I never have met him, talked with him on the phone only once and know little about his personal and professional record except the kind of thing that appears in the Congressional Directory — Rep. Spencer T. Bachus III, 54 years old, Republican from Birmingham, Ala., sits on such and such committees.
One call — but what I learned again is that if enough members in Congress and people throughout the country, believe and act as he does, they can spare Sudan, Africa's largest nation, from millions of more people being slaughtered and enslaved by their own governments troops. And we can spare Americans the knowledge that because of foreign money and pressure we helped the killers.
Mr. Bachus and members like him were within a political inch of taking a major first step to saving those Sudanese who would have been deliberately bombed or enslaved. The victims have been mostly Christians and followers of African religions who live in the south. The rulers and their marauders come from the North, mostly Muslims searching religious domination of the whole country, and its potential oil wealth.
The money for the weapons of the Northerners comes from foreign oil development executives and shareholders. The government uses helicopters purchased with foreign funds to attack civilians in the South. Americans horrified by the government's marauding want to close American funds to it. It is a penalty already imposed and renewed on Iran and Libya.
For decades human-rights organizations and legislators have campaigned for economic punishment, not blood battle, to punish dictators for committing genocide or other crimes. American business doesn't like that punishment, and neither have President Clinton and now President George W Bush.
But on June 13 the House of Representatives adopted a Bachus amendment that added Sudan to Iran and Libya as countries where foreign investors could not use American money for oil development. No bank loans could be used for that purpose and, more important, no money raised in the stock exchanges of the United States, the major source of private development money in the world, and no U.S. government money.
The vote was a stunning 422 to 2, which you might call bipartisan made possible by support from black, Jewish and Christian members of Congress, and groups.
The administration, lightning-fast when it wants to be, passed the word: Save ourselves some embarrassment. In the Senate committee with that lovely bottom-dollar majority, choose one night to just skip a vote on Bachus altogether.
Now lobbying starts again, in preparation for another House-Senate meeting to deal with the discrepancies in the bill mainly including or omitting Sudan.
A variety of black and Christian groups are backing the ban. Congressional experts consider critical the promised full support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Editorially, the New York Times said "tampering" with capital markets for political grounds, even "sound" ones, would set a dangerous precedent.
The editorial shocked the human-rights movement. As a long-, long-time veteran of the paper, I have not criticized it publicly. But I cannot avoid saying I am deeply sorry the paper editorially warned against a politically sound human-rights solution.
"I don't think anybody could afford not to have access to the U.S. capital market; no asset is worth that." That slip of frankness was made by James Buckee, head of Talisman Energy Inc., of Calgary, Canada, one of the major oil firms putting money plus clout into American oil politics. The gentleman from Alabama made it public. It certainly undercut the warnings that foreign investors would boycott American stock exchanges.
Mr. Bachus says he is jumping back to try to get the ban on Sudan into a final joint comparison of both houses' legislation. So will all members of the human-rights movement across the country. From Mr. Bachus they have the right words at the right time:
"Expanding U.S. sanctions in the area of capital markets access specifically targets what is the most significant revenue the Sudanese government has to prosecute the war. Obviously, the United States must send a new message and we must make that message stick. Stop the killing, stop the murder and torture, end the terror, or we end the investment.
"Can't have it both ways. It is immoral to finance a war machine you know is wrong. America has to walk the walk."
A.M. Rosenthal, former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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