Archive for the ‘The Arab Revolt, Islam, Iraq War, War on Terror’ Category

We Should Be Paying More Attention to Somalia…so should Rep. Omar

Monday, May 27th, 2019

Originally published in The Bulwark, March 22 2019:

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If you care about Somalia, this isn’t a good time. The local al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabab, remains active and effective, despite or perhaps because of a dramatic spike in U.S. airstrikes ordered by President Trump under loosened rules of engagement in March 2017.

In the first two months of 2019, United States Africa Command killed 225 people in 24 airstrikes targeting al-Shabab, the New York Times reported earlier this month. The air war seems to have substituted for a joined-up approach that might have a chance at stabilizing Somalia.

Stephen Schwartz, United States ambassador to Somalia from 2016 to 2017, told the New York Times, “It could be there is some well-thought-out strategy behind all of this, but I really doubt it.” Until December, the United States hadn’t had a resident ambassador in Somalia since 1991; it was simply too dangerous.

The U.S. and other Western powers are trying to help the federal government bring order to the country, but to little effect. In July, the European Parliament noted that “state actors” as well as non-state actors were responsible for human rights abuses in Somalia and that there have been extrajudicial executions, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions and abductions; whereas according to the UN Human Rights Office, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) of Somalia routinely violates international human rights law; whereas it often operates in an extrajudicial manner and its powers are too broad;

The Parliament also stated, “according to Transparency International, Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world.”

Somalia needs some friends in Congress. Where is someone who can suggest something more creative than airstrikes, someone who can call the Trump administration policy to account? What about Ilhan Omar, the outspoken freshman representative from Minneapolis who was born in Somalia and elected with the help of Minneapolis’ large Somali population? (Around 74,000 Somalis have moved to or been resettled in Minnesota in the last couple of decades.) As a new member of the 47-member House Foreign Affairs Committee she might have some influence.

Yet Rep. Omar has tweeted a grand total of one time about Somalia since taking her seat, in the context of the firestorm over her attacks on Israel, claiming she would not hesitate to criticize any government, including Somalia’s or our own. But Rep Omar has not criticized Somalia’s government that I can find, nor engaged with U.S. policy there. In fact, she’s tweeted about Somalia just 15 times since January 2014 and most of these mentions were very superficial.

Ilhan Omar is ignoring her chance to be a much-needed voice for Somalia, and especially for Somalia’s women, 98 percent of whom experience FGM , according to UNICEF estimates. Instead, she’s expended much political capital posturing on Israel, which has earned her considerable backlash and led, in a meandering fashion, to a House resolution condeming anti-Semitism and other bigotry.

This is especially odd because a close ally of Donald Trump has been a major player in Somalia, someone a Democrat should relish attacking; someone many Republicans regard as unhinged, unwise, and remorseless: Erik Prince, brother of Education SecretaryBetsy DeVos and self-proclaimed Trumpworld insider, close associate of Steve Bannon and George Nader, using Chinese and Emirati funds to create companies in Somalia.

In fact, in June 2017, three months after Trump approved looser rules on airstrikes, Prince’s Frontier Services Group (FSG), announced a contract to provide “logistics, aviation and security services” for a development project in a new state in Somalia, the South West State.

Robert Young Pelton – who conducted Prince’s first major interview in 2004 for his book Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, points out that Prince is a Chinese proxy as well as a UAE proxy in the Horn of Africa. A Chinese state entity, CITIC, has a 20 percent stake in Prince’s Frontier Services Group.

In a recent Al Jazeera TV Head to Head interview with a notably hostile Mehdi Hasan, Prince made his extensive involvement in Somalia clear, saying that he was at the January 2017 Seychelles meeting with UAE and Russian nationals that Special Counsel Mueller is investigating, to talk about “Somalia and some of the other problem areas we’d helped with”. (That happens near the 34-minute mark.) . To an American, the Seychelles may seem like the middle of nowhere, but they are little more than 800 miles from Mogadishu. (My own take on Prince in the Seychelles is here.)

Prince’s influence in Somalia stems from his UAE backing; when Blackwater came under legal pressure in the years following its 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians, Prince re-located to the UAE, where he still maintains a home. And the UAE has exerted its influence in what it perceives as its backyard.

One Somali-American expert says, “UAE training of elements of the Somalia National Army – including units trained by Prince – has been counterproductive because these units have been perceived as loyal to the foreign backers who finance them. They have been a magnet for attacks not only by al Shabab but by clan militia. These units have different uniforms and have better equipment. Sometimes they have gotten into exchanges of fire with regular units and civilian casualties have resulted.”

Pelton also noted Prince’s failed projects in Somalia: “When he left the U.S. in 2010, Prince attempted to set up a still-born presidential guard in Mogadishu and a failed anti piracy police force in Puntland.” Puntland is a semi-autonomous state that has tried unsuccessfully to win recognition as an autonomous state.

The New York Times published a scathing account of the Puntland effort in October 2012. Prince’s shell company, Sterling Corporate Services was criticized by the United Nations as a “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation” of the UN arms embargo on Somalia. After incidents involving beatings of trainees and a death, Sterling pulled out suddenly when one of its trainers was shot dead by a trainee:

with the antipiracy army now abandoned by its sponsors, the hundreds of half-trained and well-armed members of the Puntland Maritime Police Force have been left to fend for themselves at a desert camp carved out of the sand, perhaps to join up with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars — yet another dangerous element in the Somali mix.

So why isn’t Rep. Omar trying to do something to help Somalia? Why her silence on Prince?

Perhaps Rep. Omar is biding her time, planning on using her perch in the Foreign Affairs Committee to contribute to the dialogue on Somalia once she has more seniority (but Omar’s tweets on Israel don’t suggest that she is the patient type.) It should be noted that Omar hasn’t ignored the Horn of Africa completely; she was part of a recent House delegation to Eritrea, a nasty pariah state that has lately made peace with Ethiopia. Omar’s office declined to comment for this article.

What is Omar’s family’s history and how does it fit in the complex fabric of Somalia politics? On her father’s side, she is a member of the large, powerful Majerteen clan, which has a power base in Puntland. However, being Majerteen need not mean much given that Omar grew up in Mogadishu and left Somalia at the age of 8.

But there are hints of Omar’s loyalties. In March 2013, as a private citizen, Omar supported the creation of Jubbaland, a new state in Somalia bordering Kenya:

“Kismayo (the capital of Jubbaland) offered refuge for me as a child running from war in the capital Mogadishu, and it has since been a place of unimagined violence. I was excited to celebrate its liberation and look forward to one day returning there as peace prevails. To my relatives still residing in Kismayo, I would like to congratulate them and urge them to not lose sight of this amazing opportunity to secure peace and prosperity.”

Others take a less benign view of Jubbaland, pointing out that it is a Kenyan puppet state set up to control the port of Kismayo, where Kenyan smugglers operate. With this in mind, consider what Omar told Minneapolis Citypages in 2016 about her family’s fleeing Somalia in 1991: “My family chose to go to Kenya because my grandfather had contacts there.”Citypages reported,“Omar’s paternal grandfather Somalia’s National Marine Transport director. Abukar oversaw the string of lighthouses along the Arabian Sea coastline.”

So, by her own account Omar’s family had some pull in Kenya, and she might well feel grateful to Kenya and its satellite state, Jubbaland, for taking in her family as refugees.

Perhaps Omar doesn’t want to raise the specter of her own potential dual allegiances, given that she has made so much noise about AIPAC and Jewish American politicians. But given her general lack of reticence to speak up despite her newcomer status, and given that she could be advocating for policies that would benefit both the United States and her home country, her silence is curious.

Ann Marlowe
Ann Marlowe is a writer and businesswoman in New York. She tweets at @annmarlowe.

Terror and Slow Justice: Dragging Libya to court for a deadly 1989 hijacking.

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

originally published in The Weekly Standard, Sept 4 2017

Few Americans noticed, but this past June, Muammar Qaddafi’s longtime spy chief Abdullah Senussi was apparently released from prison in Tripoli, where he had been sentenced to death in July 2015 for decades of officially sanctioned murders of his fellow Libyans. If Senussi was not released—everything is murky in Libya—he was at least seen at a festive meal at a Tripoli hotel.

Justice has been a long time coming to Senussi, one of six Libyans convicted in a French court in 1999 for the murder of 170 people on UTA Flight 772, the “forgotten flight” of the title of Stuart Newberger’s book. The DC-10 had left Brazzaville, Congo, on September 19, 1989, and reached its first stop, N’Djamena, Chad. It took off from N’Djamena for its final stop, Paris, but 45 minutes after takeoff a bomb exploded and the plane broke into four sections that plunged from the sky, some of the passengers likely still conscious when they smashed into the Niger desert.

Newberger, a lawyer who represented the seven Americans killed on Flight 772, writes that it is unlikely Senussi will leave Libya alive. But his own narration of decades of terror by Qaddafi and others, and decades of appeasing international responses, should make us wonder. One condition of the release of the American hostages from Iran in 1981 was that they could not sue Iran. Many laws have been passed since to assist victims of terror in seeking redress in civil lawsuits in the United States, but as Newberger’s UTA 772 case shows, legal judgments can always be overtaken by political events. The results are rarely fair to the victims of terrorism and their loved ones.

Newberger is most engrossing in describing the work supervised by France’s Jean-Louis Bruguière, an 11th-generation investigating magistrate, which he calls with some justice “one of the greatest detective stories of all time.” The plane’s debris—and the passengers’ remains—were scattered over a 50-by-5-mile area of remote desert in an era before GPS, mobile phones, Google Earth, and many other contemporary tools. Remarkably, within four weeks the remains of a suitcase were found; it tested positive for plastic-explosive residue.

Bruguière leveraged France’s good connections in Congo, where it turned out the bomb entered the UTA plane in a suitcase carried by a Congolese, Apollinaire Mangatany. His small group of revolutionaries aimed to overthrow Mobutu, the dictator of neighboring Zaire, and they accepted assistance from Libya’s Brazzaville embassy. In revenge for France’s support of Chad in the recently ended Libya-Chad war, Mangatany’s Libyan handlers supplied him with a suitcase containing explosives, telling him it was intended to blow up the French plane when it sat on the runway in N’Djamena. Mangatany may not have been killed in the explosion: His remains, along with those of over 60 of the other passengers, were never identified, and it’s possible he got off the plane in Chad and disappeared.

By June 1990, physical evidence surfaced indicating Libya’s involvement. Newberger details the patient police work that tied a tiny piece of green plastic circuit board found at the crash site to the German middleman who sold 100 Taiwanese-made timers to one of Abdullah Senussi’s subordinates in the Libyan Mukhabarat (intelligence service). The Germans apparently had thought they were providing timers for battery-operated runway lights on remote desert airstrips in Libya.

In October 1991, Bruguière issued international arrest warrants for four Libyans—including Senussi. But none was extradited: Libya doesn’t allow its citizens to be tried for crimes outside the country, and Libya’s lawyers pointed out at the time that France doesn’t either. Eventually Bruguière charged Senussi and five other Libyans with destroying UTA 772; they were convicted in absentia in 1999.

Meanwhile, in November 1991 a Scottish prosecutor had indicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, apparent Libyan Mukhabarat agents, for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, which resulted in the deaths of 259 passengers and crew, as well as another 11 people on the ground. The majority of victims aboard that flight were American and the crash site was easy to reach, so it received much more media attention than UTA 772. Yet even for Pan Am 103 it would take until 2003 for a compensation deal to come together, and it was not finalized until 2008.

Newberger entered the story in April 2002 when he was contacted by Douglas Matthews, the billionaire owner of the DC-10 leased to UTA. Matthews wanted to bring a civil suit against Libya for the destruction of his $40 million aircraft, and his lawyer knew of Newberger.

Newberger had become famous in 2000 for winning $40 million in compensatory damages for newsman Terry Anderson, held hostage for seven years by Iran. This lawsuit was only made possible by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and by 1996 amendments to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. These measures, enacted in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, allowed for the waiving of sovereign immunity to bring lawsuits against states that sponsored terrorism, and allowed commercial assets of these countries to be seized in the United States. It took the passage of still another law for Anderson to collect his judgment from $400 million in Iranian government funds frozen in the United States.

The UTA 772 suit was filed in 2003 and took its name, Pugh v. Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from Robert L. Pugh, a diplomat who survived the U.S. embassy attack in Beirut in 1983 and was ambassador to Chad in 1989. His wife Bonnie had been one of the seven Americans killed on UTA 772. It took until 2008, with Libya delaying every step of the way, but Pugh resulted in a massive judgment of around $6 billion in favor of the American plaintiffs. Here is where Newberger and the families involved in his case find out that “politics was more powerful than law”—because (spoiler alert) a political agreement ended up having a large effect on the settlement. The relatives who participated in the Pugh suit were each eligible to receive $10 million, just a tenth of what they would have received under the court judgment against Libya, had it been allowed to stand.

Newberger’s book is at its best—clear and fast-paced—when discussing the details of policework. The book would have benefited, however, from an editor who could have steered the author away from some formulaic descriptions and clichés. Also, it would have been compelling to hear the voices of the Pugh plaintiffs that Newberger represented, were they willing be interviewed and quoted. And, given the complicated nature of the story Newberger is telling, the absence of a timeline is keenly felt.

In the years since the Pugh case was decided, the struggle to use our legal system to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice has continued. A law passed in 2016—the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was enacted in the only override of a presidential veto in the Obama years—allows federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over foreign states charged with supporting terrorism, regardless of whether the state is designated a sponsor of terrorism. This change in the law made it possible, earlier this year, for many of the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in civil court. This is a welcome development, but if there is any lesson to be found in Newberger’s book, it is that expectations should be tempered, since justice can be very slow in coming.

Stop Donald Trump from Colonizing Your Brain

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Originally published on on May 21 2017:

Like a Libyan dictator of old, the leader is everywhere, including inside your head
By Ann Marlowe
May 21, 2017 • 10:00 PM

I keep trying to finish this essay, but every six three hours or so there’s a major new Trump scandal to react to.

It reminds me of a remark in the German filmmaker Wim Wenders’ 1976 movie Kings of the Road. A German character says that Americans have “colonized our subconscious.” He means the music, the movies, the blue jeans that formed hipster identity in 1970s Germany.

Trump has colonized our subconscious—in fact, he was succeeding at that even during the campaign. (Too many were ready to embrace a psychopath who had no internal censor because a decade of stultifying political correctness had led to a craving for something that felt like truth-telling, even if it wasn’t.) And now a fevered fixation on Trump, Trump, Trump is playing into his hands.

Usually, you have to be a dictator to accomplish this. What’s happening here reminds me of visiting Libya in the first heady days of its freedom from Gadhafi.

I spent about six weeks in eastern Libya in spring 2011, when a million people woke from a 42-year-long nightmare and dipped their toes into ordinary life again. The most emblematic story I heard in Benghazi was told to me by someone who, even more than today’s citizen activists, dropped everything to do what she thought was right. She was a dental professor who, on Feb. 17, 2011, walked out of the classroom where she was grading exam papers and didn’t go back for seven months. It was more important to help make a new society.

This brilliant woman, Iman Bugaighis, eventually did go back to teaching. She also spoke repeatedly of the need to root out the “little Gadhafi in our heads.” Without doing that, she said, there would be no real democracy in Libya. (Today, there’s too much democracy in Libya. But that’s another story.)

From what Iman and many other Libyans told me, Gadhafi’s regime was omnipresent. The TV, the radio, the posters in the street, and the photos in government offices: Gadhafi, Gadhafi, Gadhafi. You were never able to get him out of your head.

Another Libyan spoke of the regime’s “organized confusion,” a deliberate effort to govern by impulse so that no one could think straight and organize to resist. The regime did crazy things to make sure you paid attention. One day, the school curriculum might be totally changed, or the military academy moved hundreds of miles, or English and French books banned, or any madness you can imagine.

Once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human
Starting to sound familiar? In totalitarian societies, the need to focus obsessively on the regime helps grow a little Leader inside one’s head. Even in opposition, there’s no escape. And once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human.

Since Trump’s election, friends of mine who had no prior interest in politics, people who never even voted most of the time, have been marching, Tweeting obsessively, talking about getting involved with “the resistance.” Some are arty people who are far to the left, others are rentiers, bon vivants. Before the election, some were spending money and enjoying life. Others were involved with Mandarin art activities, pursuits that no longer seem urgent.

Meanwhile, I’ve met other people from a wide range of professions who have been doing anti-Trump research, often very good research, as citizen journalists. Twitter is full of their work, even though it’s the shrill simplifiers who get most of the attention.

It’s like what happened to many Americans after Sept. 11. Some joined the military or got a degree in Middle Eastern studies. More eccentrically, I learned Farsi and went to write about Afghanistan.

Is this drastic change in interests healthy? Yes and no. Yes to the point where it corrects an unhealthy ignorance of political matters and isolated self-absorption. But no, when you stop producing or consuming culture or art. No, when you can’t get Trump out of your head.

I force myself to stop checking Twitter and read a book instead, preferably one written a long time ago and in a foreign language. Go to a museum now and then. An opening. Moderation. Balance. Pick a piece of the work and do it, steadily and surely. I think of an almost 2,000-year-old rabbinical edict: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”