By Norm Dixon
Revelations of a covert rendezvous in Washington between top CIA officials and the head of Sudan's secret police have starkly exposed just how hollow and hypocritical are the US administration's expressions of concern for the plight of millions of Darfuri peasants, who have been systematically targeted by Sudan's rulers in a vicious 26-month-long campaign of ethnic cleansing and mass murder.
Ken Silverstein, writing in the April 29 Los Angeles Times, reported that US government officials revealed to him that, in the previous week, ``the CIA sent an executive jet ... to ferry the chief of Sudan's intelligence agency [General Salah Abdallah Gosh] to Washington for secret meetings sealing Khartoum's sensitive and previously veiled partnership with the administration''.
Gosh is almost certainly among the scores of Khartoum officials named in a sealed United Nations file as being responsible for ``crimes against humanity'' in Darfur provinces, in western Sudan. The UN Security Council voted on March 31 to refer the file to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
As Sudan expert and human rights advocate Eric Reeves () points out: ``Gosh is directly
responsible for tens of thousands of extra-judicial executions, killings, ‘disappearances', as well as countless instances of torture,
illegal imprisonment and other violations of international law.''
According to the LA Times report, Washington has cooperated closely with the Islamist dictatorship's secret police, the Mukhabarat, since before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US. Following 9/11 attacks, which Khartoum immediately condemned, the relationship has steadily deepened.
The secret alliance has continued to strengthen despite the Mukhabarat's central role in directing and arming the Arab-chauvinist janjaweed bandit gangs, which are spearheading the persecution of Darfur's non-Arabic speaking farmers. This state-sponsored terror campaign, backed by Sudan's air force and military, was launched in February 2003 in an attempt to crush a rebellion by Darfuris.
The April 29 LA Times noted: ``As recently as September, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell accused Sudan of committing genocide [in Darfur]... Behind the scenes, however, Sudan was emerging as a surprisingly valuable ally of the CIA.''
To date, according to Eric Reeves, around 400,000 people in Darfur have lost their lives due to the direct and indirect results of the state-sponsored pogroms, with more than 2 million people having been forced to flee their homes. It is estimated that up to 10,000 Darfuris are dying every month.
US and Sudanese officials told the LA Times that the Mukhabarat has detained al Qaeda suspects for interrogation by US agents and turned over to the FBI ``evidence'' seized in raids on ``suspected terrorists'' homes. The Khartoum regime has also expelled ``extremists, putting them into the hands of Arab intelligence agencies working closely with the CIA'', and detained ``foreign militants moving through Sudan on their way to join forces with Iraqi insurgents''. There has been an ``active station'' of the CIA in Khartoum since November 2001.
Sudan's intelligence service has even spied in other countries on the CIA's behalf, the LA Times revealed. Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told the newspaper that the Mukhabarat has served as ``the eyes and ears of the CIA'' in Somalia. ``Late last year, a senior Mukhabarat official met in Washington with the CIA's counter-terrorism center to discuss Iraq, according to sources familiar with the talks'', the LA Times added.
A senior State Department official told the LA Times that the Mukhabarat could become a ``top-tier'' partner of the CIA, stating: ``Their competence level as a service is very high. You can't survive in that part of the world without a good intelligence service, and they are in a position to provide significant help.''
Major General Yahia Hussein Babiker, a former deputy director of Mukhabarat and another senior Sudan government official believed to be named in the UN dossier destined for the ICC, told the LA Times that ``American intelligence considers [Sudan] to be a friend'' and Khartoum has achieved ``a complete normalisation of our relations with the CIA''.
Even before 9/11, Khartoum made it clear to Washington that it wanted to get Sudan removed from the US list of states that sponsor terrorism and the lifting of associated economic sanctions.
For at least 18 months after the eruption of the Darfur rebellion in February 2003, and Khartoum's brutal reaction to it, the Bush
administration was slowly but steadily moving in the direction of ``rehabilitating'' Khartoum, and lifting the sanctions. To facilitate this, Sudan has participated in the US ``war on terror'' and, perhaps more importantly, been willing to finally agree to a negotiated settlement to the decades-long civil war with the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Washington's overriding goal is to see the return of US oil companies to Sudan. US corporations have been excluded from profiting from the massive expansion of oil exploration and production in southern Sudan, while Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European companies have filled the gap.
But the rehabilitation was rudely interrupted by events in Darfur. Washington ignored the government-directed atrocities being inflicted on the people of Darfur for as long as it could. But when Khartoum's brutal treatment of the Darfuris began to threaten the north-south peace deal, the US was forced to apply pressure on Khartoum through the UN Security Council to rein in the janjaweed.
Since July 2004, a cynical and macabre pantomime has been performed in the Security Council, with a series of symbolic and increasingly toothless resolutions being passed ``demanding'' that Sudan end its attacks in Darfur and disarm the janjaweed. Despite threats of minor sanctions against individuals and the imposition of unverifiable and/or unenforceable restrictions, Khartoum has continued its attacks.
For all their ``humanitarian'' rhetoric, US and European governments have refused to provide adequate funds, equipment and logistics to African Union (AU) soldiers deployed as cease-fire monitors in Darfur, the only force in a position to prevent or discourage attacks on civilians. Only 2300 of the 3500-4000 troops originally promised to be in place have been able to deploy, and even they have taken around six months to arrive.
With the final signing of the north-south peace agreement on January 9, the Security Council members will be even less likely to take genuine action as they each prepare to grab their slice of the coming rush of the oil and reconstruction contracts.
But Washington now finds itself in a bind. Khartoum's very public and brutal attempts to crush the Darfur rebellion through mass terror and ethnic cleansing have meant that Washington has not been able to justify lifting its sanctions in time to take advantage of north-south peace deal. At the same time, it cannot seriously threaten Khartoum with further real penalties without damaging the valuable covert security alliance it has developed.
The April 29 LA Times referred to the conclusion of an October report by the US Congressional Research Service that summed up Washington's dilemma: ``It said Gosh and other Sudanese officials had played ‘key roles in directing ... attacks against civilians' and noted that the administration was ‘concerned that going after these individuals could disrupt cooperation on counter-terrorism'.''
A ``senior US government official familiar with terrorist threats in the region'' agreed, telling the April 29 LA Times: ``These are not all nice guys, but they have gone way past a passing grade on counter-terrorism cooperation and don't technically belong on the list. The reason they arestill there is Darfur, which is not related to state-sponsored terrorism but makes lifting sanctions now politically impossible''.
In response, the Bush administration has begun to try to downplay the seriousness of the Darfur crisis in the hope that it can ``delink'' Darfur from the existing sanctions regime in the public's mind and convince the world that action to end the attacks in Darfur is no longer urgent. Washington needs to revise Colin Powell's September characterisation of Khartoum's persecution of Darfur's non-Arabic speaking farmers as ``genocide''.
Powell's charge was primarily a cynical pre-election ploy to win votes from a loose coalition of right-wing Christian groups, liberal
supporters of ``humanitarian'' military intervention in Darfur and hardline anti-Islamic rightists keen for another Iraq-style invasion to advance US imperial interests. With Bush again safely ensconced in the White House, the administration is moving to quietly put the ``genocide'' stick back in the cupboard.
Robert Zoellick, US deputy secretary of state, during a two-day trip to Sudan on April 14-15, grossly underestimated the death toll in Darfur since February 2003, claiming that it was only between ``60,000 and 160,000''. During the same trip, Zoellick also gave ground to Khartoum's claim that it is not responsible for the janjaweed, stating: ``There are tribal disputes and militias that may be out of anybody's control.''
Zoellick pointedly refused to repeat Powell's ``genocide'' charge, telling the April 15 London Financial Times that he did not ``want to get into a debate over terminology''. The ``former secretary of state'', Zoellick said, was simply ``making a point''.
To back Zoellick's downplaying of the carnage in Darfur, the State Department ``declassified'' a document that questioned previous estimates of the death toll. Eric Reeves condemned it as ``propaganda'': ``an obvious tissue of unsubstantiated assertion, intellectual and methodological confusion, factual error and deliberate misrepresentation... Most notably, no sources are given in the entire course of the document, only vague references to uncited ‘studies'. There is not a single bibliographic reference; there is not a single statistic that is more than simply bald assertion, appearing without derivation or explanation or context; there is not a single website or URL reference.''
Right-wing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out on May 4 that US President George Bush had not publicly uttered the word ``Darfur'' in the previous 113 days, even following meetings with Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair and the entire NATO leadership. On the other hand, Kristof reported, ``the Bush administration is fighting to kill the Darfur Accountability Act, which would be the most forceful step the US has taken against the genocide''. The bill, already passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, calls for more sanctions on Sudan's rulers.
The April 29 LA Times revealed that in March US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has sent a conciliatory letter to Sudan's president ``calling for steps to end the conflict in Darfur''. The letter congratulated Sudan for its cooperation with the AU mission in Darfur and stated that Washington hoped to establish a ``fruitful relationship'' with Sudan and looked forward to ongoing ``close cooperation'' in the ``war on terror''.
From Green Left Weekly, May 11, 2005.