THE PLANK MARCH 2, 2009
On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court is expected to announce its decision on whether to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan-al-Bashir in connection with the mass killings in Darfur. If the tribunal does seek an arrest--and leaks from inside the Hague indicate that will be the case--it will mark the court's first attempt to detain a sitting head of state. In the meantime, it's really worth reading (or re-reading) Richard Just's excellent 2008 piece on the Darfur crisis, "The Truth Will Not Set You Free":
In July 2004, a colleague beckoned Brian Steidle into his office and took out a laptop. "As he handed me his computer," writes Steidle in The Devil Came on Horseback, his memoir about Darfur, "a series of the most disturbing images I had ever seen came across the screen"--photographs of young girls who had been handcuffed and burned to death outside their school. Steidle, a former U.S. marine, was working as a peacekeeper in southern Sudan. His job was to monitor a cease-fire between the country's government and the rebels in the south--a cease-fire that had ended a decades-long civil war in which some two million people had died. But just as a tenuous peace was finally taking hold in the south, violence had broken out in Sudan's western corner--a dusty, impoverished region called Darfur. That was where the unbearable pictures had been taken. Steidle was stunned by what he saw on the laptop, and he assumed that others would be stunned, too. "If these photos were released to the public," he e-mailed home, "there would be troops in here in no time."
Four years later, the sentiment seems quaint. For we are awash in information about Darfur. Disturbing photos--now ubiquitous--of torture, death, and starvation are just the beginning of it. There are the regular dispatches of wire service reporters, the drumbeat of opinion columns, and the images beamed home by television cameras. There are more websites maintained by activists and human rights groups than anyone can count. And now there is something else, too: a substantial body of literature, academic and popular, about western Sudan.