Inappropriate Guests

Holocaust scholars criticize White House for hosting Sudanese war criminals

Nafie Ali Nafie / AP
May 7, 2013

A group of more than 100 Holocaust scholars and genocide experts signed on to a letter sent to the Obama administration Tuesday pressing it to cancel an upcoming meeting with a Sudanese delegation that includes war criminals who have facilitated "crimes against humanity."

The Obama administration announced last month that it would meet with a Sudanese delegation led by senior figures in the National Congress Party (NCP), which is led by President Omar al-Bashir, a wanted war criminal who is known as "the Butcher of Sudan."

The delegation is to be helmed by Nafie Ali Nafie, an al-Bashir adviser and key NCP official who has been cited for his "central role in orchestrating the Darfur genocide" and even admitted to torturing Sudanese citizens.

The administration’s decision to host the delegation reversed a longstanding policy of avoiding such figures and sparked an outcry among human rights activists.

"As scholars who have written or taught about the Holocaust or other genocides, we are deeply troubled by the news that your administration intends to host a visit by a delegation representing Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir," according to the petition, which was spearheaded by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

The White House is disrespecting all of those who have been murdered by genocidal criminals such as al-Bashir and his cronies in the NCP, the letter said.

"We must make it clear to the perpetrators of genocide that the United States will treat them as outlaws and bring them to justice, not treat them as respected statesmen and bring them here for friendly visits," the scholars wrote.

The petition goes on to remind President Barack Obama that past U.S. administrations have turned a blind eye to genocide.

"We have just marked the 70th anniversary of the tragic Bermuda conference of 1943, at which the United States and England pretended to take an interest in the victims of Nazi genocide, but then did nothing to intervene," the letter states. "Let us not repeat that tragic mistake. The victims of Darfur must not be abandoned as were the Jews of Europe."

Scholars such as Rafael Medoff have taken aim at the administration for its failure to concretely address mass genocides despite offering much lip service on the matter.

The White House’s Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) has failed to respond to a single global atrocity nearly two years after its creation was ordered, according to critics who cite it for remaining silent about Darfur and the systematic murder of citizens in war-torn Syria.

"The leaders of President Obama's Atrocities Prevention Board should be up in arms over the prospect of perpetrators of atrocities visiting America and receiving the red carpet treatment," Medoff told the Washington Free Beacon. "If the board cannot prevent the arrival of these killers, why does it even exist? Is the board being used as a cover for the administration's kid-gloves treatment of the Darfur murderers?"

Obama announced the APB during an address at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in 2012, stating that "preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America."

The White House maintained on May 1—just days after it announced the Sudanese delegation’s visit—that it is "has done much to keep faith" with its commitment despite persistent criticism from human rights activists.

Asked to describe the administration’s approach to Sudan, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declined.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment.

The NCP visit is not the first time the Obama administration has hosted controversial figures tied to Darfur massacres.

The White House hosted Abubaker al-Shingieti in July 2010. He served as al-Bashir’s spokesman during the height of the regime’s massacres and was later appointed as the head of U.S. Muslim outreach to the Obama administration, according to reports.

However, activists have expressed the greatest outrage over Nafie’s presence on the delegation.

"The man the Obama administration will be speaking with has blood on his hands, quite literally," the Sudanese peace activist group Girifna wrote in a letter to Obama after the meeting was announced.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), one of the House’s leading anti-genocide activists, also criticized the administration for inviting Nafie in particular.

Wolf wrote to inform Obama of "reports that Nafie has been ‘accused of torturing enemies, cozying up to Osama bin Ladin in the 1990s and plotting to assassinate Egypt’s president,’" according to a press release from the congressman’s office.

"With Darfur worsening and continued indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the Nuba Mountains displacing thousands, why would your administration reward Khartoum with an invitation to Washington?" Wolf wrote to Obama. "Specifically, why would you reward the likes of Nafie Ali Nafie?"

The State Department defended Nafie’s invitation during a May 3 press conference with reporters, explaining that engagement trumps the Sudanese delegation’s crimes against humanity.

"We're not under any illusions about this delegation or any of the other senior leaders of the regime," said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

"However, we believe that engagements with this delegation can advance our policy goals in Sudan, and if we don't make our arguments directly to the Sudanese, who influence and direct their country's policy, our ability to affect change will be limited."

"So this engagement can set the stage for a continuing dialogue on a peaceful, sustainable resolution to the conflicts and governance issues throughout Sudan," Ventrell said.

Pressed to explain why the White House would grant Nafie a visa to the United States, Ventrell bristled.

"Look, we're under no illusions about a specific individual or the leadership of the regime as a whole," he said. "But we are going to pursue this engagement."