Curious omission

LI has just finished reviewing a rather depressing novel set in Liberia. This summer, we were supposed to review another depressing book by Douglas Farah, the WP reporter, Blood From Stones, about the “secret financial network of terror.” Farah’s beat was West Africa, and he links the arms and diamond merchants in that area to both the Hezbollah and Al Qaeda networks. We were not totally convinced by the story line he is pushing – evidence for a strong alliance between a Shi’ite group and a group well known for massacring Shi’ites in Pakistan and Afghanistan seems to me, at best, shaky, a matter of individual initiatives and an attempt at Pan-Islamic solidarity is rhetorical rather than real, and at worse, tendentious, an attempt to drag into America’s scope enemies who are really enemies of Israel and various factions in Lebanon. However, in the course of the report, Farah extensively describes the horrors of the West African breakdown and its financing through slave labor in the illicit diamond trade, as well as lumbering, and of course the ever present trade in drugs.

If our mind hadn’t been so focused, perhaps we wouldn’t have noticed that in two debates, there has been no mention whatsoever of the U.S. joke “intervention” in Liberia. This summer, Jonathan Stack and James Brabazon made a documentary showing U.S. forces waiting in the coastal waters while Liberians were slaughtered by militias. Here’s the first graf from the Times review of the documentary:

“In their brave film ''Liberia: An Uncivil War'' Jonathan Stack and James Brabazon make us witnesses to the continuing implosion in one of Africa's failed states. But they do something else as well in the documentary that has its premiere tonight on the Discovery Times Channel. They also show how the United States has turned its back on the land it created as a colony in 1821. In one of the film's many riveting images, three United States warships loom in the haze off Liberia's coast while thousands of civilians are slaughtered on shore by a ragtag army wielding American-made weapons.’

There wasn’t a question for Bush about this. Here are a two other grafs from that review:

“When President Bush embarks on an African trip in July 2003, he comes under pressure to resolve the Liberian crisis and vaguely promises to send in peacekeepers after Mr. Taylor has left. But Mr. Taylor perfectly plays President Bush, asserting that to leave before the peacekeepers arrive would be irresponsible. Buoyed by his countrymen's hope that United States marines are on the way, Mr. Taylor maneuvers himself into a position to buy time for a better deal (he's eventually given asylum in Nigeria) while blaming the United States for not intervening (the marines wait for Mr. Taylor's departure before landing shortly after the bloodbath and staying for about a month).

The film makes clear how easy it would have been to prevent the spasm of violence that swept through Monrovia, Liberia's capital, in July 2003. With President Bush in Africa and United States troopships in Liberian waters, the stars seemed aligned for the United States to help the people of its historically closest African ally. Rebel youths on bridges aimlessly firing a few mortars and grenade launchers would certainly have been no match for the heavily armed marines for whom the streets were lined with cheering, expectant citizens. But all hopes were dashed when the rebels arrived.”

The free people of a freedom loving Liberia have two strikes against them, however, insofar as the democracy loving people of the Pentagon are concerned. They are black – which means, as far as the U.S. is concerned, who cares. And they made the mistake of living in a country without significant reserves of petroleum.

Searching around for more about the recent history of Liberia, I came upon a fine article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It is a pre-9/11 article by Michael Klare entitled :The Kalashnikov Age. It makes the same point that LI has often made – the bogus classification of some weapons as WMD and some weapons as not responds more to the Western need to market weapons than any real mass destructiveness. So far, the most mass destructive weapon unleashed on the planet is the AK-47.

“ON CHRISTMAS EVE 1989, CHARLES Taylor marched into Liberia with a ragtag invasion force of some 150 amateur soldiers--members of the self-styled National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL)--and set out to conquer the country. In the months that followed, Taylor seized control of the Liberian hinterland, exacting tribute from its inhabitants, recruiting additional soldiers, and killing all who stood in his way. As many as 200,000 people died in the cataclysm, and millions more were driven from their homes. Taylor had unleashed the most deadly combat system of the current epoch: the adolescent human male equipped with a Kalashnikov--an AK-47 assault rifle.”

Klare’s statistics graf bears out my hyperbole:

“Most of the casualties in these conflicts are non-combatants. Civilians constituted only five percent of the casualties in World War I, but they constitute about 90 percent of all those killed or wounded in more recent wars. Children have been particularly victimized by these conflicts: According to the U.N. Development Program, as many as two million children are believed to have been killed--and 4.5 million disabled--in armed conflict since 1987; another million have been orphaned, and some 12 million left homeless.”

It must be admitted that the disabling of these children was accomplished not only by weapons sold to various criminals and criminal governments by western arms dealers, but also by the handy machete. There’s nothing like a machete or an ax to sever the arms and hands of human beings. As we known, in Sierra Leone and in Liberia, child soldiers were ordered to do such things. Here’s a graf from Farah’s book:

In April, 2000, in front of her battered plastic tent at the Amputtees and War Wounded Camp in Freetown, Kadia Tu Fafanah, a forty-one year old mother of nine, described how two preteen boys of the RUF used an ax to hack her legs off above the knees, leaving only two stumps:….

“It was Wednesday, January 20, 1999” Fafanah said as she sat facing a small cooking fire… “They put us in a house to burn, about one hundred of us, but it wouldn’t light. So they put the men in one line and shot them. I tried to run away, but I fell in a gutter. The children caught me. The amputated five others, but I was punished more for trying to run away. The took both my legs. They were small boys and they held me down while one cut me off.”

Here’s how they prepare the kids for what they call ‘mayhem days”: “They [children interviewed by Farah] said they were given colored pills, most likely amphetamines and razor blade slits near their temples, where cocaine was put directly into their bloodstreams. The ensuing days would be a blur: the children often remembered only the feeling of being invincible, before the drugs wore off.”

It would be interesting to Kerry and Bush talk about Liberia, but we doubt the subject is going to come up. Here’s a link to recent news from the country.