The Witness Next Door

Nick Krostof gives a little perspective on what's really important. If we had real leaders in Washington, the US would be in Darfur instead of Iraq. Even the Dauphin, in his typically clueless manner, has called the war in Darfur as a genocide, but hasn't done much to stop it. Nation bulding for thee, not for thee.

Nicholas Kristof: The Witness Next Door :

Others may lose their tempers at traffic jams on the turnpike, but Daoud Hari is just glad he’s no longer being tortured.

Mr. Hari has just arrived in the U.S. from Chad and Darfur, where he says he was beaten and told repeatedly he was going to be executed. He is one of just a handful of Darfuris — his lawyer knows of two others — whom the U.S. has accepted as refugees.

I knew Mr. Hari in his previous life, because he interpreted for me early last year. We journeyed together along the Darfur-Chad border through a no man’s land of villages that were being attacked by Sudan’s janjaweed militia. [see Who are the Janjaweed? - By Brendan I. Koerner - Slate Magazine and Janjaweed for some description of the janjaweed]

Mr. Hari helped me interview two orphan boys living under a tree, a 13-year-old girl shot in the chest, a 6-year-old boy trying desperately not to cry as doctors treated shrapnel wounds to his leg and a 15-year-old girl gang-raped by the janjaweed.

It is a different world there. It is the antipodes of New Jersey.

When our vehicle became stuck in the sand in one janjaweed area, we strained side by side to push it out before trouble arrived. We slept in the sand under the stars, we saw gruesome injuries, we witnessed people preparing to be killed, and we saw each other dusty and frightened. In that crucible, I grew steadily more impressed with Mr. Hari’s courage, for as a local person he was at greater risk of immediate execution than a foreigner like me.

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He was scared, of course, but what drove him was a relentless determination to get out the story of what was happening to his fellow Darfuris. He was determined to fight genocide with the best weapon he had, his training in English.

Interpreters and drivers are the secret to good international reporting, and they do much of the work, take most of the risks and get none of the credit. Mr. Hari regularly interpreted for other journalists, repeatedly putting himself in danger to get out the stories.

Last August, he accompanied an ace Chicago Tribune reporter, Paul Salopek, into Darfur, but they were seized by an armed faction. Once, he said, a commander ordered his soldiers to execute him, but they were from the same tribe and balked. Another time, he says, a commander untied him and told him to escape — but he refused unless the driver was freed as well. So Mr. Hari was tied up again, and he was beaten as he was interrogated about his work with me and other journalists.

Finally, after more than a month, Sudan freed Mr. Hari along with Mr. Salopek and the driver. Eventually Mr. Hari made his way back to Chad, and the U.S. granted him status as a political refugee. It is disorienting to be with him here, where we are both clean, rested and safe.

Yet even here Mr. Hari is haunted by Darfur. He knows one brother was killed; the other was attacked and beaten, but Mr. Hari assumes he is still alive. Of his three sisters, Mr. Hari last saw one in 2003 and the others in 2006.

He plans to study and is also determined to speak out about Darfur and tell Americans what is happening to his people.

Mr. Hari’s presence in the U.S. underscores a profound difference between Darfur and past genocides: In the past, we could always claim that we didn’t fully appreciate what was going on until too late.

It was only a faint reed of an excuse, for in fact information always did trickle out about past genocides even as they were underway. But this time we can’t even feign ignorance.

A superb new documentary, “The Devil Came on Horseback,” provides a wrenching tour through the eyes of a tormented American military observer there. A handful of books chronicle the killings; one of them, “Not on Our Watch,” has hit the best-seller list with its suggestions for what citizens can do. President Bush has described the slaughter in Darfur as genocide since 2004.

Google Earth has developed a first-rate program to observe the devastation from above. On my blog,, you can see a man whose eyes were gouged out by the janjaweed as well as video from the journey last year with Mr. Hari.

Or, if you live in New Jersey, you can simply turn to one of your newest neighbors, and see the pain in his eyes as he wonders if his sisters are still alive.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on May 14, 2007 9:13 AM.

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