Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Spies, lies, and Western conspiracies!": Two exclusive television news interviews with Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir

What is it really like to shake hands with the Devil? To be in a room together with a man who has been accused by very credible sources of launching a campaign of fear and terror against his own citizens that he has swore to serve and protect as their president? A person charged by the International Criminal Court in The Hague with war crimes and crimes against humanity___ atrocities against innocent civilians that include the order to militias and government troops to commit mass rape, torture, mutilation, and murder.

A leader who orders the bombing, shooting, and burning of innocent civilians in their villages using Chinese and Russian-built aircraft and munitions purchased with the revenues earned from precious oil reserves stolen from under the very feet of the same people being killed and driven from their lands. What do you do as a journalist or a ‘special envoy’ after shaking hands with a person like this___ wash your hands with bleach afterwards or will just a little soap and water do the trick?

BBC World News correspondent and program host Zeinab Badawi* had a chance to do just that___ to shake hands with a devil and stare evil directly in the face during her exclusive interview with Sudan’s President Lt. General Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir. The popular BBC News interview program HARDTalk has been on the road in Africa this month, airing a 3-part series from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zeinab Badawi, born in the Sudan but raised and educated in England traveled to Khartoum recently to interview the Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir. It is the first interview granted to a Western news network since the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest on March 4, 2009. Check your local listings to view the half hour interview or watch the full interview at the HARDTalk and BBC News website (see links below). International viewers can watch the program on May 14th at the following times GMT: 0930, 1530, 2030 and 2230 hours.

BBC News
Sudan leader denies Darfur crimes (video and text) 05/12/2009

BBC News Programmes – HARDTalk
Interview with Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (video and text) 05/14/2009

Here are a few excerpts from the BBC HARDTalk interview with Sudan’s president:
Sources: BBC News and Reuters

BASHIR on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the warrant for his arrest:

"The ICC ruling is fundamentally null and void," said Bashir. "For us the ICC's ruling is a political one," he added, saying of the ICC charges against him: "This is all lies."

"We do not recognise the court," he stated. "We refuse to negotiate with them, and we will not hand over anyone."

The ICC has issued arrest warrants for two senior Sudanese officials who Khartoum has refused to send to The Hague to stand trial."I challenge anybody to bring me evidence that proves the Sudanese armed forces attacked and killed citizens in Darfur," Bashir said.

Note: Toward the end of the interview President al-Bashir stated that if all the armies of the world stood before the gates of Khartoum, that he would not yield to the court. My analysis: We’ll see about that soon enough.

BASHIR on the war against rebel groups and the killing of innocent civilians:

"I assume full responsibility for what has happened to my citizens," Bashir said. "However, what has been reported to have happened in Darfur did not actually take place. What happened in Darfur was an insurgency.

"The state has the responsibility to fight the rebels. Any state in the world and any responsible government would fight those who raise arms against it."

“We have never fought against our citizens; we have never killed our citizens.”

BASHIR on UN estimates of casualties and refugees caused by the fighting in the Darfur region and Western media coverage of the conflict:

The UN estimates 300,000 people have died in Darfur's six-year conflict and millions more have been displaced.

But President Bashir said figures for casualties in Darfur were "less than one tenth of what has been reported".

"Any talk about crimes committed inside Darfur is a hostile and organised media propaganda to tarnish the reputation of the government and is a part of the declared war against our government," he added.

Note: I still cannot figure out why Omar al-Bahsir has not expelled all Western journalists and media crews from the country if he is so worried about ‘spies’ and ‘enemies of the state’. Does the President of Sudan need the Western news media in order to stay in power? Does the international news media help him execute his war against Sudan’s so-called enemies: the various rebel groups, the African tribes of Darfur and the African people of southern Sudan?

BASHIR on U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, and the new administration in Washington D.C.:

Sorry, I forgot exactly what he said but it was somewhat cautious, meaning he didn’t lash out with his normal condemnations of the U.S. You must either watch the HARDTalk program segment or view the online video to find out what was said.

Note*: Short Bio on BBC News presenter and program host Zeinab Badawi
Zeinab Badawi, born 1959 in Sudan, is a graduate of Oxford University (politics, philosophy, and economics) and has a post-graduate degree in Middle East Studies from London University. She has worked in broadcasting for over two decades, worked as a co-anchor with Jon Snow at the UK’s Channel 4 News (1989-1998), and joined BBC 4 World News Today in 2005 as a presenter (anchor).

The BBC News HARDTalk interview reminded me of a story by Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum when she interviewed Omar al-Bashir shortly after his ascent to power following the 1989 coup d’état in Sudan (one of several in Sudan since independence). It was an interview that in terms echoes Hannah Arendts famous ‘Report on The Banality of Evil’ according to the New York Times columnist Robert Mackey (see his report at The New York Times below).

Excerpt from ‘The cartoon-watching, indicted war criminal’ by Lindsey Hilsum
Channel 4 News (UK), April 3, 2009

As we arrived for our interview (1989), about 50 reporters and camera crews were trying to muscle in. The new head of protocol, faced with a horde of badly behaved journalists, decided that the whole thing was off and tried to throw us all out.

We were about to lose our exclusive. Eventually, everyone agreed to back off apart from one particularly pushy and obnoxious reporter, on whom, I confess, I used physical force. I kicked him so hard he limped away. We were ushered into the presence of the new Big Man.

Except he wasn’t a Big Man. He was a small man. I don’t mean physically, but in terms of character. He had no presence, no charisma, no charm, no magnetism.

He spoke mainly in banalities, promising to bring peace and democracy. After about 20 minutes, he indicated the interview was over by standing up, walking across the room, sitting down in front of the TV, and turning on the cartoons.

That was it. The new president of Sudan was watching Tom and Jerry. (Or whatever it was). Our audience was over.

When I interviewed al-Bashir again last year (2008), he seemed exactly the same - a dull, small man who sucked energy from the room. Not a monster, a figure of stature, a person to be reckoned with or to fear. In our interview he simply denied everything. It was like interviewing a blank wall.

End Excerpt___

Channel 4 News – World News blog
The cartoon-watching, indicted war criminal by Lindsey Hilsum 04/03/2009
Lindsey Hilsum’s interview with President Omar al-Bashir 10/17/2008

The New York Times – The Lede blog
Impressions of Sudan’s President by Robert Mackey 03/04/2009

When I compare the two interviews (BBC News HARDtalk May 2009 vs. Channel 4 News October 2008) I get this eerie feeling that I’ve seen and heard all of this before. Even the way that the Sudanese president dressed for each respective interview, a European-style sport jacket with no tie and an open shirt collar, was the same. Have a look at the Channel 4 News October 2008 report and compare President Omar al-Bashir’s answers to questions posed by Lindsey Hilsum to similar questions asked by Zeinab Badawi of the BBC News:

Channel 4 News interview with President Omar al-Bashir
Khartoum, Sudan - October 17, 2008

Excerpts from the Channel 4 News interview with Sudan’s president:

LH: It's not just a question of peace but of justice. These allegations of genocide, war crimes against humanity, war crimes - the prosecutor quotes recorded and written and words of yours calling for forces to take no prisoners, and for a scorched earth campaign..

Bashir: These allegations are not correct. Everything is fabricated and made up. Anything saying that we ordered killing people is untrue. The sources used by the ICC prosecutor are all hostile; they are from the rebels who revolted against the state.

LH: You say the sources are rebel groups, but the atrocities are well documented. I've been there, I've seen the burnt villages, the women who have been raped, the thousands living in terror in the camps.

Bashir: It's true that many people are living in camps. After the rebels were defeated in the field, many entered the displaced people's camps. They are managing the camps, and they direct the people who meet visitors and dictate what they should say.

It's very normal for people to be displaced from areas of operations and to flee. The question is where did these people move to? They moved into places where there are Sudanese armed forces, police and security because they were sure that they would find safety there.

Is it rational for people to flee and look for security in the very place where they find the same forces that were carrying out mass murder and rape? When these people went to Nyala, El Fasher and Geneina, there were no humanitarian organisations or African Union or UN, rather there were Sudan Armed forces and police.

LH: There wasn't much protection for people in Kalma attacked by Sudanese forces in August. There's not much protection for women who run gauntlet of janjaweed whenever they go to look for firewood...

Bashir: When it comes to mass rape, there is no document or evidence, just accusations. Anything which claims these things are documented is untrue.

But if we are talking about Kalma, in Kalma there were arms inside the camp. The crime of murder was committed inside the camp. We agreed that the operation would be made in collaboration between government forces and UNAMID, but at the last moment the UNAMID mentioned that they had received orders not to be involved.

They knew when the forces moved because the informatiom had leaked. A number of citizens confronted the forces. Behind them, there were armed men and the shooting started from inside the camp. Some soliders when shot at, automatically retaliated and casualties occurred…

LH: I'm interested that you deny that there's been mass rape. Because this is something that not just the rebels are saying.

What we see is the UN, the Ministry of Health people, we see women turning up with evidence of rape at healthcare facilities. We see children with this. And they all tell the same story, that it's usually janjaweed, sometimes government of Sudan troops. Are you really denying this, are you really saying that women of Sudan are lying?

Bashir: The women inside the camps are under the influence of the rebels and some are even relatives of the rebels. That's why they make these claims.

Now there are scientific methods that can reveal who are the fathers of these children which are born. We are fully convinced that no rape took place. It might have happened at an individual level, but this is a normal crime that can happen in any country in the world. Mass rape does not exist.

LH: So you're going to take DNA of the janjaweed...?

Bashir: You can bring any accused, and take his DNA.

LH: They don't know who did it, individual, Just know the janjaweed[sic]

Bashir: These are all false allegations. It's not in the culture of the Darfurians. The Darfurian society does not have rape. It's not in the tradition.

LH: Do you have no pity?

Bashir: No-one has more compassion for their people than we do in Sudan. We have been fighting rebels and in any country where people raise arms against the government, they are to be fought.

In fact, people who fight now are classified as terrorists even those who are resisting foreign occupation like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and so on.

If we had no mercy, those displaced people wouldn't have come to the government areas. They wouldn't have been received and cared for until the humanitarian organisations arrived.

End Excerpts____

The responses by Sudan’s president to the interviewers’ questions are an act, well coached and well rehearsed to show the international viewing audience that the President of Sudan, Lt. General Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, is a peace-loving and caring man, a good leader of all Sudanese people and a devout Muslim. This gentle man wouldn’t hurt a fly let alone be guilty of the alleged crimes and atrocities contained in the ICC indictment and arrest warrant, the UN Security Council reports, and various other investigations by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the U.S. government and the European Union.

Looks like all those hours sitting before the television watching Tom & Jerry cartoons and The Roadrunner may have really paid-off for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. He certainly knows how to handle journalists and appearances in the Western and international news media, that’s for sure. His many supporters back in Khartoum and elsewhere around the globe just eat this stuff up.

Who is going to tell the Sudanese president that all of that violence he has been watching in cartoons is just for entertainment, that what has been happening to his country for more than two decades is for real and that he is one of the main perpetrators of the death and destruction? Who will finally relieve President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir from his nightmares and state of denial, and when will they finally do it? I wonder, I really do wonder how this story will end.

Mark Fiore's animation (cartoon) 'COPS Darfur'
March 11, 2009

Related articles and resources

BBC News
Sudan leader denies Darfur crimes (video and text) 05/12/2009
French lawsuit against African leaders 'valid' 05/06/2009
A French magistrate rules that a lawsuit against three African leaders accused of embezzlement of state funds is admissible in court (Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Republic of Congo)

BBC News Programmes – HARDTalk and Newsnight
Interview with Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (video and text) 05/14/2009
HARDTalk On the Road: a special 3-part program series featuring Stephen Sackur traveling in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
Newsnight: Can UN bring peace to DR Congo? 05/08/2009

Reuters, Reuters AlertNet
Bashir rejects ICC charges over Darfur conflict-BBC 05/14/09
Bashir denies targeting civilians in Darfur 05/12/2009
U.S. calls for "credible" 2010 Sudan election 05/07/09
INVESTOR RADAR: What investors are watching in Sudan by Andrew Heavens 05/13/2009

Al Jazeera News – English
War crimes suspect heads Sudan post 05/08/09
Indicted war criminal Hamed Harun, former State Minsiter for Humanitarian Affairs, is appointed as new governor of oil-rich Kordofan State (southern Sudan)
US envoy urges stronger Sudan ties 04/03/09
Profile on US Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration before first visit to Khartoum

The Washington Post
Chad accuses Sudan of armed incursion (Reuters) 05/02/2009
African Union panel on Darfur will meet ICC: says Thabo Mbeki (Reuters) 05/02/2009
A Town Constantly On Brink of Chaos by Stephanie McCrummen 04/25/2009
A profile of the very tense situation between North and South Sudan as played out in a town near the valuable southern oil fields. See related article Precarious South Essential to Sudan and the photo essay Cattle Raids Escalate in South Sudan.

The Economist
Sudan and its controversial president: Behind the defiance, a whirr of diplomacy 05/07/2009
Barack Obama's approach to Africa: Don't expect a revolution 03/12/2009

VOA News
Sudan Says It Will Welcome New International NGOs by Derek Kilner 05/08/2009
Photo Exhibit to Chronicle Violence, Human Suffering in Sudan's Darfur Region by Howard Lesser 05/08/09
NBC News (US) journalist Ann Curry opens photo exhibition on Darfur and Chad

Washington School of Photography (Bethesda,Maryland)
Exposing Darfur: a photography exhibit by Ann Curry with Antoine Saufuentes
May 8 - June 5, 2009

Sudan Tribune – a leading independent online news service based in Paris, France
Sudan president denies Darfur crimes 05/12/2009
ICC prosecutor says rebel case likely decided before UNSC briefing 05/12/2009
France says arrest warrant for Darfur suspects must be executed 04/22/2009

The New Sudan Vision – an independent news website founded by Sudanese university students in the U.S.A.
In an exclusive interview with BBC, Sudan's Bashir denies war crimes in Darfur 05/12/2009
Security Desk: Interpreting Khartoum Kangaroo court verdicts by Mariar Wuoi 04/30/2009
NSV columnist Mariar Wuoi accuses the Khartoum regime and Sudanese courts of sentencing captured JEM rebels to death sentences without a fair trial.

OUP Blog (Oxford University Press) – Notes from Africa
The Invasion of Chad (Act III) by Gérard Prunier 05/12/2009
Africa’s Arab Leaders Unite by Eve Donnegan 04/17/2009
Sudan: A Coward’s Revenge by Gérard Prunier 03/17/2009

Mark Fiore’s Animated Cartoon Website
Mark Fiore’s Channel at
Mark Fiore is a political cartoonist who according to the Wall Street Journal is “the guru of the form”. He works and publishes his animations from some undisclosed location in San Francisco. Mark’s animations are a regular feature at and other online magazines and newspapers in the U.S.A. Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir just loves this guy.

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