Crimes Against Humanity in Chad
by Richard Keeble
www.zmag.org, December 4, 2006
One of the most remarkable human rights
campaigns of recent years has gone largely unreported in the British
mainstream media. During the 1980s Hissène Habré,
installed as head of state in Chad following a CIA-backed coup
in 1982, had presided over 'crimes against humanity' and 'torture'
in his country before being ousted in another coup in 1990. In
a rare instance of coverage, on May 21st 1992 The Guardian carried
four short paragraphs reporting how 40,000 people were estimated
to have died in detention or been executed during the tyranny
of Habré. A justice ministry report concluded that Habré
had committed genocide against the Chadian people.
Now Senegal, where Habré lives
in exile, has finally responded to an appeal by the African Union
to try the former Chadian dictator. He is accused of 40,000 political
killings and 200,000 cases of torture during his eight-year rule.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch claimed Habré was
responsible for thousands of cases of political killings, torture,
'disappearances' and arbitrary detention. Moreover, the regime
produced 80,000 orphans and more than 30,000 widows.
Since 1990 a range of human rights groups
have sought to have Habré charged with crimes against humanity.
For instance, six years ago, in a case inspired by the one against
Chile's General Augusto Pinochet, several human rights organisations,
led by Human Rights Watch, filed a suit against Habré in
Senegal. They argued that he could be tried anywhere for crimes
against humanity and that former heads of state were not immune.
However, on March 21st 2001, the Senegal Court of Cassation threw
out the case. And so human rights campaigners turned their attention
to Belgium where one of the victims of Habré's torture
Following threats from the United States
in June 2003 that Belgium risked losing its status as host to
NATO's headquarters, a 1993 historic law, which allowed victims
to file complaints in Belgium for atrocities committed abroad,
was repealed. Yet a new law, adopted in August 2003, made special
provision for the continuation of the case against Habré
- much to the delight of human rights campaigners. Now the Senegal
intervention appears to have finally brought Habré to court.
These were extraordinary events but all
of them hidden behind a virtual wall of silence in the mainstream
media in Britain. Yet also hidden is the massive, secret war which
has been waged by the United States and Britain from bases in
Chad against Libya. British involvement in a 1996 plot to assassinate
the Libyan leader, Colonel Mu'ammar Gadafi, as alleged by the
maverick M15 officer David Shayler, was reported as an isolated
event. Yet it is best seen as part of a wide-ranging and long-standing
strategy (now abandoned) of the US and UK secret states to remove
Grabbing power by ousting King Idris in
a 1969 coup, Gadafi (who, intriguingly, had followed a military
training course in England in 1966) soon became the target of
covert operations by the French, Americans, Israelis and British.
_Stephen Dorril, in his seminal history of M16, records how in
1971 a British plan to invade the country, release political prisoners
and restore the monarchy ended in an embarrassing flop. Nine years
later, the head of the French secret service, Alain de Gaigneronde
de Marolles, resigned after a French-led plan ended in disaster
when a rebellion by Libyan troops in Tobruk was quickly suppressed.
Then, in 1982, away from the glare of
the media, Habré, with the backing of the CIA and French
troops, overthrew the Chadian government of Goukouni Wedeye. Bob
Woodward (of Watergate fame), in his semi-official history of
the CIA, reveals that the Chad covert operation was the first
undertaken by the new CIA chief William Casey and that, throughout
the decade, Libya ranked as high as the Soviet Union as the bête
noir of the White House. A report from Amnesty International,
'Chad: The Habré Legacy', records massive military and
financial support for the dictator by the US Congress. It adds:
'None of the documents presented to Congress and consulted by
AI covering the period 1984 to 1989 make any reference to human
US official records indicate that funds
for the Chad-based covert war against Libya also came from Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Iraq. The Saudis, for instance,
gave $7 million to an opposition group, the National Front for
the Salvation of Libya (also backed by French intelligence and
the CIA). However, a plan to assassinate Gadafi and seize power
on May 8th 1984 was crushed. In the following year, the US asked
Egypt to invade Libya and overthrow Gadafi but President Mubarak
refused. By the end of 1985, the Washington Post had exposed the
plan after congressional leaders opposing it wrote in protest
to President Reagan.
Frustrated in its covert attempts to topple
Gadafi, the US government's strategy suddenly shifted. For eleven
minutes in the early morning of April 14th 1986, thirty US air
force and navy bombers struck Tripoli and Benghazi in a raid code-named
El Dorado Canyon._The US/UK mainstream media were ecstatic. Yet
the main purpose of the raid was to kill the Libyan president
- dubbed a 'mad dog' by Reagan. In the event, the first bomb to
drop on Tripoli hit Gadafi's home killing Hana, his adopted daughter
aged 15 months - while his eight other children and wife Safiya
were all hospitalised, some with serious injuries. The president
Reports of US military action against
Libya disappeared from the media after the 1986 assault. But away
from the glare of publicity, the CIA launched its most extensive
effort yet to spark an anti-Gadafi coup. A secret army was recruited
from among the many Libyans captured in border battles with Chad
during the 1980s. And as concerns grew in M16 that Gadafi was
aiming to develop chemical weapons, Britain funded various opposition
groups in Libya.
Then in 1990, with the crisis in the Gulf
developing, French troops helped oust Habré in a secret
operation and install Idriss Déby as the new President
of Chad. The French government had tired of Habré's genocidal
policies while George Bush senior's administration decided not
to frustrate France in exchange for co-operation in its attack
on Iraq. Yet, even under Déby, abuses of civil rights by
government forces have continued.
Recently, relations between the US, UK
and Libya have thawed, with Gadafi pledging support for the 'war
against terrorism' and agreeing to pay compensation to the victims
of the 1988 Flight 103 Lockerbie bombing, for which a Libyan intelligence
agent was jailed. But significantly, at his trial in November
2003, David Shayler was denied the right (under the European Convention
of Human Rights) to speak out about the 1996 anti-Gadafi plot.
Since it is obvious there are a lot of shady secrets from the
years of the dirty war to conceal, such a decision by the court
must have come as a relief to the government.
US troops are currently arriving in several
African countries, including Chad, as the Pentagon warns that
the region runs the risk of becoming an al-Qaida recruiting ground.
Moreover, oil reserves in North and West Africa are drawing increasing
attention from the US. West Africa supplies the US with 15 per
cent of its oil while the US National Intelligence Council has
projected the figure will grow to 25 per cent by 2015. The 650-mile,
£2.8 billion oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon, finished
in 2002, amounted to Africa's largest ever development project.
Yet it was criticised for damaging the interests of the poor,
the people it was supposed to help.
World Bank officials admitted the Chad
government had spent the first £10 million of the monies
it received from the consortium on arms for its security forces
rather than on the educational and development projects for which
they were intended. And yet in Britain these extraordinary events
are greeted largely with silence.
Richard Keeble is an author and professor
of journalism at the University of Lincoln, England. This commentary
first appeared in The Fifth Estate Online, an international journal
of radical media criticism. www.fifth-estate-online.co.uk