it. But forget that: millions of people are suffering or dying right now at the hands of the very people we call friends.
p.s. I was interested in the Rwanda case in the use of hate radio to whip the populace up into a frenzy, particularly the station RTLM which by the end of the conflict was going so far as to single out names for killing and directions for where to find them. It's an example of what so many totalitarians knew, that controlling communications and controlling the public are not that far off. In our increasingly consolidated media landscape in the US it's a valuable lesson.