Reporter is lighting up world’s Hells

Published 3:17 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Urgent global attention is being paid to Syria’s monstrous president Bashar al-Assad as he commits genocide on his people. But another mass murderer remains mostly out of the American press. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir continues his decades-long reign of terror on his people despite two warrants for his arrest by the International Criminal Court for, among other vile atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity — and yes, genocide.

For years, I have reported on his massacres in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, a place I’ve never been. But Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times has slipped into the infamous region more than 10 times to keep the world informed of Bashir’s endless killings.

Kristof does this at considerable personal danger, as he also reports from other devastatingly ruthless regimes. On receiving one of his Pulitzer Prizes, he was accurately described as “giving voice to the voiceless.”

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Here he is again in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, where the never-satiated Bashir continues his genocide. The international arrest warrants have not impeded him at all. The United Nations has passed resolutions condemning him and takes credit for helping to arrange the independence of South Sudan from arch-predator Bashir. But South Sudan is breaking up internally as Bashir’s troops increase the number of corpses there and in the area.

Kristof begins his Feb. 23 Times column, “Dodging Bombers in Sudan,” among starving families in the Nuba Mountains:

“’We’ve had nothing to eat but leaves from trees,’ one young mother, Samira Zaka, told me. Her malnourished son was gnawing on a piece of wood.”

Suddenly Bashir’s Antonov bomber came hurtling above them. The famished family, reported Kristof, “rushed into caves, and we all cowered deep in the rocks as the plane passed overhead.”

Like other reporters I know, I’ve very rarely been even in quick, passing danger. Once I was covering a vicious street gang in a New York City neighborhood and overheard a voice behind me muttering, “Why don’t we off this guy and see what he has on him?” Somehow this person was overruled and I kept on in sickening fear, leaving the scene very soon after.

But Kristof is often in real peril and somehow even videotapes the scene at times. A Pulitzer Prize isn’t enough for him. He deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom — but from which attentive president?

With his reporting on the increasingly endangered Nuba people, Kristof exposes the impotence of the U.N. and those select African national leaders who are not tyrannous toward their own people, but appear to have given up any further attempts to intervene in rescuing the Sudanese from Bashir’s killers.

As for those warrants for his arrest from the International Criminal Court, I doubt that Bashir even thinks about them, except maybe to smirk.

“I slipped into Sudan and the Nuba Mountains,” Kristof writes, “without a visa, via a rutted dirt track from South Sudan. My vehicle was covered with mud to make it less visible to bombers, which appeared overhead every couple of hours …

“Tens of thousands of Nuba have been living in caves since June when the government began going house to house, killing families with rebel ties and driving out international aid groups.”

How many of you knew anything about the fragile lives of the Nuba? I didn’t until I read Kristof’s column. While news and opinion sources continue to increase through diverse electronic means, many major American newspapers have ended or greatly decreased their foreign reporting and closed their offices abroad. Yet, like a few other hardy reporters, Kristof keeps providing us with “exclusives” from hazardous nations. Another example from his “Dodging Bombers in Sudan” column:

“That evening, I saw the casualties from the bombing. Four women had been injured, the worst with a shrapnel wound that sliced open her chest and exposed her lungs. Rebels laid her in the back of a pickup for a six-hour drive over rutted roads to an American surgeon, Dr. Tom Catena, who has worked heroically for months to save lives here.

“It seemed unlikely that the woman would survive. As the pickup jolted off, she uttered a piercing scream that continues to reverberate in my mind.”

(In the print edition of this story, Kristof invited readers to see video of his visit to the Nuba Mountains on his blog at:

Years ago, when American television networks were more inclined to cover government-backed atrocities in unknown, faraway places, Ted Koppel, then the chief reporter for ABC’s “Nightline,” took us — one of the few times, I believe, on American television — to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a cauldron of extreme, unabated government-induced horrors that continues to this day.

But Ted Koppel is no longer with “Nightline,” and the world knows and cares little about the Congo. And if it weren’t for Nicholas Kristof, we’d know hardly anything of Bashir’s gruesome acts against the diminishing survivors in the Nuba Mountains and those other monsters in many places. We have never had access to so much instant global information through ever-expanding technological inventiveness, but we remain ignorant of excruciatingly tormented human beings in nations far away — many of whose leaders are proud, even arrogant members of the U.N.

If only Nicholas Kristof were the chief executive of the U.N. and made it an actual pervasive protector of human rights, wherever piercing screams are commonplace.