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The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Hissène Habré – Prosecuting and Embarrassing Ally.
Regissør: Magali Serre

MOVIE OF THE MONTH: Anyone who thinks that under certain circumstances it may be morally right to support a tyrannical regime should watch this film.


(See the film's link at the end of the article)

Here we present a compelling case study of a person who commits crimes against humanity somewhere very few know – in the former French colony of Chad, a Central African country without its own coastline, with 13 million inhabitants and Libya as a neighbor to the north. The offender is named Hissène Habré, a brutal dictator who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. He committed crimes that are all too familiar to anyone involved in genocide and ethnic cleansing: He tortured tens of thousands and probably executed 40 000 people who opposed his regime. Filmmaker Magali Serre suggests that he would never have escaped so long without solid support from the US and France.

Through thorough research, Serre shows how – and why – the Americans and the French strengthened Habré. The explanation lies in the principle that one's enemy is one's friend. In this case, the enemy (to the United States and France, ie) was Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who was considered a terrorist-supporting threat to the West, especially after being linked to the bombing attack on a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in Scotland where nearly 300 people were killed. . The enemy of the enemy was Chad, who was involved in a border dispute with Gaddafi.

The Americans and the French were eager to have Chad as an ally and decided to support Habré militarily and financially. But US military aid was not limited to assisting Habré's forces in fighting along the northern border against Libya. US agents were also involved in training Habré's secret police, known as DDS, who were responsible for the torture and executions of political opponents.

Could have been forgotten. Serre interviews former US intelligence agents and government officials, who make it clear that the Americans and the French were aware of what was going on, but chose to close their eyes to it. The fact that both governments knew what Habré's secret police were doing is substantiated by the fact that both a USAID office and the French embassy were within earshot of a DDS facility in Chad's capital N'Djamena. In the film, some of Habré's victims describe in gruesome detail what kind of torment they were exposed to at this site.

The court found Habré guilty of rape, sexual slavery and having ordered the killing of 40 people during his time as president of Chad.

One of the former CIA agents even remarks: "Sometimes you have to help people who are not very kind. But we have no regrets. It was real politics after all. ”

This sad chapter in African history could be bypassed in silence and never known to the world. Habré was deposed in 1990 and managed to escape to Senegal, where he lived relatively unnoticed for many years. But a bold decision by Senegal authorities to conduct a scathing lawsuit against Habré for crimes against humanity in 2015 led to many of his crimes being finally made known around the world.

Historic. In the film, Serre details details of Habré's French and American support in between testimony from the victims. In this way, she takes the matter a step further, ensuring that American-French participation also has its place in the annals of history. The Senegalese Special Court established in collaboration with other African Union Member States delivered its verdict on May 30, 2016. The court, known as Extraordinary African Chambers, found Habré guilty of rape, sexual slavery and having ordered the murder of 40 people during his time as president of Chad. The court sentenced him to life in prison. This was also a historic event: For the first time, an African court sentenced a former head of state for human rights violations.

Serre's film is an eloquent testimony to how deals with the devil can have unintended catastrophic consequences.

However, it remains to be seen whether Western countries – especially those involved in supporting Habré – learn a lesson from this incident. Habré was not the only brutal dictator supported by Americans in the 1980s. At that time, the Reagan government also supported authoritarian regimes in Chile (Pinochet), Haiti (Duvalier), and Guatemala (Rios Montt) – not to forget the regime of the sheriff of Iran, and regimes that other US governments supported even earlier.

Covenant with the devil. This time is over. The question now is what we should do today. Was it wise for the Obama administration – which was neoliberal and the exact opposite of the neoconservative Reagan administration – to reach out to the regimes in Myanmar, Iran and Cuba? There is a difference between offering military support and entering into agreements with an authoritarian regime, but all these countries have a bad reputation when it comes to human rights. The critics of Obama's efforts believe that his dedication only added further courage in these regimes. Serre's film is an eloquent testimony to how deals with the devil can have unintended catastrophic consequences.

Serre does not try to draw any parallels to the current situation. Still – you can't leave Prosecuting and Embarrassing Ally without feeling how impossible it is in all circumstances to proceed with clean hands after making such an agreement.


For online subscribers, see the movie here.

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