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Gration, Reluctantly, On Genocide

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Gration, Reluctantly, On Genocide

Posted by John Norris on December 3, 2009

Some thoughts on General Gration’s testimony today. There was a palpable and bipartisan level of frustration and anger in all of the members asking questions. It is obvious that many members of Congress feel they are being deliberately left in the dark on the administration’s Sudan policy, and there were numerous references to requests for meetings and briefings from the Special Envoy that have gone unfulfilled. Given that Congress has long been a leading voice on the need to address Sudan’s multiple conflicts, the relative failure or inability to bring Congress along with the administration’s policy approach is a notable shortcoming.

A devastating exchange with Senator Brownback well illustrates why frustration levels are high. Brownback posed a direct question: Are you negotiating with a government that is conducting an ongoing genocide and war crimes? Watch it:

Given that the administration made clear in the policy review that it felt genocide was ongoing, this should have been a fairly straightforward answer. The Special Envoy struggled mightily to duck the question, or to change the subject, but after persistent follow-up questioning he highly reluctantly said: “That’s correct.” Instead of talking about due process and the charges by the International Criminal Court or arguing that the imperatives of peace are sufficiently paramount that we need to negotiate with war criminals, General Gration was instead left looking like he was trying to deny the ruling National Congress Party’s obvious role in war crimes and crimes against humanity.This was very poorly handled.

The most head-scratching moment in the testimony came when Gration was asked by Representative Chris Smith about the ‘confidential annex’ to the Sudan policy review. (This is the confidential annex that Secretary Clinton indicated contained the pressures and incentives that would be brought to bear on Sudan as it meets or fails to meet key benchmarks.) General Gration insisted that no such annex exists and that he has never seen it. He did however cite a series of ‘working papers’ that contained a series of options. While this may simply be semantics or linguistic hair-splitting, it is remarkable that the Special Envoy would look genuinely puzzled when a member of Congress asks about a confidential annex announced by the Secretary of State which is supposed to contain the heart of the administration’s decision-making on Sudan. This exchange will only heighten concerns that the administration has not actually done credible planning on incentives, pressures or benchmarks at a time when Sudan seems to be lurching back toward a war. As with other public appearances by the Special Envoy, this hearing is likely to have some fallout in the days to come.