July 10, 2003
July 10, 2003 -- AS the president and Pentagon ponder whetherto send U.S. troops to Liberia, many Americans will be surprised tolearn that the crisis there was in part the creation of a U.S.political leader who claims to champion Africans' right toself-governance: Jesse Jackson.
As President Clinton's special envoy for Democracy and Humanrights in Africa, starting in October 1997, Jackson became theadministration's point man for Africa.
It was Jackson who legitimized both Liberian strongman CharlesTaylor and his protégé, the machete-wielding militialeader in neighboring Sierra Leone, Cpl. Foday Sankoh. The two hackedto death several hundred thousand citizens of their respectivecountries.
Jackson's involvement in the diamond wars of Liberia and SierraLeone arguably caused tens of thousands of African children to bemurdered, because his political support for ruthless killersmasquerading as political leaders encouraged them to continue theirmayhem.
The tragic story of Liberia's long spiraling descent into theinferno requires many more pages than a newspaper column can permit.I devote an entire chapter to it in "Shakedown," my unauthorizedJackson biography. But here are some lowlights:
* In May 1999, Jackson "kidnapped" President Laurent Kabbah ofSierra Leone, according to Kabbah advisers I interviewed, and flewhim to neighboring Lome, Togo, where Jackson forced him to sign acease-fire with rebel leader Foday Sankoy.
* That July, under the terms of a powersharing agreement whichJackson helped negotiate and which Kabbah vigorously resisted, Sankohwas released from house arrest, made a vice president in a newnational unity government and put in charge of Sierra Leone's diamondmines.
* Sankoh then began smuggling out thousands of diamonds, many ofwhich he sent to Charles Taylor in Liberia in exchange for weapons.Jackson repeatedly raised the issue of the illicit diamond trade andthe clandestine arms supplies with Taylor, who simply denied thecharges. Jackson never pressed him further.
* Jackson stayed in contact with Sankoh, phoning him repeatedlywith words of encouragement. Braced by this support and funded by thediamond trade, Sankoh built up his Revolutionary United Front (RUF)forces, ignoring Jackson's pleas to disarm and give peace a chance.New fighting broke out in January 2000 in the hinterland. Jackson'scease-fire lasted less than six months.
* By May 2000, the fighting in Sierra Leone took on crisisproportions, when Sankoh's fighters murdered U.N. peacekeepers andtook 500 of them hostage. Meanwhile, Liberia, which has no diamonds,reported that it had exported $300 million worth of diamonds theprevious year.
* Jackson made one final attempt to halt the bloodshed in mid-May2000, but was warned by the U.S. embassy in Freetown not to set footin Sierra Leone because of widespread popular anger over his role inrehabilitating Sankoh, a known mass murderer. One local journalistwrote bitterly that the U.S. civil rights leader was better known inAfrica as a "killer's rights" leader.
* Jackson's final contributions to the "peace process" were vainattempts to cajol Taylor to "negotiate" an end to the hostage crisis,since Taylor was the godfather of the RUF and Sankoh's arms anddiamond broker.
* Arriving in Monrovia, Liberia, at the peak of the crisis,Jackson declared, "President Taylor has been doing a commendable jobnegotiating for the release of the hostages. All the hostages shouldbe freed, and freed now. There is no basis for delay, there is nobasis for negotiations."
Jackson's comments would have been absurd were it not for thequantities of innocent blood that had been shed, thanks to hisself-serving bumbling.
At this point, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker declaredon June 5, 2000, that the United States was "not part of that[Jackson-brokered] agreement." Jackson was soon summarilyfired as Clinton's special envoy.
The Clinton State Department is not innocent in this affair.Declassified dispatches and briefing documents show that top Stateofficials primed Jackson with information, talking points andbackground papers throughout his three years as Clinton's envoy.
With tragic results.
As Jackson himself commented to me in an interview for"Shakedown," "When it worked, you're a genius. When it blew up,you're an idiot." Sierra Leone and Liberia both blew up in a big way.
Now Charles Taylor, indicted for war crimes by the U.N.-backedSpecial Court for Sierra Leone, is seeking asylum in neighboringNigeria. He should not be allowed to escape prosecution.
Among the first questions prosecutors should ask Taylor is whom hepaid off using Foday Sankoh's diamonds. U.S. intelligence officersreported these payoffs at the very moment that Jackson wasnegotiating a favorable role for Taylor and for Sankoh in Lome,former CIA officers and other sources have told me over the past twoyears. As a result of the payoffs, Taylor continued to enjoy supportamong the Congressional Black Caucus and with the Clinton StateDepartment.
But who received the diamonds, how were they brokered onto theinternational marketplace in Europe and where the cash proceeds wentremains a mystery. Taylor knows many of the answers. Watch JesseJackson try to save him now.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of"Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson," and a senior writer forInsight magazine.
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