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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Tuesday, June 04, 2002
1:29 PM

Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group, has a column on NRO saying this Feb. 28 Post story by Karl Vick was a "hatchet job." The lede that day:

NAIROBI -- The highly publicized practice of buying the freedom of Sudanese slaves, fueled by millions of dollars donated by Westerners, is rife with corruption, according to aid workers, human rights monitors and leaders of a rebel movement whose members routinely regard slave redemption as a lucrative business....

But in some cases, according to witnesses and rebel officials, the slaves weren't slaves at all, but people gathered locally and instructed to pretend they were returning from bondage. An aid worker told of recognizing several children in such a group in the village of Turalei in late 1998. Two of them were still wearing plastic wrist bands that entitled them to meals from the local feeding center, the worker said.

Impostors also have appeared in the role of the Arab middleman. A prominent former rebel commander has publicly complained that a light-skinned relative who is a captain in the rebel army "has been forced several times to pretend as an Arab" for cameras.

Jacobs writes:

The Rt. Rev. Macram Max Gassis, the Roman Catholic Bishop of El Obeid, Sudan, is vexed. After years of silence about Sudan's self-declared jihad against non-Muslims -- and the subsequent government-sponsored revival of slavery -- the Washington Post on February 26 published a front-page article alleging that slave redemption was an elaborate hoax.

Jacobs says it isn't a hoax, and lists a series of "sins of omissions" in the Vick story, including:

The WP never witnessed any slave-redemption activity.

The WP never interviewed any redeemed slaves or slave retrievers, or any of the community leaders in Sudan whom they accuse of wrongdoing.

The WP never found, identified, or produced a single false slave from among the 60,000-plus slaves CSI has redeemed.

The WP intentionally suppressed or ignored an abundance of credible evidence, from eyewitnesses and other sources, that confirm the validity of CSI's slave-liberation program -- including numerous filmed interviews by visiting journalists who independently verified Arabic and Dinka interview translations.

Much more.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be too surprising if some of those millions of dollars being sent to free slaves ended up in the wrong hands or were scammed out of the system. And Vick includes this in his Feb. 28 story:

What no credible expert disputes is the existence of slavery, and many warn that corruption associated with redemption should not dissuade efforts to eradicate the practice. "This is completely sort of an offshoot of the slavery phenomenon, but it doesn't mean there is no slavery," said Jemera Rone, Sudan specialist for Human Rights Watch, the New York-based watchdog group. "It wouldn't be possible if there weren't slavery."

Obviously the facts matter. Here is the main amazing fact, from Jacobs:

Slavery is not just the manifestation of tribal conflict. The same Sudanese government that for years sheltered and supported Osama bin Laden, now arms and directs Arab militias who comprise part of the official Popular Defense Force. These militias raid villages in the borderlands between predominantly Islamist northern Sudan and predominantly Christian and animist southern Sudan. Farms are burned, men are slaughtered, and women and children are captured, often being raped and mutilated in the process. The slaves (UNICEF and Save the Children, seeking not to antagonize Khartoum, calls them "abductees") are routinely beaten, forced to work without pay, forcibly converted to Islam, and given only a subsistence diet.

Sexual abuse is common, even for young girls. Rape, gang rape, and female genital mutilation are widespread. Many slaves are executed. If Vick had bothered to talk to victims of the slave trade, he would have seen they are far from being merely women and children rounded up from villages to put on an elaborate show, but are rather victims of stabbing, slashing, burning, and torture.

Slavery. Today.

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