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Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2001 / 16 Elul, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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Slavery, free markets, and Bush -- ON March 22, House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Charles Rangel, a leading Democrat in the House, held the first joint press conference in their long congressional careers. Usually, they strongly disagree on most issues.

This time, both spoke of the "human rights nightmare" in Sudan. Said Congressman Armey, "People are being tortured, mutilated and killed solely because of their Christian faith." Black Christians and animists in the South are also being taken into slavery by the National Islamic Front government in the North; and government helicopters bomb schools, hospitals and humanitarian agencies to ethnically cleanse lands in the South so the government can get at the oil reserves underneath.

A number of foreign oil companies -- including PetroChina and Talisman Oil of Canada -- have been providing massive revenue to the Khartoum government as they invest in the development of the oil fields. This revenue gives the government more funds to engage in the ethnic cleansing and the rest of the human rights nightmare in the south. It also provides new military technology.

On June 13, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 422-2, passed the Sudan Peace Act, which contained a crucial amendment by Republican Spencer Bachus of Alabama: "The President shall exercise the authorities he has under the International Economic Powers Act to prohibit any entity engaged in the development of oil or gas in Sudan (1) from raising capital in the United States, or (2) from trading its securities ... in any capital market in the United States."

Furthermore, companies economically involved with Sudan would have to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission what those specific activists are. (U.S. sanctions already forbid any American company from investing in Sudanese ventures.)

The Bachus amendment and the overwhelming House vote in its favor led James Buckey, head of Talisman Oil, to say: "I don't think anybody could afford not to have access to the U.S. capital market. No asset is worth that." Also strongly opposed to the Bachus amendment are the Securities Industries Association, and Alan Greenspan.

The House version of the Sudan Peace Act was voted on by the Senate, which struck out the sanctions against the oil companies. There were no Senate hearings, and the bill, stripped of its core, was passed late at night by voice vote. That means there were no objections -- a strange, chilling time for total bipartisanship. Where were the alleged presidential aspirant, Tom Daschle, Russell Feingold, Paul Wellstone and the rest of the Democratic forces? Where were the Republican human rights advocates?

George W. Bush opposes the House version of the Sudan Peace Act. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says, "We believe that prohibiting access to capital markets in the United States would run counter to global and United States support for open markets, would undermine our financial market competitiveness, and could end up impeding the free flow of capital worldwide."

According to our president, free markets and profits must have priority over ending slavery and genocide. As Eric Reeves of Smith College, who has done extensive research on human rights atrocities in Sudan, wrote in the April 21 issue of the Washington Post, the present logic of the Bush administration could have prevailed "if in 1944, it had been discovered that a New York Stock Exchange-listed company in a neutral country (perhaps Switzerland) was shipping Zyklon-B to Nazi Germany. American capital would have been allowed to sustain a firm that was manufacturing and delivering a key ingredient in the extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe."

A letter to Majority Senate Leader Tom Daschle, signed by every member of the Congressional Black Caucus, says, "The extraordinary nature of human destruction and suffering in Sudan, and the deep complicity of publicly traded oil companies in Sudan's ongoing catastrophe, mark this as a singular moment, one in which moral outrage is appropriately reflected in actions which deny market listing to the National Islamic Front's corporate accomplices. "

Also supporting the Bachus amendment are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Soon there will be a Senate-House conference to decide whether Congressman Bachus' sanctions on the oil companies will be restored to the Sudan Peace Act. The decision will reflect the moral outrage of the conferees. If the bill, with Bachus's amendment, is sent to George W. Bush, who then vetoes it, there will be large-scale, ecumenical demonstrations outside the White House by blacks, Jews, Muslims opposed to the genocide in Sudan, Christians, schoolchildren across the country who have been raising money to liberate slaves, and just plain decent Americans.

This can become a deciding, historic moment in the Bush presidency. As the Congressional Black Caucus said to Tom Daschle, "We urge you to do the right thing."

So, too, should the president.

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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