Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Ezequiel marcos Siddig
Sylvia Rivera: 1951-2002
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Black Hawk Rising
While the U.S. media drool over a possible invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is waging a quiet war against the people of one of the world's poorest countries: Somalia. Before September 11, the UN's Human Development Index lists the much-maligned Horn of Africa nation near rock bottom. But now the Somali people (“skinnies” in U.S. military slang) are suffering an added detriment with the U.S. shutdown of Somalia's largest company, al-Barakaat, a telecommunications firm used by many Somalis as a kind of bank, because terrorists allegedly used it.
“Disruptions to Al-Barakaat's worldwide cash flows could be as high as $300 to $400 million per year,” according to Deputy Treasury Secretary Kenneth Dam, reporting on the “financial war on terrorism” to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, January 29. “Of that,” Dam said, “our experts and experts in other agencies estimate that $15 to $20 million per year would have gone to terrorist organizations,”—about 5 percent, if true. Meanwhile, the Somali economy is devastated, and average families in Somalia have no formal banking system to turn to.
Worse, U.S. officials have repeatedly listed Somalia as a potential target for its “war on terrorism” since November. “The U.S. administration is studying countries in which al-Qaida could function and is taking a particular interest in Somalia,” said Secretary of State Colin Powell in a recent interview with Washington Post. On January 17 the Congressional Research presented Congressional representatives a report listing possible options for the U.S. in Somalia, none of them encouraging from the “skinny” perspective.
The Sharks Gather
International news agencies report that U.S. military officials have been meeting with Somali “warlords” opposed to the current Transitional National Government (TNG) in Mogadishu since late last year, and U.S. naval surveillance planes have reportedly been increasing their reconnaissance along the Somalian coast (Reuters, January 4). Hundreds of U.S. troops may have also been spotted in neighboring Kenya. French airforce and German navy surveillance of Somalia have been operating out of neighboring Djibouti since December, according to the Africa News Service and Agence France Presse. Troops belonging to Ethiopia—Somalia's longtime enemy—entered the autonomous Somalian region of Puntland in December to provide a month of training to troops loyal to former Puntland President Abdullahi Yusuf (Reuters, January 13).
Ethiopian troops have crossed the Somalian border several times on various pretexts over the last few months, say observers, and Addis Ababa has begun feeding Washington dubious accusations that the small anti-Ethiopian group al-Ittihaad i-Islamiya has ties to al-Qaida. Some of these reports also claim al-Qaida dominates the TNG, even runs al-Barakaat. Anti- TNG “warlords” inside Somalia, many of whom are funded by Ethiopia, have repeated these claims, calling for Washington to strike at Mogadishu.
“We already have a commitment from the Americans," said Ibrahim Mohammed, leader of one opposition group. “They came here. We had discussions, and we're moving ahead with our plans to liberate Somalia and get rid of all terrorists once and for all,” (CNN, January 13).
Meanwhile, the Pentagon was deploying 600 military “advisers” to the Philippines. Muslim insurgents have been fighting the government in Manila for many years, but now the rebels are being linked to al-Qaida—a strategy with apparent broad potential, dubbed the “Manila Method” only half in jest by one observer (New York Times, January 3).
The Manila Method
The Bush administration has been very clear from the start that its “war on terrorism” does not end with Osama bin Laden or Afghanistan, even promising at the end of 2001 that “next year will be a war year.” The President's State of the Union address rattled a long-term saber at a supposed “axis of evil” including Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, but most serious analysis has noted that these three nations have little in common, are not aligned, and in the case of North Korea seem to be moving toward reconciliation with U.S. allies.
More likely, as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the New York Times January 8, the Pentagon is first looking at “friendly countries like the Philippines and Indonesia that would welcome American help in ridding themselves of terrorist networks… also…at possible terror bases in countries like Somalia and Yemen that are weakly governed and ill equipped to uproot them.” The fact that the brutal regimes in the Philippines and Indonesia are counted as “friendly” is certainly telling and a long and bloody history records what kind of “American help” they are likely to get.
One of these “friendly” countries, Indonesia, is barred from receiving U.S. military aid because of decades of brutal repression. Twice, the Indonesian army and pro-government paramilitaries massacred East Timorese civilians, most recently in plain sight of UN observers and international media. Even now, after the brutal, U.S.-backed Suharto regime has ended, the tradition of murder and extrajudicial incarceration lives on, notably in the Aceh province of Indonesia. Yet Wolfowitz tells the Times these restrictions against aid to Indonesia's troops “really need to be reviewed in the light of Sept. 11.”
But any such campaigns in the near future are not likely to be direct military interventions by the U.S., as in the infamous “Operation Restore Hope” in Somalia, 1992-1995. Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, points out, “blundering into Somalia unless bin Laden is there, in search of people who can run in any direction, with no fixed physical targets, is sort of Black Hawk Down phase two,” (Reuters, January 4).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been fairly explicit. Most nations will be “encouraged” to deal with terrorism “internally,” Rumsfeld said, meaning “the United States is encouraging proxy wars on terrorism in the Philippines, Yemen, and Somalia by quietly providing intelligence, training and artillery while the locals do most, if not all, of the fighting” (AP, January 7). In Yemen, this has so far meant mass expulsions of foreign students and teachers, and violent clashes with Abida tribespeople (AP, January 3).
Phases One and Two
The new film Black Hawk Down—loosely based on an actual U.S. Army Ranger assault on the crowded Bakara marketplace in Mogadishu—hit theatres just as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began hearings on U.S. policy options towards Somalia. The movie is overt propaganda, called by British director Ridley Scott “a recruitment film” for the U.S. military, it is significantly different from the book in plot and theme. The Pentagon not only supplied real Black Hawk helicopters, pilots, and stuntpeople, but made changes to the script, according to Mark Bowden, author of the book, Black Hawk Down.
One actor in the film, Brendon Sexton, says the original script did contain some “questions” about the value of the mission in Somalia, the brutality of war, etc. Speaking in a radio interview on the Pacifica Network's “Democracy Now,” Sexton said he and a few others wanted to work on the film because the script appeared to be focused on these “questions.” But, Sexton said, “all that was cut out before filming ever started.” He says he and other actors conspired to spin certain loosely scripted dialogue, only to see those scenes cut.
Author Mark Bowden also says the film's producers hired military personnel as “consultants” for “accuracy” (deleting a scene, for example, where a lieutenant slaps a wounded man). The name of one of the principal characters was also changed because the real soldier is presently in prison for rape. There were, according to Bowden and Sexton, no Somali “consultants” hired for “accuracy.”
The Somalian Justice Advocacy Center in California has called for a boycott of the movie, because it “portrays Somalis as violent savages,” full of hatred of the U.S. without reason. Leaving aside the U.S. backing of former Somalian dictator Siad Barre, who murdered thousands, the fact that U.S. forces had earlier blown up a compound where clan leader Mohamed Farrah Aideed's senior officers were gathering for peace negotiations with the UN—killing 54 people—would apparently not be reason enough to be angry. Also, in the mission depicted in the movie, Black Hawk helicopters were attacking the crowded Bakara marketplace in broad daylight, ultimately killing well over 1,000 innocent civilians.
Many reviewers have seized on the central Alamo-like theme of the film: “The purpose of the raid on October 3, Black Hawk Down suggests, was to prevent Aideed's murderous forces from starving Somalia to death,” (George Manbiot in the London Guardian, January 29). However, as Noam Chomsky and former executive director of Africa Watch Rakiya Omar have pointed out, the worst of the civil war violence and widespread hunger were over well before the U.S. white knights arrived to “save” Somalia. A year before U.S. decided to “restore hope” over a quarter of Somalia's children had been lost, says Somalia expert Christine Carr of UC-Berkley. But by the time the first U.S. soldiers landed the fighting had reportedly ended in all but one province in the south, and 80 to 90 percent of the aid was getting through, according to the Red Cross, American Friends Service Committee and other aid agencies operating there for years. Omar says the U.S. likely made the situation worse, not better.
This is not to mention the fact that the U.S. had backed Aideed against the other clan leaders after the Barre government fell, ignoring the clans' readiness to stop fighting and probably strengthening Aideed disproportionately. The “good intentions” described by most reviewers, even critics, were simply not a factor in the operation, as indicated by the remark of its commander Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni that, “I'm not counting bodies…I'm not interested.” There is still no official U.S. estimate, but other estimates range from 7-10,000 civilians killed. Such reviews also fail to take into account Colin Powell's description of the Somalian mission at the time as a “public relations” action.
In 1992, such “public relations” involved claims that the U.S. was involved in “humanitarian intervention” in Somalia. In 2002, the aims of the “war on terrorism” would presumably be no better for the people of Somalia. If director Ridley Scott were to make a sequel to this “recruitment film,” where the U.S. shuts down Somalia's makeshift banking system, undermines the fledgling government, backs Ethiopian invaders, and installs a vicious “warlord” proxy as dictator, could he make one that would leave audiences worshipping U.S. “advisers” as heroes and shaking their heads at the ungrateful “skinnies?” Time will tell. Z
Ricky Baldwin is an activist and organizer writing on labor, racism, and foreign policy. He is a member of the Anti-War Anti-Racist Effort (AWARE) in Champaign-Urbana.