Sudan: Our Terrorist Comrade


There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today than the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan.

—Secretary of State Colin Powell, testifying before the House International Relations Committee, March 15, 2001

Oil has only helped to fuel tension, bitterness, and war. . . . The abandoned and destroyed villages were readily apparent as we flew over the pipeline. The destruction of people’s lives could not be more apparent.

—USAID administrator Andrew Natsios, reporting on his recent trip to Sudan, October 12, 2001

While this nation is focused on the international terrorist network—along with anthrax and Bush’s unprecedented assumption of executive power—slavery, genocide, and ethnic cleansing keep on keeping on in Sudan.

In the October 22 New Republic, Michael Rubin reported on the National Islamic Front government in the north bombing a village in the south—where black Christians and animists live—”near a church packed with children listening to a Sunday sermon.” And during the week of October 15, 15 black children were killed by forces of the Arab government in Khartoum.

But since September 11, the Bush administration has abandoned the black Christians and animists in the south, because Sudan is now part of our coalition against terrorism, having turned over information on Osama bin Laden, who lived and operated in Sudan from 1991 to 1996. Members of his international network are still there.

On September 20, Bush killed the Sudan Peace Act, which passed the House on June 13, including a provision banning foreign oil companies investing in Sudan’s oil operations from being listed on American capital markets, including Wall Street’s. The House vote was 422 to 2.

Then, on September 28, when the United Nations Security Council, enlisting in the war on terrorism, removed its sanctions on Sudan, the United States abstained rather than offend the feelings of its new anti-terrorist terrorist ally.

The September 28 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, in a story from the exiled Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Kenya, quoted Macram Max Gassis, many of whose women parishioners were gang-raped as they were taken in slave raids: “We Catholic bishops are united in mind and heart that the oil business is fueling the war in Sudan. There is no way we shall shy away from this reality.”

Currently, the Khartoum government gets some $2 million a day in oil revenues from its foreign oil-company partners. Among them is Talisman Energy, Inc., of Canada, which also has a business presence in the United States.

To the embarrassment of the Bush administration, which has shied away from what Colin Powell once called “the tragedy” of atrocities against blacks in Sudan, the American Anti-Slavery Group announced on November 7 a historic lawsuit against Talisman Energy.

The plaintiff’s lawyers are Carey D’Avino, a board member of the American Anti-Slavery Group, and Stephen Whinston. They were among a team of attorneys who won a $4.3 billion settlement from companies in Germany and elsewhere that, under the Nazis, had used forced and slave labor. That lawsuit—like the present action against Talisman Energy—was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which permits non-United States citizens to sue in this country for crimes against them committed in foreign countries.

This $1 billion lawsuit—largely ignored by the print and broadcast press here, though not in Canada—has been brought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Among the plaintiffs are the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and the Reverend John Gaduel, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan.

The complaint begins: “This is a class action by plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated non-Muslim, African residents of southern Sudan who have been, and are being, damaged by murder, forced displacement, bombings, military assaults, kidnaps, and slavery related to or arising from the oil exploration and extraction activities of defendant Talisman Energy, Inc. . . .

“Talisman has deliberately and intentionally facilitated, conspired in, or aided and abetted in the use of Sudanese armed forces in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against a civilian population based on their ethnicity and/or religion for the purpose of enhancing its ability to explore and extract oil from areas of southern Sudan by creating a cordon sanitaire surrounding Talisman’s oil concessions.”

And this, the plaintiffs charge, is how Talisman has cooperated with Khartoum in its ethnic cleansing: “Talisman has contracted for government ‘protection’ for its oil operations. The troops assigned to this task include the 10th and 15th divisions as well as irregular troops. . . . These are the very forces responsible for the campaign against ethnic and religious minorities in Unity and Ruweng.

“Talisman pays the government directly, or through the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company [organized by China National Petroleum Company, among others] for this protection. Talisman is, and was, aware that such ‘protection’ meant the large-scale destruction of villages and civilian residences, the killing of substantial numbers of civilians (including women and children), and the capture and enslavement of civilians who survived such military operations.” (Emphasis added.)

These allegations have not yet been proved at trial, but the attorneys filing the lawsuit say they have extensive documentary evidence. Talisman Energy denies the allegations and says it will “vigorously defend” the lawsuit.

In a dispatch posted on November 7, The Globe and Mail of Toronto reported that this “lawsuit could eventually broaden to include ‘millions of southern Sudanese.’ ” The lawyers want to add “all of the people who have been displaced . . . whose families have been broken, whose lives have been shattered.” To be continued.

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