One Eye Open: A Blinkered Glimpse of Somalia's Terror War Suffering

Now that it's over, now that it can be portrayed as another "refugee crisis" to tug at the heartstrings, the American corporate media have deigned to notice the suffering of Somalia, the latest target of a military "regime change" operation in Bush's Terror War.

Hundreds of innocent people were killed and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes as the American-trained, American-funded troops of Ethiopia's brutal dictatorship swept into Somalia late last year and, with the aid of local warlords in the pay of the CIA, overthrew the only stable government the nation had known in the last 15 years of violent anarchy. American bombers attacked fleeing refugees, killing dozens in an ostensible attempt to kill a handful of alleged al Qaeda operatives -- none of whom were killed by the airstrikes or captured by the Special  Forces troops that Bush also dispatched as part of the invasion. American security apparatchiks captured and questioned Somali refugees who made it over the border to Kenya -- and "renditioned" many of them to Ethiopia's infamous torture chambers, including an American citizen who was held in the dungeons of Bush's ally for months, although the FBI itself had declared that he was innocent. (He was only released last week.)

(For extensive background on the Bush-backed slaughter in Somalia, see the compendium of our previous posts -- with copious links to sources -- after the jump.)

Very little of this was even mentioned in the American media -- and when it was, it was almost always filtered through the Bush Administration's propaganda lens, which painted the rape and sacking of Somalia as a noble crusade against "al Qaeda-connected terrorists." This was not remotely true, but of course, that didn't matter; evoking the name of "al Qaeda," however speciously, is enough to justify any slaughter of civilians, any crime, any abuse of human rights these days.

And so Somalia was conquered. The CIA's warlords have been installed in power. The most hardcore elements of the former broad-based Islamic government have turned to "asymmetrical warfare" against the foreign-implanted regime, joined in the insurgency by others radicalized by suffering and seeking revenge, leaving the majority of Somalis caught in the crossfire, their lives blighted by terrorist attacks and savage "counterinsurgency" actions by the occupying power -- the entirely predictable result of iron-fisted "regime change."

Now we are left with the endless backwash of geopolitical power games: the refugees
, trying to carve out some kind of ordinary, decent life from the bloodsoaked filth that's been heaped upon them. Since the Bush-backed invasion, thousands of Somalis have made the harrowing sea passage to Yemen, long a traditional refuge for Somalis fleeing the anarchy. This has exacerbated the always bleak conditions for the refugees in Yemen, while giving even greater power and profit to the vicious smugglers who traffic in human misery. (In precisely the same way as Bush and his war profiteering cronies do -- only without the thousand-dollar suits.)

And while the national media were happy to let the Bush-backed invasion unfold with very little comment (and in the case of the New York Times, some very vigorous cheerleading), the plight of its victims is now being taken up -- in suitably depoliticized form, of course. The Washington Post has just published a very extensive front-page story, by the fine reporter Anthony Shadid, on the Somali refugees in Yemen. And while Shadid rightly encompasses the broader story of the years-long Somali exodus, he -- or his editor -- make not a single mention of the American role in creating the new wave of exiles that prompted the story in the first place. Indeed, the war itself is noted in only one brief passage, part of the back story of one young Somali woman who came to Yemen "after Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's transitional government seized the notoriously lawless capital from an Islamic group that had taken control six months earlier."

That's it. That's the entire political context permitted into the story. And as you can see, it too follows the Bush party line: Ethiopian troops were merely assisting the transitional government (of CIA-backed warlords) who seized (with brutal force, including the relentless shelling of civilian areas) the "lawless capital" (which was enjoying its first rule of law in 15 years) from an "Islamic group" (that was actually a broad coalition of grass-roots Islamic councils).

Again, the main purpose of the Post story is to highlight the horrendous difficulties facing Somali refugees in Ethiopia -- and it does an excellent, admirable job of this. But as so often happens in American journalism, the total lack of any context (beyond a quick sketch of officially-approved conventional wisdom) means that the suffering thus described simply floats in a void for the reader. It emerges for a moment out of the great fog that envelops the rest of the world for most Americans, and stands there as yet another example of the apparently unfathomable horrors that have no explanation, no causes -- except of course for the existence of some kind of metaphysical "evil" that infects other people but never, ever has anything whatsoever to do with us.

Of course, there is evil in the world, a surfeit of it; but it's not metaphysical. It's personal, it's intimate, it is what we human beings do to one another, the damage we inflict on individual bodies, individual lives. The Bush Administration is by no means the sole source of evil in the world, or even for the Somali refugees, as the excerpts below from the Post story make clear. But the intimate damage inflicted on the bodies and lives of millions of innocent people by the policies of the Bush Administration does constitute a great and abiding evil; and to fail to acknowledge that, to recognize that it is being done in our name, is to become complicit with it.

Excerpts from A Desperate Voyage of Hope and Peril (Washington Post):
Along the Yemeni coast near this ramshackle fishing village [Bir Ali], where white sandy beaches wash over a stark volcanic plateau, as many as 100 people a day are arriving across the Gulf of Aden in a sprawling and largely unnoticed exodus from Africa to the Middle East. Tens of thousands have made the trek, forced by war and misery from a failed state to a failing one. Since last year, more than 1,000 of them have died, their decaying corpses often washing ashore and buried in unmarked mass graves near Bir Ali....

By virtue of geography and a relatively lenient government, Yemen has emerged as the way station from East Africa to Saudi Arabia, other wealthy Persian Gulf states and occasionally Europe. Passage on rickety fishing boats costs $50 to $120 for a 180-mile trip that lasts two, three or sometimes four days.

By virtually every account, the smugglers are brutal: Unruly refugees are thrown overboard into shark-infested waters; others are shot, sometimes to teach the rest of the passengers a lesson. Some refugees are shoved into the sea a half-mile or more from shore so the boats can make a quick getaway, and residents have seen corpses wash up with their hands and legs bound. U.N. officials cite a variety of ordeals on board, including rape, stabbings and dehydration.

Once here, the survivors -- at least 8,000 already this year arriving aboard more than 70 boats, by the U.N. count -- are left to navigate the fringes of a country mired in its own poverty and unrest, in a passage of desperation and determination...

"The smugglers told us not to move. If you tried to move one inch either side, just to stretch, they beat you," she said. Her face was framed in a black veil that fell across her brown skirt. "It's their nature. They beat everybody -- men, women and children."

Last October, smugglers beat five Ethiopians, then threw them overboard, U.N. officials said. Passengers watched as sharks in the warm water attacked them. In February, smugglers forced 137 passengers into deep water off Yemen's coast. More than 50 drowned, many unable to swim.
Many of the journeys take two days, but some have been far longer.

In one of the worst episodes last year, a boat drifted in the Gulf of Aden for six days after its engine failed. Smugglers allow passengers to take little or nothing with them, and refugees soon became dehydrated. Passengers said six threw themselves into the sea, delirious from thirst. Eight others died of dehydration, and their bodies were thrown overboard, U.N. officials said. When the boat reached shore, six more were dead. Some survivors had bite marks from fellow passengers crazed with hunger, the officials said.


Background to the war in Somalia:

US Attacks Somalia, Taking Sides With Former Enemy Warlords

Air America: Civilian Death Toll Grows in Somalia

Bush-Backed Liberation of Somalia: "Most of the dead are poor people"

See No Evil: Somalia Sinks Into the Pit as the World Looks Away

Where the Dead Rot in the Streets: Bush's Terror War in Somalia Rages On

The Lies of the Times: NYT Pushes Bush Line on Somalia

Blues for Allah: More Blood in the Wake of the "War on Terror"

Getting Away With It: Rendition and Regime Change in Somalia

Fear Factor: Press Plays 9/11 Card to Justify Somalia Slaughter

War on Terror Spawns War Crimes Charges in Somalia

Terror War III: U.S. Forces Capture, Render Refugees From Somali "Regime Change"

Live Burlesque on Antiwar Radio: Interview About Somalia

Violence and Violation: An Update on Terror War III

Black Hawk Rising: CIA Warlords Take Control in Mogadishu