Friday, 14 September 2012

Kerry Kennedy Risks Kidnapping to Showcase Algerian Human Rights Abuses

LAAYOUNE, Western Sahara, Sept. 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The following is a commentary by Richard Miniter, an investigative journalist, author of the NY Times best seller, Leading From Behind, and other books, and a columnist for Forbes magazine.

The scions of the Kennedy clan went to Morocco two weeks ago and came away with a breathless tale of police brutality against Sawahari refugees living in the refugee camps of Western Sahara and Algeria. The problem? The refugees the Kennedy mission met were representatives of the Polisario Front, a brutal rebel group linked to al-Qaeda and its North African offshoot, Aqim.

Kerry Kennedy, who heads the RFK Center for Human Rights, filed detailed media reports of her visit, but failed to mention that this radical chic tour was conducted in the face of widespread threats by al-Qaeda to kidnap Kennedy and her 17-year-old daughter Maria Cuomo, RFK's granddaughter, daughter of Kerry Kennedy's ex-husband New York governor Andrew Cuomo. Ignoring the jeopardy she placed herself and the underage Mariah in, Kennedy failed to reveal that she was flown on an Algerian plane to a single refugee camp in Tindouf, across the border from Morocco, as guest of the Algerian government. Once there, Kennedy and her group spent several hours meeting with carefully cultivated Polisario 'refugees' who worked the naive Kennedy women for all the propaganda value they could wring out of their visit.

Kerry Kennedy has worked hard to invoke her father's name for fame and glory, serving first as executive director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial until a 1995 when a dispute ended her involvement and she was named honorary president of the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation of Europe. Today, however, Kerry Kennedy is best known for running the Washington-based RFK Center for Human Rights.

Kennedy and the RFK Center specialize in documenting human rights abuses around the world, ranging from El Salvador to South Africa and including Morocco, an important U.S. ally and in 1776, the very first nation in the world to recognize America's independence. She has done much good work documenting genuine abuses in Sudan, China and Burma, but in recent years has turned her attention almost exclusively to the situation in Western Sahara, which Morocco claims despite Algeria's support of separatist rebels there who control the few hundred thousand native Sawaharis trapped by the Polisario in abominable refugee camps.

According to Kennedy, she and her daughter were threatened and intimidated, not by al-Qaeda, by plainclothes Moroccan security agents while attempting to take photos from their car window. Mariah Cuomo was snapping photos of a small group of Sawahari separatists when a man reached into the vehicle to block her lens. This is big drama, since the man was most likely a local villager unhappy about American tourists trying to turn his village into a propaganda site, but when one of Kennedy's Sawahari companions said she recognized another man on the street as a Moroccan intelligence officer. Kennedy offered that as proof their visit was being monitored by Morocco's 'secret police' and although no corroborating evidence of any kind was offered, the media-savvy Ms. Kennedy made sure the event was publicized in the Associated Press and other western media.

Limousine liberals from Jane Fonda on down have long lent their names and themselves to uncertain terrorist and rebel causes, but Kerry Kennedy was putting her life, and more importantly, her teenage daughter's life on the line by associating with Polisario separatists closely and credibly linked to al-Qaeda and consorting with drug smugglers and white slave traders essentially at war with the United States.

Morocco is a frontline state in America's war against Aqim, the North African branch of al-Qaeda. Aqim claimed credit for bombing the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali. It kidnapped drivers on the Paris-Dakar road race and has threatened to kidnap or kill American diplomats across all of North Africa. Aqim holds at least three European aid workers kidnapped last year from the same Tindouf refugee camp the Kennedy mission visited. With the blessing of the Algerian government, Aqim long ago took charge of the Tindouf camp and, working with Polisario, insures that its inhabitants cannot leave and that visitors are allowed in only after stringent security checks. These are the terrorists who hosted the Kennedy women and allowed them to report on the 'atrocious human rights conditions within the camp,' as Kerry Kennedy wrote in published statements once she was safely back in Washington, DC. (Gov. Cuomo has not publicly revealed his concern that Kennedy may have placed their daughter in such dire jeopardy.)

The Polisario Front has long provided weapons, training and safe haven to Aqim, according to Moroccan and international reports. Polisario fighters have joined an Aqim splinter group in raiding a large swath of Northeastern Mali. Over 200 Polisario fighters were paid $1,000 each per week to join Col. Gadaffi in his failed effort to halt the revolution in Libya.

The Polisario camps are a textbook case of human rights abuses. I know: I visited those same camps near Tindouf, Algeria in December 2010. I met with a young Sawahari artist who told me he had been tortured and repeatedly sodomized with a glass bottle in the Polisario's Rabumi prison. I met with relatives of Sidi Mouloud, who was charged with treason for telling a reporter he supported Morocco's autonomy plans as a solution to the Western Sahara standoff. Mouloud, like so many others, has disappeared into the Polisario prison system.

I recently met with Muhammad bin Abdelaziz, president of the Polisario Front. In a wide-ranging conversation, he said he admired the authoritarian policies of the Algerian government, the second-most repressive regime after Syria in the entire Arab world. If Kerry Kennedy is truly serious about human rights and seeks to alleviate the near inhuman conditions she saw in Tindouf, perhaps she would do well to look again at her hosts and bring pressure on the Polisario to alleviate this tragic situation.

Richard Miniter is an investigative journalist, author of the NY Times best seller, Leading From Behind, and other books, and a columnist for Forbes magazine.

SOURCE Richard Miniter
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