by Faith J. H. McDonnell
In a makeshift shelter of plastic tarps in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, an American linguist, Deborah Martin, interviewed dozens of Darfurian refugees. The year was 2006, and some two thousand Darfurians had fled the Islamist Sudanese regime’s genocidal war against them and walked over 900 miles to the Nuba Mountains. At that time, just after the signing of the 2005 North/South peace agreement, the area now once again a killing field of the Islamist regime was relatively safe.
One young Darfuri woman told Martin she had witnessed the rest of her family, including her 80 year-old grandmother, “sliced up like meat” by the Janjaweed (Arab militia). Other refugees had similarly horrific tales. And common among all the testimonies were four names – either whispered in terror or spat out in defiance. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Vice President Ali Osman Taha, Arab Janjaweed militia leader Musa Hilal, and former Chief of National Intelligence and Security Services/presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie – these were the men they held responsible for the Darfur genocide, and for the regime’s atrocities far beyond Darfur.
Today, the Obama Administration has invited Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie and other high-level officials from Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) to Washington, DC. State Department spokeswoman Hilary Renner defended the visit as the opportunity for a “candid discussion on the conflicts and humanitarian crises within Sudan.” But in the Sudanese press, the NCP crowed that the invitation is a call “for the development of relationships between Sudan and the U.S.” Nafie assured his fellow hardliners that he was not going to the U.S. in order to discuss Sudan issues, saying that the regime knew what it was doing in that regard. Writing of the visit Rabbi David Kaufman, founder and co-chair of “Help Nuba,” said it was similar to inviting Heinrich Himmler to the U.S. to discuss the “humanitarian crisis” during the Holocaust.
Nafie eschewed training in plant genetics (he studied at UC Riverside, receiving a Ph.D. in 1980, thank you, USA!) for training in terrorism. According to the Sudan Tribune, Nafie travelled to Tehran in 1981 “on the apparent pretext of conducting further studies in the field of agriculture.” During the 1980’s, he also spent time in Afghanistan and the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon where he gained the expertise and contacts to develop Sudan’s own security apparatus, import weapons, and establish secret desert training camps. The Sudan Tribune says that it is also believe[d] that during this time, Nafie coordinated with his former Iranian mentors “to supply arms to those opposing the American and French presence in Somalia.”
As Chief of National Intelligence and Security Services for Omar al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front regime, Nafie perfected the art of torture. Sudanese Online says, “Dr. Nafie is by far the most brutal security official the Sudan has ever seen.” And the Sudan Tribune explains that he is notorious for the creation of Sudan’s “ghost houses” (buyut al-ashbah), unofficial detention and torture chambers run by Sudan’s security services.
Typical ghost house treatment was given to Nafie’s old colleague from the University of Khartoum, science professor and human rights activist, Farouk Mohammed Ibrahim. Ibrahim was arrested and taken blindfolded to a Khartoum ghost house where he was held for 12 days with no charges. According to his statement seeking redress from the Sudanese government, Ibrahim revealed he “was subjected to interrogations about courses taught and about colleagues.” During the interrogations, he “was repeatedly kicked, beaten and flogged, subjected to a prolonged bath in ice water, threatened with rape and death and deprived of sleep for up to three days.” Ibrahim told the Los Angeles Times that Nafie “was administering the whole thing. He did it all in such a cool manner, as if he were sipping a coffee.”
Condemning the upcoming visit and urging that Secretary Kerry rescind the invitation, Sudan advocacy alliance Act for Sudan noted that Nafie “helped design the regime’s strategy to eliminate or expel indigenous African people by bombing, attacking, raping, and starving innocent civilians. Sudanese Online adds, “Dr. Nafie has expelled international aid agencies from eastern Sudan, Nuba Mountains of Kordofan, Darfur and Blue Nile provinces.”
Recently, Nafie, who is also the deputy chairman of the ruling National Congress Party, addressed a graduation ceremony of the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces (PDF), the jihadists used by Khartoum to conduct the purge of black, African people in the Nuba Mountains. He said of those in Sudan who want equality for all Sudanese and a secular democracy, that they “are traitors for collaborating with rebels to overthrow the regime, and for preaching a secular system.” The opposition “has dug its own grave” by rejecting “the principles of Islamic Sharia law” and seeking to “establish a secular state like the Western countries,” he declared. He vowed to the graduating PDF members that 2013 will be a decisive year in which they would wage a war like that fought by Mohammed at the Battle of Badr, a battle that ushered in the beginning of Islamic expansion.
The Obama Administration is not happy about the backlash it is receiving because of the invitation to Nafie Ali Nafie. Perhaps is has forgotten how frequently Senator Barack Obama and his supporters criticized President George W. Bush’s Sudan policy. Bush’s policies merely saved hundreds of thousands threatened by starvation and disease, brought about the Nuba Mountains ceasefire, created a presidential-level Sudan Special Envoy, and helped to bring about a peace agreement leading to the establishment of the nation of South Sudan. But since he couldn’t bring perform the additional miracle of ending the genocide in Darfur, Obama accused the Bush Administration of not doing enough.
For example, speaking about Darfur in October 2004, Senator Obama said, “There must be real pressure placed on the Sudanese government. We know from past experience that it will take a great deal to get them to do the right thing.” Where is that pressure today, when an architect of genocide is invited to Washington, DC?
Finally, in April 2008, with the Presidential election drawing closer, Obama again criticized Bush Sudan policy, saying, “I am deeply concerned by reports that the Bush Administration is negotiating a normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan.” He warned that “this reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments.”
Today, in justifying the invitation to Nafie, the Obama Administration challenges the idea that a trip to America for diplomatic discussion can be considered a “reward.” And it posits only three alternatives in U.S. Sudan policy: go to war with Sudan, engage in diplomacy, or be irrelevant. But there could be another alternative for U.S. Sudan policy. In his book, The Coming Revolution, Dr. Walid Phares advises the U.S. government to support the freedom and democracy-loving sections of civil society within totalitarian and Islamist regimes to foster democratic transformation. In the case of Sudan, the U.S. government could also quietly support the opposition forces that want regime change and a free, equal Sudan. In fact, Senator Barack Obama mentioned this possibility in his 2004 speech when he said that we should be “providing resources . . . including logistical support like airplanes, helicopters, trucks, and other resources that are needed to deliver humanitarian aid.”
But although the Obama Administration was willing to take strong actions to bring about the downfall of Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi, (and facilitate the takeover by Islamists) in this case, when the downfall of the regime could mean the downfall of the Islamist agenda in Sudan and the wider region, it prefers diplomatic engagement. Could that not be construed as a “reckless and cynical initiative”? Bringing Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie and other high-level officials of the Sudanese government to Washington, DC threatens to once again reward a regime that not only continues to have a record of failing to live up to its commitments and of committing brutal atrocities against its own citizens, but of pursuing an agenda of global jihad and Islamist supremacism.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).
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