Monday, December 10, 2007

Where's Darfur at the Democratic debates?

For all their prior rhetoric on "saving" Darfur, the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination have made surprisingly little noise about the conflict in recent months.

This much is clear from the most recent party "debates" - more accurately, heavily managed public relations exercises replete with obfuscation and evasiveness - as Darfur has merited no substantive mention from the participants in the latest outings:
  • The September 26 debate in New Hampshire included no reference to Darfur (aside from a brief mention by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson concerning his diplomatic experience), though Tim Russert did find time to ask the candidates for their "favorite Bible verse."

  • On October 30 in Philadelphia, Darfur again received no mention, perhaps preempted by Brian William's question to Barack Obama about how he would be dressing up for Halloween.

  • In the most recent debate - November 15 in Las Vegas - Darfur again went unmentioned by the candidates.
The omission would not be glaring, if not for two issues.

First, it would be understandable if Darfur were receiving less attention if the candidates were instead focused on other foreign policy issues of concern - such as the almost universally ignored crisis in the Congo, or concrete ways to end the war in Iraq and attempt to atone for the massive destruction the U.S. continues to wreak in the country (clearly, not forthcoming).

Second, Darfur has been a lightning rod issue for liberal activists and Democratic voters - in fact, claimed to be the "largest such activism" since the war on Vietnam - and the conflict is widely reported in the West as the "world's worst humanitarian disaster."

So what gives?

One can imagine several possible explanations - for example, that the frontrunner candidates take the votes of Darfur activists for granted, or that since they largely agree on how to address the crisis (implementing a no-fly zone, pushing for a UN deployment, and pressuring China), they have little to discuss. Both theories have some merit.

But it is important to not lose sight of another key piece of the equation.

For all their heated rhetoric, mainstream Democrats are highly unlikely to make any substantive changes to Washington's fruitful intelligence-sharing relationship with key elements of the Khartoum government as part of the "War on Terror."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

New piece published

Foreign Policy in Focus just published our response piece as part of our "strategic dialogue" about divestment from Sudan.

The original piece is available here, along with the original and response by Daniel Millenson, of the Sudan Divestment Task Force.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Commentary: The U.S.-Equatorial Guinea Alliance

Life is good if you're Teodoro Obiang.

Condi Rice considers you a "good friend."

ExxonMobil threw a party in your honor in Washington.

The Dutch mega-airline KLM at one point even named an airplane after you.

And you're "in permanent contact with the Almighty," according to the radio station you control, which also noted that you are "like God in heaven" with "all power over men and things." Accordingly, as the broadcast went on to note, "He can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell." (Sound familiar?)

Yet all is not well in Equatorial Guinea, the small, oil-soaked African nation that Obiang rules with an iron fist.

Human rights groups report that members of opposition groups are "flogged." One man recounted how the president's forces "cut his ears off with scissors." In addition to recurring accusations that the Obiang regime has targeted citizens in exile for assassination, the State Department notes the following characteristics of Equatorial Guinea's sparkling human rights record:
...abridgement of citizens' right to change their government; torture, beating, and other physical abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; impunity; arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention; harassment and deportation of foreign residents; judicial corruption and lack of due process; restrictions on the right to privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press; restrictions on the right of assembly, association, and movement; government corruption; violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities; restrictions on labor rights and child labor; and forced child labor.
Taking advantage of the favorable climate for efficient exploitation, U.S. energy interests have established a firm foothold in the country. ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Halliburton, and Marathon Oil are all feeding from the trough, as two-thirds of Equatorial Guinea's substantial oil production goes into U.S. hands. Accordingly, the U.S. embassy (shut down in 1995, after the atypically outspoken then-U.S. envoy received death threats for daring to criticize Obiang and before the oil boom was in full swing) was reopened by the Bush administration to manage this burgeoning partnership.

Thanks to Western benevolence, the macroeconomy is booming, one of the world's fastest-growing, though mysteriously, as Peter Maass writes: "Per capita, it is one of the richest countries on the continent; rated by how much money ends up in the pockets of people not related to the president, it remains one of the poorest."

Not unfairly, China has taken quite a beating in Western media for its unsavory alliances in Africa, which are uniformly understood to be about securing access to natural resources and markets with little to no regard for human rights.

Yet the same elementary point about the United States somehow escapes the penetrating eyes of the Western intelligentsia, who display a marked tendency to simply ignore human rights violations in U.S.-allied states with expansive energy reserves (tellingly, the press posed two questions to Rice when she appeared with Obiang in Washington before their meeting - both of which were about Iran) - a fact perceived rather easily by others.

Says Gabriel Nguema Lima, one of Obiang's sons, who is "in effective control of the ministry of mines and energy," overseeing the country's oil industry: “The United States, like China, is careful not to get into internal issues.”

Nothing different should be expected from a world power without an enlivened citizenry that demands otherwise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Poor Cuba: So Far from God, So Close to the United States

While studying abroad at the University of Havana in 2003, I had a conversation with a Cuban student who expressed to me some mocking trepidation that the U.S. embargo (or "blockade," in Cuban parlance) would soon be lifted.

"Then we're in real trouble," he related. "All the computer software we have down here is pirated, and if the U.S. finds out, they'll take it away from us."

Four years later, he clearly still has nothing to worry about.

Stumbling into its 46th year, the beleaguered U.S. policy of "stand[ing] with the Cuban people as they stand up for their liberty" shows no signs of fading away any time soon - indeed, in spite of opposition from virtually the entire world (minus the usual dependencies of Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, per a 2006 UN vote), agricultural interests in the U.S. who want to increase trade with the island, and many members of Congress, U.S. policy towards Cuba has taken an even more draconian turn in recent years.

In 2004, Washington implemented changes preventing Cuban Americans from visiting anyone but immediate family members on the island, and limiting how often they can do so (curiously, sans protest from Focus on the Family or other "family values" crusaders). Study abroad programs for U.S. university students were mostly banned.

In 2006, the U.S. announced "more vigorous investigations and more aggressive prosecutions" of embargo-violators, real scum of the earth who dare to visit the island to deliver humanitarian aid, or, say, because they don't think that the government has the right to tell them where not to travel. Tellingly, a 2004 investigation by the Associated Press found that "The Treasury Department agency entrusted with blocking the financial resources of terrorists has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money."

Though critiques of U.S. policy towards Cuba are obvious, and accepted by basically every nation in the world - Cuba isn't quite a "tropical gulag," and it's wrong in principle to force food and medical scarcities on a population for geopolitical gain - it is especially significant in this case the extent to which U.S. policy contradicts U.S. policy goals.

While its deleterious effects are very real, the U.S. embargo/blockade functions, in essence, as Cuba's "War on Terror": a blanket excuse Havana can use for any related or unrelated problem in the country (dissidents? food shortages?), and an automatic justification for whatever repressive measures the government proposes.

One could argue that Washington simply doesn't get the point - that its policies are propping up the Cuban government - though the political establishment in the U.S. clearly understands the idea of fear mongering to beat its own population into submission.

In reality, the embargo/blockade's endurance is better explained by the fact that there is a potential outcome for U.S. imperial interests that is far more dangerous than strengthening the hand of the Cuban government - it's admitting that the embargo/blockade against Cuba hasn't worked, and in the process giving other poor nations the idea that they too can outlast or overcome superpower assault.

Though the embargo/blockade clearly strengthens the Cuban government in the ways mentioned above, it will thus stick around as long as the price for getting rid of it is the empire's aura of invincibility.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Outhawking the Republicans - Democrats and Darfur

While the Bush administration has taken very little action on Darfur (unless "action" can be defined by empty rhetorical flourishes, coddling members of Sudan's intelligence apparatus, and castrating aid organizations and the African Union deployment), the major Democratic presidential contenders have staked out highly bellicose ground in their "solutions" to the conflict, seeking to play to Save Darfur activists who are rearing for confrontation with Khartoum and prove their own meddle in managing the ever-invoked "War on Terror."

Far from consideration for the candidates is how this militant posturing, if actually carried out, would affect the masses of suffering Darfurians.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama (amongst others), all support a no-fly zone for Darfur - a potentially catastrophic idea (see our previous post on the topic) with little possible upside for suffering Darfurians, as the majority of attacks against civilians are carried out not from the air, but on the ground. Instead, the imposition of a no-fly zone is likely to provoke Khartoum into unleashing its wrath on Darfurian civilians and the AU deployment, and worsen the already dire circumstances in which aid organizations operate in the region.

Others of the candidates' stances plunge further into the depths of dangerousness and irrationality.

Clinton, for one, has floated the idea of blockading the Port of Sudan, a measure that is at least tantamount to an act of war.

Like Clinton, who pledged to "work with NATO to take military action” in Sudan if Khartoum does not allow a UN-AU deployment into the country, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), evidently seeking to make an already calamitous situation even worse, proposes unilaterally sending US troops into Sudan, a "humanitarian intervention" that conjures (at best) the disastrous US-led deployment in the early 1990s to Somalia.

The direct involvement of NATO or even US troops in a potential "peacekeeping" force in Sudan, as suggested by some, would in all probability lead to Sudanese groups "start[ing] a jihad against it," in the words of Jan Pronk, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Sudan.

While the Democratic frontrunners toy with Darfurian lives for the sake of pandering and bolstering their jingoist credentials, less sexy but more helpful measures remain on the table for actually attempting to mitigate the crisis, the same ones that have been around all along and have been consistently ignored by politicians and many Darfur activists alike: funding aid organizations, pushing an expansion in the size of (and a broadened mandate for) the AU deployment, and seeking a political settlement through promoting a common rebel negotiating front for talks with Khartoum.

Though less conducive to projecting US military might, these are the demands that activists should be pushing for from the potential heirs to the throne of "leader of the free world."

Unfortunately, should their saber-rattling come to fruition, the powers that be of the future instead seem intent on destroying Darfur in order to "save" it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Article on Darfur Divestment

We have a new Darfur piece entitled "Divestment: Solution or Diversion?" published in Foreign Policy in Focus - accompanied by an opposing viewpoint piece, authored by Daniel Millenson. Our response to his article should be up soon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tallying Death in Darfur

Darfur is regularly called the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster.” Google returns 13,100 hits for a search of the phrase with “Darfur”; pairing it with "Iraq," a much larger killing field, yields only 544 results.

As a politically useful bloodbath which can be used to demonize Arabs and Muslims, exaggerated fatality estimates in Darfur are generally not subjected to serious scrutiny. In contrast, the most serious mortality estimates for Iraq, in particular the 2006 Lancet study, are disparaged and far lower estimates are regularly circulated in the commercial press.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Time Magazine's Africa writer Sam Dealey regarding a ruling of the British Advertising Standards Authority broke the pattern. The case concerned ads placed by the Save Darfur Coalition in Britain and the United States in 2006 claiming that 400,000 innocent people had been killed in Darfur.

The subsequent ruling ordered Save Darfur to alter the ads to present the 400,000 figure as opinion rather than fact and “concluded that there was a division of informed opinion about the accuracy of the figure contained in the ad and it should not have been presented in such a definitive way.”

Death toll estimates as high as 400,000 are often cited (though a much lower figure of 200,000 is most common; there is rarely any attempt to explain the discrepancy). As early as April 2006, Eric Reeves ventured that excess mortality in Darfur “significantly exceeds 450,000.”

As the Times piece points out, there is considerable justification for skepticism of the higher estimates. Reviewing a Government Accounting Office study that convened a panel of experts to review six prominent estimates, Dealey concludes that the current death toll is probably around 200,000, which, as he notes, is “just half of what Save Darfur claimed a year ago in its ad and still claims on its Web site.” A September 2006 article in the prestigious journal Science provided a range of 170,000-255,000 total deaths (including natural causes; counting only deaths attributable to the violence would yield a somewhat lower figure).

Alex de Waal, a respected expert on the region, wrote of the numbers controversy, “there is no certainty in these figures. The reality could be different. But the pattern is both clear and familiar, and the best guess is approximately 200,000 excess deaths, plus or minus.”

The debate is not academic. Dealey points out:
Inaccurate data can also lead to prescriptive blunders. During the worst period of violence, for example, the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster estimated that nearly 70 percent of Darfur’s excess deaths were due not to violence but to disease and malnutrition. This suggests that policy makers should look for ways to bolster and protect relief groups — by continuing to demand that the Sudanese government not hamper the delivery of aid, to be sure, but also by putting vigorous public pressure, so far lacking, on the dozen rebel groups that routinely raid convoys.
As de Waal observes, “In Darfur, the figures have become more politicized than any in recent history.” Inflating the death toll in Darfur does not further the cause of those seeking an end to the crisis but rather brings discredit to the movement. Moreover, it provides further illustration of the ease with which Darfur activists draw favorable attention and support while activists with causes of no utility to establishment interests or, worse, that are opposed to those interests are by turns ignored and ridiculed.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Weekly Commentary - A No-Fly Zone for Darfur

The chattering classes of liberal politics have spoken. From all the front-runner candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, to the Save Darfur Coalition, important political figures and organizations are publicly advocating a "no-fly zone" as a means to alleviate suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Yet before more ink (and money) is spent on urging the U.S. government to implement such a measure, activists must consider the potential consequences of a no-fly zone in Darfur - beyond the feeling it may give us that we are "doing something" - and the distinct possibility that it could make the situation on the ground even worse.

First, it is important to understand what is being called for in regards to a no-fly zone. By declaring one, the responsible party or parties (likely the U.S. and/or France, due to their nearby air bases) are obliging themselves to "shoot down their [Khartoum's] planes" if they enter into the restricted airspace. Aside from the concern that planes being used for humanitarian purposes could be mistakenly targeted in the no-fly zone, as they are "indistinguishable" from the planes used by Khartoum, the actual shooting down of one of Khartoum's planes could lead the Sudanese government to unleash their fury on the AU presence in Darfur, or the supposed AU/UN contingent that may be deployed in the future.

Yet what will a no-fly zone accomplish for Darfurians, to whose plight the West claims such steadfast commitment?
  • In the immediate short-term, Sudan could very well respond to the implementation of a no-fly zone by turning Darfur's long-running tragedy into an outright catastrophe. As noted by the International Crisis Group, "Khartoum might respond by escalating its actions on the ground against civilians, not unlike what happened in the initial days of NATO's actions in Kosovo in 1999."

  • Though Khartoum does still drop bombs on Darfur, "the vast majority of attacks are executed by forces on the ground." Accordingly, a no-fly zone "would only weaken a very small piece of Khartoum's killing machine."

  • A no-fly zone may very well pull the plug on Darfur's massive relief operations. As the Sudan specialist Julie Flint argues,
    In the last three and a half years, humanitarian aid has stabilized conditions for the more than 4 million people who currently depend on relief. Mortality and malnutrition have fallen, significantly. If a no-fly zone were imposed, Khartoum would not go belly up. It would in all likelihood retaliate by grounding humanitarian flights. Its proxies in the Janjaweed militias would show their displeasure in the only way they know. Relief workers might be expelled or forced to evacuate the region. People who are now being kept alive would die.

    The current emphasis on coercive measures conceals the fact that the US and its friends have no clear plan of political action, no sensible project for peace to go hand in hand with pressure on the Khartoum regime.

Moreover, there is a clear double standard involved in the question of funding a no-fly zone vis-à-vis other measures. As the Sudan analyst Eric Reeves notes, enforcing a no-fly zone would be "extremely resource-consumptive." On the other hand, tellingly, the African Union (AU) mission in Darfur has been severely underfunded, its troops enduring months without pay.

Where are the calls from the crème de la crème of the Democratic Party and the Save Darfur Coalition for ramping up funding the AU - with 7000 troops actually on the ground in Darfur - instead of a financially costly no-fly zone that knowledgeable commentators predict would have even costlier effects in terms of human lives?

Indeed, while it may make activists feel better to think that their advocacy for a no-fly zone is "doing something" for Darfur, the most likely outcome of their activism may be a severe deterioration in the conditions on the ground in Darfur.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Weekly Commentary - Haiti: Surviving the Saviors

Photo: A UN tank looms behind an obviously dangerous Haitian woman, Thony Belizaire/AFP © Getty

Since becoming the world's first independent black republic in 1804, born from history's only successful national slave rebellion, Haiti has suffered more than two centuries of abuse at the hands of Western powers. From France's initial crippling of the Haitian economy, to decades of U.S. military occupation, and subsequent support for the brutal Duvalier dictatorships, Haiti has long been a focal point for Western imperialism. Given this past, and the country's status as "the victim of [the] most US intervention[s] in the 20th century by a long shot," it is unsurprising that Haiti is the Western hemisphere's poorest nation.

It is a long-running storyline that continues largely unabated to the present.

In 1990, the Haitian poor majority experienced a brief period of actual hope, having voted into office Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest and proponent of liberation theology who had become well-known for his devotion to the Haitian masses. Turning to the present, some 17 years later, Aristide finds himself in forced exile in South Africa, the country's social ills continue unaddressed, and an unpopular UN force continues its military occupation of the country.

The question of how the Haitian people have gone in these past 17 years from joy to despair (and there and back again, several times over) is an instructive one, revealing at every turn Washington's continued insistence on crushing moves towards meaningful independence for the country.

From the moment of Aristide's 1990 election - Haiti's first ever popularly elected president - the U.S. "did what it could to undermine him and to funnel support to the Haitian military," an institution almost universally reviled in Haiti for its brutality and servile role to U.S. interests. In 1991, the military overthrew Aristide, triggering public denunciations from Washington that were difficult to take seriously given longstanding U.S. ties to the coup plotters. However, as the governing military regime plunged Haiti further into chaos, threatening the investment climate and swelling the number of Haitian refugees fleeing to the U.S. to escape the carnage, Washington threatened to invade the country in 1994 in order to reinstall Aristide.

Despite misgivings about U.S. motives, most Haitians were glad to see the U.S. take action, and heaped praise on the U.S. soldiers who oversaw the transition back to civilian government. As noted in The Progressive, the majority of Haitians wanted the U.S. "to come in and obliterate the Haitian army."

Whatever the initial feelings of euphoria, it was also clear that the U.S. exacted a heavy price from Aristide in return for his being permitted to reassume the Haitian presidency. As reported in the same piece, Washington pressured the Aristide government to:
...put its name to a "structural adjustment plan" of the sort usually advanced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—namely, the cutting of gov­ernment bureaucracies and public programs, the privati­sation of publicly-owned utilities, the promotion of exports, and an "open-investment policy" that would slash tariffs and eliminate any import restrictions that might trammel investors, especially those of the foreign variety. Haitian-American scholar Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, speaking of the Paris agreements, complained that "the Haitian delegation to the World Bank signed away the economic independence of the country."
After serving out his presidency, and sitting out for a term as required by the Haitian constitution, Aristide was nevertheless again elected in 2000, buoyed by the new Lavalas political party, which he had founded to combat privatization and the role of international financial institutions.

In confronting the same powerful groups and nations as before, Aristide was again overthrown in 2004. In what he describes as his "modern kidnapping" by the U.S. military, Aristide was taken - without his consent or knowledge - to the Central African Republic; he remains in exile in South Africa, still unable to serve the remainder of his second term as president.

Shortly after Aristide's overthrow, a UN force (MINUSTAH) deployed in Haiti, initiating an indefinite occupation. Though a supposed example of "humanitarian intervention" aiming to bring stability to Haiti, MINUSTAH has demonstrated a servile attention to the U.S. (as well as Canadian and French) agenda by supporting the political and economic status quo in Haiti and failing to call for the return of the president-in-exile.

MINUSTAH's supposed role in halting violence in Haiti is also far from laudatory, indeed it often does quite the opposite, perpetuating carnage instead. According to a Harvard law report, "MINUSTAH has been the midwife" of the Haitian police in their serious human rights abuses, providing them with "the very implements of repression."

It is quite clear that the UN mission in Haiti is intended to pacify a restive population; indeed, the UN “peacekeeping” force’s behavior is hard to distinguish from that of an occupying army. On two separate occasions, July 6, 2005 and December 22, 2006, the UN troops entered the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité-Soleil in force and killed scores of bystanders. MINUSTAH appears to have intentionally targeted civilians with lethal shots to the head.

There is some evidence to indicate that the UN fired into civilian residential areas from helicopters during the July 6, 2005 attack. In the December 22, 2006 attack, UN forces denied the Haitian Red Cross entry to the area they were attacking and refused to permit the Red Cross to treat injured children.

Given the current buzz surrounding a potential "humanitarian intervention" in Darfur, the poor human rights record of the Haitian incarnation, as well as its servility to Western power, should not soon be forgotten.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Weekly Commentary - The U.S. and Ethiopia: Undermining Stability in Somalia

For the last decade and a half, Somalia has existed without a central government. The 1991 fall from power of the dictator and U.S. ally, Siad Barre, left the country with a power vacuum that would be filled by rival militias. For many Somalis, life for most of this post-1991 period has been defined by chaos and violence.

Stepping into the void, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) began in May 2006 to expand and consolidate its influence, capturing the capital Mogadishu, and establishing a governing authority that would displace the ineffectual transitional government - a body that is widely seen as the creation of foreign powers designed to serve international constituencies instead of the Somali people.

As noted by the International Crisis Group, the UIC, for all its faults, brought "a degree of peace and security unknown to the south for more than fifteen years. Mogadishu was reunited, weapons removed from the streets and the port and airport reopened." Mogadishu residents commented that the UIC liberated the city from the militias and numerous “roadblocks that had functioned like a hundred Berlin Walls.” Such were the restrictions on movement "that some residents had not seen friends and relatives in years, and children living only minutes from the crashing Indian Ocean had never laid eyes on the turquoise water.”

Following the U.S.-Ethiopian ouster of the UIC Islamists in December 2006, Somalia again began to slide into chaos.

What is especially noteworthy in this saga is how the U.S. role has been decisive in squashing these moves towards stability.

Leading up to the invasion, U.S. private military firms operated in Somalia in support of the transitional government, violating a UN arms embargo with the knowledge of the CIA. In the spring of 2006, Washington itself was “bankrolling an alliance of warlords, the same people whose armed gangs are keeping Somalia ungovernable,” in a futile attempt to prevent the UIC from gaining power.

More direct has been Washington's critical support for Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia.

The U.S.-Ethiopia alliance itself is not new, and nor is Ethiopia's pitiful human rights record. Yet the shared goal of taking out the UIC further strengthened the ties between the two countries.

Demonstrating the closeness of the U.S.-Ethiopian collaboration, in preparation for the invasion Washington sent General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, to meet with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Veteran journalist Nicola Nasser noted that the U.S. violated its own UN Security Council Resolution (1725) by “providing training, intelligence and consultation to at least 8,000 Ethiopian troops” that entered Somalia in advance of the full invasion, and, as reported, by "mounting air raids on militia targets and stationing a U.S. Navy carrier battle group off the Somali coast."

Somalis were “opposed to foreign intervention” and displayed an “outpouring of popular support” for the UIC and in defense of the country’s sovereignty, though the U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces were able to unseat the UIC in short order.

Initial reports estimated the invasion may have killed about 1,000 people outright, with some 400,000 displaced. In the midst of the invasion, the African Union, UN Secretary-General, and European Union all demanded (to no avail) that Ethiopia withdrawal.

The results of the invasion have been clear. With the warlords returned to power, Mogadishu has seen "a steady breakdown of law and order," while the World Food Program reported that the invasion forced the organization to halt deliveries of food aid serving as many as a half million Somalis suffering from food shortages as a result of flooding.

Though it has managed to evade the careful eyes of Western media, a report from the Secretary-General of the UN estimates that over one third of those killed and injured in 2006 during the fighting were children, and that the transitional government has recruited and used child soldiers.

Nevertheless, in a disgraceful display of fealty to the world superpower, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his first formal press conference, refused to call the U.S.-Ethiopian aggression towards Somalia illegal under international law (though it clearly was).

However, the Security Council itself is “complicit” in the attack upon Somalia, as pointed out by former UN spokesperson Salim Lone. Aside from its silence regarding Ethiopian aggression, the Council passed in November a resolution supporting the very weak transitional government, a body devoid of popular support. As noted, the resolution came at a time when Somalia was experiencing more peace and security, thanks to the UIC, than it had seen in many years. Qatar, supported by the Arab League, sponsored a non-binding Security Council resolution demanding that “all foreign forces immediately withdraw from the territories of Somalia and cease their military operations inside Somalia.” The resolution was killed as a result of opposition by the U.S. and others to the phrase.

Yet if the invasion was bad, its aftermath has been catastrophic.

In a particularly bloody period starting in March, some 1,300 people were killed, representing the worst violence that Mogadishu had seen in 16 years. In May 2007, John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, said the crisis of displaced persons and refugees in Somalia had become a worse than that of Darfur, and accused the warring parties of violating international law. Since February, 340,000 people were displaced - in addition to the 400,000 who fled following the invasion, though some may indeed have been forced to abandon their homes more than once.

Further, as acknowledged by the German ambassador to Sudan, the foreign-backed Somali government is also guilty of “indiscriminate use of air strikes and heavy artillery in Mogadishu's densely populated areas, the raping of women, the deliberate blocking of urgently needed food and humanitarian supplies, and the bombing of hospitals. This is a relentless drive to terrify and intimidate civilians belonging to clans” opposed to the occupation.

Such is the "complicated legacy" of the U.S. in Somalia, in the delicate phrasing of the New York Times. Less complicated has been the both initial and ongoing U.S. support for the destabilization of Somalia at the hands of its Ethiopian allies.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Weekly Commentary - Divesting for Darfur

Evoking memories of global activism against apartheid in South Africa, the Save Darfur movement is actively pushing a campaign for divestment from certain companies operating in Sudan.

Though we have elsewhere criticized other stances taken (or not taken) by the Save Darfur movement, this particular focus on divestment is not necessarily objectionable; however, it is important to understand the limitations and potential pitfalls of such advocacy, as well as the more global issue of why divestment from Sudan has progressed in ways that divestment from other human rights abusers has not.

As explained by the academic Eric Reeves, who has written extensively on Darfur,
The divestment campaign targets those companies that list on the New York Stock Exchange and other U.S. exchanges which provide key commercial and capital investments in the economy of Sudan, supporting the National Islamic Front, National Congress Party regime in Khartoum, and insulating them from the consequences of their massive external debt and their profligate expenditures on military weapons and the prosecution of genocidal war in Darfur.
Note that this is divestment from companies "that list on...U.S. exchanges" - it is not divestment from U.S. companies operating in Sudan, because they are already prohibited from doing so by U.S. sanctions. The "real culprits," according to Reeves, are Asian firms, most prominently the Chinese oil company PetroChina.

While urging individual and corporate investors in the U.S. to divest from Chinese companies because of what they are doing in Sudan is acceptable and even laudable in principle, it is also, at the very least, convoluted. Even if the campaign is successful in forcing total U.S. divestment from Chinese oil companies that operate in Sudan, it is not clear how much pressure these firms (some of which, like PetroChina, are state-backed) would actually feel to pull out of the country. There is, to be sure, no shortage of businesses or governments who are willing to invest in oil companies without any consideration for human rights.

Just as fundamentally, this divestment strategy fails to take into account that the Save Darfur movement has far greater leverage vis-a-vis the U.S. government, for whose actions U.S. activists bear direct moral responsibility, and can more easily do something to change. Significant moves - such as pushing the U.S. to fund the African Union forces on the ground in Darfur - have not been made in this more substantive direction, perhaps linked to the curious official posture of the Save Darfur movement, which holds that Washington is doing "good work" in resolving the crisis - evidence for which has not been forthcoming, as it does not exist.

In no small part because it largely frees us of moral culpability by focusing on China's role - which is significant, though again, less subject to pressure from U.S. activists than Washington's own cynical policies - this divestment movement has gained significant ground in a relatively short period of time.

Across the U.S., many states, major cities, presidential candidates, and dozens of universities (aside: note that this sympathetic article in the Los Angeles Times, mimicking the "totalitarian streak" behind the usage of the term "anti-American," bizarrely refers to divestment as "anti-Sudan" in character) have moved to discuss and/or implement varying levels of divestment from Sudan; the campaign is also going after U.S.-based firms such as Berkshire Hathaway (which is headed by Warren Buffet), and Fidelity Investments.

Yet if divestment is a valid tactic for effecting change in countries that seriously violate human rights - that is, if divestment is supported by the victims of the abuses, or can be "targeted" in such a way that it does not have adverse affects for the general population - then where is the rush to divest from Israel's "war crimes"?

The contradiction is explicit in the case of Harvard University. In 2002, in response to a petition to divest the university from the Israeli Occupation, then Harvard President Lawrence Summers condemned the campaign as "anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent."

Yet in April 2005, Harvard became "the first major victory in a national campaign for divestment from Sudan" as it divested from PetroChina. As Summers commented,
Divestment is not a step that Harvard takes lightly, but I believe there is a compelling case for action in these special circumstances, in light of the terrible situation still unfolding in Darfur and the leading role played by PetroChina's parent company in the Sudanese oil industry, which is so important to the Sudanese regime.
Employing his own perverse logic, why is this campaign not anti-Chinese, or anti-Arab, anti-African, or anti-Muslim?

As the Harvard law professor and opponent of academic freedom Alan Dershowitz asks about those advocating divestment from the Israeli Occupation,
''Why don't they say anything about Cuba's chilling of dissent or China's occupation of Tibet? Why don't they feel a personal stake in getting Jordan, Egypt, and the Philippines to stop torturing people?'...The only reason they feel so strongly about Israel is because it is the Jewish nation.''
Speaking from our own past experiences as students working for divestment from the Israeli Occupation at the University of Pittsburgh, we literally could not even get the student newspaper - hardly big media - to cover the well attended kick-off event, which featured the legendary anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus. Meanwhile, there is constant coverage of Darfur activism in the press, and it would be unimaginable for a figure even as crass as Dershowitz to openly condemn Darfur activists for bigotry and failing to "say anything about Cuba."

Accordingly, the campaign of targeted divestment from Sudan owes much, if not all of its success to the fact that it coalesces with official U.S. rhetoric on Darfur; alternatively, divesting from Israel's human rights abuses, substantial as they are, does not, and thus the campaign to do so - though longer running - has failed to resonate in the tender hearts of city legislators, state government officials, or the Lawrence Summers of the world (evidently, no small category).

That the campaign to divest from the Israeli Occupation has failed to gain Darfur-like traction, while we bear a much more direct moral responsibility for Israel's actions - which we could likely halt almost immediately - makes the reasons for the relative success of the Sudan divestment campaign clear enough, a campaign which has unfortunately largely failed to make overtures to activists working to end the Israeli Occupation, or other human rights abuses.

That the Save Darfur movement is, in the eyes of its leaders, the "biggest such activism" since Vietnam - instead of the movement to end the war in Iraq, which, again, we could do quite easily - is perhaps an even clearer indication of the failures in our intellectual culture.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Weekly Commentary – Nigeria: a U.S. Ally at a Glance

On December 26, 2006, hundreds of Nigerians were "burned alive" in the explosion of an oil pipeline that had been punctured by thieves in the country's largest city, Lagos. As the original caption to the photo at right read, "A rescue worker walks among charred corpses after a pipeline explosion in Lagos, Nigeria." Such events are symptomatic of the entrenched corruption and inequality of the nation.

Nigeria is both the major power in West Africa - the "regional police officer" (International Crisis Group) - and a country which supplies the U.S. with more oil than any other African nation. Accordingly, it is a key U.S. ally.

Hardly mincing words, the State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs commented in October that:
Nigeria is arguably our most important strategic partner in Africa. It is Africa’s most populous state as well as its second-largest economy. Nigeria is our largest African trading partner, and a growing key oil supplier to the United States. It is a crucial continental power broker in dealing with African institutions and in resolving armed conflict. It is a vital player in the War on Terror. Located along the Sahel, Nigeria exerts great influence on African political, economic, and socio-cultural trends. A prosperous Nigeria is vital to Africa’s growth and stability, and to projecting U.S. influence as a strategic partner.
Since 1999, the U.S. military relationship with Nigeria has blossomed, despite, or perhaps more accurately because of, the Nigerian military and security forces' harsh treatment of dissenters, including the use of extrajudicial executions (as reported by the State Department itself).

This relationship has manifested itself in several ways:
  • U.S. special forces "work with" the Nigerian military to control the Sahara, as part of the "War on Terror"
  • The U.S. and Nigeria coordinate on "security" in the Niger Delta; oil companies operating in the Delta have openly asked the U.S. military for "protection of their facilities"
  • The U.S. Navy patrols the Gulf of Guinea to protect Nigerian oil fields
Accordingly, the four day national strike last week over rising fuel prices, which paralyzed major cities, was no doubt watched with some concern in Washington. Oil, after all, is to be properly directed to the West, not the pesky natives - a lesson not understood by the Nigeria Labour Congress, which called the strike to compel the government to reverse measures pushed through by the former president Olusegun Obasanjo shortly before leaving office, including a dramatic increase in fuel prices and the selling off of government oil refineries to cronies.

This last action by Obasanjo may reduce the prospects for turning around the nation’s refining capabilities. Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil producers and the largest in Africa, is in the absurd situation of being forced to import most of its fuel because its refineries are in shambles - a result of years of neglect.

The resulting strike was reportedly supported by "many Nigerians." An indication as to why is provided by the words of a Nigerian man interviewed by the BBC. Referring to the impact of the fuel price hike, the Lagos entrepreneur noted:
Our family income is reduced by 20%. But everything else has gone up in response to the price hikes - tomatoes, bread, all foodstuffs, clothes, transport... a loaf of bread used to be 100 naira ($0.78) but now it is between 120 and 150 naira ($1.18). Even rent has gone up because landlords have seized this opportunity to also increase their rates.
The man summarized that the aim of the government was "to be the master over the servants" - a typical posture for U.S.-allied governments, in Africa and beyond.

Nigerians returned to work on Monday, the strike having ended with a concession from the government to hold fuel prices steady for the next year but without a reversal of the sale of the oil refineries.

The labor unrest comes in the wake of the "deeply flawed" April election that brought Obasanjo’s hand-picked successor to power. Following the election, protestors from the Ogoni indigenous ethnic group in the Niger Delta managed to cut the country’s oil production by 30 percent in an attempt, as one protest group put it, to "compel the government to address the injustice in the Niger Delta."

Though the EU determined the election was not credible and Nigerian observers called for a revote, the results stood, troubling the nation’s alliance with the U.S. not a bit, aside from Washington’s usual pious pronouncement that it was "deeply troubled" by flaws in the poll. The International Crisis Group concluded that the elections were "the most poorly organised and massively rigged in the country’s history," no small achievement. Some 200 people died in violence related to the elections; opposition groups were intimidated and their leaders arrested.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-declared "global democratic revolution" carries on unabated, though it is of little value to most Nigerians; despite the country's position as the largest oil producer in Africa, more than half of Nigerians live in poverty. Astonishingly for a country rich in resources, Nigeria has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

Lagos, Africa's second largest city, is what Michael Watts, director of the Center for African Studies at UC-Berkeley, calls "everyone’s worst urban nightmare," possessed as it is of massive slums. Watts writes:
In Ajegunle, one of its vast swamp shanty towns, perhaps 1.5 million people inhabit eight square kilometers. In a recent New Yorker article, George Packer describe [sic] the city as a burning garbage heap, populated by armies of scavengers that are superfluous and ultimately disposable.
Income inequality is massive, with 85 percent of proceeds from oil flowing to 1 percent of the population. One estimate holds that $100 billion in oil revenue has simply disappeared since 1970, presumably into the foreign bank accounts of corrupt leaders and bureaucrats.

In the decades since oil production began, inequality has increased while per capita income decreased. No less an establishment authority than the IMF observes that oil - or, at least, a system of oil exploration and refining designed to benefit the West and Nigeria's elite - may have actually hindered the standard of living in Nigeria. Watts notes that, "Between 1970 and 2000 in Nigeria, the number of people subsisting on less than one dollar a day grew from 36 percent to more than 70 percent, from 19 million to a staggering 90 million."

Nowhere is the suffering and exploitation of Nigerians more extreme than in the Niger Delta. In the last decade, oil-related violence in the Delta has skyrocketed. Government "security" forces, in alliance with the U.S., provide security to the foreign multi-nationals exploiting the region’s oil while abusing the local populations.

Sandy Cioffi, producer of a documentary on the Niger Delta struggle, notes that nonviolent activism in the region had been taking place since the 1980s and was met with brutality, culminating in the execution of the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian military in 1995.

As Cioffi goes on to note, in 2002 a group of women conducted a nonviolent protest by overtaking an oil platform. The women demanded basic social services and the cleaning up of the oil-polluted environment; they were able to extract memoranda of understanding, which, however, went largely unfulfilled. Following these repeated refusals to implement the rudiments of justice, many residents have come to believe that more militant and violent tactics are necessary.

As the Nigerian writer and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka explains about one such tactic now employed in the Niger Delta:
You must have heard of hostage-taking, and I personally, I’m in a position to tell you that I have participated in the efforts to release those hostages, which came to a successful conclusion. So I am in touch with some of these people, these young people, highly motivated. They are not thugs. They are not riffraff, as they are sometimes portrayed. They are disciplined. And they are determined to correct decades of injustice, and that's all they’re really after. You may disagree with their methods, but believe me, nobody should underestimate the very deep motivation that impels these people.
Adding further to the suffering of the region, the people of the Abalamabie community in Rivers State, Nigeria are suffering from a spill of heavy crude oil managed by Shell Petroleum. The oil spill polluted forests, farmland and waterways, leading to the "total destruction of crops, fishes and other sea foods". A statement issued by the president of the community’s development committee stated that "the rate of devastation is becoming unbearable" and is "destroying the economic life of the community."

The spill occurred over three months ago – to date Shell has not responded to pleas from the community to clean the site and has provided only very "meager" relief to the people, who are "predominantly peasant farmers and fishermen." The U.S. government could of course apply the necessary pressure to elicit a response from Shell, though this is of a similar likelihood as Washington pressuring the Nigerian government to work to end the massive social inequality that exists in the country.

The people of Nigeria, and especially in the Delta, may be forgiven if they are wondering where exactly the U.S. manifests its vaunted concern for human rights and development, standing in sharp contrast to the crudely self-interested alliances fostered by China on the African continent.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Saving Darfur or Salvation Delusion?"

We have a new, co-authored article published by Foreign Policy in Focus. Citations and footnotes for the article are available here; we welcome comments.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

40 Years of Occupation...and Counting

Steve Fake, co-author of this blog, traveled to Washington D.C. in a group of 22 activists from Boston to take part in the June 10 protest against 40 years of Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. What follows is his personal account of the protest.

In June 1967, amongst escalating tensions in the region, Israel launched attacks against Egypt and Jordan. Syria would also be drawn into the conflict. In the resulting "Six-Day War," Israel would capture, in direct contravention of international law, land that had been under the control of all three countries - the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Jordan), the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), and the Golan Heights (Syria). While Egypt has since reclaimed the Sinai Peninsula, and the issue of the Golan Heights has fallen to the back burner, the areas comprising the parts of historic Palestine which do not form part of the state of Israel - the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip - all remain under Israeli occupation. The Palestinians find themselves on ever shrinking parcels of land, subjected to torture, unlawful detention, and killings, and suffering in ways that conjure images of apartheid South Africa.

As this occupation completed its fourth decade, organizers convened a march in Washington D.C. to highlight the criminality and inhumanity of both Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and especially the U.S.' defining role in allowing the Israeli state to perpetrate its crimes. It was an historic day - the first instance, as a protest emcee noted repeatedly, of a national demonstration in the U.S. specifically dedicated to supporting the Palestinian cause.

Opposition to the occupation - normally absent from public discourse - recently received an unusual amount of exposure in our nation's capital. Reportedly, last month one of the leading organizations behind the demonstration placed ads in the D.C. metro "depicting a Palestinian child on his way to school with an Israeli tank looming in the background, gun barrel lowered. 'Imagine if this was your child's daily path to school,' the captions declare."

To make the comparison more tangible and realistic, perhaps in the future actors dressed up as Israeli soldiers can charge through Washington's streets with loaded weapons, actually firing at children.

As for the rally itself, I was greeted upon my arrival at the Capitol building by the airing of a statement that had been sent by none other than the former sitcom star Roseanne Barr; in her statement, Barr condemned "the vicious cycle of revenge and recriminations that benefit only those who profit from a distance." Inspired, the emcee commented (paraphrased): “today Roseanne, tomorrow the hottest couples in Hollywood. Support is growing. Next time we'll have Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie here.” At the very least we can launch a campaign to convince Angelina to adopt a Palestinian baby.

Other speakers at the rally included:
  • Mazin Qumsiyeh, the respected Palestinian geneticist, spoke of the Israel lobby in the U.S. While Qumsiyeh is right to broach this topic, it is important not to fall into a nationalist line of thinking by succumbing to the line that this lobby is "the dominant factor" in the formation of U.S. policies. Such a viewpoint not only serves as an abdication of moral responsibility ("hey, we're good people, and we would have a just policy towards the region if not for these meddlesome outsiders"), it also goes against the factual record. As Norman Finkelstein adeptly notes, "the historical connection between the US and Israel has been based on the useful services that Israel has performed for the United States in the region as a whole" - from taking out Nasser in Egypt, to recently attempting (and failing) to destroy Hezbollah. Indicative of this erroneous line of thinking, there were several signs at the rally expressing sentiments such as “End Israeli Occupation of Capital Hill.”
  • A speaker from the Green Party emphasized Washington's role in perpetuating the Occupation, calling the violence bipartisan and noting, impressively, that the right of return is advocated in the Party's platform.
  • Husam El-Nounou of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme described Gaza as the world's largest prison, but noted that Palestinians are there to stay. As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy comments, Israel "is a country in which the streets are plastered with posters calling for a population transfer."
  • Jennifer Loewenstein of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions announced the organization's ambitious plan (the Constructing Peace Campaign) to rebuild every single Palestinian house destroyed this year by Israeli forces. She said about 300 homes are demolished each year on average.
  • Another speaker humorously suggested naming each of the Israeli checkpoints in the Occupied Territories for a U.S. Congressperson, since there are approximately the same numbers of each, to remind our representatives (and the public) of what they are funding.
Mazin Qumsiyeh estimated there were about 4,000 demonstrators and 50 counter-demonstrators. The Jerusalem Post put it at “upwards of 2,000” and the counter-protesters at “a couple hundred.” The organizers' website estimated over 5,000.

It was predictable that fewer people would show up than for a demonstration against the occupation of Iraq; however, while the organizers did not make public any expectations for crowd size, the turnout was nonetheless a bit disappointing in comparison to rallies held elsewhere.

The protest in London appears to have drawn many more people (estimates range widely, from 2,000 to 20,000); however, England has only a sixth of the U.S. population, and while Britain generally supports Israeli policies, it is not the decisive enabler of Israeli crimes that Washington is - a role of which the U.S. is evidently quite proud.

There was very little coverage of the protest by the media; the New York Times and Washington Post had none that I could find. If only we were focusing our efforts on Darfur instead of Palestine, we would have been rewarded with top media billing.

I took a few dozen photos from the protest, though a photographer named Diane Greene Lent has a superior set. Three videos of the rally and march are also available.

In addition to London, other protests were held in Colorado, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Tel Aviv.

Just two days before the protest, the prominent scholar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Norman Finkelstein, was denied tenure by DePaul University in Chicago. Finkelstein must now vacate his current post by the end of the upcoming academic year.

Despite praise from Raul Hilberg, widely considered "the dean of Holocaust scholars," Finkelstein fell victim to a vicious smear campaign, spearheaded by the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Mehrene Larudee, a fellow DePaul professor who was set to become head of the school's international studies program, was also denied tenure, for what she cites as her support for Finkelstein.

Students have protested the decision. According to one student, "This is going to be a long battle...DePaul will be embarrassed by this activity.'' One can only hope that this turns out to be the case.

In the words of Hllberg, "I have a sinking feeling about the damage this will do to academic freedom." Little has changed in these 40 years.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weekly Commentary - Haranguing Hugo Chávez

From liberal to conservative, the corridors of educated opinion in the U.S. are quaking - quaking - with indignation over the Venezuelan government's non-renewal of a television license for the broadcaster RCTV. If I had a dollar for every one of these righteous condemnations of Caracas, I could buy a printing press and actually exercise in a meaningful way the First Amendment rights that many of these commentators and politicians have re-discovered at this most opportune of times.

Somewhat less cynical critiques from groups such as Human Rights Watch are justified in viewing Hugo Chávez's move as a case of his government's "misusing the state’s regulatory authority." Yet deeper issues linger.

As documented elsewhere, RCTV and other right-wing media in Venezuela backed the short-lived 2002 coup against the democratically-elected Chávez government, which was soon after overturned by popular mobilization. During these fleeting moments of jubilation for Washington, the new RCTV-backed government flaunted its democratic credentials by having "dissolved all constitutional institutions" in Venezuela, including "the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and the national electoral commission."

One may be tempted to consider the conundrum, how would the U.S. and other shedders of crocodile tears react if a domestic news station backed a coup against the Bush government, and then cheered as its imposed successors "dissolved all constitutional institutions" within the country?

There would no question of letting the offending broadcaster continue to operate for five years, at which point the U.S. would not renew its license - for the simple reason that the station's "owners and managers would have been lined up before firing squads right away." As Patrick McElwee comments in an insightful piece, "it is frankly amazing that this company has been allowed to broadcast for 5 years after the coup, and that the Chávez government waited until its license expired to end its use of the public airwaves."

The crux of the issue, as McElwee astutely observes, is that:
The government seems to have made the decision without any administrative or judicial hearings. Unfortunately, this is what the law, first enacted in 1987, long before Chávez entered the political scene, allows. It charges the executive branch with decisions about license renewal, but does not seem to require any administrative hearing. The law should be changed, but at the current moment when broadcast licenses are up for renewal, it is the prevailing law and thus lays out the framework in which decisions are made.
The government can legitimately take measures to ensure that the airwaves - which belong to the public, after all - represent a diversity of opinion, and are not, as is the case in Venezuela, generally unresponsive to the wishes of the population, and in the stranglehold of the political right. Yet it is, to be sure, a "flawed process" (though not one originally devised by Chávez') that allows the non-renewal of RCTV's license, and, as Noam Chomsky notes, "For those who uphold far higher standards than those of the West, it's entirely legitimate to criticize the closing of RCTV."

Principled defenders of free speech - evidently a small category - will also take note of recent moves in Pakistan, a U.S. partner in the "War on Terror."

Tellingly, few bones were picked with the (now-suspended) restrictions on the media imposed by the Washington-allied leader of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. Himself of sterling democratic credentials - he, unlike Chávez, has never been approved by voters in anything approaching meaningful elections - Musharraf's government had gained "new powers to suspend broadcasters' licenses, seal their premises and confiscate equipment." In fact, the Pakistani government "has also blocked transmission of three private television stations."

One searches in vain for widespread condemnation by Washington and Western media of this dictator's self-given right to "make it easier for government forces to shut down broadcasters."

There is, after all, a "War on Terror" to win, pitting civilization's unquenchable thirst for freedom against evil incarnate itself.

Given Washington's own apparently deliberate (and repeated) bombing of the pan-Arab network Al-Jazeera's offices, U.S. leaders could achieve a painless and substantial victory in this "War" by turning themselves over for imprisonment by the FBI. By comparison, Chávez's overhyped transgressions against the media pale into insignificance.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Stop the Deportation of Sameh Khouzam!

We are foregoing our usual Weekly Commentary to ask you to take action on behalf of a personal friend.

Sameh Khouzam, an Egyptian national residing in the U.S., has been detained by U.S. immigration officials and is facing immediate (Thursday, June 7) deportation to Egypt. Sameh, a Coptic Christian, originally escaped from Egypt to flee religious persecution by government authorities. He has faced attacks by Egyptian officials, and has endured nearly a decade of prison time in the U.S.

A U.S. court had previously found that Sameh could not be deported to Egypt since it was "more likely than not" that he would be tortured there. Nevertheless, the U.S. has since accepted the Egyptian government's ludicrous assurances that it will not torture Sameh. To those who have followed the U.S. government's "extraordinary rendition" practices over the years, it is apparent that these assurances against torture are delivered with a wink. In many cases, Washington has deported victims because they know the detainee will be tortured and desire as much. There is widespread documentation by human rights groups that Egypt heavily engages in torture.

For more information about this case, please refer to, a letter from U.S. House Representative Joseph Pitts (R-PA), to Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice on behalf of Sameh, and articles from UPI, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights USA.

The contact information for relevant officials is included below, as well as suggested talking points and a sample letter (courtesy of that may be faxed. Given the immediacy of the situation at hand, officials must be called, faxed, and emailed; there is no time for letter-writing.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this serious matter. Please help us publicize this urgent case. You can send an email with a link to this post to your friends and acquaintances using the envelope symbol at the bottom.

Phone Call Talking Points:
-calling to ask that Sameh Khouzam not be deported on Thursday, June 7, as scheduled
-Sameh is an Egyptian who faces a serious threat of torture if he is deported there
-Sameh has committed no crime
-use your influence with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop Sameh’s deportation and obtain his immediate release from DHS/ICE custody

Sample Letter to Officials

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Phone: 202-647-4000
Email form

Senator Arlen Specter
U.S. Senate - Pennsylvania
Via Fax No. (202) 224-8165
Phone: 202-224-4254
Email form

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Phone: 202-282-8495

The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
Office of the Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Phone: 202-353-1555

Contact Information for your Local Official