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I Take Back My Clooney Criticism

Nina Shea

I take back what I wrote about George Clooney and Sudan on NRO six years ago.

This morning, Clooney and other activists got themselves arrested in a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. He was drawing attention to General Omar al-Bashir government’s latest massacres and deliberate mass-starvation tactics against the Nuba and other Sudanese people in the southern-border area of North Sudan. Earlier in the week, Clooney testified before Congress on this same issue, having just returned from a harrowing visit to the area where he recently saw maimed children, dead bodies, and bombed villages.

Ever since Bashir seized power in a 1989 military coup, with support from the Muslim Brotherhoodgenerated National Islamic Front, he has waged perpetual, total war against his own people first the Nuba, then South Sudan, then Darfur in the west, then the Beja people in the east, and now again the Nuba.

In 2006, I had accused Clooney of cynically using the Darfur issue as just another partisan bludgeon for Bush-bashing. As I wrote then:

A remarkable coalition of Jewish, Evangelical, Catholic, and Muslim leaders, and many ordinary citizens too, have joined the Darfur campaign, in the sincere hope that they can help end this tragedy. However the leading man at the Save Darfur rally in Washington on Sunday, and at a round of congressional meetings and television interviews the preceding week, was actor George Clooney. The last political performance of this Hollywood star was a barrage of strident Bush bashing during the 2004 presidential campaign. Now it seems that he is exploiting Darfur to do more of the same. This creates a major barrier to combating the genocide there.

I had primarily faulted Clooney for exclusively excoriating President Bush for failing to stop Bashir while ignoring the role of the evil Bashir himself and letting other world powers off the hook for supporting him. After all, Bush had a sanctions regime in place against Khartoum and had taken many other measures in an effort to stop the carnage in Darfur, while China and the Arab League had aided and abetted Bashir. As I noted at the time:

Yet Clooney does not seem to have any intention of criticizing these countries in his view, attribution of blame is to be reserved almost exclusively for the Bush administration. Rarely does he criticize any other government by name not even the government of Sudan, the author of the genocide. . . . The death toll in the South from a conflict that ended only last year represented ten times the number dead so far in Darfur. Clooney’s voice was nowhere to be found when this was happening. But still, why doesn’t he ever talk about it now and relate its many obvious similarities to Darfur? Mentioning Bashir’s role in the southern genocide would be an important means of pressuring the regime. Could it be that, since most of those deaths occurred during the Clinton administration, and President Bush took the lead in successfully ending it, Clooney sees no political gain in bringing it up? Could it be that he is more interested in shaming Bush than Bashir? . . . Clooney’s partisan approach to genocide in Darfur is a dangerous game. By heaping most of the blame on Bush for the intractability of the Darfur crisis when he clearly deserves credit Clooney deflects attention and opprobrium from Bashir and those who do have the power to stop it immediately.”

To his credit, Clooney has stayed on Sudan (unlike most of the Save Darfur Campaign folks), though Bush is no longer in office. With stalwart Sudan rights activist John Prendergast, he co-founded the Satellite Sentinel Project, which works to monitor the Sudanese government’s military action. Together they went to the war-wrecked Nuba region a few days ago to collect evidence.

On March 14, focusing on the new depredations of the Bashir government this time in Sudan’s Nuba Mountain he told CNN: “These are war crimes. When you are indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians, you are committing war crimes and that is what they’re doing. It’s a cowardly act.” That same day, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he testified against Sudan’s serial war criminal Bashir. He stated clearly that the attacks were planned by Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, government official Ahmad Harun, and defense minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein. “They are proving themselves to be the greatest war criminals of this century by far,” Clooney observed. He noted that the situation in Nuba could easily become another Darfur.

In his testimony, Clooney also pointed his finger at China and urged President Obama to appoint an envoy to work with China to jointly pressure the Sudanese government. He also called for Obama to impose targeted sanctions against top Sudanese government figures and launch an international campaign to track down and freeze their foreign-bank accounts.

No doubt benefiting from Prendergast’s tutelage, George Clooney has shown dedication to the beleaguered Sudanese people, and is now willing to name and shame their tormentors, as well as Khartoum’s principal financial backer: China. He has generously devoted his time and risked his life and limb to draw world attention to the ongoing atrocities, and has proposed constructive policy advice to the American president.

In contrast to his aggressive tone against the previous president, Clooney attended the White House dinner for British prime minister David Cameron this week and met with President Obama several times. Is this a sign of more partisanship, or does it reflect a new, more measured approach to human-rights activism?

Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the saying goes.

I cannot forget the desperate plea I recently received from Bishop Macram Gassis, the Catholic Bishop of the Nuba: “Please keep us in your prayers. My flock is on the ‘via crusis.‘” This has been indeed one long Calvary for the Nuba, who were also relentlessly attacked and killed by Khartoum during the North South conflict. I applaud what George Clooney is now doing for the suffering Nuba and other Sudanese.

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