Friday, April 27, 2007

Amy Goodman Gets It Right!

Mainline media in the U.S. have practically blacked out news of the tragedy unfolding in Somalia, while the State Department assures us that nothing dramatic is going on there. But Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has slashed through the smokescreen to give us an authentic and altogether chilling account of the tragedy unfolding in Somalia and of the hurtful role being played by the Bush administration, which continues to support Ethiopia's lawless invasion and brutal occupation of the country in the name of combatting international terrorism and so-called "radical Islam."

In piecing together her devastating picture of what's happening, Ms. Goodman struck gold when she discovered Kenyan journalist Salim Lone, one of the few in the media who seem to understand what's really going on there, and why. Her detailed interview with Lone deserves careful reading in its entirety, as does her clip of Scott McClellan's clumsy justification of U.S. complicity in the widespread violation of human rights lately noted in the European media. Read the full text by clicking on the title line above. Better yet, click here and go straight to the full video of the program.

Democracy Now! deserves our deepest thanks for bringing the story of the Somali tragedy to broader public awareness. Some choice excerpts from the broadcast follow:

In Somali, fierce clashes in Mogadishu are being described as some of the heaviest fighting in the city's history. Some 329 people have been killed over the past ten days. This comes just three weeks after another series of battles claimed at least 1,000 lives. The United Nations says more people - over 350,000 - have been displaced in Somalia in the past three months than anywhere else in the world. [includes rush transcript] And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

IRIN film on Somalia you MUST see!

This just in from Bashir — a film you absolutely must see. Click here . . . but trust me, it will break your heart!

I hope you can watch this UN documentary by Lucy Hannah on Somalia. It is from December 2006, just before the "official" Ethiopian invasion, and it frames the Somali situation before the invasion. [It's] a sad juxtaposition to the current state of affairs. It is only 18 minutes long but it will bring tears to your eyes.

Bashir Read more!

I. M. Lewis: "TFG and Ethiopian war crimes no surprise."

"Much more surprising," says Professor Lewis, the distinguished Emeritus professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, "is that European ministers and officials who have supported them may also be implicated [in these crimes]." His insightful comments, backed by a lifetime's study of Somalia and deep affection for its people, deserve everyone's thoughtful attention.

Ethiopia's Invasion of Somalia
by I.M. Lewis
Monday, April 16, 2007

Reports that the forces of 'transitional president' Abdillahi Yusuf and his Ethiopian allies have committed war crimes against civilians in the course of trying to subdue the citizens of Mogadishu is no surprise. Much more surprising, and morally satisfying, is the news that the European ministers and officials, who have so vociferously and uncritically supported Abdillahi in his bid to represent himself as Somali President, may also be implicated in these charges.

Whatever the judicial position, the European Union is certainly morally guilty of doing its utmost to prop up the essentially otiose transitional federal government, whose only significant political action since its formation has been to get the Ethiopians to try to force their authority on Somalia. What is particularly astonishing, and in my view inexcusable, is the imperialistic behaviour of the European politicians and bureaucrats in completely ignoring Somali public opinion and its overwhelming rejection of Col. Abdillahi and his followers.

There are many causal strands in the present conflagration of violence in Mogadishu, but the most obvious and the most regrettable is the external recognition that Abdillahi has been given by people who clearly have closed their minds to his lack of support within Somalia. One could say that it is only ignorance, but I am afraid that it is worse than that, it is willful ignorance on the part of those whose democratic values seem not to be applied to the Horn of Africa.

There is certainly no lack of ignorance within Somalia on how Abdillahi was appointed transitional president with massive Ethiopian support and how, with Ethiopian prompting, he chose as prime minister their candidate, a connection of Prime Minister Meles himself. These links to Addis Ababa underlie the Ethiopian invasion. Another obvious link is, of course, the loosely organised Islamic Courts whose unwisely bellicose threats to Ethiopia, were provoked by Abdillahi's reliance on the Ethiopians.

Thus, in Somali ears the uninformed chorus of EU approval appeared to embrace the supporting role of the Ethiopians and to attack the Islamists. It only remained for the Americans (for whom the Ethiopians acted locally) to enter the fray, inevitably against the Islamic Courts, a tiny minority of whose leaders were actually extremists. . . .

The Americans, of course, are equally ignorant of the really amazing achievements of the Islamists' brief months in power in southern Somalia. The Courts, with their mostly humble and poorly educated local leaders, did more to restore order and social progress there than the US has done in Iraq in four years. Nevertheless, the suspected connexions of a minority of the Courts' leaders played into the hands of Abdillahi who, not for the first time, portrayed his enemies as Muslim terrorists.

[Abdillahi] still does this, of course, and fails to distinguish those who actually fit the description and those who are simply local citizens who consider that he has no legitimacy. As a former separatist guerrilla leader, like his Ethiopian friend Meles, he might be expected to easily recognise birds of the same feather. However, he protests suspiciously loudly and in his claims to be fighting Islamist terrorists includes in the same rubric non-Islamist tribal militias representing the ordinary citizens of Mogadishu. After the terrible atrocities which have been committed in his name these local people will never forgive him.

Abdillahi thus has no chance of ever ruling Mogadishu—except under the kind of dictatorial oppression that his ignominious predecessor General Mohamed Siyad Barre practised with American and Italian support. Is this what the European Union wants? God knows what the Americans might want: the obscene results of their imperialist adventures in other parts of the Islamic world give little cause for optimism

I.M. Lewis
Read more!

Friday, April 13, 2007

WashPost: North Koreans Armed Ethiopians for Invasion of Somalia; U.S. Assented

More week-old news but weighty in its consequences. Why is no one pressing the administration for an explanation of its on-again, off-again position on U.N. Security Council arms sanctions? Are those sanctions only to be enforced when they're convenient for Washington?

North Koreans Arm Ethiopians as U.S. Assents

WASHINGTON, April 7 — Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country's nuclear test, Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from the North, in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior American officials.

The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the American policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.

American officials said that they were still encouraging Ethiopia to wean itself from its longstanding reliance on North Korea for cheap Soviet-era military equipment to supply its armed forces and that Ethiopian officials appeared receptive. But the arms deal is an example of the compromises that result from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration's commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve the North Korean government of money it could use to build up its nuclear weapons program. . . .

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, as the administration has made counterterrorism its top foreign policy concern, the White House has sometimes shown a willingness to tolerate misconduct by allies that it might otherwise criticize, like human rights violations in Central Asia and antidemocratic crackdowns in a number of Arab nations.

It is also not the first time that the Bush administration has made an exception for allies in their dealings with North Korea. In 2002, Spain intercepted a ship carrying Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen. At the time, Yemen was working with the United States to hunt members of Al Qaeda operating within its borders, and after its government protested, the United States asked that the freighter be released. Yemen said at the time that it was the last shipment from an earlier missile purchase and would not be repeated.

American officials from a number of agencies described details of the Ethiopian episode on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal Bush administration deliberations.

Several officials said they first learned that Ethiopia planned to receive a delivery of military cargo from North Korea when the country's government alerted the American Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, after the adoption on Oct. 14 of the United Nations Security Council measure imposing sanctions.

"The Ethiopians came back to us and said, 'Look, we know we need to transition to different customers, but we just can't do that overnight,' " said one American official, who added that the issue had been handled properly. "They pledged to work with us at the most senior levels."

American intelligence agencies in late January reported that an Ethiopian cargo ship that was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment had left a North Korean port.

The value of the shipment is unclear, but Ethiopia purchased $20 million worth of arms from North Korea in 2001, according to American estimates, a pattern that officials said had continued. The United States gives Ethiopia millions of dollars of foreign aid and some nonlethal military equipment.

After a brief debate in Washington, the decision was made not to block the arms deal and to press Ethiopia not to make future purchases.

John R. Bolton, who helped to push the resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea through the Security Council in October, before stepping down as United Nations ambassador, said that the Ethiopians had long known that Washington was concerned about their arms purchases from North Korea and that the Bush administration should not have tolerated the January shipment.

"To make it clear to everyone how strongly we feel on this issue we should have gone to the Ethiopians and said they should send it back," said Mr. Bolton, who added that he had been unaware of the deal before being contacted for this article. "I know they have been helpful in Somalia, but there is a nuclear weapons program in North Korea that is unhelpful for everybody worldwide.

"Never underestimate the strength of 'clientitis' at the State Department," said Mr. Bolton, using Washington jargon for a situation in which State Department officials are deemed to be overly sympathetic to the countries they conduct diplomacy with.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, declined to comment on the specifics of the arms shipment but said the United States was "deeply committed to upholding and enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions." Repeated efforts to contact the Ethiopian Embassy were unsuccessful.

In other cases, the United States has been strict in enforcing the Security Council resolution. For instance, late last year, American intelligence agencies tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying illicit weapons and pressed several nations to refuse to allow the ship to dock. Myanmar, formerly Burma, allowed it to anchor and insisted that there was no violation.

North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, and the Security Council resolution, adopted less than a week later, was hailed by President Bush as "swift and tough," and a "clear message to the leader of North Korea regarding his weapons programs."

Among the biggest sticking points during the negotiations over the resolution were Chinese and Russian objections to language requiring inspections of ships leaving North Korea. The United States repeatedly pressed China and Russia to agree to the inspections, saying they were essential to enforcing the resolution's embargo on North Korea's sale of dangerous weapons, like ballistic missiles. In addition to the ban on the purchase of weapons from North Korea, the resolution also called for a ban on the sale of luxury goods to it and the freezing of its financial assets in banks worldwide.

The measure had special relevance for several African states that have long purchased low-cost military equipment from North Korea. Ethiopia has an arsenal of T-55 tanks that it acquired years ago from the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations. For years, it has turned to North Korea for tank parts and other equipment to keep its military running.

The Ethiopians bought the equipment at a bargain price; the North Koreans received some badly needed cash. In 2005, the Bush administration told Ethiopia and other African nations that it wanted them to phase out their purchases from North Korea. But the Security Council resolution put an international imprimatur on the earlier American request, and the administration sought to reinforce the message.

"They really are one of the larger conventional arms purchasers from North Korea, and we're pressing them hard and saying, 'Let's get you out of that business,' " said the American official.

Another American official, who is involved in Africa policy, said: "These are cash on the barrel transactions. The Ethiopians know that they can get the best deal in Pyongyang," a reference to North Korea's capital.

In late January, the Central Intelligence Agency reported that an Ethiopian-flagged vessel had left a North Korean port and that its cargo probably included "tank parts," among other military equipment.

American officials said that the ship, the Tekeze, a modern vessel bought from a company in Montenegro and named after an Ethiopian river, unloaded its cargo in Djibouti, a former French colony where the United States has based Special Operations troops and other military forces. From there, the cargo was transported overland to Ethiopia.

The Security Council resolution's list of prohibited items included spare parts. Because the cargo was never inspected, some administration officials say the United States cannot say for certain that the shipment violated the resolution.

It is not clear if the United States ever reported the arms shipment to the Security Council. But because the intelligence reports indicated that the cargo was likely to have included tank parts, some Pentagon officials described the shipment as an unambiguous Security Council violation.

American officials said that the Ethiopians acknowledged that the ship was en route and said they needed the military equipment to sustain their Soviet-era military. Ethiopia has a longstanding border dispute with Eritrea, but of more concern to Washington, Ethiopia was also focused on neighboring Somalia, where Islamic forces that had taken over Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, six months earlier were attacking Baidoa, the seat of a relatively powerless transitional government that was formed with the support of the United Nations.

The timing of the shipment was extremely awkward, as the Ethiopian military was preoccupied with Somalia and also quietly cooperating with the United States. Ethiopia began an offensive in Somalia to drive back the Islamic forces and install the transitional government in Mogadishu late last year. The United States was providing it with detailed intelligence about the positions of the Islamic forces and positioned Navy ships off Somalia's coast to capture fighters trying to escape the battlefield by sea.

On Jan. 7, American AC-130 gunships launched two strikes on terrorist targets from an airstrip inside Ethiopia, though it did not appear that the casualties included any of the few top Qaeda operatives American officials suspected were hiding in Somalia.

After some internal debate, the Bush administration decided not to make an issue of the cargo ship.

American officials insist that they are keeping up the pressure on Ethiopia. While Ethiopia has not provided an ironclad assurance that it will accept no more arms shipments from North Korea, it has told the United States that it will look for other weapons suppliers.

"There was a lot going on at that particular moment in time," said the senior American official. "They seem to have the readiness to do the right thing."
Read more!

Salim Lone: "Kenya must take lead role in securing peace in Somalia"

The following opinion piece appeared this morning in Nairobi's Daily Nation. I agree wholeheartedly with the writer's call for more active European involvement in efforts to prevent the Somalia situation from unraveling further. Be sure to read the entire article by clicking on "Read more!" below.

The Iraq war continues to spiral out of control, the year leading up to its fourth anniversary this week, being the deadliest so far. Unless a political solution is sought, the destructive toll in lives is destined to reach an astounding one million in the next year, since it was already 650,000 a year ago according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

The world has also never been so unstable or threatened. With Somalia invaded, the world and our region are even more so, with four countries now occupied, all of them Muslim.

Once a war deepens, positions become entrenched and finding a peaceful exit becomes harder by the day. Peace and human rights advocates in Kenya must, therefore, take the lead in emphasising the need for a democratic, inclusive government devoid of the rampaging warlords rather than support the current aggression. . . .

WE MUST LEAD THIS CAMPAIGN because we are next door and directly involved, and the whole region could be engulfed by this crisis, as Mr Bethuel Kiplagat emphasised on Monday in these pages, although he advocated use of force as the way to end the resistance.

The same global paralysis and despair that could not prevent the ongoing Iraqi holocaust must not now be allowed to let Somalia unravel. The key for preventing this lies in Europe's hands, given its position as the most influential US ally with whom it shares many strategic goals. EU experts had warned last fall about the looming invasion, but as usual the EU decided not to challenge a major US strategic decision.

However, the EU's going public last week with its worries that, as a major funder of the concerned parties, it might be culpable in the war crimes that might have been committed in the massive assault on Mogadishu's civilian neighbourhoods shows the continuing extent of EU fears over Somalia. Behind the scenes, Europe needs to aggressively pursue with the US the case for finding a political solution, since inaction now will surely see the Horn of Africa become an even bigger powder-keg.

Other non-involved parties such as Russia, China, India and the Arab states must also take up the peace cause. The AU is in a harder position, having been boxed into backing the TFG.

There are very good reasons for the world to emphasise the folly of the current enterprise. One is the high-level turnout at the Somali Diaspora Conference last weekend. Two prime ministers from the 2000-2004 Transitional National Government, which preceded the TFG, and numerous ministers and MPs from that period, as well as Baidoa MPs, who resigned in the last year attended.

The decision of all these leaders to unite with the Diaspora and the Islamic Courts Union, along with the internal resistance, poses an insurmountable challenge to the occupiers. Somalis will not abide an occupation, and if it continues, the US and Kenya will be forced to become even more directly involved.

The other factor pushing for a negotiated settlement is the very pragmatic decision of the ICU to forego regaining control of the country, as indicated to me by Prof Ibrahim Addou.

Even though the Courts were primarily a moderate Muslim union, the offspring of businessmen, they nevertheless were vilified in the build up to war as extremists.

THEY WERE NOT ALL ANGELS, BUT they performed some remarkable miracles in bringing peace to most of Somalia and in driving out the warlords. They did not commit a single terrorist act. They made some miscalculations, but they were slated for destruction whatever they did, since the US and Ethiopia needed a client regime in Somalia, which the Courts were never going to be.

So the world stood by as a truly lawless invasion was mounted, involving not only Guantamo-type kidnappings, but violating also the UN Charter and three specific Security Council resolutions, including one on North Korea, all barring arms as well as neighbouring country troops from being sent to the country.

It is distressing in the extreme that the UN is silent on these breaches, and, in New York, I saw the spineless contortions of UN officials and spokesmen this week as they struggled to avoid commenting on war crimes that have been committed.

Read more!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Va. firm aids forces in Somalia"

This blows my mind! I guess it's old news, but it still shocks me to learn that the Department of State is responsible for out-sourcing a ten million dollar contract with a private U.S. firm to provide support for African Union "peacekeepers" in Somalia. Then again, hiring mercenaries to help suppress radical Islamist opposition to the Transitional Federal Government is consonant with our short-sighted War on Terror policy there.

Va. firm aids forces in Somalia

Richmond Times-Dispatch
From Wire Reports
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The State Department has hired a military contractor to help equip and support international peacekeepers in Somalia, giving the United States a significant role without assigning combat forces.

Virginia-based DynCorp International, which also has U.S. contracts in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, will be paid $10 million to help the peacekeeping mission. It was not immediately clear if DynCorp employees would work inside Somalia under a contract signed three weeks ago.

It's a potentially dangerous assignment. When the first 1,500 Ugandan peacekeepers arrived in Somalia's capital Tuesday, they were greeted with a mortar attack and a major firefight. Yesterday, attackers ambushed the peacekeepers in Mogadishu, setting off another gunfight that wounded three civilians. . . .

Also yesterday, gunmen killed two police officers who were trying to search vehicles for weapons.

The support for the Ugandans is part of a larger goal to improve African forces across the continent and promote peace and stability in a region that's often lawless and a haven for terrorists, including some tied to al-Qaida. The U.S. has also begun to depend more on African nations for oil and minerals and wants to expand its influence.

The State Department has committed $14 million for the African Union peacekeeping mission to Somalia.

DynCorp had been contracted until April to provide assistance that includes supplying tents, vehicles and generators, said DynCorp spokesman Greg Lagana.

Somalia has seen little more than anarchy for more than a decade. The government, backed by Ethiopian troops, only months ago toppled an Islamic militia that controlled Mogadishu.
Read more!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

East African: "U.S. Sees Terrorists Under the Bed as People Die in Mogadishu"

April 10, 2007
By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Given the iron fist with which the Ethiopian army put down the protests in Addis Ababa two years ago following disputed elections, it was perhaps only to be expected that it would be only more vicious in its latest campaign against alleged Islamist extremist strongholds in Mogadishu.

Up to 400 people have died, and over 100,000 have fled Mogadishu in what the International Committee of the Red Cross has described as the worst fighting for 15 years in the Somali capital. . . .

The Ethiopian invasion was justified by both Addis Ababa and the US on the grounds that the Islamic Courts government in Somalia had given sanctuary to Al Qaeda elements and was harbouring terrorists who were behind the terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998. That if the Courts hadn't been kicked out of power, the terrorist network would have blossomed and consumed East Africa and the Horn.

IT IS indeed possible that some terrorist found safe haven in Somalia. Lately, though, I have become sceptical about the ability of events in one African country to seriously destabilise an organised neighbour.One suspects that with just an ordinary level of vigilance by the security forces, the threat that a Somalia ruled by Islamic Courts posed, could have been eliminated. Therefore, the need for Ethiopia to invade the country should not have arisen.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a good example. For many years, there was a terrible war in the DRC, which resulted directly and indirectly in the deaths of four million people. The media were full of stories about the likelihood that the conflict, which had drawn in Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Angola, would result in a "third world war" (this writer too penned a few such worried articles).

In the end, the conflict ended without any extraordinary effect on any country in the Great Lakes region. Most of the damage was confined to the DRC. There were very few, if any, Rwandans or Ugandans who didn't eat dinner or couldn't buy a new shirt or dress because of the DRC war.

ONE REASON for this is that life is still largely primitive in those parts of neighbouring African countries that refugees flee to.

The most damage refugees do is that they hasten the destruction of local environments as they demolish trees for fuel wood, and harvest all the grass for their huts. Otherwise the communities where they seek shelter live much the same way as before.

It isn't as if thousands of Congolese refugees are going to arrive in western Uganda and put new pressure on sewerage systems because they are using flush toilets. They will dig pit latrines and use the bush just like the local folks. Indeed, conflicts between refugees and their host communities have mostly arisen because, after the aid agencies set up water points, clinics and schools for the former, they immediately have a far higher standard of life than the local folks, who have nothing.

ALSO, FEARS of the conflict "spilling over" into neighbouring countries are often overstated. As President Yoweri Museveni observed some years ago, war in tropical Africa is still largely a rudimentary affair with barefoot soldiers in tattered uniforms fighting their way around trees in dense forests or banana plantations.

When they cross the border, they might steal a few chicken and goats, and kill some hapless peasants in their farms. But certainly, they are not going to be wiping out whole towns or trashing international airports with weapons of mass destruction. Besides, a determined militia can always disperse them.

Accepting these facts would help to reduce the hysteria that attended the capture of power by the Courts in Somalia, and encourage more intelligent interventions to solve such crises.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group's managing editor for convergence and new products.
Read more!

Friday, April 6, 2007

NYT: "Somali Battles Bring Charges of War Crimes"

Published: April 6, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 5 — European diplomats said Thursday that they were investigating whether Ethiopian and Somali government forces committed war crimes last week during heavy fighting in Somalia’s capital that killed more than 300 civilians.

Relatives buried a family member in Mogadishu on Thursday, days after fighting killed more than 300 civilians and prompted charges of war crimes against Ethiopian troops and forces of the interim government.

The fighting, some of the bloodiest in Somalia in the past 15 years, pitted Ethiopian and Somali forces against bands of insurgents. It reduced blocks of buildings in Mogadishu, the capital, to smoldering rubble. Many residents have complained to human rights groups, saying the government used excessive force and indiscriminately shelled their neighborhoods.

Eric van der Linden, the chief of the European Commission’s delegation to Kenya, said he had appointed a team to look into several war crime allegations stemming from the civilian casualties. “These are hefty accusations,” Mr. van der Linden said. “We are examining them very prudently.” . . . .

In an e-mail message to Mr. van der Linden marked urgent, a security adviser to the commission wrote that there were “strong grounds” to believe that Ethiopian and Somali troops had intentionally attacked civilian areas and that Ugandan peacekeepers, who arrived in the country last month, were complicit for standing by. The message was provided by someone who thought that the issue should become public; its authenticity was confirmed by commission officials.

Ethiopian, Somali and Ugandan officials denied that their soldiers had done anything wrong.

A war crimes case is about the last thing Somalia’s transitional government needs. Ever since it took control of Mogadishu in late December, the transitional government has struggled to pacify the city and win popular support.

Many Western diplomats have expressed hope that this transitional government, Somalia’s 14th, will end the seemingly interminable chaos that has enveloped the country since the central government collapsed in 1991.

But so far, the government has failed to deliver the same level of stability that an Islamist administration brought during its brief reign last year. It was overthrown by Ethiopian-led forces, with covert American help.

Mogadishu has become so dangerous — again — that many residents say they are now doubting whether the government will be able to hold a major reconciliation conference scheduled for mid-April. The Ethiopian military struck a truce with insurgents on Sunday, though, and the past three days have been quiet, giving beleaguered residents a chance to bury their dead.

The European Commission has no authority to prosecute war crimes and would have to refer any findings to the International Criminal Court. But commission officials said they were investigating the accusations because the commission has provided money and technical assistance to the transitional government and the peacekeeping mission there.

A Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic considerations predicted that even if there was compelling evidence of war crimes, the case would probably never get to court.

Another Western official, speaking anonymously for similar reasons, said, “At the end of the day, no one is going to want to further undermine the transitional government.”

Diplomats and analysts from Somali and international organizations predicted that the American government would resist the European effort because Ethiopia is a close American ally, valued as bulwark against Islamic militants in the Horn of Africa.

In the past week, human rights groups have been urging someone to look into the issue of civilian casualties. The Somali Diaspora Network, an American-based advocacy group, accused the transitional government and Ethiopian forces of “collective punishment” and genocide.

The Somali Disapora Network said Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the transitional president, warned in a recent radio interview that “any place from which a bullet is fired, we will bombard it, regardless of whoever is there.”

Several of the analysts said they believed that Ethiopian forces overreacted in the fighting last week. One analyst who works closely on Somali issues said Ethiopian soldiers might have panicked after they were surrounded by insurgents in Mogadishu’s main stadium and commanders responded by carpet-bombing the entire neighborhood.

Ethiopian officials denied that.

“Our forces have been praised for not attacking civilians and nothing in recent days has changed,” said Zemedkun Tekle, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government.

Abdirizak Adam Hassan, chief of staff for Somalia’s transitional president, did not deny that many civilians had been killed. “Unfortunately, this is what happens when you fight in a city,” he said.

But, he said, the government was simply trying to defend itself.

“For a good two months, these insurgents have been attacking our government compounds, planting land mines in the road, assassinating people,” he said. “Our job is to protect the people, not kill them.”
Read more!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

AP: "U.S. interrogating at Africa's secret prisons"

Why am I not surprised? The Associated Press has confirmed my worst fears about the role U.S. intelligence agencies were playing in the "War on Terror" in Somalia, profiling and detaining suspected Muslim "radicals" by the dozen and using the facilities of cooperative Christian governments among Somalia's neighbors for purposes of interrogation.

I agree with John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, as quoted by AP: "The United States has acted as 'ringleader' in a 'decentralized, outsourced Guantanamo'."

My friend Bashir adds a comment of his own: "The fact that many Somalis have 'disappeared' into secret prisons is news to AP but so well known in Somalia that the warlords working for the US were nicknamed 'slave traders' in Mogadishu, i.e., they were selling Somalis into captivity for a few dollars."

NOTE: Click on image above to view larger version.

CIA, FBI agents eye secret prisons in Ethiopia looking for al-Qaida militants.

AP: U.S. interrogating at Africa’s secret prisons

The Associated Press
Updated: 8:58 p.m. ET April 3, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya - CIA and FBI agents hunting for al-Qaida militants in the Horn of Africa have been interrogating terrorism suspects from 19 countries held at secret prisons in Ethiopia, which is notorious for torture and abuse, according to an investigation by 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.

The detainees include at least one U.S. citizen, and some are from Canada, Sweden and France, according to a list compiled by a Kenyan Muslim rights group and flight manifests obtained by AP.

Some were swept up by Ethiopian troops that drove a radical Islamist government out of neighboring Somalia late last year. Others have been deported from Kenya, where many Somalis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland. . . .

Ethiopia, which denies holding secret prisoners, is a country with a long history of human rights abuses. In recent years, it has also been a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, which has been trying to sink roots among Muslims in the Horn of Africa.

U.S. government officials contacted by AP acknowledged questioning prisoners in Ethiopia. But they said American agents were following the law and were fully justified in their actions because they are investigating past attacks and current threats of terrorism.

The prisoners were never in American custody, said an FBI spokesman, Richard Kolko, who denied the agency would support or be party to illegal arrests. He said U.S. agents were allowed limited access by governments in the Horn of Africa to question prisoners as part of the FBI’s counter-terrorism work.

Western security officials, who insisted on anonymity because the issue related to security matters, told AP that among those held were well-known suspects with strong links to al-Qaida.

An 'outsourced Guantanamo'
But some U.S. allies have expressed consternation at the transfers to the prisons. One Western diplomat in Nairobi, who agreed to speak to AP only if not quoted to avoid angering U.S. officials, said he sees the United States as playing a guiding role in the operation.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch expert on counter-terrorism, went further. He said in an e-mail that the United States has acted as “ringleader” in what he labeled a “decentralized, outsourced Guantanamo.”

Details of the arrests, transfers and interrogations slowly emerged as AP and human rights groups investigated the disappearances, diplomats tracked their missing citizens and the first detainees to be released told their stories.

One investigator from an international human rights group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to the media, said Ethiopia had secret jails at three locations: Addis Ababa, the capital; an Ethiopian air base 37 miles east of the capital; and the far eastern desert close to the Somali border.

More than 100 arrests in January
More than 100 of the detainees were originally arrested in Kenya in January, after almost all of them fled Somalia because of the intervention by Ethiopian troops accompanied by U.S. special forces advisers, according to Kenyan police reports and U.S. military officials.

Those people were then deported in clandestine pre-dawn flights to Somalia, according to the Kenya Muslim Human Rights Forum and airline documents. At least 19 were women and 15 were children.

In Somalia, they were handed over to Ethiopian intelligence officers and secretly flown to Ethiopia, where they are now in detention, the New York-based Human Rights Watch says.

A further 200 people, also captured in Somalia, were mainly Ethiopian rebels who backed the Somali Islamist movement, according to one rights group and a Somali government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his job. Those prisoners also were taken to Ethiopia, human rights groups say.

Kenya continues to arrest hundreds of people for illegally crossing over from Somalia. But it is not clear if deportations continue.

The Pentagon announced last week that one Kenyan al-Qaida suspect who fled Somalia, Mohamed Abul Malik, was arrested and flown to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ethiopia denying secret prisoners
When contacted by AP, Ethiopian officials denied that they held secret prisoners or that any detainees were questioned by U.S. officials.

“No such kind of secret prisons exist in Ethiopia,” said Bereket Simon, special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He declined to comment further.

A former prisoner and the families of current and former captives tell a different story.

“It was a nightmare from start to finish,” Kamilya Mohammedi Tuweni, a 42-year-old mother of three who has a passport from the United Arab Emirates, told AP in her first comments after her release in Addis Ababa on March 24 from what she said was 2½ months in detention without charge.

She is the only released prisoner who has spoken publicly. She was freed a month after being interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by a U.S. agent, she said. Tuweni, an Arabic-Swahili translator, said she was arrested while on a business trip to Kenya and had never been to Somalia or had any links to that country.

She said she was arrested Jan. 10. Tuweni said she was beaten in Kenya, then forced to sleep on a stone floor while held in Somalia in a single room with 22 other women and children for 10 days before being flown to Ethiopia on a military plane.

Finally, she said, she was taken blindfolded from prison to a private villa in the Ethiopian capital. There, she said, she was interrogated with other women by a male U.S. intelligence agent. He assured her that she would not be harmed but urged her to cooperate, she said.

More families speak out
In a telephone conversation with AP, Tuweni said the man identified himself as a U.S. official, but not from the FBI. A CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the agency had no contact with Tuweni.

“We cried the whole time because we did not know what would happen. The whole thing was very scary,” said Tuweni, who flew back to her family in Dubai a day after her release.

Tuweni’s version of her transfer out of Kenya is corroborated by the manifest of the African Express Airways flight 5Y AXF. It shows she was taken to Mogadishu, Somalia, with 31 other people on an unscheduled flight chartered by the Kenyan government.

The family of a Swedish detainee, 17-year-old Safia Benaouda, said she was freed from Ethiopia on March 27 and arrived home the following day. Benaouda had traveled to Somalia with her fiancé but fled to Kenya during the Ethiopian military intervention, her mother said.

“She is exhausted, her face is yellow and she’s lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds),” her mother, Helena Benaouda, a 47-year-old Muslim convert who heads the Swedish Muslim Council, wrote on a Web site she set up to help secure her daughter’s release. “She was beaten with a stick when she demanded to go to the toilet.”

The mother spoke briefly by telephone with AP, saying any information she had was being posted on the Web site. She declined to make her daughter available for an interview.

According to the Web site, an American specialist visited the location where Benaouda was being held and took DNA samples and fingerprints of detainees. It said the teenager was never charged or allowed access to lawyers. The teen was also concerned about a 7-month-old baby that was in detention with her, the Web site said.

One American among detainees
The transfer from Kenya to Somalia, and eventually to Ethiopia, of a 24-year-old U.S. citizen, Amir Mohamed Meshal, raised disquiet among FBI officers and the State Department. He is the only American known to be among the detainees in Ethiopia.

U.S. diplomats on Feb. 27 formally protested to Kenyan authorities about Meshal’s transfer and then spent three weeks trying to gain access to him in Ethiopia, said Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the State Department.

He confirmed Meshal was still in Ethiopian custody pending a hearing on his status.

An FBI memo read to AP by a U.S. official in Washington, who insisted on anonymity, quoted an agent who interrogated Meshal as saying the agent was “disgusted” by Meshal’s deportation to Somalia by Kenya. The unidentified agent said he was told by U.S. consular staff that the deportation was illegal.

“My personal opinion was that he may have been a jihadi a-hole, but the precedent of ’deporting’ U.S. citizens to dangerous situations when there is no reason to do so was a bad one,” the official quoted the memo as saying.

Like Benaouda, Meshal was arrested fleeing Somalia. A Kenyan police report of Meshal’s arrest obtained by AP says he was carrying an assault rifle and had crossed into Kenyan with armed Arab men who were trying to avoid capture.

Meshal’s parents insist he is innocent and called on the U.S. government to win his release.

“My son’s only crime is that he’s a Muslim, an American Muslim,” his father, Mohamed Meshal, said from the family’s two-story home on a cul-de-sac in Tinton Falls, N.J., where he lives with his wife, Fifi.

“Clearly the U.S. government interrogated him, and threatened him with torture according to the accounts that we’ve seen,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law who has been assisting the family.

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday to demand Meshal’s immediate release. “Our government cannot allow an American citizen to continue to be held by the Ethiopian government in violation of international law and our own due process,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions that protect victims of war, is seeking access to the Ethiopian detainees, said a diplomat from a country whose citizens are being held. He insisted on speaking anonymously because he is working for their release.

U.S. officials, who agreed to discuss the detentions only if not quoted by name because of the information’s sensitivity, said Ethiopia had allowed access to U.S. agencies, including the CIA and FBI, but the agencies played no role in arrests, transport or deportation.

One official said it would have been irresponsible to pass up an opportunity to learn more about terrorist operations.

Kolko, the FBI spokesman, also said the detainees were never in FBI or U.S. government custody.

“While in custody of the foreign government, the FBI was granted limited access to interview certain individuals of interest,” he told AP. “We do not support or participate in any system that illegally detains foreign fighters or terror suspects, including women and children.”

Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, declined to discuss details of any such interviews. He said, however: “To fight terror, CIA acts boldly and lawfully, alone and with partners, just as the American people expect us to.”

One of the U.S. officials said the FBI has had access in Ethiopia to several dozen individuals — fewer than 100 — as part of its investigations.

1998 bombings a focal point
The official said the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds are a major focus of the agents’ work. Law enforcement officials have long believed the bombings were carried out by members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network who were later given safe haven in Somalia.

The official said FBI agents would not be witness or party to any questioning that involved abuse.

It wasn’t clear how many people the CIA interviewed or whether the agency’s officers were working jointly with the FBI.

The CIA began an aggressive program in 2002 to interrogate suspected terrorists at an unknown number of secret locations from Southeast Asia to Europe. Prisoners were frequently picked up in one country and transferred to a prison in another, where they were held incommunicado by a cooperative intelligence service. But President Bush announced in September that all the detainees had been moved to military custody at Guantanamo Bay.

One Western diplomat, who refused to be quoted by name for fear of hurting relations with the countries involved, would not rule out that additional suspects in Ethiopia could be sent to Guantanamo.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua insisted no laws were broken and said his government was not aware that anyone would be transferred from Somalia to Ethiopia.

Lawyers and human rights groups argue the covert transfers to Ethiopia violated international law.

“Each of these governments has played a shameful role in mistreating people fleeing a war zone,” said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “Kenya has secretly expelled people, the Ethiopians have caused dozens to disappear, and U.S. security agents have routinely interrogated people held incommunicado.”

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Monday, April 2, 2007

Bashir: "Ethnic cleansing dressed up as a war on terror"

My friend Bashir brought to my attention an article from the Times (UK) online that underscores how much innocent Somalis are suffering in the aftermath of the U.S.-supported invasion of their country by Ethiopian troops (see below). By way of comment, Bashir asks "Where are all those human rights groups who go on about Mugabe now?"

Meanwhile, dramatizing its full commitment to the war on terror,
the Ethiopian-supported interim Somali Government claimed that al-Qaeda had named an Islamist commander, Aden Hashi Ayro, as its leader in Mogadishu (read today's Times UK report).

War-scarred Mogadishu plunges back into the abyss

Jonathan Clayton, Africa Correspondent

"They are firing heavy artillery into residential areas . . . innocent people who have nothing to do with these insurgents, let alone Islamists, are being slaughtered. Where are all those human rights groups who go on about Mugabe now; this is ethnic cleansing dressed up as a war on terror," he told The Times.

Estimates of the number of people killed vary widely. Some now put the death toll as high as 150, but with most of the Indian Ocean port city a "no-go" area it is impossible to verify. Hospitals across the city are overflowing with wounded. Residents say that they represent only a fraction of the casualties.

Some of the heaviest fighting has taken place in the Ali Kamin neighbourhood, a rabbit warren of narrow alleyways, and the area around the main stadium in south Mogadishu, for years a stronghold of Somali gunmen.

Witnesses said yesterday that they saw at least six bodies of civilians lying in the street, unable to be retrieved by relatives because of heavy crossfire.

"There are tanks everywhere. Shells are landing everywhere and this is very scary," Hussein Ali, a resident said. "I cannot confirm the exact casualties, but a lot of people have been killed and others wounded." . . . .

Witnesses also reported the charred bodies of Ethiopian soldiers, near a burnt out army truck, and said that tanks had taken up position on main crossroads. All access to the areas of the heaviest fighting have been prevented by road-blocks manned by a joint force of Ethiopian and Somali government forces.

In another ominous development, a Ugandan peacekeeper – part of an African Union (AU) force supposed to maintain order after an Ethiopian Army pull-out – was killed on Saturday and five others wounded after mortars fired by the insurgents slammed into their base at the Presidential Palace. "We are not surprised by what took place, we expect those people [insurgents] to do more of such things. We are not in any fear at all," Major Fe-lix Kulayigye told journalists in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Regional experts, however, said that the AU force, which controls the airport from where the Ethiopians had launched helicopter raids against suspected insurgent positions, was no longer seen as a neutral force.

The US, which has supported the Ethiopian incursion, says that the Islamists have links to al-Qaeda. Somali experts say there are some links, but the imposition of a President from the Darod clan of southern Somalia has united rivals in the Hawiye sub-clans of central Somalia against a common foe.

"This is clan-based civil war now, the Islamists are fighting on the side of some of the Mogadishu clans but they are not leading this insurgency. It is very dangerous for the AU forces," said a Somali expert. He cannot be identified for fear of reprisals in neighbouring Kenya to where many Somalis have fled.

The Ethiopians drove the Islamists from power in December, ending the only period of calm the city has seen since 1991, when Mohammed Siad Barre, the former Cold War dictator, was overthrown.

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