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Winter 2002: 8th issue - **2nd Anniversary**

Arms Trade Resource Center, Update, Part II
World Policy Institute

 

Table of Contents:
I. Donald Rumsfeld, Matinee Idol or Liar-in-chief?
II. Disarming Sierra Lenoe
III. Al Qaeda And The DRC

Update:

I. Donald Rumsfeld, Matinee Idol or Liar-in-chief?


Just when you thought the press coverage of the Bush administration's war on terrorism couldn't get more surreal, along came the Wall Street Journal.  In a December 31st essay in the newspaper's "Leisure and Arts" section, journal editorial board member Claudia Rosett described Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's press briefings on the war in Afghanistan as "the best new show on television."  Rosett enthusiastically cites CNN's description of Rumsfeld as a "virtual rock star" and Fox News' description of the Pentagon chief as "a babe magnet for the 70-year old set," but argues that "in recent weeks, the geriatric qualifiers have pretty much faded away, and in print and on
the air, we've been hearing about Donald Rumsfeld, sex symbol, the new hunk of home-front air time."


There's obviously no accounting for tastes, but it is interesting to probe the roots of Rosett's attraction to America's warmaker-in-chief. First and foremost, she argues "the world loves a winner," and in her view the rout of the Taliban by U.S. and Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan qualifies Rumsfeld for that status.  In addition, she claims
that "the basic source of Rumsfeld's charm is that he talks straight." On this score, Rosett cites with approval Rumsfeld's statement that the goal of the U.S. war effort is "to capture or kill all the Al Qaeda." Ms. Rosett is so smitten with Rumsfeld's performances that she actually suggests that "if you don't own a TV I'd suggest buying one just to watch him."


Leaving aside the strong possibility that Rumsfeld's alleged sex appeal is evidence of a rare strain of war fever that has infected certain regions of the American body politic, you have to admit there's something interesting and different about his public relations strategy.


Unlike most public figures these days who tend to dance around issues in the hopes of coming across as likeable, Rumsfeld likes to go on the attack, using preemptive verbal strikes to disarm, befuddle, and intimidate his questioner, even as he manages to come across as an amiable fellow. 


Rumsfeld may relish "straight talk" about "killing" Al Qaeda members, but as media critic Norman Solomon has noted ("The Discreet Charm of the Straight Spin," January 4, 2002, available on Commondreams.org), Rumsfeld has been loathe to deal seriously with the question of civilian deaths caused by U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan.  From the outset Rumsfeld and his official spokespersons have reacted harshly to questions about civilian casualties, alternating between blaming them on the Taliban, or claiming that the Afghan sources reporting the bombing deaths are unreliable, or stating that they picked the target based on "solid intelligence," or simply stating that in the fog of war it's hard to really know for sure who killed whom using what. 


Even as he warns his critics to be cautious about making claims about civilian casualties, Rumsfeld himself shows no such restraint as he repeatedly makes blanket statements such as the following "I can't imagine there's been a conflict in history where there has been less collateral damage, less unintended consequences." 


A forthcoming report from the Project on Defense Alternatives, "Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a Higher Rate of Civilian Bombing Casualties, " contradicts Rumsfeld's claim, noting that the number of civilians killed by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan to date is at least 900 to 1,500, a figure two to three times as high as the civilian casualty rate during the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo, with a fatality rate per bomb dropped four times higher than the Kosovo conflict.  Reasons cited for the higher civilian death rate included a greater percentage of unguided bombs used in Afghanistan, the targeting of residential areas in efforts to hit Taliban leadership, and "reliance on intelligence from local sources who were at times less than trustworthy." 


The PDA study makes a more conservative estimate of civilian bombing deaths than a recent report by Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire, who used press accounts to assemble an estimate of over 3,700 civilian casualties as of mid-December.  But don't expect Rumsfeld to respond seriously to either report-- according to a January 16th piece in the Los Angeles Times by military expert William Arkin, neither the Pentagon, nor the Air Force, nor the U.S. intelligence community are planning to take a close look at the issue of civilian casualties in their forthcoming studies of U.S. military performance in Afghanistan (Arkin's article, "Fear of Civilian Deaths May Have


Undermined Effort," Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2002, actually presents arguments from U.S. military personnel who argue that fear of civilian casualties at the top may have undermined the effectiveness of the U.S. bombing campaign). 


Similarly, when human rights groups, U.S. allies in Europe, and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson raised questions about Rumsfeld's decision to treat Taliban and Al Qaeda captives as "unlawful combatants" who are not entitled to the rights granted to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions and to house them in chain link cages, he brushed off the criticism.  Rumsfeld argued that the makeshift prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was "not a country club," but that it was better than the conditions they had experienced in Afghanistan.


Rumsfeld's depiction of the Pentagon's budget for the war on terrorism has been equally misleading.  After spending the first nine months of 2001 arguing that he was going to "transform" the U.S. military by canceling or cutting back obsolete systems to forge a quicker, more mobile force, Rumsfeld's budgets for this year and next have managed to retain every major weapons program that was in the pipeline when he came into office, including nuclear attack submarines, heavy destroyers, the 70-ton Crusader artillery system, and the $200 billion per copy F-22 fighter plane, all of which were designed to fight heavily armored Soviet forces, not the terrorists and so-called "rogue regimes" that are the Pentagon's current enemies of choice. These Cold War relics will neither "transform" the U.S. military nor prove particularly useful in
fighting terrorism, but don't expect Donald Rumsfeld to admit that. 


As Paul Krugman of the New York Times noted in his January 15th column "Crony Capitalism," Rumsfeld's decision to save the Crusader system from the budget ax directly benefited his old college roommate and wrestling partner Frank Carlucci, whose Carlyle Group investment company owns United Defense, the manufacturer of the Crusader.  Carlyle, which also employs former Secretary of State James Baker and former President George Herbert Walker Bush, took United Defense public late last year and raised over $200 million in capital in the process.  Suggestions that Rumsfeld may have cut a deal to help an old buddy (not to mention the company that employs our current president's father) have been met with the argument that Don Rumsfeld just doesn't do that kind of thing.


After a particularly harsh grilling at the hands of Rumsfeld while she was attempting to interview him, Newsweek reporter Lally Weymouth tried to flatter him by noting that she had been at a New York cocktail party recently where people were saying he was "the new Gary Cooper" (the star of the 1950s classic "High Noon").  If I had to pick a movie or TV star to compare Rumsfeld to, I'd look elsewhere, to the compulsive liar played by Jon Lovitz in his old Saturday Night Live routines.  The only difference is that Rumsfeld is so much better at distorting the truth - with thousands of lives and billions of dollars on the line -- that somehow it's just not funny.                 

Resources:

"Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a Higher Rate of Civilian Bombing Casualties,"Project on Defense Alternatives, January 18, 2002 www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html

For the best recent article in the mainstream press on the influence of the Carlyle Group, see Mark Fineman, "Arms Buildup Enriches Firm Staffed by Big Guns," Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2002, available at www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/1a-011002carlyle.story

For analysis of the impact of the war on terrorism on human rights practices around the world, see Human Rights Watch World Report 2002, available at www.hrw.org        


II. Disarming Sierra Lenoe


The brutal ten-year war in Sierra Leone is finally over, according to the head of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), General Daniel Opande.  More than 45,000 combatants from the RUF, Kamajors and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council have handed over their arms.  More former fighters handed over their weapons than was expected.


In the last few days, hundreds of former RUF have handed over their weapons in the eastern region, the center of diamond mines and the site
of intense fighting for the past decade.  


Additionally, the UN has been preparing to assist Sierra Leone with the creation of a special war crimes court to try those responsible for at least 50,000 deaths and the internal and external displacement of over half of the population.  Although the international community has been responding positively to peaceful developments in Sierra Leone, the UN is seeking close to $20 million in contributions to allow for the war crimes court to operate for the next three years.


The international community is not only key to establishing a strong criminal court, they also are crucial in supporting a successful electoral process scheduled in May of 2002.  The extremely positive developments in Sierra Leone may lead the international community to
believe that all is well in the country.  The U.S. and Britain want to turn their attention elsewhere as the "war on terrorism" continues.


UNAMSIL is the largest and most expensive peacekeeping force currently deployed by the UN.  The U.S. and Britain would like Sierra Leone to
conduct elections as soon as possible giving them an excuse to encourage a downsizing of UN forces and reduce foreign aid. 


But lingering RUF soldiers and members of the RUF who are attempting to form a political party pose a serious threat of destabilization during elections.  The RUF became infamous for its brutality during the ten-year war including forced amputations, and widespread rape as a
weapon of war. Some members of the RUF are demanding the release of their imprisoned leader Foday Sankoh.  They claim there will be no peace until Sankoh is released.  Many RUF fighters have not participated in the disarmament process and remain present particularly in the northeastern region of the country.  There also remains the threat that Liberian President Charles Taylor will arm and encourage the redeployment of remaining RUF forces, continuing his close relationship with the brutal group. 


The lingering presence of violent rebels in the country has caused many civil society groups alarm.  Therefore local human rights organizations are urging the government to postpone the election to allow for a substantial period and peace and stability to develop.  As such there is a conflict of interest between an international community eager to end its commitment in Sierra Leone and civil society that is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the 1996 elections.  The rushed 1996 elections which ultimately ousted the military government led to the most violent years of war as the RUF amputated hands of civilians, brutally discouraging votes for current President Tejan Kabbah. Soon after the elections, the RUF organized Operation No Living Thing, effectively devastating the country.


Although there has been tremendous progress in Sierra Leone's transition to peace, the international community must be acutely aware of the dangers of assuming peace transpires overnight.  They must continue to positively assist Sierra Leone.  Ten years of war does not
end in a day.

Resources:

International Crisis Group reports on Sierra Leone: www.crisisweb.org United Nations Mission In Sierra Leone: www.un.org/Depts/dpko/unamsil/body_unamsil.htm


III. Al Qaeda And The DRC


Although illicit mineral trading has substantially contributed to the devastation of the Democratic Republic of Congo for years, the U.S. is finally taking notice of its negative effects.  Yet the Bush Administration is not focusing its concern on the over three million deaths suffered by the Congolese, the widespread threat of famine and the absence of available health care.  The Bush Administration is reacting to reports that Congolese diamonds have been used to fund Al Qaeda, failing to recognize the American and European role in developing and sustaining the 'Wild West' environment in which illicit trading of diamonds and other precious minerals is sustained.  Al Qaeda is not alone it its efforts to take advantage of the absence of rule of law in order to benefit tremendously from the widespread exploitation of Congo's natural wealth.  Recently, the independent research institute International Peace Information Service released a report entitled Supporting the War Economy in the DRC: European Companies and the Coltan Trade.


The report details partnerships between Rwanda, Uganda and associated rebel groups with European companies to sustain the war effort in the DRC.   "The private sector plays a vital role in the continuation of the war by facilitating the exploitation, transport and marketing of Congo's
natural resources." The continuation of the war presents terror networks such as Al Qaeda with the opportunity to profit alongside the Europeans, Americans, Israelis, Arabs, and Asians.


Just as 9/11 attack brought attention to the suffering of the Afghan people, Al Qaeda activity in the DRC is bringing attention to its chaotic condition.  The enrichment of terrorist networks is simply a by-product of this condition.  In a recent Washington Post article,
"Diamonds in the Rough, and More, Found at Chic Hotel,"  The Grand Hotel, a prominent hotel located in the capital Kinshasa is described as "a bad acid trip." "The boutiques that line the hotel's tiled hallways offered fashionable lingerie from Paris, imported whiskeys and thelatest electronic gadgets. 


The few shoppers were the elite of the city: senior army officers from Angola, generals from Zimbabwe, Ukrainian mercenaries, Spanish diamond dialers and Kinshasa's most expensive hookers.  "You can say that Kinshasa is truly a melting pot of capitalism," said a European
diplomat. "You have Lebanese diamond dealers working with Israeli diamond buyers.  You have all the major powers, all of Africa, and the North Koreans and Chinese all doing business here.  It is pure, brutal capitalism."  As long as it is internationally acceptable to go to the Grand Hotel to shop for "diamonds, weapons or a new pair of sunglasses," agents of Al Qaeda will continue shopping alongside western businessmen and enjoying the fruits of capitalism. 


If the U.S. would like to end Al Qaeda's dependence on Congolese diamonds, the Bush Administration should address the urgent need for massive humanitarian aid to build an infrastructure that has been devastated by years of war.  Stability in the DRC could lure miners and
traders into legitimate trade.  But as long as smuggling is the most lucrative business in the 'lawless' DRC, Al Qaeda will have continued access to the country's abundant wealth.

Resources:

Supporting the War Economy in the DRC: European Companies and the Coltan Trade www.broederlijkdelen.be/publicaties/coltan14-1.doc

Douglas Farah, "Diamonds in the Rough, and More, Found at Chic Hotel," Washington Post, January 6, 2002.
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A2711-2002Jan5.html

Contact: Frida Berrigan, Research Associate,
World Policy Institute
E-mail:
berrigaf@newschool.edu
66 Fifth Ave., 9th Floor
New York, NY 10011
ph 212.229.5808 x112
fax 212.229.5579


This issue dedicated to such distinguished poet & composer as (alphabetical order):
Nazim HIKMET & Ilhan MIMAROGLU

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