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Friday, June 10, 2016
Chad and Dictators
One of the functions of the media is to marginalise or silence Western aggression. The coverage of Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, for crimes against humanity could well have presented the opportunity for the media to examine in detail the complicity of the US, UK, France and their major allies in North Africa in the appalling genocide Habré inflicted on Chad during his rule – from 1982 to 1990. After all, Habré had seized power via a CIA-backed coup.
As William Blum commented in Rogue State:
“With US support, Habré went on to rule for eight years during which his secret police reportedly killed tens of thousands, tortured as many of 200,000 and disappeared an undetermined number.”
Largely missing from the corporate media was the massive, secret war waged over these eight years by the United States, France and Britain from bases in Chad against Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar Gaddafi.
By 1990, with the crisis in the Persian Gulf developing, the French government had tired of Habré’s genocidal policies while George Bush senior’s administration decided not to frustrate France in exchange for co-operation in its attack on Iraq. And so Habré was secretly toppled and in his place Idriss Déby was installed as the new President of Chad.
Reporting of the Habré sentencing has been predictably consistent across all the leading newspapers in the UK and US. Thus the focus has been on the jubilant reactions of a few of the victims of Habré’s torture and rape, on the comments from some of the human rights organisations involved for many years in the campaign to bring the Chad dictator to justice – and on the fact that it was the first time an African country had prosecuted the former head of another African country for massive human rights abuses. Only a tiny part of the reporting has mentioned the West’s role in the genocide. None of the reporting has placed the Chad events in the broader context of US/Western imperial aggression.
The story in the Guardian, by Ruth Maclean, was typical. Some 21 paragraphs were devoted to the report. But only in the last one (appearing almost as an after-thought) was there any mention of US complicity:
“The US State department and the CIA propped up Habré, sending him weapons and money in return for fighting their enemy, Muammar Gaddafi.”
In a follow-up editorial, the Guardian again left mentioning the West’s role until the last paragraph:
“Many questions still remain unanswered, including several concerning the responsibility or complicity of Western countries, such as France and the US, which actively supported Habré during the cold war years, turning a blind eye to his methods.”
The Telegraph adopted a similar approach. Aislinn Laing, based in Johannesburg, reported briefly:
“Mr Habré, 73, is a former rebel leader who took power by force in Chad in 1982 and was then supported by the US and France to remain at the helm as a bulwark to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.”
Adam Lusher, in the Independent, devoted just eight words to contextualising the trial:
“Hissène Habré was once backed by America’s Cold War-era CIA.”
In the New York Times, buried in paragraph 24 of a 27-paragraph report by Dionne Searcey are these words:
“Mr. Habré took power during a coup that was covertly aided by the United States, and he received weapons and assistance from France, Israel and the United States to keep Libya, to the north of Chad, and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, then the Libyan leader, at bay.”
Similarly, in Paul Schemm’s 23-paragraph report in the Washington Post, his paragraph 15 reads:
“Supported by the United States and France in his wars against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, Habré was accused of killing up to 40,000 people and torturing hundreds of thousands.”
Neither the Los Angeles Times nor the Belfast Telegraph could find any space to mention the West’s complicity.
The US today is still supporting human rights offenders across the globe – including the current dictator of Chad, Idriss Déby. Moreover, the Western powers, the US and France in particular, are using Chad as a major base for their covert military operations in Africa. A number of newspapers have commented on how the case set an important precedent for holding high-profile human rights abusers to account in Africa. Yet there has been little mention of the extraordinary background. For in June 2003, the US actually warned Belgium that it could lose its status as host to Nato’s headquarters if the Habré case went ahead on the basis of a 1993 law, which allowed victims to file complaints in Belgium for atrocities committed abroad.