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.

Coptic Christians being marched to their beheadings by radical Islamic militants in Libya; Libya Dawn, one such group, was strongly supported by the Khartoum regime

We get an especially clear look into the brutality and savage calculation that inform the views of Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Services Mohammed Atta, on whom Sudan Tribune reports today. In the course of the meeting these minutes record, Atta reveal a good deal of himself (the following is an extended excerpt from the comments of this ruthless man who heads one of the world’s most notoriously brutal security services):

“There are certain [international] entities demanding that we publish a report on the events of September 2013 or else bring Sudan back to Chapter 4 [UN human rights monitoring].

[In September 2013, widespread popular demonstrations against the regime, in many Sudanese cities—not just Khartoum and Omdurman—were gaining momentum; the regime put down the demonstrations by issuing “shoot to kill” orders. Many hundreds were killed and wounded, although we have no firm figures. The determination that “shoot to kill” orders had been given was made by Amnesty International and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies—ER]

“Other intelligence people are pushing to know whether we think that the September 2013 events were a conspiracy planned and financed by Egypt, Saudi and Emirates intelligence to create the Arab Spring in Sudan in order to change the regime and that we suppressed the demonstrations using brutal force to ensure this is not repeated

[This of course is precisely what the “suppression” was; and in anticipation of similar popular demonstrations in December 2016, President Omar al-Bashir directly threatened to re-issue “shoot to kill” orders | http://sudanreeves.org/2016/12/13/7629/ )—ER]

“We intercepted all the telephone calls coming from Saudi, Emirates and Egyptian intelligence. Some people from the political parties of the Sudan say they orchestrated the demonstrations, yet they brought experts to administer the demonstrations. We were monitoring the telephones and other communications and we managed to arrest the real players. They confessed and disclosed all the details about the conspiracy and the names of officers assigned to supervise the demonstrations and the leadership in each country who were receiving daily reports. That is why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Emirates are concerned/afraid after all their agents have been exposed and arrested by our security forces. On our side we, did not disclose anything up until now; we want to use this file to blackmail them instead.

“They have taken many measures fearing that we may use or release terrorist groups to take revenge on them. No need to fear or hurry, we shall use this file to the maximum.”

This is the man so recently greeted warmly by officials of the U.S. intelligence community.

The fear that Sudan would “use or release terrorist groups to take revenge on them [Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States]” was all too well-founded; moreover, it is foolish to think that NISS Director General Atta has changed his views or become less cynical or ruthless than the self-described blackmailer recorded in these remarks. To be sure, relations between Khartoum and Tehran have shifted dramatically in the interim between August 2014 and the present, but this is completely expedient—a desperate acknowledgement that without Saudi and Gulf State money the Sudanese economy would rapidly collapse. But the mentality of men like Atta is unchanged, something that neither the U.S. nor the Europeans are willing to acknowledge, if for different expedient reasons.

Notably, Atta is fighting for even more repressive powers for NISS; see Radio Dabanga dispatch of February 28, 2017 | https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/constitution-should-strengthen-security-apparatus-sudan-niss-officials/. This comes at a time when regime repression of civil society, human rights advocates, and newspapers is at an all-time high.

But even after abandoning its supposed key “strategic ally” Iran, Khartoum still faces an economy whose collapse has only been delayed. Moreover, there has been a continuing resurgence of civil society outrage, protest actions, and demonstrations. All of these efforts to bring about a democratization of Sudan are undermined by the U.S. decision to lift sanctions on Khartoum, and to make whatever trade-offs are required to secure counter-terrorism intelligence from the regime. This extends to refusing to pressure Khartoum publicly to allow desperately needed food and medicine into the Two Areas and to open Darfur fully to humanitarian relief aid. Here also, the NISS Director General has made his views known, if unwittingly. In the August 31, 2014 minutes, he declares:

“We must not allow the delivery of humanitarian relief before we reach a comprehensive ceasefire and a full security agreement. We will not allow them to unite the opposition, and anybody who meets the rebels will be arrested, charged and taken to court.”

One victim of Khartoum's denial of humanitarian access to more than 2 million people in Sudan

By a “comprehensive cease-fire” and a “full security agreement,” Atta means a complete disarming of the people of the Nuba, who are now facing the second attempt by Khartoum to annihilate them (the first effort, in the 1990s, very nearly succeeded). He is asking for unconditional surrender by forces that, in the eyes of the Nuba people, are all that prevent a fully successful genocide. Here we should recall the savage ethnic targeting of Nuba civilians in Kadugli during the first month of conflict in South Kordofan (June 2011). This involved involving roadblocks, house-to-house searches, random murder, and other actions all too reminiscent of Rwanda in 1995. Hideous mass graves, capable of holding thousands of bodies, were first reported by the Satellite Sentinel Project and subsequently by the UN human rights team based in Kadugli that terrible month of June 2011.

The supreme savagery of the assault on the people of the Nuba Mountains is captured in a comment by Atta’s intelligence services colleague, General Siddiq Amer (Director General of Intelligence and Security):

“Let us continue to dismantle the armed movements. The mechanisms to do that are already in place and working. This year the Sudan People’s Army (SPLA) managed to cultivate large areas in South Kordofan State. We must not allow them to harvest these crops. Good harvest means supplies for the war effort. We must starve them, so that, commanders and civilians desert them and then we can recruit the deserters to use them in the war to defeat the rebels.” (emphasis added)

Despite Siddiq Amer’s reference to “starving the SPLA,” and his suggestion that it was the SPLA that “cultivated large areas,” it was of course the civilians of South Kordofan who planted a good sorghum crop—and it was they who would starve if the harvest were not permitted or destroyed. The willingness to starve civilians as a means of weakening military rebellion is a tactic that the Khartoum regime has perfected over 28 years in power—first in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains; then in Darfur; and now again in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. The relentless, indiscriminate aerial assault on the agricultural economies of South Kordofan and Blue Nile has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes—many into neighboring Ethiopia or South Sudan—and has pushed malnutrition indicators into terrifying ranges in many areas.

The ruthless men of the Khartoum regime have no intention of providing humanitarian access to rebel-controlled regions of the Two Areas, as should be perfectly clear from the fact that they have refused all proposals since the AU/UN/Arab League “Tripartite” access agreement was first put forward in February 2012—over five years ago. For the U.S. Charge d’affaires in Khartoum, Steven Koutsis, to blame the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North for failure to reach an access agreement is viciously disingenuous (see Sudan Tribune, March 3, 2017 | http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article61783/). Koutsis outrageously distorted account of the issues is finally of a piece with U.S. accommodation of Khartoum’s atrocity crimes in a wide range of arenas.

Moreover, Koutsis seems oblivious to the fact that denial of humanitarian access is a “crime against humanity” under the terms of the Rome Treaty that is the statutory basis for the International Criminal Court (see | "On the Obstruction of Humanitarian Aid," African Studies Review, Volume 54, Number 3 (December 2011), pages 165 – 74 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-I6/). And yet Khartoum is treated by the U.S. and other consequential international actors not as the criminal regime it is but as a legitimate sovereign negotiating party.

What We Have Known

In an important sense, there is nothing particularly newsworthy about Atta’s trip to the U.S. His predecessor in the position of Director General of NISS, the notoriously savage Saleh Gosh, traveled to Washington under the Bush administration, a meeting that was to have been secret but was revealed in an extraordinary work of investigative reporting by Ken Silverstein for the Los Angeles Times. Gosh had been deeply complicit in a wide range of atrocity crimes at the time, but this seemed not to trouble the CIA in its insatiable quest for counter-terrorism intelligence:

The CIA and Mukhabarat [Khartoum's intelligence and security services] officials have met regularly over the last few years, but Gosh had been seeking an invitation to Washington in recognition of his government's efforts, sources told The Times. The CIA, hoping to seal the partnership, extended the invitation. "The agency's view was that the Sudanese are helping us on terrorism and it was proud to bring him over," said a government source with knowledge of Gosh's visit. "They didn't care about the political implications."

Saleh Gosh was flown to CIA headquarters in Langley (Virginia) aboard a luxurious executive jet.

See also:

• "What Really Animates the Obama Administration's Sudan Policy?" | October 10, 2011 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-GT/

• "Sudan, Terrorism, and the Obama Administration," 9 February 2011 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-B9

• "U.S. Counter-terrorism in Lieu of Foreign Policy: the Case of Sudan," The Huffington Post | 29 October 2013 | http://wp.me/s45rOG-4409

• "Sudan embraces genocide, terrorism — and Iran," The Washington Post, 30 November 2014 | http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sudan-embraces-genocide-terrorism--iran/2014/11/30/2ed603ae-75bb-11e4-a755-e32227229e7b_story.html

• "Khartoum: Really Out of the Terrorism Business?" Sudan Tribune, 8 March 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1b1 http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article50222

• "The Obama Administration, Terrorism, and Hypocrisy," Sudan Tribune | 6 May 2014 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1i8

A recent dispatch from Sudan Tribune also gives us a sense of how extensive “cooperation” between Washington and Khartoum has become. The enormous and extremely costly new U.S. embassy in Khartoum has now, finally, been allowed to become the listening post that the U.S. intelligence community has long lusted for in Northern Africa, as huge quantities of surveillance equipment and other “spyware” are now set up and operational in the new embassy:

CIA office in Khartoum is the largest one in the Middle East: official

January 31, 2017 (KHARTOUM) - The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office in Khartoum is the largest one in the Middle East, said the Sudanese intelligence General Hanafi Abdallah, to give an idea about the importance of of intelligence cooperation between the two countries. "There is communication between the two bodies and regular meetings. The CIA office in Khartoum is the largest office in the Middle East. Because the United States is aware of the Sudan strategic importance in the region, it has established one of the largest diplomatic missions in the region, even they had to expand their buildings," said Hanafi in an interview with the Khartoum based Al-Sudani newspaper published on Tuesday.

The massive new U.S. embassy in Khartoum, CIA headquarters for Northern Africa

Perhaps not the largest in the Middle East, but certainly the largest and most morally compromised in Northern Africa. A terrible “deal with the devil” has been consummated, and there is no sign that the current dysfunctional and hideously cynical Trump administration has any problem with this “deal.”

APPENDIX A: Continuing violence following Obama administration lifting of U.S. sanctions on the Khartoum regime (a selective compendium)

For an overview of the current levels of violence, destruction, displacement, and humanitarian shortfalls throughout Sudan, see | “Quantifying Human Destruction and Suffering in Sudan: The grim calculus of international policies and politics” | February 12, 2017 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-21m

Violent events of particular note

• The Nertiti Massacre: The real meaning of al-Bashir’s declared “cease-fire,” January 2, 2017 | http://wp.me/s45rOG-7710

We learn today from a wide range of sources just how meaningful Omar al-Bashir’s declaration of a one-month extension of his nominal “cease-fire” really is (see Sudan Tribune, January 1, 2017 | http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article61265/). Radio Dabanga, Sudan Tribune, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, and the Darfur Union in the UK have all reported within the last 24 hours on the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) massacre of civilians in Nertiti, Central Darfur (formerly West Darfur).