Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 21 December 2012

The FBI Investigation of Isaiah Abraham: Challenges, opportunities and implications


By Steve Paterno

December 20, 2012 — The agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), charged with helping the investigation of Isaiah Abraham death, is reported to have landed in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This senior official from the bureau is the first who is said to have arrived the country, amidst challenges, opportunities and implications laying ahead, awaiting the arduous task of investigation of this murder case—a high profile murder, which is already shrouded with mystery, wild conspiracies and a potential fallout.

Isaiah Abraham, a renowned online columnist, who was also a senior civil servant, a soldier in the liberation struggle as well as a former military major, was lured out of his house in Juba by unknown gunmen in the early hours of December 5th, 2012, and then was shot to death, execution style. Many attributed his killing to have been motivated by his writings, which most of the times were critical of the government’s handling of the state’s affairs. There are wild speculations as to who murdered Isaiah Abraham. However, the most prevailing public sentiment is that the hit was carried out by a unit from the presidential death squad or security services, sanctioned by some officials in the government.

Meanwhile, although, without offering any definitive evidence, the government simply classified the murder of Isaiah Abraham as a probable assassination. In its part, the government vows for a thorough investigation.

The death of Isaiah Abraham is met with loud outcry and wide condemnation, both from within the country and outside. The incident leads into many questions and discussions about the government’s abilities and commitments in safeguarding the lives of its citizens as well as protecting freedom of expression. Of recent, in and around Juba, there is an upsurged of unexplained murders and abuses. In most of these cases, security personnels are suspected to be the culprits. At the same time, Journalists around the country are routinely jailed, beaten, roped, and harassed by security officials. However, Isaiah Abraham fateful murder is the last straw that broke the camel’s back, which propelled this outrage into national and international spotlight, and provides yet a better prospect for finding solutions.

It is at this juncture that the FBI comes into the picture and intervening into South Sudanese internal affairs; the first official intervention by the agency in the new country. FBI, one of the intelligence arms of USA federal government is considered to be the world premier law enforcement agency, leading in intelligence gathering, counter-intelligence and criminal investigation. The USA government, which midwifed the birth of the newly independent and fledging state of South Sudan is very much concern with the increase level of violence and human rights abuses taking place in the country. Therefore, the American government requested that the FBI must participate in solving some of the unexplained murderers and abuses in the country, particularly that of Isaiah Abraham.

The FBI is coming in and will have to yet face some difficult challenges of its investigative tasks. The very reason that brought the FBI into South Sudan is the first very obstacle the agency will meet. FBI fashions itself in investigating cases within USA laws and producing evidence that withstand prosecution in US court system. However, in South Sudan, the court system are hardly functionable by any measurable standard. The legal framework for criminal prosecution is weak, the very reason why many crimes slipped away, unresolved.

Secondly, in the case of Isaiah Abraham, there is actually no crime scene to work with or work in. Fresh crime scenes evidence are crucial in any investigation, nevertheless, most critical crime scene evidence might have already been tempered with in this case.

Thirdly, the lapse of time may also negatively impacted this investigation. It has taken about two weeks for an FBI agent to land on the ground and get acquainted with the case. The time factor provides for the destruction of significant evidence and the lost of possible leads.

Fourthly, the FBI in charge will for the most part rely on a preliminary report from the South Sudanese counterparts, which at best are third or fourth hand pieces of unrelated evidences and probably poorly prepared. In a criminal investigation, it is important that a preliminary report is built as a foundation in which the entire investigation process will run its course. Nonetheless, with the amateurism of South Sudanese investigators, such report will be of no investigative value and will be of no significance to the FBI personnel involved.

Fifth, witnesses testimonies are going to prove problematic and hard to come by. South Sudanese is made up of a society fraught with rumormongering. Just as an example, one of the recent series of rumors, which broke out in Juba, stated that the police was holding a certain foreign lady who turned into a snake. Before you know it, the crowds began to flock the police station so as to view this half human, half beast creature. As the congregated crowd explained to the police the reason for their coming at the station, some police even starting believing in the story and spread the rumor; implying the incident is in fact true. That is actually how a mere rumor could easily lend credence—inadvertently of course. Therefore, there is going to be a lot of contradicting and uncorroborated witness testimonies to sift through.

Another problem that will present itself, related to witnesses in a treacherous place like South Sudan is that potential testimonies could easily be thwarted through intimidation, censorship or even killing. Matter of fact, this is already happening. For instance, in the wake of Isaiah Abraham killing, when the discussion on the issue was still hitting up, someone reported from Juba in the South Sudanese online discussion forums that he received anonymous phone calls, threatening that he must stop writing about Isaiah Abraham murder on the Internet or faced the consequence.

Despite all these mounting challenges and many others ahead, there are still opportunities in which this investigation can make headway. The FBI, with their best advance forensic techniques, will rely heavily on forensic analysis, which for example, will include phone records, email messages, skype discussions, facebook postings and other electronic and physical devices linked to the crime. These forensic evidences, if found, will eventually break the case and lead into apprehension of suspects.

Secondly, the FBI, with its experience and expertise, will help refocus this investigation into the right direction and narrow its lead into real suspects. At the moment, the investigation may be going in all directions or at no direction at all. Hence, shifting the focus of this investigation into the right direction is essential for a conclusive outcome.

With all these compounding challenges and opportunities, this whole investigation may have other far reaching implications and unintended results. For example, the the FBI involvement may have an immediate deterrence effect against those with intention of carrying similar crimes as they will fear that they are going to be traced by the best law enforcement agency in the world, if they ever attempt to commit any such heinous crimes. This deterrence actually provides the government with the best momentum to forcefully fight crimes and fully implement the recommendations of this investigation.

Secondly, the intervention of FBI in South Sudanese internal affairs may provide the agency with the opportunity to carry out intelligence gathering on South Sudan government for the sole consumption of USA decision makers. Such intelligence gathering will have its political ramification and prove critical against South Sudanese government and perhaps certain officials in the government as far as USA policy and relation toward South Sudan is concern.

Thirdly, the South Sudanese government may probably be reluctant to implement the recommendations of the outcome of this investigation, or rather, with its weak capacity and institutions, the government will face difficulties in implementing the much sought out reforms. In such an event, where the government is unwilling to implement the outcome of this investigation, the general South Sudanese public, along with the international community, led by the USA, must exert much needed pressure to the government to institute reforms.

And in the case the government is not capable to carry out its duties, due to the weak system, then there must be strong push to further assist the government through the partnering organizations as well as partnering countries for capacity and institutional building.

Ultimately, the building of South Sudanese capacity in judiciary and policing must be the incomparable answer to this predicament, because the country can never always survive by seeking outside interventions in running its internal affairs. The clear message is that the leadership of the country needs to step up in running the nation’s affairs or they risk be run over.

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