If you haven’t been thinking about Darfur lately—which would come as no surprise, given that the newspapers and television news shows are mostly silent about it—here’s a recent report by Eric Reeves, an international authority on the genocide going on there and a constant recorder of the death toll (now more than 450,000 and counting):
“Typically they begin very early in the morning, before people are awake. . . . A bomber flying at high altitudes will push out barrel bombs designed to terrorize and kill civilians. As the civilians flee from their huts the Janjaweed [the government’s Arab militia] will sweep in, killing all the men, raping women.
“We have many reports of babies, male babies being killed, sometimes having their penises sliced off so that they would bleed to death in their mothers’ arms. . . .”
Reeves, a professor of English at Smith College in Massachusetts, has leukemia, but that hasn’t stopped him from spending many long hours into the night helping to keep the world aware of its passive complicity in these ceaseless horrors (go to sudanreeves.org).
Reeves made an appearance on a Frontline documentary about Darfur, On Our Watch, which aired on PBS on November 20 and was brilliantly produced by Neil Docherty. For most of the four and a half years of these mass murders and rapes, American television has hardly noticed, but repeated and stinging criticism from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof—who, at much peril, has often been a witness in Darfur—pushed the networks to briefly give the carnage some space.
But this recent edition of Frontline—still available at PBS.org —equals the very best of the CBS Edward R. Murrow exclusives that I used to faithfully watch in wonder and in anger.
“The people of Darfur,” Reeves says emphatically, “feel that they have been abandoned: ‘Where is the international community? Can it be they don’t know? And if they do know, why aren’t they here?’ ”
Remember that it took just 100 days to murder 800,000 people in Rwanda. And, needless to say, if these mounting atrocities were taking place, day after day after day, in Belgium, Spain, or Poland, correspondents and television crews from across the globe would be there.
But in this case, the victims are “only” black Muslims that Sudan’s National Islamic Front government despises as inferior human beings. It is already resettling Arab Muslims onto much of the land that two and a half million of the black survivors have been torn from—and because of the constant violence, some humanitarian organizations that provide food and medicine to these people are leaving to save themselves. Others have been expelled by the government.
It would be hard to find any survivors in Darfur with a single remaining hope of help from the pinnacle of the international community—the United Nations. So far, there have been 21 U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that action be taken by the commander in chief of this holocaust, Sudan’s maximum leader, General Omar al-Bashir.
Bashir has broken every U.N. agreement he has signed. He basks in the knowledge that under U.N. rules, no member state can be forced to accept U.N. peacekeeping troops without that state’s permission—no matter what barbarisms it is inflicting on its own people.
Meanwhile, the various rebel tribes fighting this government for their own reasons have splintered into often brutal factions that attack not only the Janjaweed and uniformed Sudanese forces, but also one another and the remaining humanitarian workers.
The first well-known international public figure to tell the naked truth about the ferocious leaders of Sudan—and charge them publicly with genocide—was Secretary of State Colin Powell. Then George W. Bush became the first world leader to say that the U.N.’s term for the Darfur crisis—”ethnic cleansing”—was nothing more than a euphemism for genocide, adding that “on my watch,” there would never be another Rwanda.
For a time, Bush was passionately involved, actually thinking of using force to deal with the humanitarian crisis. In Michael Abramowitz’s recent Washington Post report (October 29), “U.S. Promises on Darfur Don’t Match Actions,” he cites Bush’s keen interest in late 2005 in using the American military’s helicopter gunships to shoot down Sudanese planes bombing villages.
But his main advisers, including the war vice president, General Dick Cheney, got him to cool down. Then, as American forces became even more mired in Iraq, Bush decided that he couldn’t be targeted around the world for “invading another Muslim country,” say sources who ask not to be named—and, in any case, where would he get the additional troops? With the Democrats pushing hard to get the U.S. forces out of Iraq and now trying to cut the military funding for our occupation there, a U.S. intervention in Darfur will not happen while Bush is in office.
And though the president had, at one time, harbored a genuine desire to stop the killing and raping, there is another complicating factor in our relationship with General al-Bashir. There has long been close cooperation between the CIA and Sudan’s intelligence forces, which purportedly provide us with leads on Al Qaeda and other terrorists operating in Africa. As I’ve written in a previous column, the head of Sudanese intelligence was flown to Washington for a secret strategy conference with CIA chieftains as the genocide devoured more victims. I wonder which high-end Washington restaurant has been graced with his presence.
That cozy relationship continues to this day. It is not surprising, therefore, that after the House passed a bill authorizing individual American states to divest their assets, including pension funds, from companies doing business with Sudan, and the Senate Banking Committee approved a similar bill by Chris Dodd on October 17, the State Department (as reported by Reuters) urged the Senate to delay the legislation because it “interferes with presidential foreign policy.”
So, though we are still on Bush’s watch, Frontline reports that during a recent raid on a village in Darfur, a woman appeared “astride one of the Janjaweed camels . . . dressed all in black.”
A female villager recounted: “She had a bowl and put it on top of a sack and was drumming on it and singing, ‘Let’s burn the property of the blacks so they find nothing to eat or drink.’ And she was calling on Allah: ‘Please provide more bullets.’ While she was singing, a helicopter was shooting us from above . . .
“I was carrying my little baby on my back, and they shot him dead. After the child died, they pulled him away and they raped me.”
Next week: Can anything be done before the world hears—and then promptly forgets, as it has already done with the Rwandan genocide—about the Sudanese government’s final solution to its black Muslim problem?