U.S. Special Operations forces have launched a pair of air strikes on Somalia. Many people are believed to have been killed. The Pentagon says the target of the strikes were members of Al Qaeda connected to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. [includes rush transcript]
The attack is the first overt U.S. military action in Somalia since American troops departed the country in 1993 following the infamous "Black Hawk Down" episode.
The strikes come just weeks after U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia and overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts. Reports have also emerged that suggest U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary teams are now directly embedded with Ethiopian forces in Somalia. Earlier this year, the CIA was accused of backing a group of Somali warlords.
- Salim Lone, former spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq and a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya. He has been closely monitoring the story. He joins us on the line from Nairobi.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Salim Lone is the former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq and a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya. He’s been closely monitoring the story and joins us on the phone once again from Nairobi. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Salim.
SALIM LONE: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you understand has taken place overnight in Somalia?
SALIM LONE: You know, let me begin by saying that the world has become used to what is called "targeted assassinations" — in Gaza by Israel, in Afghanistan by NATO, and in Iraq, as well. But let us be clear that all such attacks are illegal under international law. No one has been identified and tried and sentenced. Invariably, lots of innocent people die in such attacks, sometimes scores, as happened recently in Pakistan. So these are illegal attacks. But, in addition, this has escalated this war, begun basically by Ethiopia when they invaded Somalia. And it has opened — and this is what is so incredulous to me, I find, incredulous that the US has opened another front in the Muslim world. I do not understand what the intention is.
The world does want to help the US end terror, but the way the US repeatedly is doing it, from Iraq and Afghanistan to now in Somalia, this will increase the amount of terrorism that exists in the world and certainly in this region. It is a totally brutal attack that has killed many civilians. There was no need to do it this way. There are other ways to fight terror. And in this particular case, the best way to fight terror was to work with the Islamic Courts Union, which had lots of support and controlled virtually all of southern Somalia. We should have engaged — "we" meaning the international community, the US — should have engaged with them to ensure that there was no terror coming out of Somalia. This is completely reckless.
But it is also inevitable, because the US, using the issue of terror as the goal to defeat terror, wants to place in Somalia — and it is succeeding so far — a client regime, which will go along with what it wishes to do, as happened in Iraq. You know, there’s a strategic region, and they want a client regime in there. And the new regime immediately came out in support of the US attacks, even though it acknowledged that lots of people had been killed who are not terrorists.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Salim Lone. He is in Kenya talking about the latest news of the US strikes in Somalia. Looking at a CBS report, it says that the US military sent an aircraft carrier to join three other US warships conducting anti-terror operations off the Somali coast. The AC-130, capable of firing thousands of rounds per second — sources saying a lot of bodies were seen on the ground after the strike, yet no confirmation of their identities. The gunship flew from its base in Djibouti down to the southern tip of Somalia, where al-Qaeda operatives had fled after being chased from the capital of Mogadishu by Ethiopian troops backed by the United States. Your response, Salim Lone?
SALIM LONE: Well, actually, this is so classic. It is so easy to say al-Qaeda is there or al-Qaeda is here. Who is going to verify that? If the US now, the accuser, the executor, the accuser, the judge, the US seems to believe it can do what it wishes. It’s so reckless to provoke people. I mean, now Somalia is at war with the United States. Kenya, a close US ally, which is so stable — 43 years of very stable rule here — is going to be implicated, because Kenya seems to be supporting the US attack. I think Kenya needs to be very careful. We have millions of Somalis who live in Kenya. Most of them supported the Islamic Courts Union, because the Islamic Courts Union is very popular throughout Somalia. This is destabilizing the region, and it seems that the US ultimately does not care about destabilizing even its allies, as has happened in the Middle East. It is relentless in its drive to obtain hegemony. The world, as I said, would be very happy to help the United States take on terror, but this is the wrong way to go about it.
I mean, General Abizaid was in Ethiopia a few weeks ago. We all knew this meant that this was not going to be merely an Ethiopian invasion. We knew this meant there’d be very close US support. I am sorry that the American press has, on the whole, been ignoring very credible reports of US troops near the Somalia border in Kenya, training in Kenya for these exercises. This is known to us in Kenya. These troops are there. But the US media, at least most of the ones that I monitor, has refused to take on those reports or to investigate those reports. The US was violating the embargo, the arms embargo on Somalia imposed after the 18 Americans were killed in 1993, by giving aid and arms indirectly through contractors to these warlords, who were the ones who had actually driven it out in 1993 in order to crush the Islamists.
I mean, the issue here, I think, is this, that anything that has the word "Islam" in it is seen to be an enemy. And it is so easy for so many people now, because there are terrorist acts committed by Muslims, many terrorist acts, that that seems to be good enough for them. That seems to be justification enough for them. "Oh, they’re going after the Islamists." I mean, the reality is that these, what we call Islamists are just Muslims who are pretty traditional. They should be allowed to live as they wish to. I mean, if they want to ban cinemas, that’s their right. I don’t support it, but I’m not going to start an invasion to say, "Oh, we don’t want such people in power there." If the Somalis don’t want them in power, that is fine. Let the Somalis work it out for them. But this is madness.
It is in violation also of explicit UN resolutions that the UN itself supported and passed. For example, the new UN resolution that the UN wanted said no troops from neighboring countries should go into Somalia, in case there is a peacekeeping force from the region. And yet, Ethiopia invaded.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Salim Lone, who is the former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq. He’s a columnist now for the Daily Nation in Kenya, speaking to us from Kenya. Can you talk about the strategic significance of Somalia and the increasing US military role in Africa?
SALIM LONE: Yes, well, you know, Somalia sits at the tip of what is called the Horn of Africa. This is one of the most strategic regions in the world, after the Middle East, because through the Red Sea, you have daily, you know, scores of oil tankers and warships passing back and forth, because of the wars in the Middle East. It also is newly oil-rich. There are extensive reports, terrible reports, that Somalia now also has oil, just like most other countries in the region have.
The US has a huge military base in Djibouti, which is neighboring Somalia. And, in fact, so important is Africa to the US now, especially this region of Africa, which also contains, by the way, Sudan — you know, there was a big long civil war, brutal civil war, in southern Sudan. There’s another brutal civil war in Darfur in Sudan. Ethiopia itself is a dictatorship. It lost the election last year, but by true force continued to assume power, Meles Zenawi, with the help of the US. The US has very close ties; it’s training the military in Ethiopia. So the US in now going to have a new army command, like CENTCOM, for Africa. There’s never been a US command specifically for Africa, but there’s going to be one now, and it is going to be in the Horn of Africa.
This is a very turbulent region. And the best way to look at this region is to imagine for a second that this very narrow Red Sea doesn’t exist, and then you see that Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, all these countries are just a few miles from Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Iraq. And so, this region is very much a part of the Middle East, has centuries of trade, and also with India and the countries over there. It’s a crossroads. And the US wants to make sure it dominates it fully, and it wanted a client regime in Somalia. And that’s what it has managed to do, although I’m sure it’s going to be temporary. There is going to be a lot of fighting against this regime.
AMY GOODMAN: Salim Lone, speaking to us from Kenya. What about the attacks in 1998? Who was found responsible, the two terrorist attacks, one of them being where you are, in Kenya?
SALIM LONE: Yes, yes, yes. No, those were terrible attacks at the US embassy here and the smaller one at the US embassy in Tanzania. What we do know is that the terrorists who attacked then planned their attacks from Somalia, because Somalia has been lawless. It was lawless then, and it was lawless until six months ago, when the Islamic Courts Union took power. So at that time, what allowed these people to plan so easily these horrendous attacks, especially the one in Kenya, which actually killed over 200 Kenyans and about ten Americans, they were able to plan that — we are not sure if any Somalis were actually involved in those plans at all. But we know for a fact that the four that worked on it planned it out of Somalia, because of the lawlessness and the absence of government.
And this is the other irony, Amy, that lawlessness allows groups to operate freely. When there is rule of law or there is someone in control and has relatively popular support, one can work with such a group to try to contain terror. There is no regime in the world, in the current world, crazy enough to actively support anti-US terrorists. They would be foolish in the extreme, because they know what the outcome would be. So those 1998 terrorists might, in fact, be in Somalia, and they’ve been in Somalia all along. It’s not as if they just went there since the Ethiopians invaded. They’ve been there for years. Whether they’re still there, of course, I have no idea. The US claims they’re there. They might be right. I have no idea.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Salim Lone in Kenya right now, talking about the US attacks overnight in Somalia. At the same time, President Bush is about to give a major address tomorrow night calling for, well, what’s known now as the "surge," tens of thousands of more US troops in Iraq. Salim Lone, you’re the former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq. Of course, the UN was blown up there. Sergio de Mello, the head of the mission, was killed. Can you talk about your thoughts today? And do you see connections between what you’re looking at now in Africa and what you see the US doing in Iraq?
SALIM LONE: Yes, I mean, the first point really is that Sergio and 21 others, most of them very close friends of mine, died in that attack. I was lucky, and I survived. But that was the UN being needlessly exposed in Iraq. I mean, for those who might not remember, Iraq, even at that time in August, when the bomb went off, 2003, was a very unsafe place. Not like now, but still very unsafe. And we, 500 of us, 500 international staff members, were sent to Iraq, even though, Amy, we could do nothing in Iraq. It was too dangerous to go out of your office or out of your hotel. And yet, we were there, because the US wanted us there. And the UN, which opposed that war in 2003, after the war turned right around — the UN Security Council — and legitimized post facto the occupation of Iraq by the US and the UK. I mean, that was what exposed us so terribly.
Now, what is happening here is, in fact, quite the opposite. The UN just a few weeks ago passed a new resolution, the Security Council, very similar to what happened to Iraq after the war — or happened in Iraq after the war. This UN resolution asked for an African Union force to go in to restore peace and stability and to protect the interim government. Now, Somalia had had peace and stability for the last six months. The UN absolutely had no right to now try to oust that government. I mean, the US wants to do it. It’s terrible, but that’s the US.
The UN is losing credibility by the day, and the greatest comparison I can draw between what happened in Iraq and what happened in Somalia now is that the UN is once again being used by the United States to give sort of political — and I call it "political" cover, because people who are fighting don’t care about the politics — give legal cover, so legally some things that are done, if they have the UN imprimatur, can be done under the justification that this is international law. But politically it makes no difference now to those Muslims who know that the UN too often goes along with the US and passes resolutions that have no moral legitimacy. They don’t care if there’s a UN anymore, and that’s why we were all blown up in Baghdad, because no one cares now. The UN is no longer seen as a relatively independent. I mean, UN cannot be independent completely. The US is a huge and mighty power. It would be unwise for the UN to not try to work with it.
But there are limits. And now, those limits are completely ignored. There’s no line beyond which the UN will not go. It’s the end of the rule of law. I mean, when the UN itself takes such terrible steps, that’s the end of the post-Second World War order that we’ve all grown up under and thought the rule of law is the ultimate goal of the international community, through the United Nations, which, of course, as we all know, was the brainchild and the very active advocacy from FDR, the American president.
AMY GOODMAN: Salim Lone, the hanging of Saddam Hussein, you have written about this, with the phone video coming out right now that shows the people around him, the hangmen, chanting "Muqtada! Muqtada!"
SALIM LONE: Yes. Yes. Well, you know, this is a case in which the crimes of those who hanged Saddam were certainly competing with the crimes that Saddam himself committed. Saddam was a tyrant. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed under his rule. He started — he invaded Kuwait, and then started a very bloody war with Iran, as well. So this is not in any way to say that Saddam Hussein should not have been punished. I’m opposed to the death penalty, and therefore, I would not have believed in it.
But even if I was not opposed to the death penalty, he could never have been sentenced by this particular regime. This is the most brutal regime in the world. The Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki is the most brutal regime that exists. Hundreds die every day. Thousands every month, killed by death squads. These are not people killed in fights with the occupiers. Hundreds are dying daily. These death squads the US now opposes, but I know that when initially the US became aware of these death squads, perhaps — they certainly did not object. They allowed these death squads, in fact, to take root.
Now, for this occupation and for this regime to have a trial, which met none of the safeguards that every defendant is entitled to in a court of law — I’m sure your listeners all know that the major human rights organizations condemned the trial as being grossly unfair. Saddam was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses. The judges were repeatedly admonished by the state if they seemed to be giving Saddam some modicum of rights. Prime Minister al-Maliki and other ministers said Saddam is guilty, while he was being tried. They said he’s guilty and he must be found guilty and he will be hanged. That was the trial he got.
But even if it had been a fair trial, he should not have been hanged, because the only purpose in life is not to punish those who have done terrible things, but to try to work for reconciliation. If a trial had been fair, it would have appealed also to Sunnis and Kurds and Shias, not just to the Shias in this particular case, to see what terrible things Saddam did. That is what we needed. We needed a fair trial in which these things would come out, so that Sunnis would see how brutal Saddam was toward Sunnis, as well. Instead, we had a short trial. We had a sectarian trial. And it all became so evident and apparent when those videos leaked out.
But let me also say that the US, which has now tried to take cover by distancing itself from the execution, saying it was too hastily done, well, who actually handed over Saddam Hussein to be executed a few hours before he was? It was the US. So, to say now, "Oh, it was too hastily done," is a joke. In any event, Iraq is under occupation. The ultimate responsibility for the killing of Saddam, which will just enflame matters much worse, not only between the Muslims and the West, but between Sunnis and Shias, which is terrible, because the vast majority of Sunnies and Shias are innocent, and they’re going to suffer now at the hands of militants on both sides. But the US is just relentless. As I said earlier, it seems to believe that the only way to go forward is through brutal force.
AMY GOODMAN: Salim Lone, we’re going to have to leave it there. And, of course, there are two other co-defendants of Saddam Hussein: his brother-in-law, Tikriti, and the judge, Bandar, who it looks like will be executed any day now. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Salim Lone is the former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq. He is now a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya. He was speaking to us from Nairobi.