When the trial of former Chadian president Hissène Habré began last week, in Dakar, Senegal, the judges and the guards treated the defendant like Bobby Seale, at the Chicago Seven trial, back in 1969. The 72 year-old Habre was carried into the courtroom by four guards and forced to sit still in his seat, as he shouted “Mercenaries!” and “Scofflaws!” at the judges.
It was much the same scene as back in July, when the Extraordinary African Chambers court first attempted to try Habré for alleged crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes. The former strongman yelled “Down with imperialism!” and denounced Senegalese politicians as “African traitors!” and “Valets of America!”
Which is quite interesting because Hissène Habré used to be a client of America and tool of U.S. imperialism, himself, between the years 1982 and 1990, when he is alleged to have committed all those crimes.
Habré was a willing asset of both the United States and the French former colonial masters of Chad, who made good use of him in their proxy war against Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s government in the neighboring country of Libya. With the CIA’s help, Habré managed to defeat Gaddafi’s forces in the 1987 so-called “Toyota War,” and to kill 40,000 of his own countrymen in his vast political prison system, where another 200,000 were held and tortured.
Habré served the Americans so well, Gaddafi gave up trying to influence events in Chad, leaving it the Americans and Europeans. Soon, Hissène Habré was no longer needed, and in 1990 was overthrown by Idriss Déby, a warlord from an ethnic group that had suffered greatly under Habré.
But nothing has changed in Chad except the name and tribe of the puppet. The U.S. and France remain the real powers in charge.
Test for Africa
Needless to say, the United States and France are not sitting in the dock with Hissène Habré, who faces the consequences of their mutual crimes, alone. Habré might have escaped judgment entirely had pressures for his arrest not caught up with him.
The out-of-work warlord has spent most of the last 25 years in quiet exile in Senegal. The Belgians had claimed “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute him – but what kind of justice would that be, given that the King of Belgium killed as many as 12 million Congolese and countless other Africans during the colonial period?
The Senegalese refused to hand Habré over to the Belgians. Then, in 2010, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, asked the African Union to create a special tribunal to try Habré. In 2013, Habré was arrested.
The Extraordinary African Chambers court is thought by some to be a “test” of whether Africa can dispense justice to its own current and former politicians. But, I think the question is posed incorrectly.
Africa is full of presidents that have killed and imprisoned their own people – most of them while working as agents and “mercenaries” for U.S. imperialism, the main source of the crime wave.
Until the American, British and French are made to sit in the dock with the Hissène Habrés of the continent, there can be no justice.
Glen Ford is executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. E-mail him at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.