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A Marine's View of the Sudan Crisis

Former Marine Capt. Brian Steidle has been in the Darfur region of Western Sudan monitoring the humanitarian crisis there for the African Union. Steidle says there's no doubt that Sudan is in the midst of genocide.


Other segments from the episode on March 17, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 17, 2005: Interview with Brian Steidle; Interview with John Prendergast.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Brian Steidle discusses his work as an operational
adviser to the African Union monitoring team in Darfur, Sudan

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Brian Steidle was a witness to crimes against humanity in Sudan.
He's a 28-year-old former Marine captain who worked as an operational adviser
to the African Union monitoring team in Darfur from September to early
February. He traveled with the team as they investigated violations of the
cease-fire in Darfur. He had previously worked with a private contractor
hired by the US State Department to monitor the cease-fire between the
government in Khartoum and the rebels in the south who had been in a civil war
for over 20 years. That same private contractor offered Steidle the position
to work with the African Union monitoring team that was reporting on a
separate conflict in Darfur, which is part of western Sudan. He left the
monitoring team after several months, frustrated by its lack of resources and
its narrow mandate, which was to monitor and report on crimes but not to
intervene. Steidle began to think he would be more effective describing what
he witnessed to American legislators and to the American people.

Tell us about one of the times you arrived while a massacre was in progress.

Captain BRIAN STEIDLE (US Marine Corps, Retired; Former Operational Adviser,
African Union): I would have to say that the village of Labado--it was a
village of 20,000 people, and the attack had happened the previous night and
through into the morning, and we'd arrived in the morning. And we were still
standing there at the edge of the village with a Sudanese general who's in
charge of the government forces and the Janjaweed forces that were there. And
we estimated there were maybe 4,500 total between the government and the
Janjaweed. And we were standing at the edge of this village of 20,000 and it
was burning in front of us, and there were--you know, the Janjaweed were
coming in from left to right and loading up their pack animals, horses,
camels, donkeys, and then heading back out to the left and stacking in huge
piles and dividing up all of the loot.

The village was being burnt in front of us, and there were shots being fired
in front of us. We could not see who they were shooting at because the
village was so large and we were only on one side of it. But we wanted to
enter to, one, see what was going on, to get firsthand evidence; two, to see
if there were any injured people in the village that we could try to get out
and get back to medical help. But we were unable to go in. The general had
told us that he couldn't guarantee our safety if we had gone into the village
and if we'd gone in the village that most likely we would have been shot.

GROSS: You mean he was telling you that if you went in, his men would kill

Capt. STEIDLE: He didn't state it as directly as that, but, yes, that's what
we believed. Maybe not his men directly, but the Janjaweed forces that were
in there. We don't differentiate between the government and the Janjaweed.
It was, you know, the Janjaweed and the government are the same; it's just
having two different units, maybe, you know, an army group that has, you know,
one group of regular army soldiers and one group of special forces soldiers,
and they'd be working together on a, you know, certain operation. And of
course, you know, we're there unarmed, and he says something like that and
there's nothing that we can do. We say, `OK, we're not gonna go in there.'

We tried to talk to him and, you know, I specifically asked him--I said, you
know, `What's your mission?' And he said, `Well, my mission is to protect the
civilians and to open up this road so that commercial traffic can travel on
it.' And I said, `Well, I don't understand, then. You know, there's--these
guys, surely they're yours. So why don't you stop them?' And he said, `Well,
they're not my guys. Those aren't my guys.' I said, `That guy is. Surely
that guy is. You know, he's in military uniform.' And he says, `No, no, he's
not mine. He's not mine.'

And a vehicle pulls out of the compound behind us and it drives around to the
left and enters the village, and I said, `Surely these soldiers are yours.'
He said, `Yes, those are mine. They're going to fetch water.' The vehicle
stops 75 meters in front of us. Soldiers dismount, they go into a hut, they
loot the hut, they burn the hut and they continue. I said, `Those are your
soldiers. Why don't you stop them?' He said, `Oh, they're not my soldiers.'
So that is--the continuously change the story as things go on.

GROSS: Have you--had you ever encountered that kind of arrogance of power
before where someone could just tell you this complete bold-faced lie and
everything you're witnessing proves it's a lie, but he's get the power and he
can keep lying and there's nothing you can do about it? Was this your first
time experiencing something like that?

Capt. STEIDLE: No, no. Every single time that we interviewed one of the
government commanders, the government of Sudan commanders, that's the way it
was. They would tell us that the bullets that they were firing had caught the
huts on fire and that that's why it had burned, although the grass around the
compound and around the hut were burned, but the grass in the middle of the
road was not burned. And they would tell us that it had transferred from one
to the other, just a basic lie.

They would tell us that the helicopter gunships had escorted them there and
they hadn't fired on the village, and a lot of times we couldn't find any
evidence of shrapnel in the village. We could not find it. We had no idea
because there was a lot of evidence from talking to the people, from us seeing
them leave the airport at a certain time, to us seeing wounds that, you know,
would only come from helicopter gunships. And we couldn't find evidence.
They would collect a lot of the shrapnel themselves.

We would go to the IDPs, the internally displaced persons, the refugees in
camps, and ask them if they have evidence of the gunships being used, and they
would bring out piles and piles of shrapnel, you know, a meter long by a meter
wide, sitting six to 12 inches tall, just shrapnel. And they would--`That's
not from us. That's not ours. I don't know where they got this from.' Just
bold-faced lies.

GROSS: There were times when you were able to get physically deeper into the
conflict and see what was happening, you know, times when there wasn't a
general who was preventing you from going in. Tell us what you were able to
see during one of those times and what you think being able to write a report
may have accomplished. Start by telling us what you saw.

Capt. STEIDLE: When we would enter these villages, we would see everything
from, you know, the villages being completely burnt down of this village,
20,000, several that I don't--you know, it's too hard to try to figure out how
many villages I saw burnt down in the six months I was there. We'd see scores
of people who had been killed. We would conduct interviews with women who had
been gang-raped, women who had been raped inside an IDP camp that's supposed
to be protected by the government, where the Janjaweed would enter the IDP
camp and rape the women. We would go into villages where people had locked in
their huts before the huts were set on fire. We would see evidence of
torture. People had their ears cuts off, their eyes plucked out, a man who
had been castrated and left to bleed to death, infants who had been shot by
government forces. Those are things that we would see nearly every day.

GROSS: So you'd see this and write a report. Who was the report for?

Capt. STEIDLE: The report was for the African Union.

GROSS: Now did the government have any input--the government of Sudan have
any input into the reports?

Capt. STEIDLE: They would sometimes not agree with the conclusions and the
recommendations that the African Union team member would make. And they had
an opportunity, and a lot of times they wouldn't want to sign the reports.
And they could make...

GROSS: Were they supposed to sign the report?

Capt. STEIDLE: Yes, they were supposed to sign the reports. And what we
finally were able to do is we were able to have them sign the report but say
that they want to write an addendum to the report, and they could write the
addendum on why they didn't agree with the recommendations or agree with the
conclusion. We would attach that to the report and then send it up.

For example, on our report on the village of Marlowe(ph), where we couldn't
find any impacts from the rockets or the gunship but we found lots of
shrapnel, we knew the helicopters were flying over there because a lot of the
aid organizations and the UN were reporting that they were flying over that
area that day and firing. We saw evidence of the wounds on the people. But
the government of Sudan said because there weren't any impacts, then the
gunships obviously didn't fire. So that's what they would say.

GROSS: There weren't any impacts?

Capt. STEIDLE: We did not find the impacts from the actual rockets that hit
the ground. Sometimes you didn't because they used a different type of
rocket. Instead of destroying a hut or destroying a vehicle on a
high-explosive rocket, they would use an anti-personnel rocket. Each
helicopter gunship carries four rocket pods, and each rocket pod, about 20
rockets, and each of those rockets carry about 500--several hundred, at least,
of these flechettes, which is basically a two-inch nail with a little fin on
the back like a dart. And it would fire out of the rocket and the nose cone
would expel and all these darts would come out like a shotgun round. And they
used those a lot of the times, and they would not leave an impact on the
ground; they would just cause mass casualties in the civilian population.

GROSS: When you interviewed the government and the Janjaweed militiamen about
the destruction of villages and the massacres of people, if there were times
when they didn't deny any responsibility at all, what did they tell you about
their motivation?

Capt. STEIDLE: They would be very, very blunt with us. There was one time
in the village of Adwa where we were talking to a large group of the
Janjaweed, and they said that some of their camels had been stolen and that
they had tracked them down to this village, to Adwa. And that's why they had
attacked it and burned half of it down, killed scores of people, and that they
had now tracked them to these other villages. And they named them for us.
They named, you know, the next four villages in a line, and they said, `We're
going to go to those villages. If we don't get our camels back, we're going
to go to those villages. We're going to kill all the people, we're going to
burn the village down, we're going to rape all the women and we're going to
steal everything that we can.' They'd tell us bluntly right to our faces
that's what they were going to do.

And they did it. They went to the next two villages. The African Union was
able to stop the last attack on the final village of the four that they had
named. But they went to those next two villages, one of which, the village of
Hamata, there were no rebel forces in the village. They surrounded the
village, and the Janjaweed militia, backed by the Reserve Police Force from
the government of Sudan, and they also had helicopter gunships and Antonovs
flying over both. They surrounded the entire village with the intent of
killing everybody. They killed 107 women and children that day.

GROSS: Was there a typical pattern that the Janjaweed and the government
forces used when they decided to destroy a village?

Capt. STEIDLE: The majority of the time, an Antonov aircraft would go in,
circle over high above. The helicopter gunships would normally come in after
that, strafe the village, flying low, firing their weapons at anything that
moved. And shortly behind that would follow the government forces and the
Janjaweed. And the Janjaweed sometimes were in vehicles of the government,
and most of the time they were on their horses and their camels. When they do
the attack on the village, the ones that were on camels would dismount because
a camel is not as agile as a horse, so they would dismount the camels, leave
them on the outskirts of the town, and the men on horses and the other people
on foot would then enter the village with the government forces, killing
everybody and attempting to burn everything down.

One thing that I did leave out is that before any of that happens, we always
knew that there was an attack ongoing because the cell phones would go down.
The government of Sudan has control over the cell phones, and before the
helicopters fly, before the Antonov takes off, they would shut the cell phone
systems down so that there would be no warning from the people that saw the
helicopters to the village that was going to be attacked. And we would always
try to figure out when that happened, when the cell phones went down, one, how
long it was going to be before the helicopters took off and, two, which way
they were going so we could try to get there before them so we could try to,
you know, attempt to stop the attack or to get there as the attack's ongoing
so we could document what was happening.

GROSS: Did you have a sense at all how much pure sadism was entering into
this as opposed to, you know, some sense of revenge that they felt that they
could use to justify their actions?

Capt. STEIDLE: You know, I don't really know about that. I mean, you'd look
at these people and you would swear you were looking in the devil's eyes.
They have no remorse for what they do. You know, it's pretty chilling to look
at these people and say--you know, they can sit here and they can joke with me
and they can, you know, sit across the ground as we're sitting on the ground
talking to each other, yet, you know, they just killed, you know, a
two-year-old baby by smashing its head in and not feel anything by it. It's
pretty chilling.

GROSS: My guest is Brian Steidle. He was an adviser to the African Union
monitoring team in Darfur. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Brian Steidle, and he is a
former Marine captain who worked as an adviser for the African Union
monitoring team in Darfur. And since returning from Darfur, he's been
speaking to members of Congress; he even spoke to Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice.

Were there times where you stepped out of your role as monitor and did
something that you felt could help in some way?

Capt. STEIDLE: Yes. We did a number of things, the African Union that
monitors on the ground, to attempt to help the people. We would conduct
patrols up a road and notify the aid organizations, the UN, to pass the word
that we are leaving at this time to go to this place and that anybody who
wants to go, you know, can follow on with us. We weren't specifically--in our
mandate it doesn't specifically say `escorting aid convoys,' yet we would put
one of our vehicles up front and one of our vehicles at the end, and they
would sit in the middle and we would go up the road. That wasn't specifically
in our mandate; we would do that to help them out.

One instance specifically was the attack on Adwa. I didn't go to the site; my
team did not. But they Janjaweed were on one side of the village attacking
and burning, and the African Union teams were on the other, and there were a
lot that were both walking and lying wounded. And in our mandate, we're not
allowed to carry civilians in our helicopters, people not of the African
Union. But, you know, we felt it necessary at the time to take these wounded
people and get them to medical care.

So we loaded up the helicopters with the wounded personnel and did a number of
trips back to our camp, where we turned our dining facilities into a triage
ward. We had members from the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red
Cross. We had members of MSF, Medecins Sans Frontieres. We had our medic.
In addition to that, our protection force that was with us, the Rwandese at
the time, had a medic with them. And also one of our monitors was a former
paramedic before he came out, and he was also doing treating. So we pulled
everybody we possibly could together to do triage in our dining facility to
try to help, you know, save as many people as we could.

GROSS: Now you mentioned helping aid convoys by putting one vehicle from the
African Union in front of the convoy and another in the rear. But as a
monitoring team, you weren't allowed to carry weapons, right?

Capt. STEIDLE: We were not able to carry weapons. We did have a protection
force with us, and their job was to protect our camp and to protect us. So of
course, if we were under attack, if our vehicles were under attack, then they
would have been able to respond.

GROSS: Did you feel like being part of a monitoring team from the African
Union made you safer or made you a target?

Capt. STEIDLE: You know, both sides. It made us safer and it made us, you
know, more of a target. Safer because, you know, from a government
standpoint, government of Sudan standpoint and a rebel standpoint, they knew
that the eyes of the world were on us and what we were doing, and that there
was a lot of countries that were involved in the AU's mission there. And if
they had attacked us or done something to us, then they would have, you know,
been seen as, you know, the bad guys from the entire world.

Now on the other side, the Janjaweed militia, of course, are not party to the
cease-fire agreement, and the government considers them not theirs. So they
would, on a number of times, you know, take shots at us when we would get too
close. They didn't want to talk to us. They'd shoot at us to warn us off.
And also on that side, I would have to say that the villagers again are not
party to the cease-fire. Many of them are armed, and sometimes they would
become frustrated with the African Union. They wouldn't understand what our
mandate was, wouldn't understand what our limitations were.

There was one incident where the village I just spoke of, Labado, had been
attacked, and the next village on line was Mahajariya(ph). And my team had
showed up there, and the people of the village wanted us to go find 85
individuals from the village of Labado who apparently had been taken by the
government of Sudan and the Arab militia to some wadi or a riverbed nearby,
and some had been executed and the others apparently were lying under the
trees. And we couldn't get any more information from them except that it was
in a nearby wadi.

This is, you know, a vast, vast land, and we needed to know at least a
cardinal direction. They said north, and we said, `OK, how far?' They
couldn't give us the information. We said, `Well, we're going to go and we're
going to look for them. We're going to go circle above.' And they said, `No,
you're going to stay here as insurance, and we're going to take your
helicopter, and we're going to get our people and bring them back here.' And
so it took a few minutes, probably 15 minutes, for us to talk to the
villagers, talk to the rebels that were there separate from the villagers, and
convince them, the rebel groups, the Eselayem Najem(ph), to convince the
villagers that we needed to go to do our mission.

GROSS: How frustrating was that to be there to help them, and then they want
to almost hold you hostage and take your helicopter?

Capt. STEIDLE: Well, it was very frustrating, but you have to look at the
situation from their eyes. You have to see that village after village after
village has been attacked. These people have been driven from their homes.
They've been in an IDP camp and been driven out of an IDP camp and then been
in another IDP camp and then been driven out of that one. And they're
extremely frustrated. And up until, you know, very recently, I would say the
end of January, the African Union has been unable to stop the fighting. They
have been unable to protect the civilians. The rebels have been unable to
protect the civilians because they are extremely--they are outnumbered and
they don't have the firepower to defend the government attacks.

GROSS: Now since returning from Darfur, you've met with various senators,
including Senator Brownback, and you've met with Condoleezza Rice. What is
your ambition in speaking with them?

Capt. STEIDLE: Nobody has seen a government of Sudan helicopter attacking a
village and been able to come back and talk about it. I have. Nobody's seen,
you know, these villages being burnt down in front of their eyes and seeing
government of Sudan soldiers looting, you know, shooting the locks off of
shops, going in, taking stuff out and coming, you know, and stealing stuff out
of a store. Well, I have. And that's what I hope to do is to give them a
firsthand account of what is happening on the ground, not secondhand,
thirdhand stories, but this is what I have seen. Here are my pictures. You
know, look at this. These are the atrocities that are happening on the
ground. Now let's--you know, we need to try to make this more of a priority.
I think that we need to take the next step and try to put more pressure on
the UN and the rest of the countries in the world to do what's right.

GROSS: Do you think you will ever go back to Darfur?

Capt. STEIDLE: No, I do not believe I'll ever be able to get a visa to go to
Sudan, which, you know, I had a lot of really good friends there. There's
some very good people in Sudan, and I would like to see them again. But I
don't believe I'll ever be able to go back there. And if I did get a visa to
go to Sudan, I don't believe that it would be safe for me to return to Sudan
at this point.

GROSS: Well, Brian Steidle, good luck to you and thank you very much for
talking with us.

Capt. STEIDLE: Thank you.

GROSS: Brian Steidle is a former Marine captain who worked with the African
Union monitoring team in Darfur from last September to February. More on
Sudan in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, we discuss the history of the crisis in Darfur and why the
UN Security Council has been deadlocked on how to respond. We'll talk with
John Prendergast, who has 20 years of experience working in conflict
resolution in Africa and is an adviser to the president of the International
Crisis Group.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: John Prendergast discusses the current situation in the
Darfur region of Sudan

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The UN has called the mass killing, rape and destruction of villages in Darfur
crimes against humanity, but the UN Security Council remains deadlocked over
what to do about it and today postponed a vote on a Sudan resolution. My
guest John Prendergast has been working on conflict resolution in Africa for
about 20 years and is the special adviser to the president of the
International Crisis Group. His most recent trip to Sudan was in January.

What have been the big sticking points at the UN Security Council over its
resolution on what to do in Sudan?

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Special Adviser to the President, International Crisis
Group): Fortunately, there are layers of complexity in the deliberations in
New York now. The first issue, probably the most contentious one, is whether
the crisis in Darfur and the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity that
have been committed there will be referred or not to the International
Criminal Court, to the ICC. And the French lead a European contingent in
demanding that that referral be made. The US, the Bush administration,
famously is viscerally opposed to the ICC and, of course, opposed to its
referral, even though the US has been out front on the demand that there be
some form of accountability for the crimes that have been committed.

GROSS: I think the US doesn't want to be a party to the International
Criminal Court because it's afraid that Americans might someday be tried in

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Particularly the Defense Department. When I worked in the
Clinton administration, this was an issue that transcended both Democrat and
Republican parties; that the concern exists that American troops serving in
peacekeeping missions could be brought up on charges. I don't think that's
possible personally, but enough people do that it became a very strong concern
within the Clinton administration and has become a matter of ideology in the
Bush administration in terms of opposition to the court.

GROSS: So has the American refusal to sign any resolution that includes the
International Criminal Court--has that been the major sticking point?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah. That's probably the biggest one in terms of the first
step of getting a resolution. It's related very directly to the fact that the
US is strongly supporting the imposition of targeted sanctions against regime
officials in Khartoum, whereas the Europeans are very strongly opposed to
that. So you have what is basically a standoff between the Europeans and
Americans over both the ICC, which the Europeans support, and the targeted
sanctions, which the Americans support.

But lingering in the background, of course, and smiling broadly are the
Chinese and the Russians, who both are willing--or at least say they are
willing--at this point to veto any bill that comes out--any resolution that
comes out demanding sanctions or referral to the ICC. So there are two layers
of obstacles we're dealing with here on the issues of accountability: the
European-American divide, as well as the threat of the Chinese/Russian veto.

GROSS: Now does oil in Sudan have anything to do with how members of the
Security Council are likely to vote?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with it. I think that if
you follow the money trail here, you see that four out of the five members of
the UN Security Council, the US being the lone exception, are invested heavily
or lightly in the Sudan oil sector. Four out of the five, in addition, are
selling arms or brokering arms deals to the government of Sudan. So we have
fairly vested economic interests that, again--if the US doesn't muster the
political will to break the logjam, we simply won't get meaningful
international--meaningful multilateral action on Darfur because of these
economic interests and the political issues related to sovereignty.

GROSS: So if this UN Security Council resolution passes, what would it do to
help stop the crimes against humanity in Darfur?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: It would just simply be a first step, I think. It's a very
weak resolution, by the way. And even if it did pass in its strongest
version, it would just be a parted solution to the international community's
necessary response to the crimes that have been committed in Sudan.

However, if they did pass it, a fairly robust version of the current
resolution, then I think it would begin to alter the calculations of the
regime in Khartoum. At this point two years have passed in which this, what
the Bush administration calls a genocide, has unfolded in western Sudan.
During those two years not one punitive measure has been imposed on the
orchestrator of these crimes, the Sudanese government. And so once you start
slapping scarlet letters on the regime, on the officials of the regime,
through targeted sanctions, like asset freezes and travel bans and an arms
embargo, then you start to affect their calculations.

This is not the Taliban, it's not Saddam Hussein; they're not looking to go
down with the ship. These guys want to be players in the international
system. If they are finally called out in a specific way, in a punitive way,
their behavior will be altered rapidly. It is terribly unfortunate that we
haven't been able to muster the international political will to slap such as a
minor sanction as a travel ban on these guys because I think it would have a
very rapid impact on their actions on the ground in Darfur.

GROSS: My guest is John Prendergast, special adviser to the president of the
International Crisis Group. We'll talk more about Sudan after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is John Prendergast, special adviser to the president of the
International Crisis Group. He's been working on conflict resolution in
Africa for 20 years. We're talking about Sudan.

The civil war in Sudan recently ended--a long civil war was recently ended
through negotiation. How is that civil war connected and how isn't it
connected to the massacres in Darfur?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: There are multiple poles of opposition to the government in
Khartoum. Of course, the regime there in the capital is a minority clique
that took power in a military coup in 1989, represent a very small percentage
of the country. And the southern-based rebellion is the longest-running armed
element of that opposition. In fact, the war went on for 21 years and was
only settled two months ago through--after a very, very long and concerted
diplomatic effort.

Darfur is connected to that very directly in two ways. One, it's a symptom of
a larger malaise in Sudan, which this small clique of people in the center of
the country control most of the power and wealth, so most of the periphery
wants a slice of the pie. And they'll do quite a lot, either militarily or
politically, to challenge that status quo. And so, of course, the people in
Darfur, the people in the east, the people in the far north share the
sentiments of the southerners that they're being cut out.

But secondly, I think, the Darfur conflict is connected to the south because
the way the negotiations unfolded in the south is that they didn't allow--the
negotiators, including the United States, didn't allow any other group in
Sudan to be part of the negotiations. They just had a bilateral forum between
the government and the southern-based rebels. So the Darfurians, who wanted
to be part and parcel of these negotiations, were cut out, basically judged
themselves to have one option, which is to shoot their way into a negotiating
process. So they started their rebellion in early 2003, the armed aspect of
their rebellion, and the rest is history.

GROSS: I'll confess I'm still really confused about what the fighting in
Darfur is really about. You know, I often read that it's about the Arab
migrants vs. the black farmers, but it sounds like it's also really about
larger political issues. So would you give it your best shot at explaining
what the fighting in Darfur is really about, what the bottom line is?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think in the first instance--you know, all these wars are
very complicated, but in the first instance, the people that were able to move
and create an actual armed rebellion were motivated by the fact that they're
being completely cut out of the political and economic structure of the
country; that there is a pie that's been cut up and they're not part of it.
And there's a lot of money flowing in Sudan these days with the oil, and the
power commensurate with that money is very attractive. And people in Darfur
see their chances to have a piece of that slipping away, and that certainly
was a partial motivator.

But I also think there are underlying ethnic and regional and other social
elements to the reason why the war began. There certainly is a history of
rivalry between Arab and non-Arab communities in Darfur. But those rivalries
were being stoked more and more over the last decade by the government because
it has maintained power, like most dictatorships do, through a policy of
divide and rule.

And when the rebellion began, which was a rebellion largely of non-Arab
peoples against the government, it was a very easy decision for the government
to say, `OK. If that's where it's going to come from, then let's arm the most
heinous sort of radical element of the Arab community,' which is the Janjaweed
militias, which represent a very, very small minority of sentiment of the Arab
people in western Sudan. `Let's arm them to go after these people and do the
kind of job the military--and carry out a military strategy of
counterinsurgeny,' which became, in effect, genocidal. And I think that the
combination of these political and economic factors, along with this history
of social division, were the principal ingredients to the conflict cocktail in

GROSS: You know, civil war is one thing, but when you get to near genocide or
what the UN calls crimes against humanity, I mean, that's a level of brutality
and sadism that's, like, above and beyond civil war. Do you have any ideas of
what could help explain the unconscionable brutality that has been going on

Mr. PRENDERGAST: There actually is an internal rationale to the actions the
government has perpetrated during the last two years. They, very clearly,
wanted to send a message in the context of their military operations to other
parts of the country. That message was: `Look here, if you want to oppose
us militarily, this is what you're going to get.' So there was a
predisposition to a very, very strong and incommensurate response to the
rebellion that unfolded in Darfur.

But more importantly, I think, the oldest trick in the book, the oldest
strategy in the book of war is when you fight a counterinsurgency campaign,
you drain the water to catch the fish. You destroy the asset base, the
civilian population base of a rebel group and you ensure that that rebel group
no longer has an ability to gain safe haven, an ability to resupply itself
from a sympathetic civilian population. So what the government of Sudan did
was conduct a military counterinsurgency strategy that literally wiped out the
people from out from under the rebellion. And they stripped out the non-Arab
population of Darfur and forced them into these what are effectively
concentration camps, these displaced camps, throughout western Sudan, thus
denying the rebels their ability to move around, which has crippled their
military capacity.

So it was actually a very successful military strategy, you know, and 2 or 300
years ago people probably would have yawned and said, `What a nice campaign.'
But now we have such a thing as an international human rights movement, we
have international law, we have laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and, of
course, the genocide convention. And the Sudanese government has grotesquely
violated all of those. And, unfortunately, as we've already discussed, the
international community--the response of the international community is
largely what it was 2 or 300 years ago, a big yawn. We haven't done nearly
remotely what is necessary to combat or counter these horrible crimes.

GROSS: Something else that's happened is Rwanda. Members of the
international community were saying, `We can never let anything like that
happen again,' and yet what's happening in Sudan is similar. So what lessons
do you think were learned from Rwanda or could have been learned from Rwanda?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: You know, we learn a lot; we never apply it. I think that
what's happened during the last decade is that the international community,
particularly the United States, has become more and more adept at providing
humanitarian assistance, what are largely Band-Aids, over these crises. And
we spend more and more money and we congratulate ourselves for how generous we
are either in the aftermath of things or even while they're happening.

But with respect to the actual cause of these humanitarian catastrophes, the
horrible human rights abuses that are perpetrated on civilian populations, we
have done not one iota different. Our actions are entirely consistent with
what we did in Rwanda, which is a big zero. And I think, you know, we have a
symbolic force. There was a symbolic force in Rwanda, as we all know, during
those a hundred days. For the last year of the two years for the crisis in
Darfur, we've had a largely symbolic force, the African Union force...

GROSS: You're talking about the African Union? Mm-hmm.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah. And so, you know, I think we know how to do lip
service very well. I think that's the principal lessons. We've learned to
immediately talk about things, immediately say how concerned we are, to even
call genocide by its rightful name, which, of course, the Bush administration
famously did six months ago. But we simply are unwilling--it's not unable;
it's not incapable--we are unwilling to then expend the political capital
necessary to create the kind of policy that would actually confront the
killers, that would actually end the killing.

GROSS: You describe the African Union as a largely symbolic force in Darfur.
Do you think that the problem with the African Union's force is its size or
its mandate?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think the problem is both the size and the mandate, and
the problem is that they are not backed up sufficiently by the United States
and the European Union. The mandate is inadequate, and it needs to be
strengthened. It needs to be--the objective of the force needs to be the
protection of civilians. That needs to be the purpose that we are about right
now, and it is not that.

Secondly, I was stunned by a newspaper account that I saw earlier this week
that the French government, in its application to host the 2012 Olympics in
France, is willing to put 41,000 police officers in Paris alone, while at the
same time the entire world is not yet able to put 2,000 troops on the ground
in Darfur, a region the size of the entire country of France. I mean, the
disparities just slap you in the face in our choices that we make as a society
and as a global community. So I think that the Darfurians are largely left to
fend for themselves.

And the African Union force--I have no doubt about the intentions of the
African Union; it wants to do something good. It wants to help people, it
wants to protect the people. But it's not backed by the international
community, particularly by the Security Council, to do what it needs to be
doing right now, which is protecting people.

GROSS: My guest is John Prendergast, special adviser to the president of the
International Crisis Group. We'll talk more about Sudan after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is John Prendergast, special adviser to the president of the
International Crisis Group. He's been working on conflict resolution in
Africa for 20 years. We're talking about Sudan.

In the '90s, Sudan had become a haven for terrorists. Bin Laden lived there
after leaving Saudi Arabia, before going to Afghanistan. Is it still a haven
for terrorists? And does the chaos and the violence and the crimes against
humanity there now affect it as a place for terrorists?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think there are two really important points to make about
terrorism and Sudan. First is that this--the world's reaction, particularly
led by the United States, to Sudan's role as a supporter of terrorism makes
the point about why aggressive and robust action now could stop the crimes
against humanity in Darfur. Because in the mid-1990s to late 1990s, the US
led a campaign, through the United Nations Security Council, to isolate the
government of Sudan for its support of international terrorism, because of
very small measures being taken through the Security Council, the Sudanese
government changed its behavior almost completely with respect to terrorist
organizations. It kicked bin Laden out of the country. It dismantled the
al-Qaeda infrastructure that had been constructed during the last six years,
from '90 to '96. And it cut a lot of the ties that it had with a number of
other terrorist organizations and individuals. There's empirical evidence
that if it's pressured, it will--the government will change its behavior.
That is a very direct relevance to the situation in Darfur.

The second point that needs to be made about terrorism in Sudan is that our
ongoing--the United States' ongoing relationship with the Sudanese government
to try to address counterterrorism issues has led us to have relationships
with individuals in the Sudanese government hierarchy who are directly
responsible for orchestrating the crimes that have been committed in Darfur.
And I worry that the extent of our relationship on counterterrorism with the
Sudanese government has, in fact, obstructed the United States from taking
more bold and assertive action against the regime for the crimes that it's
committed in Darfur. And I just--we don't--of course, you can't prove intent
on the part of the US government or motivation, but the empirical evidence
exists that the US has been very soft. Outside of rhetoric, the US has been
very soft in its actual dealings with the Khartoum regime and the action that
it has undertaken in Darfur.

GROSS: What do you think the international community could do to stop the
killing in Darfur?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think it's really, really clear. Rarely do you have, as
an African advocate in my 20 years working on these issues, such an obvious
answer. We need to buttress the African Union force immediately. We need to
support it with a stronger mandate, and we need a lot more troops. And NATO
needs to get involved and help with the expansion of that force rather

On the flip side of the same coin, we need to focus on accountability. There
has to be an agreement in the Security Council, or elsewhere, that targeted
sanctions being imposed on this government; that their case be referred to
some form of tribunal--the ICC is the right answer, but it may be impossible
because of US opposition. But there has to be some accountability for the
crimes that have been committed. If you get those two rolling down the track
in the right direction, we will see a very rapid turnaround in the situation
in Darfur.

GROSS: When was your last trip to Darfur?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I went about a month and a half ago with Paul Rusesabagina,
the main character from "Hotel Rwanda." And we also brought Don Cheadle, who
acted as Paul in the movie. And we brought "Nightline" with us. And we went
across from the Chadian refugee camps into Darfur and explored around and
interviewed people all throughout Chad, the refugee camps and in Darfur. So
it was about mid-January I was last there.

GROSS: Now you were also there over the summer. Had the situation changed

Mr. PRENDERGAST: I think it's gotten much worse. I think the biggest threat
now is that we're looking at the possibility of famine in certain locations in
Darfur. And I think, in my experience, the only thing worse that you can
possibly contemplate than genocide is genocide topped off by famine. So I
think we are in the possible--we're approaching a moment in Darfur that could
get much, much worse because of the food security situation.

GROSS: I'm interested in what you think the impact of the movie "Hotel
Rwanda" has been. And do you--are you ambivalent at all? I mean, on the one
hand, it's wonderful that the movie has raised awareness of what's
happening--you know, of what genocide means. But at the same time, are you
frustrated that, `Well, that's what it takes. You have to make a major
Hollywood motion picture with, you know, a star of the stature of Don Cheadle
in it'?

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Three weeks ago--I've been working on these issues from 20
years ago, and three weeks ago, my mom called me and said, `Oh, your dad and I
just went to the movie "Hotel Rwanda." We finally understand what you've been
doing all these years.' So--well, of course, it's a little frustrating that
it requires a major motion picture, but nevertheless, it's there, the cards
have been dealt. And I think this is a very significant hand that has been
given to all of us who are struggling over these years trying to bring about
attention and reaction by the international community to these crises around
Africa and, more broadly, in the world.

And I think Don Cheadle and Paul Rusesabagina together create a tandem of
almost moral force that is really, really--I've rarely seen before. Paul is
traveling all over the world raising money for his foundation and raising
people's awareness of what is going on in Sudan today. And Don and I are
writing a book together now--we've just started--about the situation in Sudan.
And so there's a great commitment by both of those guys, after the experiences
that they've both gone through, to really make a difference.

GROSS: John Prendergast, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: John Prendergast is special adviser to the president of the
International Crisis Group.

Earlier we heard from Brian Steidle, a former Marine captain who worked with
the African Union monitoring team in Darfur. You can see some of Steidle's
photographs of Darfur on our Web site at


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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