Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The past is never dead...

...it isn't even past. How right you are, William Faulkner.

I read this yesterday in the New York Times. According to this article, a report recently released by the Justice Department, after concerted efforts to keep it secret, has revealed that intelligence officials, including members of the Central Intelligence Agency, aided former Nazis in entering the United States.

The report was assembled by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigation, which was stood up in 1979 specifically to deal with finding and deporting Nazis who had slipped into the United States. As it turns out, many of those Nazis had help. Intelligence officials, citing the Nazis' worth as information sources, pressured immigration officials to issue a visa to one Nazi and downplayed the involvement of several others.

The report was begun in 1999 at the urging of Mark Richards, a Justice Department lawyer, but Richards died in 2009, after six years of trying to get the report released. The Justice Department finally released a heavily redacted version earlier this year after a FOIA suit, although the Times obtained a full report that shows how much material was redacted.

And speaking of the past not being past - last Monday I went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum for the opening of their Sudan at the Crossroads photo exhibit. The Museum has a department dedicated to bringing attention to potentially genocidal activity worldwide, and has been heavily involved in trying to focus global attention on Sudan.

Lucian Perkins, a Pulizer Prize-winning photographer, and Andrew Natsios, the State Department's former Special Envoy to Sudan, went on a fact-finding trip sponsored by the Museum. Perkins' video and photographs were projected onto the wall of the Museum.

The opening presentation also included talks from Simon Deng and Omar Ismail, two Sudanese activists. Deng was kidnapped after his village in the Shilluk Kingdom of southern Sudan was raided by northern Sudanese and given to a family in Khartoum as a gift. He spent three years in slavery before escaping. Deng's perspective on the continuing violence directed against the south from the north is very interesting, and one that you will not hear most other people say. Deng frames the violence as religiously motivated - southern Sudan is a majority African, Christian area, whereas northern Sudan is mostly Arab Muslim.

It's not often that one is able to predict when genocide is going to happen. It often seems like only after it's over that the world indulges in a collected forehead-slap and "never again!" group cry. There's also debate about the efficacy of genocide prevention - if you prevented it, and it didn't happen, can you prove that it would have happened unless you prevented it? No, unless you're Spock (and if you diagram that logically, it looks like this: happened --> prevented it.)

But in January, Sudan is supposed to hold a nationwide referedum, and it is predicted that 1) if it actually happens and 2) if it's a fair election, the south will vote to split from the north, which will cause some consternation, as Sudan's oil is inconveniently (if you're in the north) located underneath the south.

All of which means we have a bit of warning that something may happen, and that it won't be good - but what are we going to do about it?

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