The War in Somalia

Jeremy Scahill’s excellent report at The Nation magazine exposes secret CIA prisons which confine uncharged individuals in terribly inhumane conditions without access to legal council, a Somali intelligence agency supported and trained by the CIA, and on the ground operations conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command. All of this intervention into the lawless Somali country is done unilaterally and kept largely secret from Congress and the American people. Excerpt:

As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners. The existence of both facilities and the CIA role was uncovered by The Nation during an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Mogadishu. Among the sources who provided information for this story are senior Somali intelligence officials; senior members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG); former prisoners held at the underground prison; and several well-connected Somali analysts and militia leaders, some of whom have worked with US agents, including those from the CIA. A US official, who confirmed the existence of both sites, told The Nation, “It makes complete sense to have a strong counterterrorism partnership” with the Somali government.

The CIA presence in Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counterterrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations. The US agents “are here full time,” a senior Somali intelligence official told me. At times, he said, there are as many as thirty of them in Mogadishu, but he stressed that those working with the Somali NSA do not conduct operations; rather, they advise and train Somali agents.

Not only does this add further credence to the claim that the Obama administration is conducting an additional war (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen?) in Somalia, but it demonstrates how irreparably disconnected the Executive’s war prerogatives are from Congress, the courts, the American people, or any form of checks, transparency, or accountability under the law. Libya is to some extent unique in that the operations were publicly announced and conducted with a level of international support; and we’ve seen the, albeit limited, backlash against such broad interpretations of presidential war-making powers. These secret engagements in Somalia are not even publicly announced, giving the Obama administration and its secret army and intelligence services full reign to do whatever they want. Additionally, such covert, embedded operations like the one in Somalia have many more entangled unintended consequences and blowback potential, which has already arisen, as Scahill reports:

In the eighteen years since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, US policy on Somalia has been marked by neglect, miscalculation and failed attempts to use warlords to build indigenous counterterrorism capacity, many of which have backfired dramatically. At times, largely because of abuses committed by Somali militias the CIA has supported, US policy has strengthened the hand of the very groups it purports to oppose and inadvertently aided the rise of militant groups, including the Shabab. Many Somalis viewed the Islamic movement known as the Islamic Courts Union, which defeated the CIA’s warlords in Mogadishu in 2006, as a stabilizing, albeit ruthless, force. The ICU was dismantled in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2007. Over the years, a series of weak Somali administrations have been recognized by the United States and other powers as Somalia’s legitimate government. Ironically, its current president is a former leader of the ICU.

Current American intervention in Somalia, as documented by Scahill and others, is therefore troublesome on two levels. On the one hand, the lawlessness of the rendition program in Somalia and neighboring countries, the criminally harsh and negligent treatment that suffering detainees endure without charge or trial, and the reliably inhumane behavior of the Somali agents the CIA supports and trains all create serious human suffering and contribute to a very ugly humanitarian crisis there. These are crimes which are unlikely to ever be accounted for. On the other hand, the demonstrated history of these policies leading to additional security threats and destabilizing circumstances serves to further indict U.S. national security planners for engaging in policies that have the predictable result of further endangering American citizens and further entrenching the U.S. in dangerous countries and groups. Again, with no accountability.