Sankoh, American-Style

Barton Gellman and Amy Wilentz

Sankoh, American-Style

Barton Gellman and Amy Wilentz

Sankoh, American-Style
An email conversation about the news of the day.
May 18 2000 3:10 PM

Barton Gellman and Amy Wilentz

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Dear Bart,

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I was interested to see we have a sort of American-style Sankoh of our own here in New York.

I am referring to Primus St. Croix, who made the front page of the Daily News this morning. The News identified St. Croix as a "charismatic, bible-quoting construction worker" (they know how to hit you with the anticlimax over at the News) who organized his followers to attack with sledgehammers. Doesn't this description sound Sankoh-esque (from a description of St. Croix's furious rampage)?: "three children praying are decapitated ... heads are removed ... hand and head are broken off ... hands and heads are broken off and smashed ... hands are cut off, face is damaged ... thumb and index finger are removed ... arms and legs are severed." You'd think from the litany of his crimes that St. Croix would have made other front pages, but fortunately, it turns out that all of his victims were--like Al Gore--inanimate. They were all Catholic statues in Brooklyn, and the News has dubbed St. Croix "The Statue Butcher." Now that's journalism, folks. Compete with that, old Arnaud de!

I believe one day Foday Sankoh will be free again, because you just can't argue with that many hostages. On the other hand, there is a real possibility that the hostage holders can be pried from Sankoh's control while he is in custody by canny negotiators who understand the needs of Sankoh's pals. It all hinges on their loyalty to him and their belief in his future power.

Suffering from Somalia Syndrome in Haiti, the Americans never tried to take away weapons from the bad guys, as you describe them having done earlier in Somalia. Later, then-President Aristide disbanded the Haitian army, but did not disarm them (how was he supposed to?). Yet one wonders what disbanding means when the officers and soldiers are all still there on the ground with their weapons in hand, or at least in pocket or belt. A lot of being a Tonton Macoute under Duvalier was about having a weapon. I remember that a notebook I confiscated (journalese for "took") from one of their abandoned headquarters after Duvalier fell was full of annotations about guns and serial numbers and where each weapon was.

What do you think of the post-Vietnam syndrome aspects of the Israeli pullout from Lebanon? I'm all for it--wondered why it took so long. My favorite part is that the Syrians who themselves occupy the rest of Lebanon, having complained for so many years so bitterly about the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, are now whining about the pullout. I assume that's because they are horrified that Lebanon will no longer be a bargaining chip in any talks with Israel.

My favorite Middle East item today: In order to calm Northern Israelis' security worries about the Lebanon pullout, Prime Minister Barak has put together a $400 million program (governmentese for "bribe"). SURPRISE! According to the New York Times, it's not for a beefed-up defense; it's for infrastructure like sewers and water and road projects, as well as education. I can just imagine the people up there thanking Barak for building nice schools and good roads for Hezbollah to bomb.

Amy

A former Pentagon, Middle East, and diplomatic correspondent, Barton Gellman is special projects reporter for the Washington Post. Amy Wilentz is the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. She writes frequently about the Middle East and is finishing a novel about Jerusalem.