On February 3rd, I published a brief introduction to a set of gruesome photographs taken by Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Ak). I posted the photographs of bomb victims separately from the introduction, given their extremely graphic and disturbing nature. In the interim, Dr. Catena has given a very moving and powerful interview to Radio France Internationale, which I urge all to listen to carefully (seven minutes | http://goo.gl/WqMXNV). I conducted my own interview with Dr. Catena in March 2013 (http://wp.me/p45rOG-Zw), since the larger news organizations he approached showed no interest his extraordinarily courageous work.
Yesterday, Dr. Catena sent me one more photograph, and I believe I understand why he sent it alone. For there are all too many opportune moments for such photographs following the constant bombing raids in the area of his Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel (near Kauda in the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan), but this photograph stands out. It came identified only in terse terms— “Antonov Bombardment. February 7th, 2015. Near Tess, Nuba Mountains. Civilian 28 years old, father of three”—but it requires little imagination to imagine the impact of his death on his three children, likely all under ten years of age, and his wife, if she has managed to survive the past three and a half years of assaults on civilian lives and livelihoods in the Nuba. Their chances for survival have been dramatically reduced.
This unnamed man is one of thousands of such victims. Dr. Catena alone has treated more than 1,700 such patients at his hospital alone since the outbreak of violence in June 2011, and this represents only the population close enough to travel by foot to Gidel—if they have not been killed outright or died of their wounds on the way to the hospital.
We have known that attacks such as the one that killed this man have been ongoing for more than three and a half years (let us call him “Yusef” to spare him the utter anonymity that is the fate of most victims). The Khartoum regime deliberately sends Antonovs and advanced military jet aircraft to inflict precisely such civilian casualties. We know from the minutes of an August 31, 2014 meeting (http://wp.me/p45rOG-1tC) of the most senior military and security officials of the regime that their goal is to “starve” the people of the Nuba into submission by disrupting agricultural production. This year’s promising sorghum crop—the staple grain of the region—was targeted for burning as part of this starvation campaign (“starve” accurately translates the Arabic original in the minutes).
People live in terror because of the death of people like “Yusef,” often fleeing to caves, ravines, or other countries. And this photograph suggests why terror is a predictably human response:
“Yusef” of Tess in the Nuba Mountains, father of three young children; he was not a soldier and was killed far from any of the fighting that rages in the region.
And yet the international community remains unwilling to do anything to halt such attacks as killed “Yusef” and threaten his family and indeed all in the Nuba Mountains; the international community is also unwilling to compel Khartoum to permit a humanitarian corridor to reaching the more than one million human being in desperate need of relief aid in the Nuba and Blue Nile. Condemnations of Khartoum’s actions, when they occur, are meaningless: nothing attaches to the dismay that comes in unctuous and inconsequential form. The impunity felt by the regime is correspondingly increased.
The Europeans in general prefer to discuss trade and development rather than halting carnage in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Darfur. There have even been suggestions from senior officials in countries such as Germany, Holland, and France of the possibility of debt relief for Khartoum, despite continuous profligate expenditures on advanced weapons and the hugely expensive conduct of three wars. The security and military budgets together represent at least 50 percent of national budget expenditures; estimates range as high as 70 percent. It would be hard to imagine a worse candidate for debt relief, especially given the extraordinary levels of corruption that have long prevailed within the regime. Transparency International ranks Sudan 177 out 179 countries surveyed in its annual corruption survey (http://www.transparency.org/country#SDN).
The UN is hopeless, as is the African Union. Although a humanitarian corridor was first proposed by the AU three years ago, Khartoum has agreed and the balked, agreed and the balked…and is prepared to continue this absurd diplomatic dance indefinitely. The pre-condition is unconditional surrender by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North. The UN Secretariat is paralyzed, unwilling even to speak honestly about Sudan’s crises, and the African Union Peace and Security Council is far too cozy with the Khartoum regime to play any effective role in halting or diminishing aerial attacks on civilians.
The Obama administration sees Khartoum primarily through the lens of counter-terrorism intelligence, even as the regime boasts of how little it actually gives the U.S. In the August 31 minutes, Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein comments:
“America is facing the crisis of the ISIS and the other Jihadist movements that are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) Jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed Jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody owns a data-base on that as the one we have. We release only limited information to the Americans according to request, and the price is the armed movements file.”
No one in the Obama administration has commented publicly on this or other extraordinary revelations in the August 31 minutes; and a State Department official made it clear to me that there would be no comment, even as we may be sure that the administration has certainly ascertained that the minutes are authentic (see http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5). To do so would be highly inconvenient for a Sudan policy that allows the lust for counter-terrorism to distort broader Sudan policy. It would certainly be more than inconvenient if the Obama administration were to explain exactly what Hussein means when he speaks about the “price” for the counter-terrorism intelligence as being “the armed movements file.” Has the Obama administration actually given the regime intelligence assistance in its campaigns against the broad Sudan Revolutionary Front?
There are many questions the Obama administration has avoided, or not been compelled to face. Why has allowed Foreign Minister Ali Karti been given a multi-year, multi-entry visa to the U.S.—even as U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Donald Booth, can’t secure a visa to Sudan for himself? Why has Ibrahim Ghandour come to the U.S.? (See http://wp.me/p45rOG-1AY.) Why can’t Foreign Minister Karti handle whatever bilateral negotiations are underway? Does it not matter to the administration that Ghandour is revealed in the August 31 minutes as the point-person in rigging the April 2015 “re-election” of President Omar al-Bashir?
The truth is that the revelations of the August 31 minutes are too embarrassing of U.S. policy, still guided as it is by the assertion by former special envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman:
“We do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 3 December 2011 | http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=27543 )
This is simply preposterous, as National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, certainly knows full well. Where is her voice in challenging the absurd premise represented in Lyman’s remarks? Or in condemning the atrocities that are accelerating in Darfur? And what of U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power? Why is she not an “upstander” in the face of the vast suffering in Sudan, the direct result of actions by a genocidal regime?
Unwilling to hold Khartoum accountable for it countless atrocity crimes, the U.S., the Europeans, the African Union, and the hopelessly compromised UN Security Council are all ensuring that there will be many more “Yusefs”—in the Nuba, in Blue Nile, and in Darfur.