A wave of political oppression in Ethiopia has resulted in the arbitrary arrests
and torture involving hundreds of political prisoners, journalists, and human
rights acivists. A bipartisan bill in the US Congress calling for sanctions
against Ethiopia was blocked by Dennis Hastert while the Bush administration
calls the government of Prime Minister Zenawi an ally on the 'war on terror'. A
lawyer with a history of working on behalf of women's rights, Yalem Bekele, was
arrested yesterday and Amnesty International fears she may be tortured.
Bipartisan sanctions bill against Ethiopian human rights violations blocked by House Speaker Hastert
Increasing torture and arrests of peaceful opposition leaders is ignored by the US administration, causing growing resentment towards the United States here in Africa's third most populous nation

by Don Baseman
In recent months, the government of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, including the killing of peaceful protesters and arbitrary arrest and torture of political opposition leaders.
Yesterday, October 19, Yalemzewd Bekele, a lawyer working for the European Commission who has a history advocating for women and freedom of expression, was arrested by the Ethiopian authorities. According to Amnesty International she is at high risk of torture or other ill-treatment. This follows a rash of other arrests, and reports of torture, all of them without formal charge or due process of law. Among those who have been arrested are Dr. Berhanu Nega, the elected Mayor of the capital city, Addis Ababa, and Professor Mesfin Woldemarian - the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and a recent winner of the NY Academy of Sciences Human Rights award.
Calls for the immediate release of political prisoners by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (see attached reports) have thus far gone unheaded by the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. In the United States, the Bush administration calls Zenawi a 'lynchpin on the war on terror' while making mild statements critical of the arrests. In Congress, meanwhile, Republican House Leader Dennis Hastert recently blocked a bipartisan bill (HR 5680) proposed by the House Committee on International Affairs that would have imposed economic sanctions on the Ethiopian regime unless it releases the political prisoners.
The crackdown on dissent in Ethiopia started after national elections in May, 2005 resulted in an unexpectedly large victory for the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). This included the CUD's winning the entire city administration of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Since the elections, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has closed independent media, arrested hundreds of prominent and popular civic leaders en masse, including the elected Mayor of Addis Ababa, Dr. Berhanu Nega, a respected international economist (and the winner of last year's "alumni of the year' award from the New School of Social Research in New York). In June and November last year, police opened fire at peaceful demonstrations, killing hundreds of innocent civilians.
A bi-partisan group of US Congresspersons said "... These measures were deliberately taken to stifle and criminalize opposition party activity in the country. The measures also were intended to intimidate and silence independent press.." (Chris Smith, R-NJ, Donald Payne, D-Ill,, in HR 5680, "''Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006''.)
The Bush administration's reaction?
The president's foreign policy team praised Meles Zenawi as ""... a lynchpin on the global war on terror" (one example: see
Some members of the Congress have chosen to see things differently.
In July 2006 New Jersey Representative Chris Smith introduced a bill, HR 5680, which "... .calls upon the Government of Ethiopia to immediately release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience... " and threatens economic sanctions if it doesn't. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, a member of the House International Affairs Committee, voted in favor of this bill. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said: "There should be severe consequences for such [a] flagrant subversion of the will of the Ethiopian people."
HR 5680 passed unanimously in sub-committee. However, House Speaker Dennis Hastert blocked the bill from being presented to the entire House for vote.
Mr. Hastert's office did not return our phone calls and he has not issued any public explanation to his blockage of the bill.
What is known is that the Meles regime retained the huge Washington lobbying firm of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, at a cost of $50,000 per month, to lobby against the sanctions bill. One of the principals of the firm is former House Speaker Dick Armey, a longtime political ally of ... Dennis Hastert.
A foreign policy assistant to Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) told us that his office was "lobbied hard by the State Department to vote against sanctions".
The Blumenauer staffer said "the Bush administration does not want to upset Prime Minister Zenawi" because of his 'cooperation' against terrorists.
One prominent Ethiopian businessman, requesting anonymity out of fear of government reprisal, told us "bullshit" when we asked him about Zenawi's 'role' in combating terror. "He himself terrorizes us, the people of Ethiopia" he said. "People here are very, very angry at Bush. We feel betrayed, and we don't understand it" he said.
Prime Minister Zenawi has ruled Ethiopia for the past 15 years and has become a despised dictator. The Washington Post included Meles in its list of the world's worst dictators (April 23, 2006, page B3), and described him this way: "Prime Minister Zenawi was widely criticized for ... gunning down scores of demonstrators and putting prominent opposition politicians on trial for genocide and treason. ... . thousands of alleged government critics have been harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed in the past decade. Millions have been intimidated into silence."
As is the case in Iraq and so many other nations around the world, the misguided US policy 'on terror' - here being played out in Ethiopia - is in fact resulting in large segments of populations around the world turning into America haters.
Many Ethiopians I met - in a variety of settings, in numerous, random conversations off the street - told me how angry off they are at America's apathy to Zenawi's abuses.
Ethiopia is an important example - away from the politicized media spotlights on the Iraq or Afghanistan fiascos - where we can see how the policies of the Bush administration's flailing and zealous,"war on terror" are in fact creating the conditions that make America more hated, and less safe in all corners of the world, including at home. The failure starts when local people begin to resent America for turning a blind eye to the real human suffering they endure. Such heated resentment has begun in Ethiopia.
Several Ethiopians involved in the nascent underground resistance movement there told us it will only be a matter of time before the people of Ethiopia will begin to resist government abuses with violence. If the nation indeed spirals into a cycle of violence, the policies of the US will have added to yet another state of violent anarchy. Bush must reverse his alliance with Meles Zenawi now and reverse the growing resentment towards America now in Ethiopia.
With 77 million people, Ethiopia is Africa's third most populous nation behind Egypt and Nigeria. It is located in a strategically vital region in Africa close to the Arabian peninsula, with an estimated 30 to 40 million Muslims (almost 50% of the total population). It borders Somalia, which was recently taken over by a fundamentalist Islamic 'council' with a decidedly 'anti-western' outlook.
Ethiopia is indeed another striking failure of US foreign policy in the name of "the war on terror." It is a failure on two levels: as a strategic policy (it is creating more anti-American sentiment, not less) and, more so, as an ethical yardstick with which to measure the Bush administration's foreign policy team.
A collegue of mine, who also traveled to Ethiopia with me, said my initial description of the Bush administration as a group of hate-breeding, incompetent and, possibly, heartless morons, as seen in the Ethiopia element of their "war on terror", was too harsh.
I told him I would use less confrontational language, then, which I offer here: The Ethiopian example of Bush's global policy in the the 'war on terror' is yet another example with questionable results.
For further information on the deteriorating human rights crisis in Ethiopia, and the US role in the crisis, go to ,, and
Don Baseman is an acronym for an independent journalist and previous contributor to Indymedia and other media outlets. He spent the month of September in Ethiopia compiling several humanitarian and human rights reports. He will shortly be in Ethiopia again and is using an psedonym to ensure he can return to Ethiopia without reprisal from the Ethiopian authorities.

1) "Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006" (HR 5680, presented to the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations", co-authored by US representatives: Chris Smith (NJ) and Donald Payne, and signed by Representatives Lantos, Tancredo, Towns, Rangle (D-NY), Leach, Rohrabacher, Mortan (VA), Chabot, Green (TX), Sabo, Sanchez (CA), Scott (VA) , Brown (FL) and Ms. Mckinney.

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