One Man’s Private Jihad

He became a potentially hostile blip on the U.S. intelligence radar screen as early as 1991, when he arrived in Sudan. He said he had come to build roads, but according to a former Sudanese intelligence agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity, he also set up pan-Islamist camps where recruits from countries like Bosnia, Chechnya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Somalia were given military training.

His blip intensified in the early 1990s, when his name came up in the international manhunt for Mir Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani who shot up the CIA’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters. It grew stronger still in 1996, during the probe of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. He would call the perpetrators of that act ”heroes.”

Though both CNN and ABC have interviewed him in the past 17 months, it’s only in the wake of the August 7 East African embassy bombings that the name Osama bin Laden has become widely known to Americans. In the worldwide Muslim community, however, bin Ladin has been a controversial figure for several years. Some, like his followers, now venerate him with the title ”sheik,” even though he is not a cleric. Others, like Salah Obdidallah of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, consider him a criminal who kills and ”hides behind a beautiful religion.” (The New York office of the FBI tends toward Obdidallah’s view; according to reports, Gotham-based agents are arguing they should direct the Kenya and Tanzania cases based on substantial but uncorroborated information tying bin Ladin to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as the thwarted plan to blow up other city buildings and tunnels.)

Though the government and the fourth estate have a notorious history of jumping the gun when it comes to blaming ”Middle East radicals” for big explosions (recall Oklahoma City and TWA Flight 800), fingering bin Ladin for a role in the embassy bombings is by no means unreasonable — and not just because one of the reportedly confessed bombers has admitted to being a follower. Not only does bin Laden have the motive, means, and opportunity, but in light of his personal jihad, the bombings are thoroughly understandable. While bin Ladin is neither a mainstream Muslim nor the paragon of sanity (one consulting CIA psychologist’s assessment holds that he is a ”malignant narcissist” who views people as objects either to be killed or protected), if he is responsible for the bombings, it’s imperative, Middle East experts say, that his actions and motivations be examined not just in terms of a terrorist threat, but in the context of current Arabian politics, U.S. foreign policy, and Islamic theology.

”If this was done by bin Ladin — who is definitely a fringe character — part of what we should be focusing on is what the bombings are reflective of in the Islamic world vis-a-vis the U.S. right now,” says Sam Husseini, former spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. ”I think these bombings will cost him many people’s sympathies. But before August 7, I think he was beginning to achieve folk-hero status in some parts of the Middle East, because he’s doing what no one else is — standing up to the U.S. over some very legitimate grievances.” And the fact that bin Ladin has successfully stood up to and beat another superpower — the USSR, in Afghanistan — gives him a resolve not necessarily found in other terrorists.

One cannot understand bin Ladin without understanding his relationship to his native Saudi Arabia — arguably the center of a concentric circle of Islamist angst. In various interviews, bin Laden has described himself not as a terrorist, but as a defender of the true faith against a corrupt Saudi monarchy that has committed sacrilege by allowing an (infidel) U.S. army presence in sacred Muslim land. ”After the Americans entered the Holy Land, many emotions were roused in the Muslim world — more than we have seen before,” bin Ladin recently told ABC News. Indeed, it has not been lost on terrorist experts — and Bin Laden watchers in particular — that the bombings came on the anniversary of the first U.S. Desert Shield troop deployment inside Saudi Arabia.

While many secular Saudis don’t necessarily share bin Ladin’s angry zeal, they do simmer with resentment at the Saudi elite’s hypocrisy and the American presence, says Scott Armstrong, a national security expert who has conversed with figures sympathetic to bin Ladin. And they have a point. As one former State Department foreign service officer candidly characterized the situation in a 1996 interview, ”The role of the U.S. military presence there is to make sure the Saudis can defend themselves in a pinch, but still be reliant on us for real defense. [Saudi Arabia] is a strategic position we don’t want to withdraw from.” The officer also said that, despite public pronouncements, many Saudi elites privately flout Islamic rules against indulging in Western vices such as alcohol and Baywatch.

To bin Ladin this amounts to a sellout and blasphemy by the Saudi upper crust. That same ruling class, in one of the many ironies of bin Laden’s life, have indirectly financed his terrorist operations. The 17th of 52 children sired by Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest construction magnate, Osama controls $250 million of the $5 billion Bin Laden family kitty — money made largely by building homes, offices, and mosques for the House of Saud. But since the age of 16, when he became involved with radical religious groups, bin Laden has been less interested in making money than using it in defense of his concept of Islam.

Truly radicalized by the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, bin Ladin, then 22, became one of the early founders and financiers of what became the Mujahadeen, the Afghan rebellion. Not only did he build safe houses, roads, and tunnel complexes for these insurgents, but he bankrolled training camps and arms purchases. And he did it all alongside another group pursuing its own jihad against the Soviets — the Central Intelligence Agency, which is now charged with tracking him down.

Not content to merely be an underwriter of the resistance, bin Ladin also fought in some particularly fierce battles, including the siege of Jalabad, which marked the end for the Soviets in Afghanistan. This was, for bin Ladin, a defining and empowering moment, which cements his faith to this day. As he told CNN, it destroyed ”the myth” of the invincible superpower.

Having helped vanquish the Soviet colossus, he returned home a celebrated hero and leader of the opposition movement to the House of Saud, charging the regime with moral turpitude. But when the Saudis allowed U.S. troops to deploy in the land of the Two Most Holy Places — Mecca and Medina — bin Ladin abandoned Saudi Arabia for a more like-minded country: Sudan, where the radical National Islamic Front (NIF) had taken control in 1989.

Even before he moved to Sudan, bin Ladin was already backing the NIF. In 1990, he arranged for hundreds of Mujahadeen veterans to travel to Sudan in order to fight alongside the NIF against non-Muslim guerrillas. According to an ex-Sudanese intelligence agent who knew bin Laden, hundreds more came over in the next few years. Many became instructors at training camps he financed. During his five years in Sudan, bin Ladin’s camps trained hundreds of recruits from places like Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Somalia. The course of instruction, says the ex-agent, focused on three major areas. One was the fabrication of travel documents. The second was low-tech covert communications — from basic encryption to use of invisible ink. In light of recent events, however, it is the third area that may be most interesting: the use of small arms and explosives.

According to the ex-agent, bin Ladin dropped $15 million on one shipment of Chinese and Iranian arms — as well as explosives from Czechoslovakia, most likely Semtex. While several terrorist outfits have access to the plastic explosive, which is believed to have been used in the embassy bombings, bin Ladin was much more likely to use it because of his multinational intelligence network. According to the ex-agent, while in Sudan, bin Ladin set up an ”advisory council” of at least 43 separate Islamist groups. Many of them are active worldwide, and bin Ladin admitted on CNN that he has sent Islamist combatants to places as far-flung as Bosnia and Tajikistan.

During his years in Sudan, the government came under increased international criticism and pressure. By 1996 the U.S. was indirectly backing anti-Muslim rebels in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The Clinton administration also pressured Sudan to expel bin Ladin. But instead of couching its criticism of Sudan in terms of its human rights record, which is reviled the world over, the U.S.’s approach reinforced bin Ladin’s view that it was gunning for Islam.

At about the same time the Saudi government started to bring its financial and political power to bear on the Sudanese NIF to at least rein bin Laden in, if not expel him. ”When they insisted initially that I should keep my mouth shut, I decided to look for a land in which I can breathe a pure, free air to perform my duty in enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong,” bin Laden told CNN last year. His destination: his old stomping grounds in Afghanistan, now controlled by the ultra-conservative Taliban. He remains holed-up there to this day, still directing various Islamist military activities.

In interviews with both Arabic-and English-speaking journalists, bin Laden has often cited the U.S. approach to Sudan as an example of the assault on global Islam — a situation, he says, that justifies his sending followers to fight in such far-flung places as Chechnya, Bosnia, and Somalia. He also frequently condemns the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq, as well as U.S. support of Israel. ”His main focus is Saudi Arabia, but he doesn’t have enough Saudis or Afghans to accomplish what he wants,” says Armstrong. ”He wants to see Islamist states left alone to be Islamist states. And within the Islamist world, he’s willing to join in any coalitions to get critical mass.”

The extent of his involvement, however, varies, and just how active a role he takes in certain actions isn’t entirely clear. In the case of a 1995 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bombing — in which five American servicemen were killed — a federal grand jury in Manhattan continues to probe his suspected role. And he was never indicted in the World Trade Center bombing, though several current and former intelligence officials indicate they strongly suspect he had some connection. One of the convicted bombers, for instance, fled to Pakistan after the incident, where he hid out in a house for Islamist radicals that bin Laden had funded. Additionally, bin Ladin and Wali Khan, a convicted conspirator on another bombing, are ”good friends” according to bin Ladin, who fought alongside Khan in Afghanistan.

As far as other actions are concerned, ”Someone might suggest something and bin Ladin might say, ‘yeah,”’ says a former CIA Middle East analyst. ”A lot of these [terrorist acts] are cooked up ad hoc. And while I believe some of bin Laden’s communications have been intercepted, part of what makes him so dangerous is that he’s so low-tech and his people are so scattered. Communications for the planning of this were probably innocuous channels–letters, innocuous-sounding phone calls from relatives’ houses.”

The apparent confession in the embassy bombings appears to have clarified things considerably, however. According to Monday’s Washington Post, Mohammed Sadiq Howaida — picked up for using a phony passport on a flight in from Kenya — has not only confessed to a role in the bombing, but has told authorities he was acting for bin Ladin. Larry Barcella, an ex-assistant U.S. attorney who specialized in terrorist cases, predicts relatively quick indictments for bin Ladin and his associates.

There is, however, the issue of apprehending bin Laden, whose remote location in Taliban territory does not lend itself to easy warrant service. In the meantime, national security expert Armstrong offers a suggestion: ”The CIA might do better to figure out what the U.S. could do to support our friends without making regimes so ostentatiously corrupt that they end up giving credence to bin Ladin.”

Playing the Iran Card

It is one thing to fight and lose. It is another to lose and win. The former involves miscalculating your chances. The latter involves accepting your losses up front. The latter is the cynic’s move.

Saddam Hussein sacrificed tens of thousands of largely inexperienced Iraqi troops in the Gulf War, while saving both tactical firepower and his best forces. Only a regime with little need for legitimacy could keep power after squandering so many men.

In the end, it looks like Saddam outsmarted everyone. He did so by lowering the bar to a point beneath which only he could crawl.

Now, with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan having brokered a diplomatic accord with Saddam, Bill Clinton has had to check his plan to bomb Iraq, at least temporarily. But even if the agreement holds, it is unlikely to control Saddam over time. Clinton needs a long-term plan — something he’s never had with Iraq before. And the only real option may be so far away that Clinton can’t see it. If he could, it might take many more years to realize than he has left–even if he survives every affair. But what would be hardest of all for America to fathom: this new anti-Saddam strategy would involve a tactical alliance with Iran — yes, Islamist Iran.

However novel, this alternative is grounded in realpolitik: Everyone who knows Saddam, including his neighbors and his own people, hates him more than they hate anybody else.

Seven years after the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein continues to squander his country’s treasure. His cynicism remains his trump card. Should Clinton ever decide to bomb, and even with the symbolic and logistical loss of allies like Saudi Arabia, the Clinton administration could still launch sustained air strikes against Iraq. Bombing might, in fact, delay Saddam’s capacity to produce chemical or biological weapons. But bombing alone is unlikely to remove him or change his regime. It could even produce a backlash. Any air campaign will produce some collateral damage. More civilians would suffer if Saddam were to deploy human shields at targets such as presidential palaces. The fallout would be worse still if the bombing were to release deadly chemical or biological agents. Meanwhile, Saddam is said never to sleep in the same place twice.

Committing ground forces, the only sure way to oust Saddam, has been ruled out. Hamstrung by the Lewinsky affair, and lacking strategic vision, Clinton could never muster the authority to deploy them. Former coalition allies will not commit any ground forces either. After years of wandering, this administration is lonely in the desert.

Many observers continue to hope that Iraqis themselves somehow oust Saddam. The presumption has always been that someone somewhere in the ruling hierarchy could do it. Indeed, the CIA still prays for a coup. To encourage one, former Bush administration officials like Paul Wolfowitz, who was a senior Pentagon planner, advocate supporting an Iraqi-government-in-exile. By continuing to place their bets on palace insiders, they underestimate Saddam. He has long guarded against a palace coup. Now he has a security force run by Qusay, his younger son.

Popular insurrection was once another option. Unlike the ruling hierarchy, most Iraqis are Shi’ites — like the regime and the vast majority of people in neighboring Iran. One-fifth of Iraq’s population is made up of Kurdish Sunnis who identify themselves first as Kurdish. Together, Arab Shi’ites and Kurds comprise four-fifths of the Iraqi people. U.S. officials, however, have always feared what self-determination might bring. It could lead to the secession of its Kurdish areas or turn Iraq into an Islamist state. So instead of chancing either, President Bush, like President Eisenhower in Hungary in 1956, provoked a revolt only to stand by as the insurrectionists were slaughtered.

Today, Clinton needs the same ground forces that Bush abandoned. Supported by neighboring states, commanding the respect of their region’s residents — many of whom risked everything — the Kurdish and Shi’ite rebels who rose up and tried to oust Saddam in March 1991 were the best hope that anybody has ever had of removing the Iraqi dictator. Now, the survivors are beat. They hate us and each other almost as much as they hate Saddam.

Thus, slick Willy is in a pickle. He and his advisers don’t know what to do. So they’ve been listening to the ghosts of the Bush administration and dusting off a dead plan. Clinton never had his own policy anyway. Instead, he followed Bush’s lead, and then let Langley steer. The spooks ran the ship aground. The agency’s anti-Saddam strategy is its worst regional blunder since the 1979 fall of the Shah in Iran. And the blowback from that debacle still blinds us. The 19-year-old memory of the 444-day embassy siege is what holds our strategy hostage now.

Could a new policy that involves Iran and others work? Writing under a pseudonym on The New York Times op-ed page, an ex-CIA officer in Iran recently suggested that it might. Maybe the spooks aren’t all as dumb as they act. On Sunday, an Iraqi Shi’ite leader based in Tehran and backed by Iran was quoted in the Times suggesting the same thing. Akram al-Hakim wants the United States to coordinate anti-Saddam efforts with Shi’ite forces inside Iraq. That would mean the U.S. would work alongside Iran. The strategy would be a big leap. It is fraught with caveats — not to mention the ghosts of the past.

But it still may be the best chance anybody’s got. Sure, Algeria is a cautionary tale. For different reasons, so is Afghanistan. But if we could get past our trauma over Iran, some Iranians are already getting over their past with us. Last week the American flag flew in Iran for the first time in 19 years without catching fire. Just a month after the country’s new president, Mohammad Khatami, talked with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about opening the door to cultural and sports exchanges, five U.S. wrestlers carrying the flag in Tehran were cheered. Wrestling is as big in Iran as table tennis is in China; Ping-Pong games precipitated Nixon’s China card.

But the same day, Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, again called the United States ”the Great Satan.” Khamenei still commands fundamentalists of all ages, while president Khatami is backed by a new generation of Iranians wanting more freedom. They are united against Clinton’s plan to bomb Iraq.

Before this administration does anything pointless, or something that could even make things worse, it should expand its horizon. And it should think about what it really means to hit rock bottom, and understand how we sunk there.

The days following the Gulf War were heady days. Saddam Hussein had been driven out of Kuwait. All Bush thought he needed to do was suggest Saddam be gone and, like magic, he would vanish. Last week, Bush told CNN’s Bernard Shaw, ”I thought that when the war ended, he could not survive.” Bush had no other plan. General Norman Schwarzkopf negotiated the terms of a cease-fire agreement as if it didn’t matter. Schwarzkopf was worried about coalition forces. He grounded Saddam’s planes, but allowed him to continue flying helicopters. Saddam said he needed them to get to the negotiations.

The United States still wanted Saddam out of power, even though the U.S.-led coalition had never had the authority to remove him. So Bush tried to provoke a coup. On March 1, 1991, two days after Saddam yielded in the Gulf War, Bush told the Iraqi people ”to put him aside” and bring Iraq ”back into the family of peace-loving nations.” The people Bush had in mind were members of the ruling party and the military — Arab Sunnis like Saddam. But they failed to act. Instead, many Kurds and Arab Shi’ites revolted.

Indeed, on March 1, Islamist Shi’ite clerics in the south called for insurrection. Within days, Shi’ite rebels had taken Basrah, and fighting had broken out in nearly every southern city. On March 11, the largest gathering ever of Iraqi opposition leaders took place in Beirut with Saudi financing and under Syrian guard. Three days later, Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq launched their own offensive. Within one week, they would liberate nearly all of Iraq’s Kurdish-speaking areas. Some Kurdish couples named their newborns ”Bush.” But Bush had not bet on insurrectionary forces.

Everyone presumed Saddam would be overthrown. The only question was when, and who would replace him? Back then the CIA was backing a bunch of London-based exiles. Iran was backing the Shi’ites, and Syria and Iran were helping the Kurds. Though the London exiles’ current leader, Ahmed Chalabi, is a moderate Shi’ite, most of the people he represents are Sunnis and ex-monarchists. Many left Iraq after its monarchy was deposed in 1958. They have never fielded any military force. Yet in March 1991 they planned to form a government-in-exile by themselves.

They never got the chance. While they squabbled, many Shi’ites and Kurds fought. The Kurds made the most gains, going as far as Kirkuk, a key oil-producing town, where Saddam began his northern counteroffensive.

On March 28, everything changed after dawn. In Kirkuk, thousands of Kurds were still in the city, as incoming artillery and tank shells shook the ground. A young girl was killed on her bicycle. ”This is Saddam Hussein!” yelled one man who knew her. ”Mr. Bush must know.” Soon several small helicopters broke the sky. They fired machine guns, as the guerrillas returned fire with anti-aircraft guns. The shells became more accurate, and tanks closed in on the town. Kurdish guerrillas pulled out just two surface-to-air missiles. By about noon, the smaller helicopters were joined by four or five fixed-wing helicopter gunships. Glistening like angry hornets, they unloaded seemingly endless volleys of exploding rockets. Kurds were dying all around. Several multiple-rocket launchers dropped a blanket of fire on fleeing guerrillas and civilians.

Kirkuk was taken by 2 p.m., not by Republican Guards but by army special forces. It took Saddam only three more days to crush the rest of the Kurdish rebellion. By then, the Shi’ite revolt had also been snuffed out. Tens of thousands of Kurds fled into the mountains bordering Turkey and Iran. They panicked as rumors spread that Saddam was using chemical weapons, as he had against the Kurds in 1988. In fact, he didn’t, but during the exodus, many ”Bush” babies died of exposure. The Bush administration eventually established a safe haven in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds.

Soon the London-based exiles tried again to usurp control of the Iraqi opposition. Until 1996, the CIA gave the Iraqi National Congress $15 million in covert aid. They used part of it to establish a headquarters in northern Iraq, and they tried and failed to unite the Kurds.

Iraq’s feuding Kurdish guerrilla leaders, Massound Barzani and Jalal Talabani, though united after the ground war, never trusted each other. They have long struggled over control of contraband traffic as well as over politics. Tensions flared so much that by August 1996 they went to war. Talabani was getting help from Iran, so Barzani made a deal with Saddam. Thus swung open the door for Saddam to the safe haven. He quickly dismantled INC headquarters, then hunted down, tortured, and killed its associates.

Today the CIA is where it always was, backing cadre among the same London crowd. Last week Chalabi tried to convince Clinton to back him in forming a government-in-exile. Ex-Bush administration officials nodded, but even Chalabi is doubtful. ”Doing something inside London,” he told AP in Cairo, ”is not the same as doing something inside Iraq.” Clinton said no.

What Bush should have done back then was back the Kurds and Shi’ites when they revolted. He told CNN why he did not. It would have fractured the coalition, incurred U.S. casualties, and upset the region’s balance of power. Though on point about the latter, Bush has always envisioned foreign forces removing Saddam. Bush always underestimated Iraqis.

Once he realized that Saddam was using helicopters on them, Bush could have knocked the copters out of the sky. Schwarzkopf could have at least kept rebel forces in mind when he negotiated the cease-fire. Anyone in the Bush administration could have asked, ”What if just calling for a coup isn’t enough?” Bush, for one, wishes he had done something different. ”I miscalculated,” he told the BBC last year.

Today, Clinton has another choice, even though he must build amongst his predecessor’s wreckage. The first thing Clinton needs to do is recognize that the bombing-versus-diplomacy debate is shortsighted. Clinton needs to develop a long-term strategy, even though it might outlast him. America needs to acknowledge that its own experience with bombing, from Vietnam to El Salvador, demonstrates mainly hubris. And diplomacy? Ask anyone who has ever dealt with Saddam.

Take [Abu Ghraib] prison [about 20] miles west of Baghdad. In April 1991, captured journalists saw guards beat a prisoner on the buttocks with a flat board. They wanted him to crow like a rooster, laughing when a real rooster finally crowed as if to answer him. Guards hosed down a prisoner on a cool day, while zapping him with an electro-shock weapon. They chased a ”subversive” 16-year-old boy around, taking turns with rubber hoses. More systematic torture took place in other cellblocks deeper inside the prison. Occasionally, journalists heard the screams of men in sustained pain.

Many Iranians are still in Saddam’s jails. Iran also lost several hundred thousand men in the Iran-Iraq war, while the U.S. and others were arming Saddam. The West backed him even after he used mustard gas in 1984. But things change. Iran’s new and old leaders know it. What doesn’t change is that they all still hate Saddam. An alliance with Iran would be a tactical one. Don’t worry, they too would be leery.

Could Clinton bring them in on a plan of prolonged confrontation? It would require more world leadership than he has ever shown. It would involve challenging, complex diplomacy with Gulf states, Turkey, and others. Of course, any progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would only help. The idea would be to develop and sustain Iraqi rebel ground forces against Saddam. Considering our history, we would have to make a serious case to convince them that we would see them through. But if people inside Iraq thought that people outside Iraq were serious about them, then someone inside, or maybe lots of people, might act. Unlike us, they suffer Saddam daily.

And the caveats? Take the worst-case scenario. Saddam is overthrown, but the country splits into a Kurdish government in the north and an Islamist Shi’ite one in the south. The former would threaten Turkey. The latter would expand the reach of Iran. Perhaps diplomacy could manage it. Maybe not. The question is, considering the alternative, Would it be worth it?

Iran, too, would need to take a leap of faith. It currently helps Iraq violate the U.N. embargo against it. Iran opposes the entire U.S. presence in the Middle East, and it still backs Islamist rebels in Israel. Iran has been caught shipping arms to Islamist rebels in Lebanon; it backs Islamist regimes as far away as Khartoum. So, however, does Iraq. Closer to home, Iran, like most of Iraq’s other neighbors, fears the breakup of Iraq. Iraq’s northern neighbors all have disenfranchised Kurds.

Indeed, to win, Clinton would need to master Saddam’s game of divide and conquer. But any clear, concrete plan for removing Saddam would attract the interest of many groups and states. If anyone could unite such disparate forces, it is Saddam Hussein. He is a man who inspires hatred within his own family. In 1990, he killed a member of his own clan, General Omar al-Hazaa, after cutting out his tongue, for criticizing him. According to The Independent, the general’s nephew, Ra’ad, eventually joined forces with underground students to seek revenge. They attacked Saddam’s elder son, Uday, six years later, leaving him a paraplegic. A year before, Uday’s cousin, Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, had fled to Jordan with his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Saddam Kamel Hassan, and their families. The two men were each married to one of Saddam’s daughters. In exile, they called for his ouster. But on February 20, 1996, they returned to Iraq, thinking that as fathers of Saddam’s grandchildren they would be safe.

Three days later, Uday and his security men killed them.

No one should underestimate Saddam again. Iran doesn’t. Last week Iraq’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf, traveled to Tehran. Afterward, Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, made an ambivalent statement that mirrors Clinton’s dilemma. He told Clinton not to bomb at the same time he told Saddam to let U.S. inspectors finish verifying the destruction of his chemical and biological weapons. Iran knows Saddam would use them if he could. He already has against Kurds as well as Iran. Even though everybody wants to, no one has figured out a viable way to ensure that Iraq never uses them again. Iran could be the card Clinton needs.

In the Line of Fire

We have not yet transcribed this article. The Village Voice archives available online also do not got back to 1995, either.

However, you may read a copy of the original article at the look. We suggest using the magnifier tool to read the copy.


Justify My War: Why Clinton Eyes Haiti’s Drug Trade and Ignores Guatemala’s

Original article found here.

While Bill Clinton’s White House invokes Haitian drug trafficking as a key rationale for invasion, it is continuing the Bush administration policy of virtually ignoring massive cocaine shipments — and related mass murders — by Guatemala’s military. U.S. officials on Friday said that they were investigating a possible drug indictment against two top Haitian officials, military leader General Raoul Cédras and police chief Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Michel Francois. But they are being far less aggressive toward Guatemala, which transships at least six times as much cocaine into this country than Haiti.

Like his predecessor, Clinton claims to have struggled against foreign governments and especially militaries involved in trafficking. President Bush used this pretext to invade Panama and later to put General Manuel Noriega on trial. Today the Clinton administration’s special adviser on Haiti, William Gray III, says that democracy, drugs and refugees — in that order — are its justifications for a possible invasion.

In May, Clinton administration officials began to say that the Haitian military’s involvement in cocaine trafficking was a threat to U.S. national security. Three weeks later, on June 8, The New York Times quoted unnamed administration sources “saying that the Haitian officers are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each month for allowing their country to be used as a transshipment center by the main Colombian drug rings in Cali and Medellin.” But, the same day, when asked to elaborate by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gray declined, saying, “What type, size, who are involved, are] currently under review, and when that review is completed we’ll get back to you.”

On the contrary, the facts about Haiti’s role in the cocaine trade are already well known to State Department’s International Narcotics Matters (INM) bureau and DEA experts, including the DEA’s Miami Field Division Chief, Thomas Cash; all describe it as “relatively insignificant.” They say that before the export embargo was imposed last year, Haiti transshipped only between six and 12 metric tons of cocaine annually, much if not most of it to Europe.

While Clinton focuses drug attention on Haiti, vastly more cocaine pours into this country from Guatemala. INM and DEA experts say Guatemala today transships between 50 and 75 metric tons annually to the United States. Similarly, the largest single seizure of cocaine known to involve Haiti is the 160 pounds discovered in three unclaimed suitcases at JFK airport in New York in April 1992; the same month, authorities confiscated 6.7 metric tons — 14,740 pounds — of cocaine discovered inside cases of frozen Guatemalan broccoli in Miami.

This seizure led to the nearest arrest of Harold Ackerman, whom the DEA’s Cash described as “the Cali cartel’s ambassador to Miami.” He was working with confederates in Guatemala, where U.S. embassy press attaché Lee McClenny said, “the vast majority of cocaine trafficking is Cali cartel-related.” As has been widely reported, U.S. experts say the Cali cartel now controls at least 75 per cent of the world’s cocaine trade, and two-thirds of the cocaine entering the United States passes through either Mexico or Guatemala, on NAFTA’s southern border.

While federal prosecutors now try to indict Francois and, perhaps, Cédras, the DEA has implicated Guatemalan military officers of all ranks. They include one air force general, two air force majors, one army lieutenant colonel, and six army captains; the DEA has collected enough evidence against each to either recommend or take legal action. But because Guatemala’s military and the courts it controls protect them, not one officer has gone to trial. “Guatemalan military officers strongly suspected of trafficking in narcotics rarely face criminal prosecution,” reads this year’s INM International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Instead the officers above were either expelled or retired from military service. But this is no deterrent. “In most cases, the officers continue on with their suspicious activities,” according to the INM report.

The DEA has even observed air force officers using military aircraft to smuggle cocaine. One suspect is General Carlos Pozuelos Villavicencio, the former air force commander. Last October, the State Department denied him an entry visa to the United States under the section of the U. S. immigration law that allows barring entrance to known narcotics traffickers. Another is Army Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Ochoa Ruiz, who, along with two army captains, was set up in a DEA sting way back in 1990. While agents watched, Ochoa and his men loaded a half metric ton of cocaine, worth $7.5 million wholesale, on board a private plane. It landed in Tampa, where Ochoa was later indicted by a U.S. grand jury.

But Guatemalan civilian courts have three times denied Ochoa’s extradition to stand trial. And although the evidence against him includes the half ton of seized cocaine, a military tribunal ruled last year to dismiss all charges for lack of evidence. Rather than demand his extradition, the Clinton administration doesn’t want anyone to know Ochoa’s still wanted. While not one Haitian military officer is currently charged in any U. S. court, Ochoa, an alleged multi-million-dollar trafficker, walks away from the U.S. indictment.

In addition to the above 10 officers implicated by the DEA, seven more officers, a town mayor currently being prosecuted in federal court in Brooklyn, and 19 other paramilitary “commissioners” under military control are accused of narcotics trafficking in legal testimony recorded by the office of Guatemala’s Human Fights Ombudsman. The charges include illegal detention and torture.

Guatemala’s army has the absolute worst human rights record in the hemisphere, and most of its victims are native Mayans. (On Friday, Guatemalan authorities said the charred bodies of 1000 men, women, and children had been found near the Mexican border.) Previous abuses include an estimated 40,000 people disappeared, and another 100,000 murdered, usually for their armed resistance or politics.

But today, Mayans are killed for greed. In Los Amates, near Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, dozens of Mayans, 32 of whom added both their thumbprints and signatures to the human rights testimony, claim local military and municipal authorities tortured three men before killing one of them, and then killed eight more people, including a mother and son. Their objective was to force them and hundreds of survivors off land that most of them have farmed for two generations. Why? To build clandestine runways to run drugs.

In January 1991, the ombudsman made a ruling on the initial charges of legal detention and torture, declaring them “proven”, and implicated, among others, colonel Luis Roberto Tobar Martinez, Colonel Baltazar Aldana Morales, Colonel Luis Arturo Isaac Rodriguez, Colonel Alfredo Garcia Gomez, Major Reyes, Captain Carlos Rene Solorzano, and Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, the ex-mayor of Zacapa. Vargas alone had just been indicted in Brooklyn on separate but related trafficking charges. The ombudsman also acknowledged that one of the tortured men had since been murdered, and then declared open a second investigation he never completed.

The ombudsman, Ramiro de Leon Carpio, is now Guatemala’s president. He was supported for the post by President Clinton a year ago in June, after Guatemala’s last civilian president tried to give himself — and his military — dictatorial powers in a “self-coup”. After it failed in the face of popular and foreign opposition, the military allowed De Leon to assume office. This year, in a letter to President Clinton, President De Leon promised to continue the ombudsman’s work and bring authorities who have “committed a crime or human rights violation” to justice. Nonetheless, the above case remains open.

Survivors say the runways were built from 1990 to 1992, when the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala was Thomas F Stroock. A quintessential political appointee, Stroock met George Bush at Yale, and later, as a successful oil magnate from Wyoming, was a major fundraiser for Bush’s presidential campaign. Throughout his term in Guatemala, Ambassador Stroock — who was replaced by 1993 — denied that the military, as an institution, was involved in cocaine trafficking. Similarly, today, the Clinton administration lists Guatemala as one of the countries “cooperating fully” with U.S. efforts against drug trafficking.

The first murder victim was Celedonio Perez. Along with about 8,000 other families, he lived among the five hamlets of Los Amates in eastern Guatemala, about 35 miles across the state line from Zacapa. There, in December 1990, the DEA broke up an operation that it charged “smuggled several tons of cocaine to the U.S. each month in tractor-trailers” overland through Mexico. This led to the arrest of Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, aka “Archie,” according to the Brooklyn grand jury indictment against him. “He was a real big fish,” said one U.S., expert. “The kind of guy who could order a guy killed.”

Vargas was a local paramilitary member of the Mano Blanco death squad since age 19, says one army lieutenant colonel. By the time Vargas became mayor of Zacapa in 1990, he owned a ranch house across the street from the army base. Vargas denies the charges of trafficking against him. His attorney, David Cooper, told the Voice: “If [any planes] landed in Zacapa, the only landing field was on the army base. ” Guatemala’s military attaché in Washington, Colonel Benjamin Godoy, denies that the Zacapa base was used to run drugs.

In Guatemala, according to the INM report, “All drug enforcement activities must be coordinated with military intelligence, which actively collects intelligence against traffickers.” Guatemalan military commanders deny that military intelligence would, instead, share information with traffickers, even if they included military officers and other officials. But according to peasants’ testimony around the same time that the DEA informed Guatemalan military intelligence that it sought to arrest Vargas, Vargas and his accomplices began forcing peasants off their land in Los Amates; five weeks later, after Vargas was finally arrested and his operation busted in Zacapa, local army authorities built more runways in Los Amates.

When Celedonio Perez resisted according to testimony, he and two other men were captured on November 18, 1990, “by the Commander and seven soldiers from the Los Amates military detachment,” who were “ordered by the Justice of the Peace.” Inside the detachment, the men claimed they were threatened and tortured by Army Lieutenant Maldonado and paramilitary authorities Byron Berganza and Baudilio Guzman who have “sufficient power and economic resources to dispose of the life and liberty of any peasant.” This claim of torture is supported by a signed doctor’s medical report as well as a photo of a man’s neck encircled by a pencil-thin laceration.

On January 6, 1991, one of the men was captured again, scaring him enough to make him and his family, finally flee their land. But Perez still resisted. Survivors say that on January 19, military authorities killed him. As word of his murder spread, many more frightened families fled Los Amates. With much of its land now cleared, the army stepped up construction of runways. But in April, after many were completed, military authorities began to target individuals, like Daniel Melgar, a tractor driver, who knew about them. “Since this man had worked on the construction of the clandestine runway owned by Francisco Villatuerte, he was assassinated by men I paid by narcotraffickers,” reads the I testimony, “and today that runway I is found camouflaged with tree trunks over it.”

Still, the public did not know what was happening, and survivors feared that they might be killed next. They decided to denounce the murders publicly. After pooling their funds, they took put an ad in Prensa Libre, one of three Guatemalan dailies. But nothing changed. Four days later, survivors claim the army killed two more peasants — “a mother and son on the shoulder of the highway CA-9 near the Seafood crossroad. This woman and he husband worked loading and unloading the planes of the narcotraffickers.”

A week later, in May, survivors took out another ad in Prensa Libre, and this time, “we mentioned the existence of the clandestine landing strips built by narcotraffickers.” Survivors also named five officials in the General Registry of Property whom they accuse of falsifying titles to “our lands that we have possessed for more than 50 years.” Still, nothing changed. The next day, military authorities killed another man, survivors claim, while three other peasants were falsely arrested for his murder. A month later, in June, survivors accused military authorities of murdering three more men, who had “worked guarding the finca (ranch) situated in the Palmilia property of Arnoldo Vargas Estrada.”

Later that month, in response to the newspaper ads, the head of the homicide department for the National Police, Jost Miguel Merida Escobar, and three other agents finally arrived. But rather than investigate the murders, “They lived for various days on the finca Rancho Maya of Byron Berganza and in the house of Baudilio Guzman where they were well-received, reads the testimony. Despite being explicitly informed about the clandestine runways, “these men forgot to make mention of them in their report.”

A month later, in July, another peasant was arrested by a group of soldiers and two police agents, this time on charges involving national security. Five days later, survivors claim, another group of military authorities assassinated another man.

Three more months passed before something happened that survivors thought might at last attract outside attention. On October 11, “before sunrise, one of the planes that transports cocaine crashed when it couldn’t, reach the runway on the finca Rancho Maya.” Guatemala’s national director of aeronautics came to investigate. But in his report, he said the plane was not headed for the finca, and that its crash was merely accidental. As a result, nothing changed, and the killings continued into 1992. Finally, in March, survivors decided to take their case to officials who they thought would listen, and addressed a copy of their testimony, from which all quotes above are taken, to “Señores D.E.A.”

While most of the killings were going on in 1991, that June, shortly after the two ads ran in Prensa Libre, a privately funded human rights delegation arrived in Guatemala City (this reporter was a member). It was led by U.S. Senator James Jeffords (Republican of Vermont) and Representative Jim McDermott (Democrat of Washington). Their report concludes, “One source said the military facilitates drug trafficking, especially cocaine, flown on small planes coming from other countries.

Non-American Western diplomats further confirmed to delegation members the Guatemalan military’s growing involvement with drugs.” Ambassador Stroock, however, denied it, saying that only a few officers were involved and that they had already been charged.

In a letter to The Progressive dated April 14, 1992, Stroock challenged: “if [anyone] has any evidence that any other army personnel are involved in drug smuggling, he should make that information available and we will act on it immediately.” But Stroock’s mission already had evidence on hand. Officials from the ombudsman’s office said they helped survivors deliver their petition to the U.S. Embassy on March 12, a month before Stroock’s letter. Press attaché McClenny later confirmed that the DEA received it.

This testimony was consistent with the DEA’s own case against Vargas, but its agents didn’t act on it, One possible reason is that, even if they did, it’s unlikely that they could have brought the officers responsible to trial. It took the United States 17 months of constant pressure to finally extradite Vargas, who, although he was linked to the military through death squads, was never a military officer. And almost four years of pressure to extradite Ochoa has failed. Now, once optimistic State Department officials no longer believe that the extradition of any current or former officer is possible.

Therefore, in Guatemala, the DEA measures success not by the number of arrests, but by the tonnage of cocaine interdicted. In July 1992, for example, DEA agents, heavily armed and rappelling from helicopters, seized 2.8 metric tons of cocaine from a small house in Jardines de San Lucas near Antigua. The DEA reports that the house “was rented to a Colombian male, his supposed wife, and his supposed young daughter,” and that it is owned by a retired Guatemalan air force captain. This seizure was then the largest in Guatemala to date, and, within a month, it led to a three-ton seizure in Guatemala City. No suspects have been arrested for either. Nonetheless, these operations are still considered successful because the seizure of 5.8 tons of cocaine, worth $87 million wholesale, more than doubled the DEA’s interdiction record for that year.

On drug matters, the most visible difference between Haiti and Guatemala is that Haiti no longer cooperates with the United States in interdiction, while Guatemala does. The result has given Guatemala in the 1990s the highest rate of interdiction of any Latin American country after Mexico, with between seven and 16 metric tons seized each year. But critics charge that this merely suggests that the amount of cocaine passing through Guatemala may be higher than estimated. The DEA maintains that anywhere else in Latin America, it is rare to interdict more than 10 percent of the total cocaine flow. For Guatemala, that would mean that the actual tonnage passing through is between 75 and 150 tons.

Indeed, Siglo Veintiuno, the Guatemalan daily that has given the most coverage to trafficking, reports “Regional experts indicate that the Cali cartel is well established in Guatemala and is able to transport more than 150 tons of cocaine through the country each year.” So much was passing through by November 1992 that a group of exporters organized a conference around the sole theme how to detect whether their products were being used to run drugs. These business leaders say that narcotics profits are both crowding out and taking over legitimate commerce.

But while newspapers can report these general trends, almost no information has been reported about who in Guatemala is behind it. Rony Sagastume, a national police detective, was appointed in September 1992 to lead an investigation to find out. An experienced professional, Sagastume also had a reputation for honesty. But the very day after his appointment, he was shot to death in his car by a death squad in Guatemala City.

Recent victims include journalists and their families. Hugo Arce is the editor of Nuestro Tiempo, a critical weekly in Guatemala City. In February, he and his 22-year-old nephew, a delivery worker, were arrested by police. Arce was released, while the nephew, in detention, sufffered broken ribs, kidney complications, swollen arms and legs, and could hardly walk. Similarly, diplomats and others suspect that a mob attack this March against June Weinstock, an American traveler, was engineered by the army it eventually drove most foreigners abroad. While Haiti formally expels its UN human rights monitors, Guatemala seems to have found another way of keeping meddlesome foreigners quiet.

Besides issuing a travel advisory about Guatemala after the attack on Weinstock, the Clinton administration has done little or nothing about anything else. The reason is that this administration, like previous ones, maintains that the mere presence of a civilian president in office denotes success.

Guatemala now has such a figurehead; Haiti does not.

Crossfire: The War Behind the Closed Doors of the NRA

Minneapolis – For three days of its annual convention last month, the National Rifle Association (NRA) paraded its cheerful public face, showing off such varied supporters as actors Richard Roundtree and Paul Sorvino, baby-toting housewives, gospel singers, and an African American policewoman. And when that was done, the 123-year-old group convened its annual board of directors meeting in Ballroom D of the Hilton Hotel. Unbeknownst to the 74 directors, eight officers, and 25-odd NRA staff and VIP members assembled, the Voice was present, there to witness the inner workings of the most powerful single-issue lobby in the nation.

Most of the people in the room were beefy white men. And the atmosphere was tense. The NRA’s eight executive officers sat behind banquet tables on a raised platform, looking down on the assembled board. The printed agenda called for reports by each executive officer — but surprisingly, all but the treasurer claimed to be unprepared. Lack of preparation, however, had nothing to do with it. Everyone was anxiously awaiting the nominating committee’s report on its choice for the NRA presidency. Normally, this is matter of simple procedure, as the NRA rotates officers in an established order of succession. Tradition dictated that 1st Vice President Thomas L. Washington, a big-game hunter from Michigan, should be president next.

But this year was different, thanks to the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of NRA firebrand Neal Knox, who is far more powerful than his position as a board member would suggest. As the rumors swirling throughout the convention for days hinted, Knox had exercised his influence on the nominating panel. Instead of Washington, committee chair T.J. Johnston nominated 2nd Vice President Marion P. Hammer, a hard-nosed, 55-year-old grandmother who helped pass the law in Florida that allows modestly trained residents to carry loaded guns. The motion for Hammer was seconded and opened to discussion.

“This is nothing more than a total power struggle. It’s a palace coup,” Robert K. Brown protested to the board. As a hard-line gun advocate, and the editor and publisher of the mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune, Brown should know.

The internecine conflict was further evidence of the growing crisis at the NRA, which has 3.3 million dues-paying members and assets of $160 million. Last year, it spent a whopping $22.4 million on lobbying alone. The NRA supports political candidates who abide by its views, and mercilessly tries to punish those who don’t. Its appetite for loyalty is insatiable: Republican senator Robert Dole, an NRA member and honored guest at its banquet in 1986, has been branded a traitor for softening on gun control.

Once considered the most powerful lobby in Washington, the NRA is on the defensive now. For decades, it has succeeded in crushing almost any form of gun control legislation, but the recent passage of the Brady law and the success of the “assault weapons” ban bill in both the House and Senate confront the NRA with its most severe challenge yet. The gun-owning community it purports to represent has split, with fissures between sport shooters and Second Amendment “fundamentalists” cracking visibly open for the first time. All major national law enforcement organizations have already withdrawn their support from the NRA. Dissent is also on the rise internally, with many of its, state associations directly challenging national leaders. Meanwhile, most dues-paying NRA members have little sense of how the organization is run.

The controversy centers on Neal Knox. The 58-year-old former [Texas; original story incorrectly said Oklahoma] national guardsman had a BB gun by the time he was five. Today, he believes in arming, it seems, everyone. Last fall, Knox suggested solving the Somalia crisis by distributing Kalashnikovs to mothers: “If [they] had been armed, what do you think would have happened if some old boys in a Jeep with a .50-caliber machine gun had pulled over the truck that was bringing a little bit of food to some mother’s starving baby?” he asked in The Wall Street Journal. “That mother would have blown away everybody on that truck, and that would have been that. THAT is an armed people.”

Knox is so aggressive that even those who endorse his zealotry — such as Soldier of Fortune’s Brown — complain about his ambition. Once fired from the organization over his bullying tactics, Knox came back even stronger in 1991 and soon engineered the promotion of Wayne R. LaPierre, Jr who now runs the NRA’s daily affairs as its executive vice president. Today, Knox controls up to seven of the eight executive officers, and possibly 56 of 75 board directors. “If you want to understand the NRA board,” Knox is quoted as saying in Under Fire, a 1993 book about the NRA by Osha Gray Davidson, “you study the Politburo.”

“I’ve known Neal Knox for probably 20-years,” says Dave Edmondson from Dallas, a longtime NRA member and former board member who now leads the movement of state affiliates against him. “He’s very ambitious personally. I think his ego has gotten the best of him.”

That arrogance helps explain the Knox regime’s affront to Washington, a genial, conservationist NRA veteran who had considerable support on the board. The NRA was once run by men like Washington. Founded in 1871 after the Civil War by former Union soldiers, the NRA originally aimed to improve the marksmanship of the New York National Guard. It remained a quasi-military organization until after the Second World War, when its ranks were swelled by millions of returning soldiers who had acquired an interest in firearms. Enjoying increasing income and leisure time, many became hunters. Eventually, the NRA evolved into an organization of sportsmen. “The old guard?” says Ernest Lissabet, a retired U.S. Army first lieutenant who opposes Knox. “Those are the guys that I’m watching on television now, from Normandy.”

In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy with a bolt-action rifle he bought through an ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. And in 1968, when assassins shot and killed Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., Congress passed its first significant gun control legislation. The Gun Control Act regulated the interstate sale of firearms and banned machine guns or fully automatic weapons. (An automatic reloads and fires to “spray” bullets for as long as the trigger is pulled; a semiautomatic also reloads automatically, but fires only one shot each time the trigger is pulled.) At the time, the NRA leadership supported the bill. Its then executive vice president, retired general Franklin Orth, told Congress, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

But a group of NRA men beneath him disagreed and began to plot their way to toward power. Harlon Carter was their leader, and Neal Knox was at his side. Nine years later, in 1977, they seized control of the NRA at its annual convention in Cincinnati: “Like the marines hitting the beach at Anzio, the group of hard-liners took over the meeting, using parliamentary procedure as their heavy artillery,” writes Davidson in Under Fire. The organization “became the Gun Lobby.”

Carter ran the NRA as executive vice president, while Knox took over as director of its recently formed lobbying wing, the institute for Legislative Action (ILA). But when Knox got too greedy and abrasive, the same Carter fired him in 1982. Rather than surrender, however, the resilient Knox began to plot his return. After Carter retired in 1985, the NRA floundered, its membership dropped, and it began to lose clout in Congress. Knox attacked Carter’s successor from outside the NRA, in columns in gun magazines like Shotgun News and Guns & Ammo, at the same time that rumors about the man’s alleged sexual improprieties began to spread. Knox also redbaited “moderates” on the board, insisting that compromise was the same as communism.

In the race for the NRA board of directors in 1991, Knox and his slate succeeded in winning 11 of 21 open seats, with nine more hard-liners led by Soldier of Fortune‘s Brown taking all but one that remained. Knox also enjoyed support among incumbents. Pugnacious and unapologetic, he was back.

Knox is still maneuvering to remake the entire NRA leadership in his image, and his immediate goal is to move all his field commanders into position. Besides LaPierre, there are two of primary importance, both women. Tanya K. Metaksa, an ex-director, was named earlier this year to direct ILA, the NRA’s lobbying wing, which Knox once ran. Metaksa is the first woman to hold an NRA command post. But anyone who thinks that this is a sign of political moderation is mistaken. In spelling her name for reporters, Metaksa says, “It’s AK, as in AK-47, and SA, as in semiautomatic.” Another is Hammer, four foot eleven with straight brown bangs, who prefers to be photographed with a steely-eyed, straight-lipped stare.

Wearing a ruffled blouse and a sky blue jacket, Hammer listened without expression as her nomination for the NRA presidency provoked an unprecedented outpouring from offended NRA traditionalists. The first of more than a dozen directors to step to a mike was James W. Porter, an attorney from Birmingham, Alabama, whose father is a past president of The NRA. “When you open my veins, NRA blood runs out,” he said with an educated drawl. But he was upset that the NRA leadership would permit Hammer to leapfrog over Washington, who had rightfully earned the post, and appalled that word of Hammer’s impending nomination had been leaked to USA Today. Worst of all were what he called the “scurrilous accusations” that had been spread over the weekend about Washington. Porter said he’d reported the gossip and infighting over his “good friend” to his 84-year-old mother [CORRECTION: The original story incorrectly reported grandmother.], a lifelong NRA member, who had replied: “That’s not the organization I know.”

Johnston, head of the nominating committee, insisted the group had paid no attention to unspecified rumors against Washington. He was “unacceptable,” Johnston flared, because he “made statements” against Knox appointee LaPierre.

There is little superficial difference between the rhetoric of Hammer and Washington, rivals for the presidency. Washington, from Michigan, is a conservationist who helped pass his state’s bottle bill and who hopes to promote the NRA as environment conscious. Along with his round, boyish face, and his courteous demeanor, Washington wants to use his moderate credentials to smooth the NRA’s image. But a nice guy is not what the Knox regime has in mind.

They want Hammer. Her appeal to Knox and his men is precisely her don’t-even-think-about-it attitude. She has launched fiery broadsides against the Clinton administration and Sarah Brady, whose lobbying group, Handgun Control, Inc., is the NRA’s toughest opponent. After speaker upon speaker had denounced the plot against Washington, director Wayne H. Stump — who, as an Arizona state legislator, tried to abolish the Federal Reserve Board — rose in defense of Hammer. “She has fire,” he said. “Marion can take on Hillary.” Several Knox supporters followed Stump, mentioning, repeatedly, the need to take on “Hillary and Sarah.”

The turning point in the debate seemed to come when Lee Purcell, a petite, auburn-haired actress from the TV miniseries Secret Sins of the Father, and one of seven women NRA directors, spoke. “We must remember we were put here by the membership,” Purcell said calmly, “and I think that is sometimes forgotten.” She did not believe that the membership wanted Hammer: “I’m a, woman, but I support Tom Washington.” The actress also pointed out that the press was aware of infighting within the leadership and suggested that if Hammer toppled Washington, word would get out.

This statement, finally, made Knox’s people nervous. Soon after, several asked the executive committee to close the ballroom door, although, by now, there were NRA staffers checking IDs at the door. Facing a rising number of enemies outside the organization, the NRA leadership has tried to downplay crossfire within. “Whatever we do, this jerkin’ around has got to end,” said Joe Foss, the ex-governor of South Dakota and a former NRA president, making a plea for consensus.

Shortly thereafter, a motion was made to go into executive session (something they might have done earlier, had they known that a reporter was present; although the board meeting, when not in executive session, is technically open to the public, a journalist who is an NRA Benefactor member was told he could not attend). Fearing this was only part of Knox’s plan to seize power, Washington and 17 of his supporters voted, in vain, against it. Everyone except directors and officers left the room. According to one report, those who remained discussed the “scurrilous accusations” made against Washington, as well as adding new ones about his alleged poor appearance. “They complained about his weight,” says one insider. “Petty things like that.” But if Washington were denied the position, the threat that his supporters might make Knox’s methods public remained real.

When the whole board reconvened and the secret ballot came, Washington, surprisingly to me, won. “By a wide margin,” said Jim Porter later in a telephone interview from Birmingham. His allies had apparently convinced a majority of the board that they would not be bullied into submission.

But this is only a small victory for Washington and his supporters. While the presidency could be used as a bully pulpit for a new image-making leader, it has little formal authority within the organization. Moreover, in Minneapolis, before the board went into executive session, outgoing president Robert K. Corbin reminded directors that while the president normally serves two years by tradition, the NRA’s bylaws state that he must be ratified after one year. Although a two-year term is normally a given, Corbin said, “We could vote again in one year.” NRA spokesperson Bill Powers says the directors will. Oh, and Director Knox. Powers denied that Knox enjoys any special power, and then said: “But you might wan to know Mr. Knox was just elected second Vice president.” In other words, when Washington leaves the pulpit post, Hammer will take over, then Knox.

It is a measure of Knox’s grip that, even in the midst of heated debate, not one elected director raised the substantive issues about his administration. Much of the criticism comes from other hard-line gun rights activists who believe that he is mismanaging, some say destroying, the NRA. This view is growing among state-affiliated NRA leaders, and even among veteran staff members of the organization.

The State Association Coordinating Committee, organized by activist Edmondson, made its case known at the rank-and-file meeting in Minneapolis through an eight-page, fluorescent-green pamphlet. It complained that “the LaPierre/Knox watch” had lost major legislative battles, at the same time that it had squandered members’ funds. Indeed, the NRA has outspent its incoming revenues by $59.2 million over the last two years. It has supported its lobbying by cutting back on popular members’ services like shooting competitions and reportedly plans to reduce the frequency of its main publication, American Rifleman. And although the Knox regime has successfully increased membership — it claims an astonishing 900,000 new members since 1991, or 1000 each day — Edmondson says that about half the new members drop out after one year.

The pamphlet claims that while Tanya Metaksa and her company have been handsomely paid — up to $194,000 for services in 1993 — the NRA is planning to slash a third of its lower-paid employees this year. (The NRA denies planning any large layoffs.) The pamphlet also says that Knox protégé LaPierre awarded contracts to two firms owned or controlled by Brad O’Leary — a longtime personal friend of LaPierre’s, according to Edmondson. Associated Press even reported that the NRA sold names and addresses of former members for profit, something that violates its own views about the Second Amendment. “After all,” the State Association pamphlet reads, “that list is a list of gun owners — and that’s exactly the kind of list required for gun confiscation.”

This discontent has even spread to executive officers. Firearms Business, a trade publication, reports that NRA secretary Warren Cheek just resigned “in apparent protest over the organization’s handling of veteran staff members and the ‘new NRA’s’ management policies … Cheek told NRA insiders that he considers the new management to be preoccupied with personal career goals rather than being dedicated to or even understanding the group’s mission or membership. (The NRA says Cheek retired).

But apart from mismanagement, much of the criticism also has to do with the NRA’s ardent defense of the Second Amendment. On this point, the gun-owning community that the NRA claims to represent is now split wide open. And some hunters, a potentially large group, believe that it’s time the NRA returned to its sporting purpose — promoting marksmanship, collecting, and other forms of gun-related recreation.

David E. Petzal, for one, thinks the present radicalization of the NRA is hurting the interests of gun owners. Petzal, who has given thousands of dollars to the NRA, writes the “Endangered Tradition” column in Field and Stream, another centenarian institution, many of whose 2 million readers are also in the NRA. This June, the magazine made a landmark decision to break with the NRA. “It took tremendous courage,” says executive editor Petzal.

“The bugle call known as reveille is a cheerful, energetic tune that, when I was in the Army, few soldiers actually got to hear,” he writes in an editorial. “Real-world reveille came for gun owners this February,” in the form of the assault weapons ban. Petzall like the NRA, believes that this legislation is too broad. This is partly because it would ban weapons like “the AR-15/M-16, and the MIA in modified [semiautomatic] form, which are highly accurate, and have a legitimate place in organized target competition.”

But assault weapons are also implicated in terrible acts of violence, like the Stockton, California, shooting in which a deranged man killed five children and wounded 29 others using a semiautomatic AK-47 clone. “Gun owners — all gun owners — pay a heavy price for having to defend the availability of these weapons,” writes Petzal. “The American public — and the gun-owning public; especially the gun-owning public — would be better off without the hardcore military arms, which puts the average sportsman in a real dilemma” Petzal concludes by advocating compromise, something that Knox and other members of his regime say they will never accept.

To the Knox regime, the hunters’ qualms are beside the point. “It’s not about Bambi, for God’s sake,” says Larry Pratt, of Gun Owners of America, who believes the NRA should stop pretending to be an organization of sport shooters and make it clear that its first priority is to defend the Second Amendment.

This position gradually emerged in April, when NRA witnesses testified in Congress before Brooklyn representative Charles Schumer, sponsor of the assault weapons legislation, and his committee. After listening to them, Schumer held up a Tec-9 semiautomatic, a highly inaccurate, short-range, high-capacity weapon. Shorter and more concealable than a Tommy gun, it is ideal for drive-by shootings. But when Schumer asked Tanya Metaksa if NRA members hunt with it, Knox’s lobbying chief scowled at having been asked the question, and then said, gruffly, “Some probably do.” (Indeed, the Tec-9 is the kind of weapon that dictator ldi Amin used on grazing wildlife in Uganda, wiping out all of its lions and most of its rhinos and elephants. But few self-respecting NRA members, who as a group take great pride in the quality of their firearms, would ever even own one.)

But when Schumer’s committee questioned NRA witness Suzanna Gratia, who watched a gunman kill her parents in the 1991 Luby’s massacre in Killeen, Texas, she said something else. “The Second Amendment is not about duck hunting…but it is about our right, all of our rights, to be able to protect ourselves,” she said, pointing to herself and other NRA witnesses, “from all you guys up there.” She pointed to the committee.

“They advocate a firearms fundamentalist viewpoint,” says Ernest Lissabet, the former NRA activist who founded a new group, the American Firearms Association, last year. “It’s a paranoid worldview.” From this perspective, any encroachment on the right to guns is an invitation to tyranny. That was certainly the note struck before the nominating began at the board meeting. The invited speaker, Aaron Zelman, of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, based in Milwaukee, declared that the 1968 Federal Gun Control Act was modeled after the 1938 Weapons Law in Nazi Germany. If recent gun control legislation is allowed to stand, he said, the federal government will be that much closer to perpetrating a holocaust in this country. “Charlie Schumer, who claims to be a Jew, should crawl back to the rock he came from,” Zelman said. His remarks were greeted by unanimous applause. Afterward, as many directors walked over to congratulate him, Zelman distributed posters of Adolf Hitler giving a

Sieg heil! Salute, with the caption: “Everyone in favor of gun control raise your right hand.” (Zelman also believes Rwanda’s government-led genocide proves his point “another hellhole where they have gun control,” he says by telephone from Milwaukee.)

This belief, today, is the foundation of the NRA’s opposition to gun control. The Second Amendment says: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As interpreted by the NRA faithful, this means that individuals have the right to defend themselves against a despotic government, and so must have access to no less firepower than the police, national guard, or armed forces. This is why the NRA, opposes the banning of Teflon-coated bullets that can penetrate the body armor vests police wear, and likewise, in front of Schumer, Metaksa dodged all questions about whether the NRA supported the government’s ban on bazookas.

This is also why the NRA opposes almost any government regulation of the ownership or transfer of firearms, which is likely to be the next, most important battleground of the gun control debate. Both the Brady law, which makes gun purchasers wait five days, and the assault weapons ban bills are, at best, symbolic gestures, and partisans on both sides of the debate know it. The depth of the background check mandated by the Brady law is left largely to the discretion of local authorities, some of whom have already resisted compliance. And the pending bills would ban some of the deadliest semiautomatic weapons, but they would do almost nothing about handguns, which, in New York City, are used in 95 percent of all gun-related homicides.

The problem America faces is not necessarily the mechanism of the weapons used, but their proliferation and ready availability in our society. A new justice Department survey of high schools in crime-ridden neighborhoods in four states finds that more than one out of every five male students surveyed report owning a gun.

One solution might be a National Handgun Identification Card, recently advocated in an editorial by The New York Times. New Jersey has a similar card, which residents must present to purchase any firearm. To obtain a card, a resident must apply to the local police station, which fingerprints the applicant. Copies of the fingerprinted application are then sent to the state police as well as to the FBI. The process also includes a check of court records on mental health. It takes about eight weeks to complete. But once a resident has the card, he or she can purchase any long (or hunting) rifle or shotgun without waiting. With the same card, a resident may also purchase a handgun, but he or she must be fingerprinted by police prior to every handgun purchase and wait about six weeks for another background check to clear. (When meeting New Jersey gun owners, NRA members frequently offer condolences.)

If a similar system were established nationally, it would preclude gang-bangers from the Bronx, for example, from driving to West Virginia and, in “straw purchases” through local residents, buying an unlimited number of handguns, semiautomatic shotguns, and Tec-9s from a local gun shop. But the NRA opposes such a system because it would mean that gun owners and their guns would be on file with the federal government — information that the government could use against them when and if tyranny comes. But this argument “is ridiculous, on its face,” says Petzal. “When the Bill of Rights was framed, the average farmer had the same weapon, the smoothbore musket, as soldiers.” But today, Petzal writes, “an Uzi or an AKM or an AK-47 should be no more generally available than a Claymore mine or a block of C4 explosive.”

Petzal’s defection from the cause is yet another indication that the NRA is losing the war of public opinion on gun control. Moreover, although the writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson support it, the NRA’s argument on the Second Amendment has no basis in American case law. U.S. courts have ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right of states to maintain their own armed militias, but not necessarily the right of individuals to bear arms. “Contrary to some popularized notions,” reads a newly released study by the Lawyers’ Committee on Violence, one of whose principal authors is Thomas D. Barr from the Manhattan firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, “no court has ever declared that either the Second Amendment to the Federal Constitution or the New York Constitution is a barrier to laws which control or limit the sale, transfer or ownership of guns. The alleged ‘right’ of an individual to keep and bear arms is myth.”

The NRA is bleeding — but like any wounded beast, it is likely to be more dangerous now than before. Knox’s radicalism may not win him any friends in Congress, but incendiary rhetoric is still a force to reckon with — witness the influence Khalid Muhammad’s oratory brings him within the Nation of Islam. Under siege, the NRA may only become a more important player in local, state, and national politics. Rather than simply fighting gun control, it will turn its attention to fighting crime and targeting politicians who are unfriendly to guns. “We’re trying to build up files on people who run for office,” Metaksa explains to NRA legislative activists in Minneapolis. “Then we can pick out something from five years ago, and say, ‘Look what you said.'”

Such character assassinations will be part of organized state and national campaigns. Rather than limit its work to spreading the word about the Second Amendment, the NRA plans to prey on people’s fear of violent crime. As a result, the NRA has now turned its attention to the pending federal crime bill. One of its favorite slogans is, “if you do the crime, you should do the time.” By promoting it, the NRA has helped pass mandatory minimum sentencing laws that give the United States the highest rate of incarceration of any developed country in the world, while incidents of crime continue to rise.

Although the NRA’s primary public focus is on violent criminals, many of those punished under mandatory minimums are non-violent drug offenders who have already suffered the heat of the emotions whipped up by its campaign. The NRA can easily outspend its opponents — the lobbying group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, for example, worked from an operating budget of only $90,000 last year, while the NRA has so far spent over $2 million on “CrimeStrike,” a program responsible for disseminating Willie Horton-like ads throughout the heartland.

Interestingly, the most vocal opposition at the NRA’s rank-and-file meeting in Minneapolis was over drugs. Speaking from a laissez-faire point of view, several members objected from the floor to “the war on drugs,” saying that it had failed miserably, and that frequently “the feds kick down your door for both guns and drugs.” Recognizing the NRA’s contribution to this climate, one speaker asked the leadership merely to consider forming a subcommittee to explore the issue. But Knox’s executives don’t like such questions. Each time the matter was raised, it was quickly crushed through parliamentary procedure to terminate debate.

“We have to stop tearing ourselves apart from the inside,” Hammer told the board just before her defeat. “Rather than fight each other, this organization has to build its moat outside the castle wall.” By beating back dissent from within, Knox and his followers hope to maintain the fiction of a united front — to use the collective clout of millions of gun owners to advance a regressive crime agenda as effectively as the NRA once contained gun control. Listen to Metaksa. “Being tough on crime isn’t just good public policy, it’s the winning solution for your campaign,” she tells the faithful. “If you can start breeding young candidates and young people who know the politics of crime, we’re going to be very successful.”

Rwanda’s French Connection

“We have eight million people here,” an aid worker told me last June in Rwanda, “and all you Americans care about are those damn gorillas.”

I was in Rwanda investigating weapons trafficking for the Human Rights Watch/Arms Project, but I couldn’t argue with the man, a Tutsi. Almost the only news reaching the West last year from this small, landlocked Central Africa republic was the death of Mrithi, a male silverback gorilla shot by a frightened soldier. One of 325 mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Mrithi was mourned in a New York Times op-ed by Rutgers University anthropologist Dr. H. Dieter Steklis. He succeeded Dian Fossey, the champion of the apes portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist. Apart from his brave Rwandan staff, Steklis made no mention of the country’s people. At the time, one million of them were displaced from Northern Rwanda by the same fighting that killed Mrithi.

Last month, Rwanda’s people finally got the world’s attention, though accomplishing this took the fastest slaughter in memory, as many as 200,000 slain in a month. On April 27, Pope John Paul protested the killing as genocide. Most of the dead are Tutsi, a minority in a nation run by a small group of Hutu men. Government forces loyal to these Hutu men have also targeted and killed their Hutu political opponents, including spouses and children.

Since 1975, Rwanda’s Hutu regime has been a formal military ally of France, a relationship that has continued despite the April 6 apparent assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana. On Aril 27, the same day the Vatican issued its moral plea, two top officials from Rwanda’s newly declared government were received by the French foreign ministry. The next day, they were received at the Elysee, the presidential palace.

Rwanda’s dictators have long been welcome in Paris. One of President Habyarimana’s closest friends abroad was French president Francois Mitterrand, an interventionist throughout Francophone Africa. It has been reported from Kigali that their sons, Christophe Mitterrand and Jean-Pierre Habyarimana, have caroused together in discos on the Left Bank and in Rwanda at the Kigali Nightclub. At the Elysee, Christophe had been his father’s special assistant on African affairs.

While it is unknown if President Mitterrand actually met with Rwanda’s new leaders in the palace, he did receive a January 25 letter from the Human Rights Watch/Arms Project that identified France “as the major military supporter of the government of Rwanda…. providing combat assistance to a Rwandan army guilty of widespread human rights abuses, and failing to pressure the Rwandan government to curb human rights violations.” Mitterrand has yet to respond.

The letter details Rwanda’s purchase of $6 million in arms from Egypt, with the bill still unpaid. France guaranteed the payment for this March 1992 contract, which included 70 mortars, 16,200 mortar bombs, 2000 land mines, 2000 rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives, 450 automatic rifles, and more than one million rounds of ammunition. That’s merely a single transaction. In addition, France has provided troops, advisers, and other weapons.

Rwanda is one of 14 Francophone African nations, almost all of which have military pacts with France. With few resources and less industry, the country’s direct foreign investment is near zero. But like the United States allying with anticommunist states during the Cold War, France has allied with Francophone nations. Some, like Zaire, with 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt, are of economic value. But all of them, as a bloc, give France command of enough votes in the United Nations to enjoy the pretense of being a world power.

Like neighboring Burundi to the south, Rwanda was a Belgian protectorate until independence in 1962. Before then, the Tutsi dominated Rwanda from the 17th century until 1960. The king, nobles, military commanders, and, especially, cattle herders were predominantly Tutsi. Most people among the remainder were Hutu subsistence farmers. Although they have distinct characteristics, Tutsi and Hutu are about as hard to tell apart as northern and southern Italians. Similar to northerners there, Tutsi have generally considered themselves superior.

In 1990, Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), many of them English-speaking, invaded Rwanda from English-speaking Uganda to the north. Belgium stayed relatively neutral, providing only nonlethal military aid to Rwanda. But France rushed in to defend the French-speaking Hutu regime, led by President Habyarimana and a group of men known as the Akazu or “Little House.” Over the next, three years, militant Hutu forces loyal them murdered up to 2000 Tutsi civilians. Although these abuses were documented by an international commission composed of Human Rights Watch/Africa and three Francophone monitoring organizations, France continued to defend Rwanda’s regime.

“Are you saying that the providing of military assistance is a human rights violation?” asked Colonel Cussac, his palm slamming his desk for emphasis. (The colonel, interviewed last June, wouldn’t provide his first name.) Noting that I am an American, the Colonel added, “France and the United States have a common history, for example, in Vietnam.”

More recent cases of intervention are also similar. France formally supported negotiations between Rwanda’s Hutu government and Tutsi guerrillas in the 1990s, much as the United States allegedly backed negotiations in the 1980s between El Salvador’s government and the guerrillas. But representatives of all the non-French Western diplomatic missions in Kigali said that France sought a clear victory for President Habyarimana and the Little House. “Cussac is a man in favor of a military solution,” said one European chief-of-mission. “They continue to defend and sustain the regime.”

But on April 12, France closed its embassy in Kigali and its military assistance mission. Having armed the government and the party-led militias, who are most responsible for the massacres, France fled (as did most of the 2500 United Nations troops), leaving behind a bloodbath, which also renewed the war between the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels. Even more astonishing, the French government has hardly said a word about a country whose fate it largely shaped. While the U.S. State Department studies the historic outbreak of “savagery” in Rwanda and the Vatican charges genocide, France keeps silent.

Last year, French soldiers manned checkpoints around Kigali. While some were armed with WASP 58 shoulder-fired rocket launchers, others demanded passing Rwandans to present their apartheid-like identification cards. The IDs were stamped Hutu (85 percent of the population), Tutsi, or Twa (hunters and potters, about 1 per cent of the population).

Inside Kigali checkpoints were manned by Rwandan army soldiers. Aside from the capital’s few taxis, most vehicles on the streets were army jeeps, French armored vehicles, and Land Cruisers belonging to foreign relief organizations. Getting a job with one of them, becoming a military officer, or being a friend or collaborator of President Habyarimana or the Little House were the main paths of advancement.

Photos of Habyarimana, by law, had been posted everywhere, even in the relief organizations. But when I arrived last summer, many portraits had been taken down. Rwanda’s political space was finally opening to Hutu opposition parties, and the Tutsi guerrillas were respecting the ceasefire. Yet Hutu opposition leaders were also being assassinated. While French and Rwandan officials alike blamed the RPF for these political killings, and other diplomats and surviving Hutu opposition leaders suspected the Little House.

“Shadow groups are behind the violence,” said Dr. Dismas Nsengiyaremye, one of several opposition party leaders. “Take the example of the mafia. Their chief may recruit from churches, the government, or private companies, which allow him to conduct criminal activities without being seen. Here, the shadow groups are able to build connections to carry out criminal activities with impunity.”

Last June, Charles Nzabagerageza, a government minister who admitted to being a member of the Little House, denied any government responsibility for the Escadrons de la Mort (death squads), as they became known: “[The accusations are] the result of whimsical minds, fabricated by a newspaper, and inspired by certain political groups for purposes which are political.”

My month-long visit to Rwanda left me with images that recur in dreams. On a Sunday visit to a military hospital, for example, I saw two soldiers who had been wounded the week before. One suffered an open femur fracture and gangrene. The other’s blood was soaking through old gauze wrapped around his stomach. I asked a recovering one-legged soldier, “Why aren’t these men being treated?”

“Oh.” he said. “The doctors don’t work weekends.”

On another day, Colonel Deogratias Nsabimana, who died with President Habyarimana in the April 6 plane crash, waved a stack of letters from Amnesty International activists at me. He wanted to know why he kept getting all these letters, worrying about prisoners of conscience in Rwanda’s jails. Despite his bewilderment, Colonel Nsabimana struck me as a serious military professional. There were some moderate officers in the Rwandan army.

Regardless, soldiers under them have long been notorious for their banditry. An American relief organization director told me that he was uncomfortable placing Western staff women near bases. Consisting of 5000 soldiers in 1990, before France financed its expansion, the Rwandan army had grown to more than 30,000 men. While weakly trained, some troops were armed with Egyptian-made Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles and superior South African R-4 automatic rifles.

Over the same period, the RPF grew from 7000 to perhaps 15,000 guerrillas. Many carry Romanian Kalashnikovs and wear East German rain-pattern-camouflage uniforms. While many weapons were bought on the open market, Uganda donated to the RPF most of its other arms, including Soviet-made Katyusha multiple rocket launchers; landing in succession about 10 yards apart in fewer than five seconds per volley, their rockets spread shrapnel over an area wider and longer than a football field.

At their base camp near Mulindi in northern Rwanda during last year’s cease-fire, I saw RPF guerrillas marching shirtless and singing Tutsi folk and war songs. They appeared to be a well-trained and highly motivated resistance movement. Some of their fighters and most of their leaders spoke English. Most came from refugee families who had fled Rwanda before its independence in 1962, when an earlier wave of Hutu attacks had killed 20,000 Tutsi and driven at least 150,000 to neighboring countries. Today, about 200,000 of them and their descendants live in Uganda. They have competed — sometimes violently — with its citizens, and suffered under both dictators Idi Amin and A. Milton Obote.

But in 1986, a guerrilla army led by a defected defense minister named Yoweri Museveni overthrew Uganda’s, government. About 2000 Rwandan Tutsi, including Paul Kagame, fought with him. Museveni later put Kagame in charge of Ugandan military intelligence. In October 1990, more than half of the RPF’s invasion force, most of its weapons, and nearly all its leaders came directly out of the Ugandan army. President Museveni claims — still — that the deserters “stole” all the weapons they took with them. Kagame is currently the RPF top commander. At the RPF in Mulindi, Toni (his nom de guerre), an educated 30-year-old man with high cheekbones and a very soft manner of speaking, was the intelligence officer appointed to debrief me. Although soldiers served and saluted him, he claimed to be just another faithful recruit: “[What we] want is not necessarily to go back to [Rwanda], but to have a sense of national identity, to have citizenship, and the protection of the Rwandan flag.” That may be true for Toni. But many RPF guerrillas told me that they and their families want immediate repatriation.

The renewal of Rwanda’s conflict came when the prospect for peace never seemed better: President Habyarimana had signed a peace accord with RPF leaders, and he had agreed to divide cabinet posts equally among them, the Hutu opposition, and the Little House. The Little House had never before shared power. Its members had created the Presidential Guard and ruling party militias.

Shortly after President Habyarimana was killed in his plane as it approached Kigali airport April 6, Little House officials declared themselves in charge. While some of them have said that Tutsi RPF guerrillas shot down the president’s plane, the RTLM radio station the Little House controls said Belgian peacekeepers fired a rocket that brought the plane down. The assassination provoked a popular uprising, the Little House maintains.

Belgium’s foreign minister, William Claes, however, said Hutu extremists assassinated the president in a palace coup. Belgian troops reported seeing a rocket fired from the direction of the Kanombe army base just east of the airport; further east are the headquarters of the Presidential Guard. Within minutes of the crash, armed militia loyal to the Little House set up roadblocks in Kigali. Hours later, officials from Belgium and elsewhere said, Presidential Guard units killed three opposition party cabinet members, including then interim prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. She was murdered with 10 Belgian peacekeepers who had tried to save her.

For months, RTLM announcers had been inciting Hutu militiamen against Tutsi: “The grave is only half-full. Who is going to fill it up?” Since the president’s assassination, RTLM has been “calling on militias to step up the killing of civilians,” according to UN spokesman Abdul Kabia in Kigali. Three weeks after the killings began, RTLM radio announced that Thursday, May 5 (when President Habyarimana was scheduled to be buried), would be the target date to finish “the clean-up” of Tutsi.

“When it comes to horror, this is one of the worst situations we have ever seen,” said Tony Burgener, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. (For diplomatic reasons, ICRC officials rarely comment on the record.) When the slaughter of the Hutu opposition and Tutsi families began, the main body of Rwandan army forces did not necessarily join in. Broadcast from Kigali, the army’s radio said that “angry soldiers” had engaged in “shameful criminal acts.” But expecting an RPF offensive, commanding officers failed to stop anyone from killing anybody.

When the bloodletting began, an RPF force of about 600 men was camped out in Kigali. The main body force of RPF fighters was still in and around Mulindi, 32 miles north. They began marching south. Destroying army positions along the way, they reached Kigali within five days. That day, April 11, French officials said they had no plans to leave. But the next day after the RPF began attacking Kigali, the French left.

Departing, French Legionnaire advisers predicted the government’s fall, as did American intelligence experts. But while Tutsi RPF guerrillas secured the north central corridor from Uganda to Kigali, Hutu militiamen and their mobs’ spread south, west, and east, killing more Tutsi families. Rather than then seizing control of a Kigali stacked with corpses, the RPF declared a cease-fire, albeit short-lived since it was contingent on the government stopping the killings. But in doing so, RPF commander Kagame wanted to show the world that his force was disciplined and obedient. Since then, some RPF guerrillas have fought the army, while the rest have pursued the militias.

The RPF now controls at least half the country, and the fighting is fiercer than ever, especially in and around Kigali.

Although I lived in Kigali for a month last year, I find it difficult to imagine the current violence. But I still can clearly picture certain people. One is journalist Sixbert Musangamfura, the editor of Isibo, a weekly newspaper. During an RPF offensive last year the Rwandan army confiscated a Mercedes-Benz truck with Ugandan license plates. Uganda denied, and still denies, supporting the RPF. Although a Tutsi, like the RPF rebels, Sixbert confirmed the Rwandan army’s account: By doing so, he helped France and Rwanda find a smoking gun, confirming their claim that Uganda supported the RPF. Nonetheless, after April 6, French-backed Hutu forces killed Sixbert, probably for being Tutsi. [CORRECTION: Sixbert Musangamfura, in fact, survived the genocide and has since relocated to Brussels.] Among the dozen Rwandans whose cards are in my Rolodex, only two are known to be alive.

© Copyright 1994 Frank Smyth

Who Killed Guatemala’s Leading Anthropologist?

Original article can be found here.

The Chief Investigator Is Dead, Key Testimony Has Been Recanted, and the Primary Suspect Is Missing, but American and Guatemalan Officials Promise Justice

GUATEMALA CITY — Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang was Guatemala’s most respected anthropologist. Her work with the country’s indigenous refugees — displaced by the military’s severe counter-insurgency practices — was internationally renowned. But on September 11, 1990, the petite, 40-year-old ethnic Chinese woman was attacked upon leaving her office here. Her assailants had been conspicuously watching her for at least a week. One or her attackers, cleaned his weapon, described in one account as a “Rambo” knife, in her blouse, before leaving her with 27 deep puncture wounds.

The crime’s investigation has become a test case to see whether the rule of law can be applied in Guatemala. Both American and Guatemalan officials recognize that its outcome is likely to determine future foreign aid relations. ‘When President [Jorge] Serrano came to office [in January] he did promise that he would do something, and I think he’s beginning to deliver on the promise, and we are very, very pleased,” U.S. ambassador Thomas Stroock said in taped interview on July 4.

When she was killed, Mack had been collaborating with Georgetown University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Ford Foundation. The grisly crime produced outrage worldwide. Guatemalan newspapers still regularly receive paid ads from social scientists and human rights organizations in Canada, Europe, and the United States demanding a serious investigation. President Serrano, also on July 4, assured an American congressional delegation about the Mack case, “We are doing things, not just saying things.”

But one month later, on August 5, the chief homicide investigator, Jost Miguel Merida Escobar, himself was gunned down. His own criminal report on the Mack case — obtained by the Voice — he inexplicably never ratified. Witnesses he interviewed have since recanted their testimony. A suspect that he first identified is believed to be dead or out of the country. And an alleged military intelligence file on the murdered anthropologist is being withheld from court authorities.

As a result, non-American Western diplomats and investigators from Guatemala’s semiautonomous Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman say that many obstacles remain to solving the Mack murder. As in the November 1989 Jesuit murder case in neighboring El Salvador, military and other government officials are actively undermining the Mack investigation, they say.

Mack’s colleagues in Guatemala believe she was murdered on the orders of Guatemala’s notorious military intelligence apparatus. “We have no doubt that this was the work of the G-2, the counterintelligence body of the army,” attorney Ronalth Ochaeta, from the Catholic archdiocese’s human rights office, told a visiting congressional delegation shortly after the murder.

Mack’s work was highly controversial in Guatemala. The country’s displaced population was created by the army’s “scorched earth” counterinsurgency campaign, which began in the early 1980s. Tens of thousands of people — mostly Indians of Mayan descent — were killed. Up to one million more, in a country of fewer than 9 million, were uprooted. The government has been reluctant even to recognize the existence of the country’s own displaced population; Mack’s research began to document their numbers and conditions.

Independent investigators recognize that they face an uphill battle: Guatemala holds one of Latin America’s worst records for human rights-related murders. No military officer and only a handful of soldiers have been convicted of human rights violations. Government officials admit that the military enjoys impunity even when compared to El Salvador and other Central American nations. Even cases involving American citizens — the November 1989 abduction of Ursuline sister Diana Ortiz and the June 1990 kidnapping/murder of rancher Michael Devine, for example — remain unsolved.

On August 5, chief investigator Merida was shot to death only 150 yards from his own Police Headquarters in Guatemala City. Merida had already assumed a controversial role in the investigation. In the original criminal report compiled last September, Merida, along with another police detective, implicated undercover military units in the Mack murder. One witness quoted in their original report testified that he recognized one of the assailants as being from an intelligence office attached to the military high command. The witness had worked for 23 years in the state security forces, independent investigators say. But this testimony was omitted from the police report before being sent to the court. The witness has since recanted his own statement — and, before he died, Merida refused to ratify his own report.

At the time, American and Guatemalan officials dismissed these irregularities, arguing that the anthropologist’s murder was most likely a “common crime.” Ambassador Stroock — a political appointee of the Bush administration who was a school chum of the president’s at Yale — wrote personal letters to American academics who had denounced the Mack murder in the Guatemalan press, asserting that the crime was not politically motivated. President Serrano, on March 1, 1991, circulated an official report to members of the European diplomatic corps that suggested that Mack “had done some hard-currency business on the black market and had been the target of persecution by delinquents.”

But few if any diplomats were persuaded. Said one, “The [government’s] whole description of that case was scandalous.”

Three months later, under intense international pressure, the government officially reversed its position, and American officials have since followed suit. On June 17, 1991, Guatemalan attorney general Aciscio Valladares officially acknowledged that the crime had a “political” motive and that it had been “programmed,” or premeditated. The attorney general added, “Within the next few days, the results of the developments in this process will be made public, which will clarify the crime.”

On July 4, the government announced — via a newspaper report — that it was issuing an arrest warrant for a suspect in the case Noel de Jesus Beteta Alvarez, a special sergeant major with the Security Section of the Presidential High Command. Strangely, the basis for the charge was the same police report rejected by its own authors. Although Beteta is not mentioned by name in the original report, the testimony that implicated him was recorded September 17, 1991, just six days after the Mack murder.

So far, the government has not explained why it waited up to nine months before trying to arrest Beteta. In interviews the week before Beteta was publicly named, independent investigators and other sources said his identity was already well known. They believe the government intentionally orchestrated the delay. “The fact of too much publicity has made a witness willingly disappear,” noted an investigator from the ombudsman’s office.

Beteta was relieved of his post with the Presidential High Command less than 12 weeks after the Mack murder, according to military documents filed with the court. The documents state that as of November 30, 1990, Beteta “does not enjoy military privilege.” Within a month after being relieved, Beteta mysteriously disappeared. Family members have said they believe he is dead. Others suspect he has fled. Regardless, it seems unlikely he will be prosecuted.

Rather than lead to Beteta’s apprehension, the issuing of a warrant for his arrest seemed more intended to affect international opinion. The day before the arrest order was announced, 16 U.S. congresswomen called for a full investigation in a paid ad in the Guatemalan press. On the morning the arrest order was issued, a prearranged meeting between President Serrano and U.S. senator James Jeffords (Republican, Vermont) and Representative Jim McDermott (Democrat, Washington), who had traveled to Guatemala specifically to monitor progress on the Mack and other human rights cases, was scheduled.

“To find that the name [of the person] had been announced at least at the execution level was very interesting,” Jeffords said in an interview. “[It] indicated that whoever was putting things together did an excellent job to reach what we thought was a significant break in the Myrna Mack case.”

Witnesses quoted in the murdered investigator’s original report indicate that Beteta may very well have been one of Mack’s assassins. However, it is unlikely that Beteta — even if he could be located and tried — acted alone.

The presence of a personal file on Mack compiled by Guatemalan military intelligence suggests that higher authorities may be involved, according to human rights ombudsman Ramiro de Leon Carpio. Carpio has publicly complained that the government is not committed to defending human rights. In July, his investigators made the existence of the Mack file known to a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.

Court officials have formally requested all information on Mack from the Guatemalan ministry of defense. But no military intelligence file on Mack has been turned over, according to court sources.

Senator Jeffords said he raised the file in the July 4 meeting with President Serrano. “We pointed out to the president that the investigator from [the ombudsman’s office] announced that they had found a detailed file on Myrna Mack in the army. It indicated that obviously [the investigation] should go higher.”

In his official response, Serrano told Jeffords, “if there is anyone involved in the higher-ups, we are going to know it through the process. And if there is one, he is going to be punished.” Serrano, as well as senior presidential aides, made it clear that authorities do not now plan to press the investigation any higher. They also failed to explain how they intend to apprehend Beteta — the only suspect currently charged in the crime.

The failure to achieve justice in such cases “demonstrates a lack of political will or sympathy,” said Ombudsman Carpio. “The reign of impunity goes on.””