Sunday, June 19, 2005

After surviving the Holocaust,Elie Wiesel went on to askaquestion: “How could it be possible for them to burn people, children, and for the world to remain silent?” That question reverberated after the world, Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan allowed Rwanda’s genocide. It is with us again as the genocide in Darfur relentlessly continues.

New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who keeps returning to Darfur, trying to make it impossible for the world to say that, alas, it didn’t know what was happening there, wrote on June 7: “Refugees fleeing to Kalma from a village called Saleya described how nine boys were seized by the Janjaweed, stripped naked and tied up, their noses and ears cut off and their eyes gouged out. They were then shot dead and left near a public well. Nearby villagers got the message and fled.” A letter writer to the Times, Frank Skraly, after reading other such reports from Darfur from Mr. Kristof, said: “Whether you lean left or right, stopping the killing in Darfur seems like a no-brainer. What political risk would there be in doing so? A leadership position on this issue would earn President Bush accolades from the holiest of the right, the crunchiest of the left and most everybody in between. So what are we waiting for?”

On the same day that letter appeared, a United Press International dispatch from Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, might have explained why the president’s concern with the atrocities in Darfur has become decidedly less intense. (For example, after the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Darfur Accountability Act, establishing a no-fly zone over Darfur and freezing the assets here of officials involved inthegenocide,aWhite House letter successfully stripped these sanctions from a supplemental appropriations bill.) The UPI story quoted Sudan’s murderous President Omar Bashir as being pleased that there has been a “positive change” in the Bush administration’s position on Darfur.

The same report also told of a meeting in Khartoumbetween Deputy SecretaryofState Robert Zoellick and Sudanese ForeignMinister Mustafa Osman Ismail. The latter said that “the two agreed for a Sudanese government delegation to visit Washington soon to discuss bilateral relations in more detail in order to restore relations between the two countries.” We are restoring relations with a government fully complicit, as Nicholas Kristof detailed in the June 5 New York Times, in “a systematic campaign of rape to terrorize civilians and drive them from ‘Arab lands.’ ” There have been many reports of Janjaweed gang rapes of women leaving camp to gather firewood for cooking. The raped women, then often ostracized for life in that culture, tell afterwards of the government’s militiamen, the Janjaweed, saying during the rapes: “You are black people. We want to wipe you out.” Moreover, this genocidalgovernment with which we are restoring relations,Mr.Kristof notes, “has also imprisoned rape victims who became pregnant for adultery. Even those who simply seek medical help are harassed and humiliated.” I partially understand why President Bush, clearly a man of decent instincts, is no longer publicly, passionately condemning the Khartoumgovernment. Sudan’s intelligence agents have been providing the CIA with valuable information on terrorists in Muslim countries. Moreover, they have actually gone after Al Qaeda suspects and turned them over to us.

This alliance with mass murderers and rapists is the very definition of realpolitik, but at what price? Not only with regard to the world’s definition of the United States, but also to our definition of ourselves? As Leonard Rubenstein of Physicians for Human Rights asks: “How many people will have to die before we do enough in Darfur?” Salih Booker, executive director of the Washington-based Africa Action, says: “The President of the U.S. has recognized that genocide is occurring, but apparently there are more pressing matters requiring his attention. We must ask, what could possibly be more pressing than genocide? Unless there is an immediate international intervention in Darfur, up to a million people may be dead by the end of this year.”

Ah, but the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into war crimes in Darfur. The ICC has collected thousands of documents and many witnesses, along with aerial photographs of destroyed homes and villages, but perhaps not photographs of the continuing gang rapes. The ICC also has a sealed list of 51 suspected war criminals. Among them are likely to be officials of the Sudanese government.

But the Khartoum government refuses to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction and has declared it will not permit any citizen to testify before the court and it will never turn over any Sudanese for a foreign trial. Although alleged peace negotiations have now resumed between Khartoum and rebel forces in Darfur, Khartoum has broken every agreement it has made.

Congress has tried to act meaningfully. But only hundreds of thousands, even millions, of direct messages to the president and Congress from we, the people, can prevent this nation from again being an accomplice of genocide as we were under President Clinton in Rwanda. The voices of our clergy, of all denominations, should also resound.

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