Friday, October 14, 2011

100 Armed US Military Advisors to Africa

Meet Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA - the Lord's Resistance Army, in a 2006 photo taken in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Hollywood Celebrity and Comedy Writer Who Wrote About Him

Jane Bussmann - A British Comedy Writer Confronts Mind-Shredding Evil in Uganda

An atheist comedy writer investigates the Lord’s Resistance Army and emerges with unlikely heroes


British comedy writer and celebrity journalist Jane Bussmann had a revelation while interviewing actor Ashton Kutcher at a Hollywood cafe: She really had to find something more meaningful to do.

So she embarked on a Google quest for the most evil man in the world and found Joseph Kony, head of the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army. In a dramatic change of direction, according to the jacket of the resulting book:

[S]he set out for Africa to interview a respected (very attractive) peacemaker. However things did not go according to plan. Six weeks later, alone in a war torn country, she found herself investigating one of the worst crimes in African history. Until one day, she was standing over a corpse in an open grave, wondering if she would get home alive.

The paperback version of The Worst Date Ever: Or How It Took a Comedy Writer to Expose Africa’s Secret War was just released and a movie is in development by the producers of the Academy Award-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. It may be the most ribald book about the atrocities of war you will ever read; you may, (as I did), find yourself laughing in the face of what Bussmann calls mind-shredding evil.

For two decades, Kony’s outfit has kidnapped tens of thousands of children; turned them into child soldiers and sex slaves; taught them to use rape as a weapon of war; and cut the lips off of critics including young children. Kony, his top commanders and their backer, Omar Hassan al-Bashir president of Northern Sudan, are all wanted international war criminals. The LRAmassacres whole villages at a time in Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic. Two million people in Northern Uganda have been displaced.

Kony’s power over his victims is derived in part by his claim to be inhabited by spirits, including one that had jumped to him from Alice Lakwena (a kind of Joan of Arc figure) who led an unsuccessful rebellion against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in 1987. Some of Kony’s kids say they believe in his supernatural omniscience because he always knows exactly when the Ugandan Army is coming, in what numbers, and what kinds of weapons they are carrying.

Indeed. The occasional skirmish not withstanding, Kony has apparently enjoyed high-level assistance in sustaining his lifestyle while evading Ugandan troops ostensibly tasked with stopping him.

Back in 1996, according to a document reprinted by Bussmann, the Ugandan and Sudanese governments knew exactly where Catholic school girls kidnapped by the LRA were being held. The Ugandan army had been tipped that the LRA was going to attack the elite St. Mary’s school, but had done nothing to protect or to rescue the 139 girls abducted. And yet, a brave school administrator, Sister Rachele, almost single handedly gained the release of 109 of the children. The LRA kept the rest except for the one they hacked and tortured to death with machetes. Sister Rachele and the girl’s parents met with world leaders from presidents Museveni and Bashir, to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, to Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II.

None of them got the girls back Bussmann observed. Meanwhile, Kony built his city of children in the desert and shipped in his prize, the highly educated St. Mary’s girls. The girls were raped, impregnated, given syphilis and watched as babies were smashed against trees.

When Bussmann arrived in 2005, parents were still trying to get their daughters back. Mrs. Clinton had tried to help by getting the World Bank to donate. The Bank underwrote a special rehabilitation school for children who had escaped from the LRA. Unfortunately, one of Kony’s former top commanders, (an ex-bodyguard for president Museveni) was hired to run it.

Bussmann learned that this was more the rule than the exception. Writing on the Huffington Post she recently declared that some 20-66,000 children have been direct victims of what amounts to a fake war.

But if everyone knew why had nobody stopped him? she wondered. All around me, millions were being pumped into the effort.

Only a cynic, she continued, could conclude that, far from trying to catch Kony, the world turned this mass child rapist into an industry, so I will, for one reason: I don’t see why the kids I met should have to put up with it.

As a comedy writer who has worked on the take-no-prisoners cartoon show, South Park, and whose journalism experience, as she notes, stopped with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, she saw herself as an unlikely reporter for the occasion. And yet, she got the story when others have not. She says that she could recognize absurdity. And that may have been the best qualification.

Un-Faking the War

The fake war may just get real.

President Obama recently signed Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, the main and most remarkable provision of which is: to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters.

A bipartisan cheer went up when the bill became law. But some groups, including the progressive Institute for Policy Studies and the Africa Faith and Justice Network (a coalition of Catholic orders) are concerned that the hunt for Kony by U.S. or allied Special Forces could lead to reprisal massacres against civilianslike those that followed last year’s failedanti-LRA campaign including the armies of three countries and backed by the U.S.

The Enough Project of the Washington DC think tank, Center for American Progress, hasworked tirelessly to stop the LRA and bring peace to the region. But co-founder John Prendergast told Religion Dispatches that Kony has refused numerous peace proposals and he believes that:

The only way to bring an end to the suffering he causes is to support the military efforts to apprehend him in line with his outstanding International Criminal Court arrest warrant. As a peace advocate, it is painful to come to this conclusion, but I realize that there are occasions when force is necessary to achieve peace. This is one of those times.

Bussmann’s discovery of Prendergast in Vanity Fair magazine in 2003 had launched her on another Google quest at the heart of the book. Damn, she exclaimed, I had to meet John Prendergast. He wasn’t just hot; he was wise. I wondered how wrong it would be to sit on his knee during the interview. Bussmann found in Prendergast a dashing romantic interest; his eyes red from saving the world.

While her pursuit of Prendergast by way of pursuing Kony became the worst date ever of the book’s title, he is generous about her work. She has the capacity, he said, to school people about some of the worst human rights crimes in the last half century in a way that isn’t sanctimonious or boring.

When RD had the opportunity to talk with Bussmann about all this, we decided to disregard the professional advice she offered in her book that when talking to famous people, never bring up religion, they might have an opinion.

Actor Ashton Kutcher told you he has met some really great priests. You aver (although not to Kutcher) that you don’t like priests, and not because you are an atheist. And yet some of the real heroes in the book are priests like Father Carlos, and of course, Sister Rachele. Has your thinking evolved since Kutcher?

The biggest shock to me was that the priests came out the heroes of the book! I had great fun mocking myself as events led inexorably to the conclusion that priests were saving the day. I decided it would be fun to lure the most skeptical reader in with a barrage of anti-religion abuse and then have them follow me as I met people like Father Carlos Rodriguez, a deep-thinking, kind, mild-mannered Spanish man with no concern for his own safety. He went into the bush armed with nothing but his Bible to rescue 17 children from the LRA. No bullets fired. But when the priest went back to get more kidsand how often can you say that in a positive contexthe was sabotaged, and not by Kony, but by the Ugandan government army.

Until I went to Uganda, I thought missionaries were shady types who couldn’t make it back at home, so they bailed to sunnier climes where they could strip the joy out of human existence unchallenged. But then I met the Combonis [a Catholic order of priests and nuns] these people risk their own lives fighting for human rights. I met nuns who had been beaten up. Sister Rachele still bursts into tears 14 years after trying to save her girls from Kony (Google her. I don’t vote on any canonization panels but she has to be a contender). And Father Carlos may have saved my life. An author with more dignity wouldn’t have put it in their memoir, as it was a deeply humiliating incident involving a safety pin and a hospital with no doctors, but I couldn’t resist it as the logical, almost divine conclusion to an adventure that began with my saying I didn’t like priests.

Father Carlos last year published a fascinating account of his experiences under the radar in Africa called Tall Grass, after the elephant grass which hides not just rebel child soldiers but all the mysteries in Africa.

What do you make of Kony’s claim to be a religious leader and how he carries himself in this role?

Kony shows many signs of brain damage, or at least advanced mental illness, so I wouldn’t authorize any grants to his church at this time. But if you consider religion to be an inspiration to humans to behave better, Kony uses it as an excuse to behave worse. It wasn’t me, Pa, it was the spirits. Kony is nothing but a lousy little rapist who can’t believe his luck he hit a period in history when the people supposed to be hunting him found it more useful to use the hunt as a smokescreen for lining their pockets in illegal mining operations and ghost soldier salary rackets. He also had the smarts to claim to represent the disenfranchised Acholi tribe, which stalled the intellectuals and academics who should be uniting against him. Sure, the Acholi are disenfranchised. But how can you insult the intelligence of Acholi moms and dads whose kids have been kidnapped by saying they'd choose Kony as their representative? There are politicians for that!

You charge that some humanitarian and development agencies may be more interested in ensuring their cash flow than carrying out their missions. How and why have such groups enabled the suffering they are ostensibly in Uganda to alleviate?

First things first: Helping out someone who is having a tougher time than you is not just a nice thing to do, it's a cornerstone of civilization.

My book is trying to shine a spotlight on what happens when charities don’t ask the crucial question how exactly did these vulnerable people get here? and risk becoming part of the machine of war, or a substitute for the right response from a government. I’d argue that you should always lend your neighbor money; hopefully he’d help you out someday. But if he’s beating his wife, you don’t parrot his story that she walked into a door and organise another whip-round to send her a private doctor. No you call the police.

I became incensed when I read a World Food Program press release asking for more money to feed over a million people who were living in squalor because they had fled Joseph Kony. They hadn’t fled Kony, they had been ordered in by their own government. Yes, some came willingly for protection, but they were told it would be for a few months while the government looked for Kony. Ten years later, not only was Kony not found, but the camps weren’t properly protected. And Kony was still kidnapping their kids. Inside the camps I saw hungry children, outside I saw crops left to rot. The WFP’s solution? To ask the public to send more money. Meanwhile, cash rolled in to the government, and foreign donors wrung their hands over the poor starving refugees.

One lousy rapist turned into an industry.

What really bugs me about contemporary charities are these ghastly, pornographic images of people suffering. They abuse people for cash. These images don’t just belittle women and children and reduce Africans to a continent of beggars, they unforgivably numb audiences to suffering. You see a kid who's starving, you switch off inside instead of getting riled up to ask why he’s starving. Hence the book.

A joke especially when there’s not supposed to be onekind of restores the big stuff to what it should be, absurd, outrageous, just plain wrong. Plus it’s the only thing I can do, so I thought I’d have a go at putting it to good use for once. And believe me it’s ten times slower writing comedy about this subject matter. I get up every morning cursing myself, if only you’d written Ghostbusters remakes for clapped-out comedians, you wouldn't be getting out of bed at 6 am to write yet more child soldier material you’d be in a mansion imbecile.

The American and British public are staggeringly generous donors, genuinely caring for the vulnerable. If someone told them the full story of what made these people vulnerable, in a vocal society like the U.S., there would be debate and regulation. Instead the public are presented with an image of the developing world as a telethon of random tragedy after random tragedy, with breaks for pop stars singing in the ruins for Idol Gives Back. The aid industry is bleak, but ironically, the truth is uplifting because many of these seemingly random tragedies are man-madewhich means they could be stopped. We need a call to action.

Since the passage of the anti-LRA bill, it seems likely that American or European Special Forces will be deployed against Kony for the first time. Do you think that the Africa Faith and Justice Network’s concern about civilian reprisals by the LRA is justified?

Yes. It’s foul and Kony has always done it. Barack has to be smarter than his predecessor, who amazingly authorized Operation Lightning Thunder without even thinking to protect civilians, hence the Christmas Massacres. Anyone could have warned George Bush about Kony, even me, and I’m a comedy writer. A kid who watches CSI when the babysitter is asleep could have predicted the date the massacres would start, Christmas Eve, and the location, churches, because Kony is a clich murderer who uses religious symbolism the way Eminem uses naughty words. Unfortunately it was left to U.S. Intelligence to supervise, and hundreds died. Intelligence is expensive, common sense is free.

I don’t think that the LRA Act elevates military action above all other solutions, it says let’s do something. A peaceful solution would be better but if peace fails, at Kony’s current rate, hundreds more kids will be kidnapped. In the event of military action, he must be stopped intelligently, because if not, up to 90% of the casualties will be former kidnapped children. Let’s be aware then, of three things. One, Kony always gets intel that the army is coming to get him and runs away. So block his escapes. Two, the LRA kills civilians. Protect civilians. Three, and most important of all, the armies who went after Kony before have been shamelessly, unforgivably trigger-happy about killing children. Watch them this time.
Last edited by Austin Kelley; 06-29-2010 at 06:12 PM.

By John Pilger

October 19, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- On 14 October, President Barack Obama announced he was sending United States special forces troops to Uganda to join the civil war there. In the next few months, US combat troops will be sent to South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. They will only “engage” for “self-defence”, says Obama, satirically. With Libya secured, an American invasion of the African continent is under way.

Obama’s decision is described in the press as “highly unusual” and “surprising”, even “weird”. It is none of these things. It is the logic of American foreign policy since 1945. Take Vietnam. The priority was to halt the influence of China, an imperial rival, and “protect” Indonesia, which President Nixon called “the region’s richest hoard of natural resources …the greatest prize”. Vietnam merely got in the way; and the slaughter of more than three million Vietnamese and the devastation and poisoning of their land was the price of America achieving its goal. Like all America’s subsequent invasions, a trail of blood from Latin America to Afghanistan and Iraq, the rationale was usually “self defence” or “humanitarian”, words long emptied of their dictionary meaning.

In Africa, says Obama, the “humanitarian mission” is to assist the government of Uganda defeat the Lord’s resistance Army (LRA), which “has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa”. This is an accurate description of the LRA, evoking multiple atrocities administered by the United States, such as the bloodbath in the 1960s following the CIA-arranged murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader and first legally elected prime minister, and the CIA coup that installed Mobutu Sese Seko, regarded as Africa’s most venal tyrant.

Obama’s other justification also invites satire. This is the “national security of the United States”. The LRA has been doing its nasty work for 24 years, of minimal interest to the United States. Today, it has few than 400 fighters and has never been weaker. However, US “national security” usually means buying a corrupt and thuggish regime that has something Washington wants. Uganda’s “president-for-life” Yoweri Museveni already receives the larger part of $45 million in US military “aid” – including Obama’s favourite drones. This is his bribe to fight a proxy war against America’s latest phantom Islamic enemy, the rag-tag al Shabaab group based in Somalia. The RTA will play a public relations role, distracting western journalists with its perennial horror stories.

However, the main reason the US is invading Africa is no different from that which ignited the Vietnam war. It is China. In the world of self-serving, institutionalised paranoia that justifies what General David Petraeus, the former US commander and now CIA director, implies is a state of perpetual war, China is replacing al-Qaeda as the official American “threat”. When I interviewed Bryan Whitman, an assistant secretary of defence at the Pentagon last year, I asked him to describe the current danger to America. Struggling visibly, he repeated, “Asymmetric threats … asymmetric threats”. These justify the money-laundering state-sponsored arms conglomerates and the biggest military and war budget in history. With Osama bin Laden airbrushed, China takes the mantle.

Africa is China’s success story. Where the Americans bring drones and destabilisation, the Chinese bring roads, bridges and dams. What they want is resources, especially fossil fuels. With Africa’s greatest oil reserves, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was one of China’s most important sources of fuel. When the civil war broke out and Nato backed the “rebels” with a fabricated story about Gaddafi planning “genocide” in Benghazi, China evacuated its 30,000 workers in Libya. The subsequent UN security council resolution that allowed the west’s “humanitarian intervention” was explained succinctly in a proposal to the French government by the “rebel” National Transitional Council, disclosed last month in the newspaper Liberation, in which France was offered 35 per cent of Libya’s gross national oil production “in exchange” (the term used) for “total and permanent” French support for the NTC. Running up the Stars and Stripes in “liberated” Tripoli last month, US ambassador Gene Cretz blurted out: “We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources!”

The de facto conquest of Libya by the US and its imperial partners heralds a modern version of the “scramble for Africa” at the end of the 19th century.
Like the “victory” in Iraq, journalists have played a critical role in dividing Libyans into worthy and unworthy victims. A recent Guardian front page carried a photograph of a terrified “pro-Gaddafi” fighter and his wild-eyed captors who, says the caption, “celebrate”. According to General Petraeus, there is now a war “of perception … conducted continuously through the news media”.

For more than a decade the US has tried to establish a command on the continent of Africa, AFRICOM, but has been rebuffed by governments, fearful of the regional tensions this would cause. Libya, and now Uganda, South Sudan and Congo, provide the main chance. As WikiLeaks cables and the US National Strategy for Counter-terrorism reveal, American plans for Africa are part of a global design in which 60,000 special forces, including death squads, already operate in 75 countries, soon to be 120. As Dick Cheney pointed out in his 1990s “defence strategy” plan, America simply wishes to rule the world.

That this is now the gift of Barack Obama, the “Son of Africa”, is supremely ironic. Or is it? As Frantz Fanon explained in Black Skin, White Masks, what matters is not so much the colour of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.

Armed U.S. Advisers to Help Fight African Renegade Group
Published: October 14, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that he had ordered the deployment of 100 armed military advisers to central Africa to help regional forces combat the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious renegade group that has terrorized villagers in at least four countries with marauding bands that kill, rape, maim and kidnap with impunity.

The deployment represents a muscular escalation of American military efforts to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, which originated as a Ugandan rebel force in the 1980s and morphed into a fearsome cultlike group of fighters. It is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet known for ordering village massacres, recruiting prepubescent soldiers, keeping harems of child brides and mutilating opponents.

“For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa,” Mr. Obama wrote in a letter to Congress announcing the military deployment. “The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.”

The decision by Mr. Obama to deploy armed military advisers into the region was welcomed by human rights advocates who have chronicled the atrocities committed by Mr. Kony and his subordinates. But it also raises the risk of putting American military personnel in harm’s way in another region while the United States is winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama wrote that he had decided to act because it was “in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” He also wrote that the deployment was justified by a law passed by Congress in May 2010, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which favored “increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.”

American efforts to combat the group also took place during the administration of President George W. Bush, which authorized the Pentagon to send a team of 17 counterterrorism advisers to train Ugandan troops and provided millions of dollars worth of aid, including fuel trucks, satellite phones and night-vision goggles, to the Ugandan Army. Those efforts scattered segments of the Lord’s Resistance Army in recent years; its remnants dispersed and regrouped in Uganda’s neighbors. In spring 2010, apparently desperate for new conscripts, Mr. Kony’s forces killed hundreds of villagers in the Congolese jungle and kidnapped hundreds more, according to witnesses interviewed at the time. Unlike the earlier effort, the 100 military advisers sent by Mr. Obama will be armed. They will be providing assistance and advice to their African hosts, Mr. Obama said, and “will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense.”

The initial deployment will be in Uganda, the president said, and the advisers will operate in South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo “subject to the approval of each respective host nation.”

A senior Pentagon official underscored that the American military personnel would not be operating independently nor carrying out unilateral operations.

The official also said the United States had provided about $33 million in support to regional efforts to battle the Lord’s Resistance Army since 2008, an effort that has not been sufficient to guarantee that local security forces dismantle the group.

One effort has trained a light infantry battalion of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s military, with that unit now deployed in the Dungu region of northeastern Congo, where the Lord’s Resistance Army is operating.

The Special Operations forces assigned to the new mission “bring the experience and technical capability to train, advise and assist partner security forces in support of programs designed to support internal security,” the Pentagon official said.

“Our intention is to provide the right balance of strategic and tactical experience to supplement host nation military efforts,” the official said. “Ultimately, Africans are responsible for African security, but we remain committed to our partners to enable their efforts to provide for their own security.”

Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said his group had been advocating for such a deployment. Putting more skilled advisers in the field with the armed forces of these countries would be a significant improvement over the previous level of assistance, he said. “I would not suggest that U.S. forces should be fighting the L.R.A. themselves,” he said, but “there are lot of things they can do with this kind of deployment that they weren’t able to do previously.”

Mr. Malinowski also said the Lord’s Resistance Army probably has only a few hundred fighters, “but they are incredibly vicious and have committed numerous massacres. It’s a group that seems to exist for no other purpose than to kill.”

Thom Shanker reported from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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