On April 5th, there was a moving ceremony at the State Department. Assistant Secretary Barry Lowenkron presented--as mandated by the U.S. Congress--the fifth annual Supporting Human Rights and Democracy Report, which, said the secretary, " documents the many ways the United States worked worldwide last year to foster respect for human rights and promote democratic government."
Then, citing one of the globe's great champions of human rights, "As President Bush has said, what every terrorist fears most is human freedom -- societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience and live by their hopes instead of their resentments."
Of course, in that war on terror, as in any war, you've got to be tough minded. You do what you have to do: torture, kidnap, murder, whatever. You also find your allies where you can, right? Like in the horn of Africa where Al Qaeda has been active--killing and bombing for years. One place they were supposed to be operating was Somalia, Black Hawk Down country: the very definition of a failed state, a seething, ungovernable land of perpetually warring clans. Between 1991 and last year, 13 governments came and went.
Then, last year a coalition of Islamic groups managed to bring calm to the capital of Mogadishu by getting the feuding clans to disarm their militias, and convincing Somalis, the majority of whom are Sunnis, to accept Islam as the solution to their turmoil.
That calm lasted for six months. The problem was that, as the U.S. saw it, while militant Islam might pacify the Somalis, it could also offer sanctuary for groups linked with Al Qaeda to regroup and train for future attacks--attacks like their bloody bombings in 1998 of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.S. Special Forces went to work with their military buddies in neighboring Ethiopia. And so it was that in December 2006, the Ethiopians attacked and Somali crowds cheered in the battered streets of Magadishu as the Islamists were sent packing. The Ethiopians and their U.S. advisors patted themselves on the back. This was the beginning of a new era for Somalia. It was like Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, or Kabul after the Taliban were evicted.
Similarly as well, the Ethiopian military scooped up scores of people -people of all ages, some apparently just passing through-and packed them off to clandestine prisons. Added to those were several hundred more who had fled to neighboring Kenya. International reaction was not long in coming.
According to the Associated Press, "Human rights groups, lawyers and several Western diplomats assert hundreds of prisoners, who include women and children, have been transferred secretly and illegally in recent months from Kenya and Somalia to Ethiopia, where they are kept without charge or access to lawyers and families." They include citizens of 19 countries, including the U.S. Canada, France, Sweden.
While the Ethiopians deny they have any secret prisons in their country. American officials admitted to the AP that the FBI and CIA have been allowed "limited access" to question prisoners as part of their counter-terrorism work."
As Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, put it "To fight terror, CIA acts boldly and lawfully, alone and with partners, just as the American people expect us to."
U.S. officials, however, claimed that America had nothing to do with the arrests or imprisonment. But John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch expert on counter-terrorism, charged that, on the contrary, the United States has acted as "ringleader" in what he labeled a "decentralized, outsourced Guantanamo."
O.K. so what goes on in the prisons of Ethiopia, America's partner? You could ask Human Rights Watch, which of course talks of torture and beatings. But we know what knee-jerks the HRW folks are. To get the real truth, we turn to the U. S. State Department and its current report on Human Rights around the globe.
Their summary on Ethiopia?
"Human rights abuses reported during the year included: limitation on citizens' right to change their government during the most recent elections; unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention"...and so on.
You get the picture.
Meanwhile, back in Somalia, turns out that, after the initial euphoria, the regime installed by the Ethiopians and -one presumes--their American advisors, has been incapable of bringing together the major clans. Large numbers of African peacekeepers who were supposed to take over from the Ethiopians have, for more the most part, yet to show up. Meanwhile, as the interim government, which was supposed to be a transition on the road to democracy, has become ever more authoritarian and isolated, a new insurgency has grown. It began with some clans linked to the Islamists, but has now greatly expanded.
The past weeks have seen increasingly bloody battles in Mogadishu. Government troops often refused to take action , while the Ethiopians, feeling no such restraint, have reportedly been launching devastating and indsicriminate barrages into heavily populated urban areas. Mogadishu is once again filled with death and destruction. Over a hundred thousand Somalis have fled.
Impressive, while we've been obsessed with Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran, the progress being made elsewhere in the War Against Terror.