It was 2008, but for me it feels like a lifetime ago. In fact, it still makes no sense to me. I was up in Southern Darfur to cover a story about modern day slavery and about people trying to free slaves from captivity. And yes, slavery still exists in the world.
The group of people I was with made an agreement to trade cow serum for the lives of some 40 men and boys who were enslaved by Muslim militias to work the cattle fields in the north. The militias also agreed to trade another 10 to 15 women whom they'd enslaved for rape.
In order to get to this place was an odyssey in its own right. A flight from the States to Nairobi, Kenya through Zurich, Switzerland. From there, a jump to Juba, then Aweil, then Gok Machar in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and a relaxing six hour plus ride in the back of a truck through the bush at about 115 degrees traveling down jaw jarring and kidney bruising dirt roads until we came to a stop.
I jumped out of the truck and starting walking through the broiling heat, the dust clouding my vision as sweat fell from me in sheets. Eventually, I came through a ravine and dried out river bed and up the other side. And there they were. The men and boys, huddled together under a tree trying to avoid the intense heat. They were all clothed in rags of various colors of despair. The women sat separately under another tree all looking at their feet, clearly terrified.
The exchange was made in front of me. We just bought people. Please let that sink in. Think about what that means.
As I approached these newly freed slaves, they all looked at me through eyes showing both deference and fear. After all, I just purchased them, right? Was this new Kawadga (white) owner going to be worse than their last tormentors? It was insane. The only word that fits. Suffice it to say, I have had nightmares for seven and a half years about that day and what I saw and about what ever happened to these people.
So as a journalist and storyteller, I've come back to this place after almost eight years to see what has changed. And it has changed a lot and yet it is still the same. I guess I've changed too. But I have to tell you something. I'm scared. I admit it. You see, I've dreamt about this place too much even though I've seen a lot, maybe too much, since my first trip here.
I'm here in Aweil in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal covering a story about modern day polio in the region and what this non governmental organization is doing to help when for some reason I'm drawn to one of the people here living with it. As he sits in his chair/bicycle, I have this very strange feeling that I can't place.
His name is Anwit. He's in his mid twenties and seems tall although he sits in a chair. In his red shirt and black trousers and thin but strong face, he has a presence. We speak in mostly English with a little Arabic thrown in just to keep me on my toes. But the more we speak, the more the feeling persists. I ask him about his story.
Slowly, he describes being enslaved when he was only 8 by raiders from the north who took him to the Khartoum area and then back to Darfur until he finally gained his freedom after some 8 years. I start to hyperventilate and I can feel my heart pounding in my ears.
"How did you gain your freedom," I ask.
He explains that Kawadga bought him and freed him. As flashes of my reoccurring nightmares cascade across my mind, I am almost too scared to ask …
"When", I ask with my voice cracking.
Early 2008, he says very solemnly.
Oh ... fuck fuck fuck. Please, no.
I ask him to describe what happened. And he describes the scene with a detail including me that I have tried to make go away since that day. He was one of the boys. Shit.
I start to wipe tears that blur everything in front of me, my hards starting to go numb a little and the place starts to spin on the edges of my vision. Seriously.
But then something quite extraordinary happens. Anwit starts to talk about how lucky he is. About how he has freedom and a future. How he is going to school. How he wants to help other people now who have polio like he does. He calls them his "colleagues." How he wants to make a contribution to the world.
As I sit in front of him, I'm completely confused and overwhelmed. I'm trying to reconcile what I'm hearing. His years as a slave. Losing his childhood. Losing his family. The abuse along the way. And then, as if that isn't enough he then gets polio. How is this even possible?
The United Nations is against buying back or trading items for slaves. Essentially, it's kind of like paying for hostages. If you pay, what you are doing is creating a market for slaves that will result in taking more and more. It could actually make things worse. And I get it. I do. It makes complete sense. Tens of thousands, more, have been enslaved in this part of the world.
And yet, here sits Anwit in front of me, alive. If we hadn't traded for his life, would that be the case? Would his tormentors have released him out of the kindness of their hearts? I think not. And I'm guessing Anwit wouldn't have demanded to stay a slave until slavery is abolished worldwide. Would I? Would you?
So, I guess I can't save the whole World. And clearly, I don't possess the power to stop all wars, feed the hungry, deal with global warming , or make the Kardashians get along, but I do know one thing.
If can help save one, just one Anwit, when I close my eyes, I will smile. And I also know something else, I haven't had one nightmare since we met again. Bless you my old and my re-aquatinted friend. Bless you.
Ex-CIA agent: How the St. Cloud stabbing inquiry might unfold
Jack Rice, a St. Paul attorney and former Central Intelligence Agency officer who worked in the Middle East and Africa, offered this explanation of what likely happened behind the scenes for the officials charged with investigating the attack:
ANY OTHER ATTACKS PLANNED?
The stabbing was stopped by an off-duty police officerwho fatally shot the suspect. Then, law enforcement had to rapidly make “a determination about whether there are any co-conspirators to see if this is something bigger,” Rice said.
“That’s the most important thing because, if there are any potential attacks that are out there, they need to be able to knock those out quickly,” he said.
Rice said law enforcement tries to complete that work within the first couple of hours, if possible. “The longer it takes, the less likely that law enforcement will have success in stopping an attack,” according to Rice.
Police said Monday that the attack appeared to be the work of a single individual and there was no sign that the attacker, identified by his father as 20-year-old Dahir Adan, was radicalized or communicated with any terrorist group.
FIND OUT WHO THE SUSPECT WAS TALKING TO
The FBI said Monday that authorities were digging into Adan’s background and possible motives, looking at social media accounts and electronic devices and talking to people he knew.
Rice said investigators will typically see what websites a suspect visited and whom he communicated with via social media.
If there was not a direct connection between Adan and any terrorist group, law enforcement will work to determine whether he could have been inspired by such a group, Rice said.
“There are people who’ve had no connection at all to these organizations but have just seen them from afar and what they’re doing, and they’re inspired to go out and act,” Rice said. “The problem with this group is that there’s no way to reverse-engineer it and figure out what they’re going to do until they actually go out and act. That’s the scary issue that the intelligence community is really trying to face right now.”
LOOK INTO THE CLAIM BY THE ISLAMIC STATE
An Islamic State-run news agency claimed that Adan was a “soldier of the Islamic State” who had heeded the group’s calls for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-IS coalition.
“IS has been shockingly successful at motivating people to act on their behalf,” Rice said. “The question now, though, is are they saying this just to sort of bolster their own image, or in fact is it actually true? At this point we don’t really know and that’s the reason the (FBI) needs to dig in to make that determination.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
I appear on The Ed Schultz Show on September 19th. And so it goes. Al Shabaab and ISIS have successfully continued to target and recruit young men to the cause. It is frightening because the latest attack was in St. Cloud, Minesota, it feels like it can happen anywhere. And yet, there are certainly some take away points here. There have been some rising tensions here in Minnesota between the earlier immigrants (everybody else who lives here) and these latest immigrants. Its easy to talk about us as "the people" and them as "those people." However, this country is a tapestry and we regularly forget that.
This is going to be an interesting conversation.
I appear on Kare 11 today. Recent reports of an individual in St. Cloud, MN attacking and injuring eight people before being shot by an off-duty police officer. Apparently, according to early reports not yet confirmed, prior to the stabbings, the individual was asking people if they were Muslim and something about Allah. I will appear and discuss the law, terrorism, and security. This is certainly a very scary case and very close to home for people living in the upprt Midwest in general and for Minneostans in particular.
Hope you can watch.
I appear on AM950 on September 9th to talk about international law, cyber attcks and politics. As the Presidential race between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump continues to heat up, I appear on AM 950 to talk about Donald Trump's continued statements regarding Russia and President Putin as well as Russia's capability to use cyber attacks. Specifically, I will talk about their efforts in Ukraine and Georgia.
This will be an long form interview and will be a lot of fun.
I appear on WCCO radio tonight to wrap up the sad Wetterling story. We talk interrogations and what drives people to admit to things and we talk the deal that was struck and the ramifications. We even talk about civil commitments and what may be coming down the pike. A great interview.
Hope you can join me.
I will appear on Russian TV International on September 5th at 6 pm e.s.t A recent story in the Washington Post is being felt around the world. According to the Post, U.S. Intelligence is stepping into the investigation of hacking of political campaigns and they are focusing on Russia. The Russians certainly have expertise in this area and they seem to have been involved in such campaigns in Ukraine and Georgia in the last few years. The idea that they are working in the U.S. is frankly not farfetched at all.
It is going to be interesting to have a long conversation about this issue on Russian TV International out of Moscow. In fact, this is going to be a lot of fun. Hope you can watch.
Jenny was being responsible. She was at a bar here in the Twin Cities and she had too much to drink. She could tell. She knew it. Unfortunately, she had nobody to call to come pick her up and had no money to call a cab. Knowing that she was in no condition to drive, Jenny decided that her only option was to climb into the backseat of her car, throw her keys in her purse at her feet and sleep it off. Big mistake. She should have jumped in the driver’s seat and tried to make it home. At least, that is what the State of Minnesota thinks. Seriously.
In Minnesota courtrooms, it is called physical control. In other words, if somebody is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and in physical control of a car, they will be arrested for DWI. And physical control doesn’t mean driving down the street with a car. It can mean somebody like Jenny sleeping in the backseat of her car with the car keys in her purse on the floor. This would have been true even if her car were up on blocks. Or didn’t have an engine. It is crazy but true.
Look, DWIs are a serious problem in Minnesota and across the country. As a result, the legislature has become more and more aggressive at finding and prosecuting drunk drivers. They lowered the acceptable blood alcohol level, they increased the sentencing, they added a felony charge, and they put more cops on the streets.
Minnesota laws are designed to arrest as many people for DWI as possible. In a way, that makes complete sense. Drunks have killed and injured a lot of people. We all know that. However, what happens when the law actually motivates somebody to drive under the influence of alcohol rather than face almost certain arrest? Which takes us back to Jenny.
Within a matter of minutes Jenny heard a tap on the window. She woke up and looked into a flashlight. It was a police officer. She was subsequently arrested for DWI even though she explained that she had absolutely no intention of getting behind the wheel of a car.
As part of Minnesota’s aggressive approach to DWIs, police officers frequently wait around bars looking for people driving drunk. However, they also look for people sitting in cars, going nowhere, doing nothing. Sleeping. Because, that is the same thing. That is drunk driving.
So, the chance of Jenny getting caught sleeping in a bar parking lot was almost 100% whereas if she jumped into the driver’s seat, put her keys into the ignition and took her chances, she might have made it home.
Minnesota rightly should focus on getting as many drunks off of the road as possible. However, what Minnesota should not do is have laws on the books that actually encourage people under the influence to get behind the wheel and get out on our streets. The DWI physical control law does exactly that.
Does that make any sense?
What an extraordinary groups of lawyers I had the privilege to work with in Gulu, Uganda earlier in 2016. Teaching trial advocacy is a passion and the privilege to travel the world and work with amazing people is really a dream come true. I spent an enormous amount of time with these advocates and I think, in the end, they probably taught me more than I taught them. Just incredible!