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Jewish World Review June 24, 2002 /14 Tamuz, 5762

Nat Hentoff

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Free markets in slaves | Earlier this year, an American-led commission, which included representatives from the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Norway, was forced by the growing public protest in this country to investigate slavery in Sudan.

It issued forth its horrifying report in May. According to the report, armed militias from the National Islamic Front Government in the north are attacking villages of black Christians and animists in the south. There, they "burn villages, loot cattle, rape and kill civilians, and abduct and enslave men, women and children." This confirms what the International Eminent Persons Group (IEPG) has found during many of its own investigations.

In June, the Sudanese government's enslavement and ethnic cleansing of blacks residing near profitable oil field areas in the south was the subject of a fiery session by the House International Relations Committee. It received very little press coverage.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee wanted to know why the Bush administration continues to oppose an amendment by U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) that passed the House by a 422-2 vote, but stalled in the Senate by order of the White House. This amendment would forbid foreign companies from listing their securities in American stock markets and raising capital here as long as those firms are in partnership with the Sudanese government in oil development.

The chief witness before the House International Relations Committee was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner. Faithfully following the White House line, he firmly opposed the Bachus amendment because, he said, "When you can politically determine what companies can list on your stock exchange, that has long-term implications ... It sends all the wrong signals to the bourses all around the world and those who control (them)."

Reuters reporter Vicki Allen was at this committee session concerning the "compassionate" principles of the Bush administration. She quoted committee Democrat Tom Lantos of California -- a specialist in human rights abuses around the world -- who asked: "Are you living in this world, Mr. Kansteiner?" referring to the Bush administration's attempts to arrange a peace settlement in the civil war between the Khartoum government in the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the south. Congressman Lantos said to the administration's witness: "Khartoum is playing the game of peace while conducting a vicious war of annihilation."

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told Kansteiner, "In any war, what you try to do is starve the aggressor of his lifelines, his fuel line. I'm a free-market guy to a large extent, but when it comes to a country that has killed 2 million people," Smith emphasized, free markets in oil pale in importance to ending the enslavement of human beings.

Also at this committee hearing was reporter Jim Lobe from the Inter Press Service. He quoted U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who asked Kansteiner: "Isn't there some point where we say this has gone far enough?"

Consider this answer by a member of the Bush administration: "I'm sure there is, but this isn't it."

Is there no member of the Washington press corps, with access to the president, who will ask George W. Bush how long the killing and enslavement of blacks in the south of Sudan will go on before he will publicly support Bachus's amendment? The gang rapes of abducted black women are extensively documented. Are free markets for international oil companies more important than the broken lives of these women, Mr. President?

Michael Young, chairman of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom, tells Reuters: "The only way to get Khartoum's attention is to curtail his oil revenues -- the only asset that is keeping it from bankruptcy."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is part of our federal government, but Mr. Young was constrained to say he was not speaking for the administration.

There is a movement, with which I agree, that is convinced Bush will not speak for the slaves until there are mass demonstrations in front of the White House by black and white clergy, evangelicals and many other Americans who are ashamed that our government is supporting free markets for slave trade.

How can Bush, leading the free world's war against the scourge of terrorism, continue to be silent in the face of the constant horrors of slavery in Sudan?

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JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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