Friday, October 3, 2008

What Nobody Wants To Know About Somalia And Why; And What That Means

A huge war crime -- a massive crime against humanity -- is going on right now in Somalia, courtesy of (but only indirectly traceable to) the Bush administration and Washington's bipartisan power elite. But, aside from Chris Floyd and a few other internet madmen, nobody knows -- or even wants to know -- much about it.

What's happening? And why doesn't anybody want to know? These are troubling questions for anyone who cares about the soul of America, and even more troubling for anyone who's beginning to suspect that America has no soul at all.

Chris Floyd:
Somalia is the invisible third front of the Terror War, an American-backed "regime change" operation launched by the invading army of Ethiopia and local warlords in December 2006. In addition to helping arm, fund and train the army of the Ethiopian dictatorship, the United States has intervened directly into the conflict, carrying out bombing raids on fleeing refugees and nomads, firing missiles into villages, sending in death squads to clean up after covert operations, and [...] assisting in the "rendition" of refugees, including American citizens, into the hands of Ethiopia's notorious torturers.
Bombing raids on fleeing refugees? Oh, yes. And much more, too. These people look hungry. We'd better kill them!

And the longer it goes on, the worse it gets.

When Chris Floyd writes, "Somalia is the invisible third front of the Terror War", he's probably counting chronologically starting from 9/11: in this sense Afghanistan is #1 (we started attacking in October of 2001; let's forget about the summer of '79) and Iraq is #2 (officially March of 2003, but in reality January 1991, and long before then as a matter of fact), which would make Somalia #3 (December 2006, and long before then, too!) and the recently opened and more recently acknowledged, still partly-deniable war-against-our-ally Pakistan as #4. And then Iran would be #5, or maybe it already is? But -- oops! -- did we forget to count the Terror War against the Home Front?

It soon gets too complicated to sort out, and therein lies one of the problems. The world is too big and too chaotic; we are too small and too stupid; we will never be able to deal with all of it. (I've been blogging for almost four years now and there are still large parts of the world that I have never even mentioned! It doesn't mean I don't care; usually it means I don't know enough to say anything authoritative, in which case I prefer to remain silent. But still ... where's my coverage of Darfur? And that's just one example.)

We prefer good news to bad, especially when times are tough. And it doesn't take much to overload on bad news these days. But still ... How can we ignore things like this?
Together, the American Terror Warriors, the Ethiopians and the warlords (some of them directly in the pay of the CIA) have created the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. Thousands have been killed in the fighting. Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes, many fleeing to northern Kenya, where more than 215,000 people are languishing in a single refugee camp in Dadaab; 45,000 people have poured into the camp this year alone, says the UN. In some of the camps, Somali refugees are living without any shelter at all: "The BBC's Mark Doyle, who has recently visited the camps in Kenya, says some refugees do not even have a basic plastic sheet to protect them from the sun and rain."

In just the last two weeks, more than 18,500 people have fled the capital of Mogadishu, which has already been decimated by the warfare. Many were sent on the run by one of the Ethiopians' favorite tactics: mortar and artillery fire into civilian areas believed "sympathetic" to the insurgents.

The United States is not only backing the Ethiopians and the Somali transitional government (TGF) propped up by the occupation; Washington has also provided "robust financial and logistical support to armed paramilitaries resisting the command and control of the TGF," according to a major new study of the conflict by the human rights organization, Enough. In addition to these freebooters, it turns out that the wide-ranging Somali pirates -- who last week hijacked a shipload of heavy weapons being funneled into African conflicts by Ukrainian war profiteers -- are supported by "backers linked to the Western-backed government" in Mogadishu.
We're reading more from Chris Floyd, of course; who else? Floyd's writing is unique, both in its stylish command of the language and in its content: for instance, hardly anybody else ever bothers to write about Somalia. The big media -- mainstream and other -- avoid mentioning it at almost every opportunity, and most of what does get published is sanitized in one way or half a dozen, with writers and editors falling over each other to avoid placing the blame for this horrendous situation where it obviously belongs.

But not Chris Floyd: whenever he digs up news from "the invisible third front", he writes about it, and he counters the spin. He puts the news in context; he explains what it means in terms of the big picture, just like he always does, whether he's writing about Iraq or Afghanistan, or the Home Front, or any other place.

But -- remarkably, sadly, and altogether too revealingly, in my opinion -- when Chris Floyd writes about Somalia, his website traffic goes through a hole in the floor.

So hardly anybody bothered to visit Floyd's remarkable site, Empire Burlesque, on the day when he posted the passage quoted above, along with excerpts from a piece by Jennifer Beskal at Salon:
Ishmael, a 37-year-old shepherd from the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, looked at me with tears in his eyes. Ethiopian forces -- who had already killed his mother, father, brothers and sisters -- murdered his wife days after they were married. They then slaughtered his goats, beat him unconscious, and slashed his shoulder to the bone, he said.

In December 2006, Ishmael crossed through Somalia into Kenya, heading for the nearest refugee camp in search of medical care. But when he didn't have enough money to pay a 1,000 shilling ($15) bribe, the Kenyan police bundled him into a car and took him to Nairobi. Less than a month later, he was herded onto an airplane with some 30 others, flown to Somalia and handed over to the Ethiopian military -- the same forces that he previously fled.

Ishmael is a victim of a 2007 rendition program in the Horn of Africa, involving Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and the United States. There are at least 90 more victims like him. Most have since been sent home. A few -- including a Canadian and nine who assert Kenyan nationality -- remain in detention even now. The whereabouts of 22 others -- including several Somalis, Ethiopian Ogadenis, and Eritreans -- remain unknown....

[In the immediate aftermath of the invasion], Kenyan authorities arrested at least 150 men, women and children from more than 18 countries -- including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada -- in operations near the Somali border, and held them for weeks without charge in Nairobi. In January and February 2007, the Kenyan government then unlawfully put dozens of these individuals -- with no notice to families, lawyers or the detainees themselves -- on flights to Somalia, where they were handed over to the Ethiopian military. Ethiopian forces also arrested an unknown number of people in Somalia....

An unknown number of them -- likely dozens -- were questioned by the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Addis Ababa. From February to May 2007, Ethiopian security officers daily transported detainees -- including several pregnant women -- to a villa where U.S. officials interrogated them about suspected terrorist links. At night the Ethiopian officers returned the detainees to their cells....

In addition to working with the U.S., the Ethiopians used the rendition program for their own ends. For years, the Ethiopian military has been trying to quell domestic Ogadeni and Oromo insurgencies that receive support from neighboring countries, such as Ethiopia's archrival, Eritrea. The multinational rendition program provided them a convenient means to continue this internal battle -- and get their hands, with U.S. and Kenyan support, on those with suspected insurgent links.

Ishmael was one of their victims.

The questions his Ethiopian interrogators asked were nonstop, and always the same: "Are you al-Qaida? Are you an Ogadeni rebel? Are you part of the Somali insurgency?" Each time he said no, he was beaten, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. When he resisted answering, they targeted his testicles.

Then, in February 2008 -- some 14 months after his original arrest -- the Ethiopians decided Ishmael was no longer worth the trouble. They dumped him, along with 27 others, just over the Somali border....Now Ishmael is back in the refugee camp, limping and urinating blood. He is still waiting for the healthcare he came searching for nearly two years ago.
Why do people read Chris Floyd? Because he's a fantastic writer; because he's a tireless researcher; because he always tells us the truth, no matter how horrible; because he directs our attention to vital stories we otherwise might have missed; and surely there are more good reasons.

Which of these reasons are negated when Chris writes about Somalia?

None, of course. That was a rhetorical question. Now here's a real one: Why does the whole world run away from Chris Floyd's articles about Somalia?

Is it because the victims of the war crime in Somalia are blacker than the victims of the war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Is it because the roots of the war crime in Somalia reflect badly on both Bill Clinton and George Bush?

Is it because we can't stand reading about more than two war crimes on the same day, and Iraq and Afghanistan fill our quota?

Is it because the war crime in Somalia is a proxy war crime, being fought under the flag of the invading Ethopians?

Are Americans are too lazy and too stupid to connect the dots -- the dots between funding, arming, supplying, motivating and supporting an invading army; and actually being responsible for the invasion?

Is it because no Americans are being killed there?

Or is it because the stories coming out of Somalia are so gruesome?

Floyd's newest post contains an update on renditions in the Somalia war crime, from the BBC:
Among [the fleeing refugees] were Salim Awadh, a Kenyan, and his Tanzanian wife, Fatma Chande. Both of them were arrested as they crossed the border [from Somalia to Kenya in January 2007].

"I was kept in a cell with other women. Then the Kenyan anti-terrorist police questioned me - they asked me why we went to Somalia," Fatma says.

I meet Fatma in her small two-room house in Moshi, northern Tanzania. She is quietly spoken and her voice falters as she explains what happened next.

"I told them my husband got a job repairing mobile phones in Somalia. But they tried to force me to admit that my husband was a terrorist. They said I had to tell them the truth or they would strangle me."

...In the first weeks of early 2007, news began to filter out that several hundred people - including children - had been arrested trying to enter Kenya.

Al Amin Kimathi, the head of Kenya's Muslim Human Rights Forum, sent volunteers to police stations across the capital, Nairobi, trying to collect information.

"Some very frustrated senior police officers told us point blank: it's not our operation, go and ask the Americans, just call the American embassy. We even saw the Americans bring in detainees and take them out of certain police stations in Nairobi," he said.

Many of the refugees were sent back to Somalia, and then "renditioned" onward to Ethiopia.

"A week after we arrived we were interrogated by whites - Americans, British, I was interrogated for weeks," Salim says....

Former detainees have also told the BBC they were questioned by US agents. One said he was beaten by Americans.

...Al Amin Kimathi believes Ethiopia was seen as the ideal destination.

"It was the most natural place to take anyone looking for a site to go and torture and to extract confessions. Ethiopia allows torture of detainees. And that is the modus operandi in renditions."

...More than a year and a half after the renditions, the US government still refuses to respond to questions on the alleged US role.

...Meanwhile Fatma is still waiting anxiously for news of her husband.

After Salim got access to a mobile phone, he was able to speak to her from his cell for the first time in more than a year.

Now the phone has stopped working, Salim has disappeared once again.
Chris appends this note:
I know that no one cares about this. I know that the fact that thousands of Somalis have been slaughtered and millions more driven into suffering and desolation by a vicious war being conducted at every step with American assistance, in America's name -- in your name, if you're an American -- is not nearly as important as whether or not Joe Biden strikes the proper tone in his "debate" with Sarah Palin tonight. I know that even to most true-blue "progressives," the Somalis are non-people -- except when they show up as wild-eyed beserkers on late-night re-runs of "Black Hawk Down." I know that every time I write about Somalia, the traffic for the site plummets like the stock of a clapped-out merchant bank just before it gets a government bailout. But I don't really care. With the full approval of the entire bipartisan political elite, America is breeding death, hate, extremism and a hellish storm of blowback through its actions in Somalia. You might not give a damn that this evil is being wrought in your name, but I do.
I applaud Chris Floyd for his persistence in paying attention to Somalia even though his readers have made it painfully obvious that they don't give a fig. But I still want to know: what combination of factors allows them not to care, or prevents them from caring?

Perhaps there's a question about whether these war crimes are really being committed in our names? Jennifer Deskal, the human rights advocate whose piece in Salon Chris Floyd quoted at length, writes:
Almost everyone I spoke with assumed -- whether true or not -- that the United States backed the arbitrary arrest and unlawful rendition of men like Ishmael and the still-detained Kenyans. Almost everyone assumed that the Ethiopians operate with America's blessing.
To which Floyd remarks:
They "assume" these things, of course, because they are true.
And Deskal continues:
Their stories have circulated, fueling anger and resentment. As one man, whose childhood friend became one of the rendition victims, told me, "Now when I go to the mosque, I pray to God to punish the Americans."

To be sure, the United States is not the main culprit when the Kenyans unlawfully render suspects or the Ethiopians torture them. But when U.S. officials interrogate rendition victims who are being held incommunicado, the United States becomes complicit in the abuse. The U.S. is funding the Ethiopian military, supporting its activities in Somalia and training Kenyan security forces in counterterrorism -- so as U.S.-backed military and police forces in the region brutalize their domestic opponents in the name of fighting terrorism, the United States is often blamed.

The United States could change those perceptions by demanding higher standards of its foreign partners and cutting off aid to abusers. It otherwise risks fueling the very problem -- anti-American militancy -- that it seeks to solve. For starters, the U.S. could demand the release or fair trial of any rendition victims still stuck in Ethiopian custody.
Chris Floyd again:
Daskal's story is marred by the same timidity which groups like Human Rights Watch (where she serves as senior counterrorism counsel) generally display when discussing American direction of and complicity in war crimes. These references are often couched in terms of "a perception" (or even misperceptions!) of American intentions. The latter are always given the benefit of doubt and qualification. Still, it requires little reading between the lines to see the confirmation of what every honest observer of the conflict can see: the Terror War operation is creating more of the violent extremism that it purports to combat.
In my opinion, Chris Floyd lets Jennifer Deskal off lightly for ridiculous spin and obvious distortion -- as well as some remarkably timid audacity! (or should I say audacious timidity?)

The notion that the USA is only complicit if its officials participate in the interrogation of rendition victims is bizarre and incomprehensible -- except as another part of the official deception. Welcome to the nightmare, where even defenders of human rights cut unrepentant torturers as much slack as possible.

Another bizarre and incomprehensible notion also comes to mind: perhaps most Americas are determined to know as little as possible about the war crime in Somalia because that's the only way their lives can make sense!

The war crimes against Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran and the Home Front all have some "justifying" pretext, or several. Even though all the stories are false, they're there, part of the national crazy-quilt: all the obvious, transparent, politically viable lies about 9/11; campfire tales about Saddam Hussein and his non-existent WMD; the endless not-really hunt for Osama bin Laden; nuclear weapons that don't exist yet but are already an existential threat to Israel; and a nation crawling with FBI entrapment victims if not actually real terrorists.

But we don't have any story about Somalia.

We don't have a mythically famous villain.

We don't have any ruins we can point to while saying, "You see this? The Somalis did this!"

In other words, there is no reason -- not even a transparently false reason -- for the war crime against Somalia.

And yet there's no opposition to it, from either party. And this combination of facts, in my opinion, makes the story intolerable to almost everybody.

There's no way to cloak ourselves in denial this time, no fig leaf to hide behind. Somalia reveals all too clearly the real motives behind the Terror War, and they are not what we have been told -- by Democrats or Republicans.

Somalia also reveals some crucial aspects of the Terror War on the Home Front. Among them: America's bipartisan leadership has no qualms about attacking foreigners who pose no threat to us, even without a plausible pretext, if they think they can get away with it.

When you add in all the other reasons -- from the blackness of the victims to the gruesomeness of the stories -- you get a tangled mess of horror that is so ugly, only the most courageous among us can stand to look at it.

Chris Floyd has enough courage to do it. But most of his readers do not. And that's one of the reasons why I am becoming increasingly convinced that we are more screwed now than ever before.

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