By Eric Reeves
A new announcement by the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) makes clear how shamefully the U.S. has abandoned the men who courageously dared to meet with Obama administration special envoy for the Sudans, Donald Booth, in late July of this year:
Eight of the detainees were released in August. The seven others, Ahmed Suleiman, Adam Mohamed Ali, Ali Abdelaziz Adam, El Tijani Mohamed Seifeldin, Nasreldin Yousef Abdelrahman, Adam Hamid Adam, and Ahmed Abdallah Omar were transferred to Zalingei, capital of Central Darfur, on Thursday, 25 August. The Darfur lawyers state that they sent a memo to the National Commission for Human Rights, “to no avail.” (Radio Dabanga | Khartoum | September 4, 2016)
These men have committed no crime; their only “offense” is (in the words of the DBA) to have:
…met with the US envoy, on his request, during his visit to Darfur in end July. A member of the committee informed Radio Dabanga at the time that they told Booth about the killings, rapes, detentions, and torture by the government and its militias, and the occupation of their land by new settlers.
Those in transferred to Zalingei are in the custody of the Khartoum regime’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), and face the prospect of indefinite incarceration, torture, and life in poor conditions. Some of those detained are in poor health or need medical treatment; as the DBA noted in its August 14, 2016 statement:
“We fear that the detained may be subjected to mistreatment and torture. Among the detained are a number of elderly people who suffer from chronic diseases, and need regular medical care.”
The realities that these courageous men reported were in fact well known to Booth, by virtue of briefings provided to his office by human rights researchers and continuous reports from Radio Dabanga. Yet he chose to invite these leaders to meet with him, knowing full well that all who spoke with him would be identified by NISS or Military Intelligence, directly or by way of informants. Neither Booth nor the men themselves were in any way naïve about the risks associated with speaking bluntly to a senior Obama administration official about the horrific realities of the brutal military assault on the people of Jebel Marra, beginning in January of this year.
It was thus morally incumbent upon Booth and the administration he represents to speak and act forcefully to secure the release of the men endangered by Booth’s invitation to meet. Instead, a statement was released by the State Department on August 12, 2016:
The United States is gravely concerned about the Sudanese government’s ongoing detention of at least 15 Darfuri individuals, including one Sudanese national employee of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). The detentions followed a visit by Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth to Sudan’s North and Central Darfur states as well as internally displaced persons (IDP) camps at Sortoni and Nertiti in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur from July 26-28, 2016. Many others who were not detained were nonetheless questioned by security officials about the nature of their contact with the Special Envoy.
The United States immediately expressed its concern about the reported detentions to senior Sudanese officials, and we call on the Government of Sudan to immediately release all of those detained.
The response of the Khartoum regime came five days later, reported on August 16, 2016 by the Sudan Tribune,
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour Tuesday has denied the arrest of Darfuris who had met the United States Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan during a recent visit to Darfur region. Last Friday, U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the arrest of 15 people including a local employee of Darfur hybrid peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), after a meeting with Ambassador Donald Booth who visited North and Central Darfur states from 26 to 28 July…
In statements to the official news agency SUNA on Tuesday, Ghandour said they had been informed about the alleged detention by the Special Envoy Booth after his return from Darfur. He added that they approached the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) which denied the claim.
"This is the official answer that we received, and the Envoy is aware of this answer,” Ghandour said. However he was quick to add, “Maybe, there is someone arrested by the local authorities."
The Obama administration has offered no public response to Ghandour’s denial of what their own “press statement” asserted: that the men in question were detained following—and because of—their meeting with Booth and that responsibility was Khartoum’s, not that of “local officials.” The agents of detention for Khartoum’s National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime are inevitably part of the security services, fully under the control and direction of the regime.
It is now over a month since the men were detained and over three weeks since the Obama administration’s expression of “grave concern”; there is no evidence that release of the seven men is in prospect. It is exceedingly difficult to believe that there are serious “back channel” efforts at securing the release of these men by the Obama administration, which continues to seek rapprochement with the Khartoum regime despite the ongoing genocidal violence in Darfur—and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The “detainees”—such a useful euphemism for arrests without warrant or due process or prospect for trial or release—continue to languish in Zalingei jails or NISS headquarters, and their chances for release diminish by the day.
The confidence of this brutal but canny regime in playing its “international cards” with the U.S. and the EU has grown dramatically with the refugee crisis in Europe, and the willingness of the Europeans to fund “concentration camps” for potential emigrants. These camps will be provided sophisticated, high-technology surveillance and registration equipment; the Germans are evidently to build the camps themselves, an unspeakably grim irony.
Diplomatically stiffing the Obama administration over seven Darfuri men seems of no consequence.
We Have Seen This Before
This episode is emblematic of the “Sudan policy” the Obama administration is bequeathing its successor administration. Candidate Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State when the important elements of this policy were fashioned, but the administration inherited the reality that essential Sudan policy had long since migrated from the State Department to the intelligence community and the military, at least in determining the broadest contours of how fully Khartoum must be accommodated so as to continue the putative flow of “counter-terrorism intelligence” to the U.S.
The degree of that accommodation during the current administration can be traced back to the extraordinarily expedient and destructive two-year tenure of Obama’s first special envoy for Sudan, Air Force Major-General (ret.) Scott Gration. Gration gained fame mainly for suggesting that the best way to deal with a regime of génocidaires was by offering them “gold stars,” “cookies,” and “smiley faces”:
"We’ve got to think about giving out cookies," said Gration, who was appointed [Special Envoy for Sudan] in March. "Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement." (Washington Post [el-Fasher, North Darfur] September 29, 2009)
The consequences of such fantastic policy premises are in ghastly evidence today throughout Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and in the collapse of the kleptocratic economy throughout Sudan.
Supporting Gration at key moments was current Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry’s policy views on Sudan—north and South—can only be described as callous and cynical. Perhaps most revealing is the Obama administration response to Khartoum’s expulsion from Darfur (March 2009) of thirteen of the world’s finest and most important humanitarian relief organizations—roughly 50 percent of humanitarian capacity in Darfur at the time, according to highly informed UN sources. The implications of the expulsions were recognized by all. President Obama declared:
"We have to figure out a mechanism to get those [expelled international humanitarian organizations] back in place to reverse that decision, or to find some mechanism whereby we avert an enormous humanitarian crisis, [Obama said].’" (Transcript of remarks of March 30, 2009)
Gration for his part declared that, "We have to come up with a solution [to the humanitarian crisis] on the ground in the next few weeks" (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], April 4, 2009). But since Khartoum proved unyielding—humanitarian capacity never recovered and is now far below 2009 levels—it fell to Kerry to put a happy face on a situation in which millions of people were to continue suffering and dying; he did so with supreme disingenuousness:
"’We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity,’ said Kerry." (Reuters [el-Fasher, North Darfur], April 17, 2009)
Kerry knew full well this was impossible even if Khartoum had been cooperative, when in fact it simply continued its relentless war of attrition against humanitarian operations in Darfur (more than a dozen organizations have been expelled or forced to leave afteer the March 2009 expulsions). “Agreements” with the Khartoum regime, as Kerry also well knew, are utterly meaningless: it has never abided by any agreement involving “domestic” issues…not one, not ever.
Kerry also weighed in when the fate of Abyei was in the balance (fall 2010) declaring that "‘a few hundred square miles [his characterization of Abyei] cannot be allowed to stand in the way of progress when the fate of millions of people is at stake.’” In fact, Abyei as defined by the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)(2005) was at least 4,000 square miles until it was seized militarily by Khartoum in May 2011, in part because of the dismissive views expressed by Kerry and Obama administration officials. The region has de facto been annexed by Sudan and the indigenous Ngok Dinka people fully betrayed.
Eight Years of Shame
Running for the president, Barack Obama declared that Darfur was a “stain on our souls,” and that “as a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” The “stain” remains and the “abandonment” of the men in held in Darfur for speaking with a senior Obama administration official becomes more complete by the day.
Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights