A Clearer View of What Lies Behind Obama Administration Lifting of Sanctions on the Khartoum Regime

If we needed any confirmation of the supremely callous quid pro quo between Khartoum and the U.S intelligence community under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, it comes today in the form of a dispatch from Sudan Tribune (see below). The dispatch confirms that the Obama administration, during its last week in power, agreed to lift U.S. economic sanctions on the genocidal Khartoum regime—ignoring the putative “requirements” for such an action—this in exchange for whatever scraps of counter-terrorism intelligence this brutal regime is willing to disgorge.

There has been no improvement in humanitarian access in Darfur or Blue Nile or South Kordofan, one of the key U.S.-stipulated requirements for lifting sanctions. And yet the Obama administration ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, declared at the time of the sanctions decision that there had been a “sea change” of improvement in humanitarian access, a falsehood that even the U.S. State Department acknowledges as such. Military offensive action had diminished by January, but was hardly halted in the contested regions; and the Jebel Marra offensive that effectively ended rebel resistance in Darfur extended well beyond the July 2016 “look-back” period during which Khartoum has been credited with ending offensive military activity.

Moreover, violence fully countenanced by Khartoum continues to create intolerable insecurity in Darfur for civilians and humanitarian workers. In particular, violence by Khartoum-backed Arab militias continues to threaten the non-Arab/African populations that make up the overwhelming majority of the 3 million people who have been violently displaced from their homes during 14 years of genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur. The more than 200 locations to which Darfuri Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been scattered are more vulnerable than ever and face the clear prospect of a significant reduction in the already failing UN/AU mission (UNAMID), supposed to offer protection to civilians and humanitarians but performing miserably in this task. (See Appendix A for a summary of violence in Darfur since the January 13 announcement by the Obama administration that sanctions were being lifted.)

Is Khartoum really to be credited in the forward-looking “testing period (January 2017 to July 2017) with a sufficient reduction in military activity? The genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur has—after fourteen years of unfathomable violence, suffering, and destruction—been successful. Blue Nile is militarily helpless. And if Khartoum might forgo a new military offensive in South Kordofan this year, the regime will be as a consequence only the more determined not allow humanitarian access, especially to the rebel-controlled Nuba Mountains.

As I have long argued (see "What Really Animates the Obama Administration's Sudan Policy?" | October 10, 2011 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-GT/), the Obama administration early on ceded control of Sudan policy to the U.S. intelligence community.

Barack Obama promised so much, delivered so little on Darfur

The consequences of that decision are now fully apparent:

Sudanese intelligence chief meets CIA and FBI leaders | Sudan Tribune | March 27, 2017 (KHARTOUM) - The head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Mohamed Atta [Mohamed Atta al-Moula Abbas], has visited Washington, DC, in response to an invitation extended by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Mike Pompeo. According to a statement extended to a few number of local newspapers in Khartoum on Sunday and seen by Sudan Tribune, Atta met Pompeo and the FBI Director James Comey as well as a number of Congressmen.

The statement didn’t specify when he arrived in the American capital. But it said the visiting Sudanese official discussed security, political and humanitarian issues in the region. Sudan is under economic sanctions since twenty years, the east African country is also on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993. However, the Department of State in a statement issued last September welcomed Sudanese government efforts to combat terrorism and its increased cooperation with Washington.

Furthermore, former President Barak Obama eased economic sanctions on Sudan and the decision will be enforced following a review to be made by several agencies including the CIA and the FBI. American sources in Washington confirmed to Sudan Tribune the visit and said he has already left the American capital heading back to Khartoum on Saturday. The visit comes nearly three weeks after a visit by the speaker of the Sudanese parliament Ibrahim Ahmed Omer to Washington where he met Congressmen and U.S. officials. (emphasis added)

The head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Mohamed Atta [Mohamed Atta al-Moula Abbas]

It is worth recalling here the prescient words of former Senator Russ Feingold, spoken while he was chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. There was simply no one better positioned, or speaking with greater integrity, than Senator Feingold when he declared:

"I take serious issue with the way the report [on international terrorism by the U.S. State Department] overstates the level of cooperation in our counterterrorism relationship with Sudan, a nation which the U.S. classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. A more accurate assessment is important not only for effectively countering terrorism in the region, but as part of a review of our overall policy toward Sudan, including U.S. pressure to address the ongoing crisis in Darfur and maintain the fragile peace between the North and the South." (emphasis added) (Statement by Senator Russell Feingold, Chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, May 1, 2009)

Former senator Russ Feingold, an honest man work in the Washington cesspool...

The wisdom of Feingold’s assessment is borne out by a key moment in minutes of a meeting of senior military and security officials of the Khartoum regime on August 31, 2014 (these minutes have been recognized as authentic by the U.S. State Department have been exhaustively vetted; see http://wp.me/p45rOG-1w5/). At one point then-Defense Minister Abdel Rahmin Mohamed Hussein declares:

"Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) Jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed Jihadist Movements who are scattered all over from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody else owns a data-base on that like the one we have. We release only limited information to the Americans, according to their request—and the price is the armed movements file." (emphasis added)

Former Minister of the Interior (during the worst years of the Darfur genocide) and former Minister of Defense Abdel Rahmin Mohamed Hussein. the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for his arrest, charging him with massive crimes against humanity.

No American official has ever clarified precisely what this “price” entailed, and what form of betrayal of the rebel movements in Sudan it did or did not entail. Nor has there been any acknowledgement of the “limitations” Hussein speaks of—and clearly delights in.

I have frequently encountered bewilderment or disbelief when I point out that the Obama administration has deliberately cut loose genocide in Darfur from the larger strategic issue between Washington and Khartoum: lifting of economic sanctions in return for counter-terrorism intelligence. After all, it was Obama who referred to Darfur as the site of “genocide”—as senator, as presidential candidate, and as President; it was Obama who unctuously declared during his first presidential campaign that Darfur was a “stain on our souls.” But the word “de-coupled” is exactly the word used by an unnamed senior administration official (unnamed, but whose words are contained in an officials State Department transcript) and it was perfectly apt (see http://wp.me/p45rOG-Gl/).

The grimmest irony is how much the minutes from the August 31, 2014 meeting of senior regime security and military officials reveal about the attitudes of the regime toward radical Islamic groups: at several moments in these minutes, for example, officials speak of Khartoum’s support for the radical Islamic group “Libya Dawn,” which aimed by means of terrorism and ISIS-like brutality to undermine governance in Libya.