Melinda Henneberger

Melinda Henneberger: Even genocidal regimes now have Washington lobbyists

Sudan has hired Squire Patton Boggs to help them convince the Trump administration to let most of the sanctions eased under President Barack Obama lapse permanently. The firm’s lobbying arm, headed by former Sens. Trent Lott and John Breaux, is working for war criminal Omar al-Bashir, whose best known work includes the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.
Sudan has hired Squire Patton Boggs to help them convince the Trump administration to let most of the sanctions eased under President Barack Obama lapse permanently. The firm’s lobbying arm, headed by former Sens. Trent Lott and John Breaux, is working for war criminal Omar al-Bashir, whose best known work includes the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. AP

Even by K Street’s highly flexible standards, Squire Patton Boggs’ new client is a standout. The firm’s lobbying arm, which is headed by former Republican Sen. Trent Lott and former Democratic Sen. John Breaux, is now working for the Sudanese government headed by war criminal Omar al-Bashir, whose best known work includes the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains.

Sudan has hired the Washington lobbyists to help convince the Trump administration that most economic sanctions against Bashir’s government, which the U.S. has long recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism, ought to be allowed to lapse in July.

Squire Patton Boggs will pocket $40,000 a month, according to the firm’s June filing with the Department of Justice, for pushing to “avoid ‘snap back’ of U.S. sanctions on Sudan” and to “identify and implement strategies to improve Sudan’s investment climate.” Yes, for one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world.

Bashir, who hosted Osama bin Laden for four years in the ’90s, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Yet the sanctions were eased temporarily by President Barack Obama in the last week of his presidency, in return for promises of better behavior on several fronts, including helping our counterterror efforts.

A review of how well Sudan has kept its bargain was supposed to be done after six months, which is up on July 12. And ultimately, the decision will be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s. But it’s not clear that a review has been done. Or that anyone is even in place to do it, at either the State Department or the National Security Council.

A report from the Enough Project on countering genocide argues that the decision should at least be delayed until such people are in place and that lifting sanctions gives away all of our leverage, “while doing nothing to address the structural issues in Sudan that have led to increased refugee flows to Europe, further repression of Sudanese Christians and other minority groups, and continued war and authoritarian leadership.”

An American human rights activist, Ryan Boyette, who went to the Nuba Mountains as an aid worker 15 years ago and stayed on to organize a network of local citizen journalists, has been in Washington for the last couple of weeks, frantically meeting with members of Congress and others on the issue of sanctions.

“Everyone we met with was sympathetic,” on both sides of the aisle, Boyette said, “but there’s no one in State or the NSC for Africa right now,” so sanctions may be lifted “kind of on autopilot, without any accountability and no one taking ownership of it.”

Nearly everyone he met with told him they had also met with the lobbyists for Squire Patton Boggs. Boyette told them about how the moderate, dark-skinned Muslims and Christians who live in Nuba — and who Bashir considers “black insects” — have been under attack from Islamists who burn their crops, poison their water and bomb their homes, schools and clinics. They cut off access to journalists and aid workers in 2011, though a few have gone anyway; I was there in February with Sudan Relief Fund workers delivering medicine.

There have been no major attacks during the six months that Bashir has been on probation, Boyette said, but the government’s Russian-made cargo planes did circle overhead every day in May. That’s the month Nuban farmers have to plant their sorghum, peanuts and sesame because the area has such a short rainy season that if they don’t get the crops in then, there is no harvest. The intimidation worked; farmers hid in caves instead of planting, and now, the famine will be even worse.

The lobbyists will be eating well, though.

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