Nick Turse: My very own Veteran’s Day

It’s been an incredibly quiet show. In recent years, the U.S. military has moved onto the African continent in a big way — and essentially, with the exception of Nick Turse (and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post), just about no one has noticed. In a sense, it’s a reporter’s dream story. Something major is happening right before our eyes that could change our world in complex ways and no one’s even paying attention. Of course, in the West, developments in Africa have been “seen” that way for centuries: that is, little if at all. Think of it as the invisible continent. There can be no place that has, generally speaking, been less in American, or even in Western, consciousness until recently. This is, of course, changing fast in Europe as a wave of desperate immigrants from fragmenting Africa, dying in startling numbers in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean in every rickety kind of craft, has made a distinct impression.

The African continent has, in recent years, been aboil, a phenomenon to which the American military has only been adding as it pursues its unsettling “war on terror” in its usual disruptive ways — and Turse has been Johnny-on-the-spot. His reporting for TomDispatch and his new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, have done much to give a higher profile to just what U.S. Africa Command has been doing across that continent. In his most recent report for TomDispatch from civil-war-torn South Sudan, he focused in for the first time on the phenomenon of child soldiers and how the Obama administration, which has denounced their use in countries that are not its allies, repeatedly looked the other way while a South Sudanese military it had built used them. It wasn’t a pretty tale. Today, he turns from U.S. and South Sudanese policy matters to the saddest story of all — those child warriors themselves and what makes them tick, drawing on his interviews with South Sudan’s youngest soldiers. Tom Engelhardt

The child veterans of South Sudan want to know
Will Americans support them?
By Nick Turse

PIBOR, South Sudan — “I’ve never been a soldier,” I say to the wide-eyed, lanky-limbed veteran sitting across from me. “Tell me about military life. What’s it like?” He looks up as if the answer can be found in the blazing blue sky above, shoots me a sheepish grin, and then fixes his gaze on his feet. I let the silence wash over us and wait. He looks embarrassed. Perhaps it’s for me.

Interviews sometimes devolve into such awkward, hushed moments. I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans over the years. Many have been reluctant to discuss their tours of duty for one reason or another. It’s typical. But this wasn’t the typical veteran — at least not for me.

Osman put in three years of military service, some of it during wartime. He saw battle and knows the dull drudgery of a soldier’s life. He had left the army just a month before I met him.

Osman is 15 years old.

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It’s dismally apparent that some black lives matter more than others

Emma Dabiri writes: Following the killings of unarmed men and boys such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Walter Scott, the United States is entering what’s being called a new civil rights movement, with activists ensuring that the world now knows about the ongoing onslaught against black life.

Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter have been huge in their reach, spreading far beyond the US and capturing the imaginations of people of all colours and nationalities. In November, as many as 5,000 protesters marched in London to condemn the grand jury decision not to prosecute the police officer who shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Patrisse Cullors, one of the creators of #BlackLivesMatters, said: “We are in a historical moment where we can make great shifts inside and outside US borders to ensure that #BlackLivesMatter around the world.”

But do all black lives really matter? In contrast to the thousands who protested at the US embassy in London, far fewer organised for the 900 Africans who drowned in the Mediterranean last month. So where are the protests to demand that European governments deal with this situation in a humane way? [Continue reading…]

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Boko Haram militants raped hundreds of female captives in Nigeria

The New York Times reports: Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.

In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.

“They married me,” said Hamsatu, 25, a young woman in a black-and-purple head scarf, looking down at the ground. She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.

“They chose the ones they wanted to marry,” added Hamsatu, whose full name was not used to protect her identity. “If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them.” [Continue reading…]

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Nick Turse: One boy, one rifle, and one morning in Malakal

President Obama couldn’t have been more eloquent.  Addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, for instance, he said: “When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.”  Denouncing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and offering aid to Uganda and its neighbors in tracking Kony down, he said, “It’s part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family, and no girl is raped, and no boy is turned into a child soldier.”  In support of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he has lauded as “not only a great champion of democracy but a fierce advocate against the use of forced labor and child soldiers,” he’skept her country on a list of nations the U.S. sanctions for using child soldiers in its military.  And his ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has spoken movingly in condemnation of the use of child soldiers, which she’s termed a “scourge,” from Syria and the Central African Republic to South Sudan. 

Only one small problem, as Nick Turse, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, points out in his latest reportage: the young, desperately divided nation of South Sudan is something of an American-sponsored creation, its military heavily supported by Washington, and so its child soldiers — and it has plenty of them — turn out not to be quite the same sort of scourge they are in Burma, Syria, or elsewhere.  Somehow, they’ve proved to be in the American “national interest” and so, shockingly enough, as Turse reveals today, were the subjects of a presidential “waiver” that sets aside Congress’s 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act.  The willingness of a president to sideline a subject he’s otherwise denounced in no uncertain terms is worthy of a riddle that might go something like: when is slavery not slavery?  And the answer would be, when it gets in the way of U.S. policy.  With that in mind, let Turse take you deep into South Sudan, where children tote AK-47s and the sky is not cloudy all day.  Tom Engelhardt

The kids aren’t all right
Presidential waivers, child soldiers, and an American-made army in Africa
By Nick Turse

MALAKAL, South Sudan — I didn’t really think he was going to shoot me.  There was no anger in his eyes.  His finger may not have been anywhere near the trigger.  He didn’t draw a bead on me.  Still, he was a boy and he was holding an AK-47 and it was pointed in my direction. 

It was unnerving.

I don’t know how old he was.  I’d say 16, though maybe he was 18 or 19.  But there were a few soldiers nearby who looked even younger — no more than 15.

When I was their age, I wasn’t trusted to drive, vote, drink, get married, gamble in a casino, serve on a jury, rent a car, or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie.  It was mandatory for me to be in school.  The law decreed just how many hours I could work and prohibited my employment in jobs deemed too dangerous for kids — like operating mixing machines in bakeries or repairing elevators.  No one, I can say with some certainty, would have thought it a good idea to put an automatic weapon in my hands.  But someone thought it was acceptable for them.  A lot of someones actually.  Their government — the government of South Sudan — apparently thought so.  And so did mine, the government of the United States. 

[Read more…]

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Israeli government to refugees: Go back to Africa or go to prison

The Washington Post reports: As Europe struggles to stem a spring flood of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to cross a deadly Mediterranean Sea, Israel has begun to toughen its stance toward refugees, telling unwanted Africans here they must leave now or face an indefinite stay in prison.

Israeli authorities are sending letters to the first of 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, informing them they have 30 days to accept Israel’s offer of $3,500 in cash and a one-way ticket home or to an unnamed third country in Africa, or face incarceration at Saharonim prison.

Israeli leaders have proclaimed that their tough approach — building a fence along the country’s border, denying work permits for illegal migrants, forcing them into a detention center in the desert — may ultimately save lives by dissuading migrants from attempting a perilous journey. Critics of the Israeli policy counter that a country built by refugees should be more accepting of those fleeing war, poverty and oppression. [Continue reading…]

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The Italian Mafia’s grip on Africa

CORRECT!V reports: The Italian mafia has established a hidden but lethal presence in Africa. Its members own diamond mines, nightclubs and land, all with the complicity of corrupt regimes.

Italian anti-Mafia authorities estimate that organised crime groups earn €26 billion a year in Italy alone. But the figure only scratches the surface of its economic power. Mafia Inc. is more than ever a global business, infiltrating legitimate economies worldwide. And the extent of the empire is unknown.

An international team of reporters from the non-profit investigative journalism centres IRPI and ANCIR (with the Investigative Dashboard Africa) partnered with the data analysts of QUATTROGATTI and the production room of CORRECT!V to uncover for the first time the Italian Mafia’s grip on Africa.

Supported by two working grants for independent journalism, the Innovative Journalism Grant of the EJC and Journalism Fund, the work took seven months, and included trips to Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Lombardy, in Italy and South Africa, Namibia, Senegal and Kenya, in Africa.

Ten investigative reporters from six different countries, one data-journalist and a data-scientist, three editors, one cross-examiner and a bunch of lawyers joined the effort in producing in-depth research into the Mafia’s involvement in 13 countries. [Continue reading…]

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A picture of loneliness: You are looking at the last male northern white rhino

sudan-white-rhino

Jonathan Jones writes: What is it like to look at the very last of something? To contemplate the passing of a unique wonder that will soon vanish from the face of the earth? You are seeing it. Sudan is the last male northern white rhino on the planet. If he does not mate successfully soon with one of two female northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta conservancy, there will be no more of their kind, male or female, born anywhere. And it seems a slim chance, as Sudan is getting old at 42 and breeding efforts have so far failed. Apart from these three animals there are only two other northern white rhinos in the world, both in zoos, both female.

It seems an image of human tenderness that Sudan is lovingly guarded by armed men who stand vigilantly and caringly with him. But of course it is an image of brutality. Even at this last desperate stage in the fate of the northern white rhino, poachers would kill Sudan if they could and hack off his horn to sell it on the Asian medicine market.

Sudan doesn’t know how precious he is. His eye is a sad black dot in his massive wrinkled face as he wanders the reserve with his guards. His head is a marvellous thing. It is a majestic rectangle of strong bone and leathery flesh, a head that expresses pure strength. How terrible that such a mighty head can in reality be so vulnerable. It is lowered melancholically beneath the sinister sky, as if weighed down by fate. This is the noble head of an old warrior, his armour battered, his appetite for struggle fading. [Continue reading…]

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Jihadists destroy proposed world heritage site in Mali

The Associated Press reports: Jihadists have destroyed a mausoleum in central Mali that had been submitted as a U.N. World Heritage site, leaving behind a warning that they will come after all those who don’t follow their strict version of Islam, a witness said Monday.

The dynamite attack on the mausoleum of Cheick Amadou Barry mirrors similar ones that were carried out in northern Mali in 2012 when jihadists seized control of the major towns there. The destruction also comes as concerns grow about the emergence of a new extremist group active much further south and closer to the capital.

Barry was a marabout, or important Islamic religious leader, in the 19th century who helped to spread Islam among the animists of central Mali. One of his descendants, Bologo Amadou Barry, confirmed to The Associated Press that the site had been partially destroyed in Hamdallahi village on Sunday night.

The jihadists left behind a note on Sunday warning they would attack all those who did not follow the teachings of Islam’s prophet.

“They also threatened France and the U.N. peacekeepers and all those who work with them,” Bologo Amadou Barry said. [Continue reading…]

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Kenya’s wrongheaded approach to terrorism

Hussein Khalid writes: The merciless killing of more than 140 innocent students at Kenya’s Garissa University College last month by al-Shabab terrorists requires a serious government response — both from Kenya and the United States. Unfortunately, my government has decided to double down on a long-standing counterterrorism strategy that includes human rights abuses and the indiscriminate targeting of the country’s Muslims. This is guaranteed to make the situation worse, not better. As Kenya’s loyal partner, the United States must persuade Nairobi to drop this unsound strategy.

The Kenyan government is cracking down on those who have sought to engage in counter-radicalization efforts simply because they have dared to question its tactics. Without presenting any evidence, Kenya’s top police official recently tried to label my nongovernmental organization, Haki Africa, which documents and challenges human rights abuses perpetrated by Kenyan security forces, as a possible associate of al-Shabab. Our bank account was frozen simply because of the work that we do. Another organization, Muslims for Human Rights, was similarly targeted.

This action was just the latest in an increasingly worrying trend of harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations. Such a heavy-handed approach is more than unjust; it is also ineffective and counterproductive. By alienating an important and sizable Kenyan community, the government is losing a key ally in its fight against violent extremism. If this pattern continues, I fear the security situation in my country can only get worse. [Continue reading…]

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Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking about Eritrea?

Sinéad O’Shea writes: Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean. Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this week were from the former Italian colony.

So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters without Borders has called it the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.

Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance, creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone. [Continue reading…]

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Charlie Hebdo didn’t publish that Mediterranean drowning cartoon — and it isn’t racist

Satire always takes the risk of being misinterpreted. Some publishers try to minimize that risk by alerting the reader, avoiding surprise, but usually burying the joke in the process.

When Ali Dilem drew a cartoon published by Liberte in Algeria, depicting African migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, he was referring to France’s immigration policy for non-EU residents, called “regroupement familial,” which arguably has done less to reunify families than see them broken apart. (H/t to Homo economicus for the explanation.)

Unfortunately, the cartoon has now taken on a life of its own on Twitter where it is being portrayed as a flagrant expression of racism by the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo:

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African migrants deported from Israel among Christians killed in latest ISIS video

The Jerusalem Post: Three Eritrean asylum seekers who left Israel for a third country in the past year were among a group of Ethiopian Christians beheaded by ISIS in a video distributed by the terror group this week, an Israeli NGO said Tuesday.

According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, one of the three men was identified by an Eritrean woman who works as a translator for the NGO and is a relative of the man, as well as by people who were jailed with him at the Holot detention facility in the south. Two other captives in the video were identified by people in Holot and the NGO, but not by family, the NGO added.

A detainee at Holot told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the man was in Holot over the summer, where he was jailed after spending 7 years in Israel without asylum seeker status. He said that the man was then moved to Saharonim prison after he visited Tel Aviv one day from Holot and did not return by that night’s head count. It was from there that the man agreed to leave Israel for a third country, which the detainee at Holot said was Uganda.

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In the chaos of Libya the business of human trafficking has boomed

Ben Wedeman writes: We are at the beginning of a massive and mounting crisis with no solution in sight. Perhaps that’s incorrect. The migrant crisis that has suddenly drawn hundreds of journalists to Sicily has been brewing for years, but in the past 10 days, with as many as 1,600 deaths in the Mediterranean, suddenly minds are focused — for now.

Almost exactly four years ago, in Libya, I caught, perhaps, a glimpse of what was to come.

It was late at night in the besieged city of Misrata. Hundreds of African migrants were caught between the Libyan civil war (back then some optimistically called it a “revolution”) and the deep blue sea. They had come to Misrata from Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere, hoping to board rickety boats to cross the sea to Europe.

They had been pinned down under sporadic shelling from government forces, but weren’t welcome by the rebels who controlled the city. They appealed to us to help them escape.

We could do nothing, but they may have eventually found their way out when the fighting subsided.

The fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, which we reporters covered so avidly, was followed by chaos, which we in the news media largely neglected, focused as we journalists were on the next catastrophe, the Syrian civil war. In that chaos, the business of human trafficking has boomed.

And now that boom in human misery is coming in waves to the shores of Italy. The focus today is on those lost at sea. Aware of the tragedy underway, however, Italians are alarmed at the prospect that this year alone as many as a million migrants could arrive in Europe, according to one European Union official.

That is certainly the case in the Sicilian port of Catania, where many migrants arrive. The city’s mayor, Enzo Bianco, insists city residents bear no ill will toward the migrants, but says Catania, and Sicily cannot absorb the ever-growing numbers. The rest of Europe must help carry the burden. [Continue reading…]

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The children risking their lives to reach Europe

Gemma Parkin at Save the Children writes: In 2014, half of the children who arrived in Italy were unaccompanied, but this year the proportion has increased to over two-thirds (68%).

These children are fleeing conflict, extreme poverty and persecution in some of the world’s most bloody conflicts, failed states and repressive regimes including Syria, Somalia and Eritrea. They are not criminals, but victims of some of the modern world’s most major crises.

Many of those children I’ve spoken to were tricked by traffickers and promised jobs as hairdressers, shop assistants and babysitters. Their families were persuaded to pay thousands of pounds to allow them to head to Europe. But once in the hands of traffickers and far from home, they had no rights and no protection.

Libya has for many years been the point of departure for thousands of people fleeing Africa and the Middle East, but the deteriorating situation in the country has allowed human trafficking to flourish. The lack of police, governance or state control in anarchic Libya means traffickers operate with impunity. Combined with recent good weather, the number of people launching off the country’s northern coast has rocketed in recent months.

On the journey across Libya, children face dehydration and malnutrition, kidnapping, detention and extortion, torture, child slavery, trafficking and sexual abuse. Here in Sicily, the Save the Children team met 17-year-old Brahane from Eritrea. He described being forced to board a pick-up truck of 30 people to cross the Sahara desert into Libya. He reported seeing ruthless traffickers spraying migrants with petrol and setting them on fire for “stepping out of line”. [Continue reading…]

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Mediterranean capsized migrants’ boat’s captain charged

BBC News reports: The Tunisian captain of a boat that capsized off Libya on Sunday, killing hundreds of migrants, has been charged with reckless multiple homicide, Italian officials say.

He has also been charged along with a Syrian member of the crew with favouring illegal immigration.

The two were among 27 survivors who arrived in Sicily late on Monday.

A UNHCR spokeswoman has told the BBC the migrants’ boat capsized after merchant vessels came too close to it.

Carlotta Sami of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy was at the Sicilian port of Catania to meet the survivors. Some 800 people are thought to have died in the disaster, she said.

There were nationals of Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Senegal on board, kept in three different layers in the boat. [Continue reading…]

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Italy cracks down on human trafficking

The Daily Beast reports: Mered Medhanie and Ermias Ghermay are businessmen who apparently take pride in their work. Too bad their jobs are heading up two of the most lucrative and deadly human trafficking rings to ever operate in the waters between Libya and Sicily.

They are now Italy’s most wanted men and prosecutors in Palermo are vowing to find them.

On Monday, police in Palermo said overnight Sunday they issued arrest warrants for 24 men, including Medhanie and Ghermay, and were able to pick up 14 of them in Rome, Milan, Bari, and in refugee camps in Sicily.

In a separate investigation based in Catania, Sicily, authorities there have asked for three Egyptian men to be extradited to Italy to face trafficking charges. Among the arrested and wanted were recruitment specialists who infiltrated large refugee camps looking for new clients who either wished to travel further into Europe or who might have family back in Africa who want to come over, too.

Police had pinpointed the 24 men more than a year ago and have been intercepting their telephone conversations, following their moves and studying the trafficking business ever since. Italy has arrested 976 men involved with trafficking in the last year. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised to bring them to justice. This week, he called on European countries to make fighting trafficking a priority, likening it to a “modern slave trade in which people are bought and sold like merchandise.” [Continue reading…]

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Italy ran an operation that saved thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. Why did it stop?

The Washington Post reports: Back in October 2013, more than 300 migrants died near the Italian island of Lampedusa. These men and women had been trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean from Libya to what they saw as a land of opportunity, Europe. Instead, their boat sank and they drowned. The Italian coast guard was only able to save 150 or so passengers on a boat that was carrying around 500.

The Italian public was shocked. Migrants had died in the Mediterranean before, but this was exceptional. Shortly afterwards, the Italian government swung into action and set up Mare Nostrum, a vast search-and-rescue operation aimed at preventing the deaths of the thousands of migrants who make the journey from Africa to Europe every year.

Mare Nostrum – which means “Our Sea” in Latin, the name for the Mediterranean in the Roman era – was a success. With a considerable budget of $12 million a month, it was estimated to have saved more than 130,000 people. It was not only a rescue operation. Italy, a country once known for hard attitudes to migrants, offered medical treatment, shelter and food. Migrants were even offered legal aid that could have helped them gain asylum.

It didn’t last. By October 2014, Mare Nostrum was being wound down. [Continue reading…]

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Nick Turse: AFRICOM behaving badly

There were those secret service agents sent to Colombia to protect the president on a summit trip and the prostitutes they brought back to their hotel rooms. There was the Air Force general on a major bender in Moscow (with more women involved). There were those Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their “sex parties” abroad (possibly in Colombia again) financed by — no kidding! — local drug cartels. And there were, of course, the two senior secret service agents who, after a night of drinking, ran their car into a White House security barrier.

That’s what we do know from the headlines and news reports, when it comes to sex, drugs, and acting truly badly abroad (as well as at home). And yet there’s so much more, as TomDispatch’s intrepid Nick Turse reports today. As you’ll see, Turse has unearthed a continent’s worth of bad behavior, even as U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) went out of its way to obstruct his reporting and the documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act were so heavily redacted that ink companies must be making a fortune.  No one should, of course, be surprised that as AFRICOM has quietly and with almost no attention pivoted to Africa, making inroads in 49 of the 54 countries on that continent, a certain kind of all-American behavior has “pivoted” with it. In a revelatory piece today, Turse — whose groundbreaking new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, has just been published — pulls the curtain back on one bit of scandalous and disturbing behavior after another on a continent that Washington is in the process of making its own; in other words (given the pattern of the last 13 years), that it’s helping to destabilize in a major way.

If you want a little bit of light comedy to leaven the news, only a few weeks ago, AFRICOM hosted military lawyers from 17 African nations at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The subject of the gathering: “the rule of law.” As Lieutenant General Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander of military operations, said in his opening remarks, “The rule of law is our most important export.” Turse has a slightly different interpretation of what the U.S. is “exporting” to Africa along with destabilization and blowback. Tom Engelhardt

Sex, drugs, and dead soldiers
What U.S. Africa command doesn’t want you to know
By Nick Turse

Six people lay lifeless in the filthy brown water.

It was 5:09 a.m. when their Toyota Land Cruiser plunged off a bridge in the West African country of Mali.  For about two seconds, the SUV sailed through the air, pirouetting 180 degrees as it plunged 70 feet, crashing into the Niger River.

[Read more…]

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