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Reality Check: Genuine Journalism Exposes Somali Horrors
Thursday, 26 April 2007 21:02
by Chris Floyd

Yesterday we examined the egregious distortions and outright lies that Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times employed in whitewashing (pun fully intended) the Bush Administration's proxy war in Somalia: The Lies of the Times: NYT Pushes Bush Line on Somalia. Today, however, we are pleased to offer an antidote to Gettleman's servile perversion of reality -- a piece of honest-to-God journalism by Martin Fletcher of The Times of London.

Unlike Gettleman, Fletcher is actually on the scene in Mogadishu, where the Bush-backed, American-trained Ethiopian invaders and their Somali warlord allies are using tanks and artillery on residential areas to crush the growing resistance to this latest "regime change" operation in Bush's "War on Terror." Fletcher is an eyewitness to the death, brutality, ruin and intense human suffering produced by Bush's new war -- a war that was launched to overthrow the Islamic Courts government, whose brief time in power last year is now looked back on as a "golden age" of peace and stability by Somalis, as Reuters reports today.

The Times, of course, is a very conservative, pro-war, pro-Bush paper -- owned by Rupert Murdoch, no less, the proprietor of the war-porn factory known as Fox News. But although he has politicized and polluted The Times as he does everything he touches, Murdoch is shrewd enough to understand that the newpaper's centuries-old reputation for journalistic excellence is part of its "brand value" and should not be totally shredded. Thus you will often find excellent reportage buried in its pages -- nuggets of truth and reality that totally contradict the neo-fascist fantasies that Murdoch peddles on Fox and elsewhere.

And so it is with Fletcher's report, which is excerpted extensively below, and is taken from a prominent, two-page spread in The Times' print edition. Be sure to read the whole thing, and as you do, ponder this painful irony: An archconservative Murdoch paper in England can tell the truth about Somalia -- but the most venerated bastion of America's so-called "liberal media" cannot.

From The warlords of death return to steal city’s brief taste of peace (The Times):

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In five days spent in and around a city reverberating with the constant thud of mortars and bursts of gunfire, The Times saw burnt-out slums, huge refugee encampments, hospitals overflowing with the sick and injured, and enough misery to last a lifetime.

It is hard to overstate the suffering of this forgotten country. Last year Somalia tasted peace for the first time in 15 years of bloody civil war when the Islamic Courts movement drove out the warlords who had made their country a byword for anarchy and mayhem. But Washington saw the Courts as a new Taleban sympathetic to al-Qaeda, so it conspired with neighbouring Ethiopia to remove them as part of its War on Terror.

In December Ethiopia’s formidable army routed the Courts, and installed a Somalian “transitional federal government” that includes some of the very warlords the Courts had ousted, and depends for its survival on thousands of soldiers provided by Somalia’s oldest and most bitter enemy. The new Government is now battling against a growing insurgency, and legions of petrified Somalis are caught in the crossfire.

On our first afternoon in Mogadishu we were interviewing doctors at the Madina hospital when we heard explosions. Minutes later a convoy of cars, minibuses and trucks began delivering men, women and children — all civilians — with blood pouring from shrapnel wounds.

They were carried, wailing and moaning, into the casualty centre on trolleys, in people’s arms, in crude stretchers fashioned from blankets. They were laid on tables and the lino floor, soaked in their own blood and vomit. The doctors and nurses were soon struggling to cope, sweat coursing down their faces as they bandaged wounds and rigged up intravenous drips in the intense heat. But still the injured came — 30, 40, 50 of them. Amid the pandemonium a man with a stick fought to restrain a mob of frantic relatives.

Survivors said Ethiopian troops had fired three shells into a market in a neighbourhood called al-Barakah packed with women buying fresh milk. A dozen were killed outright...

In the past few days Ethiopian shells have hit a mosque, a minibus, a hospital and HornAfric, Somalia’s leading independent radio station. One night alone 73 people were killed in northern Mogadishu, and in three days last weekend the Madina treated 245 wounded civilians.

The casualties fill its foetid wards, corridors and overflow tents, and lie under trees outside. They are people like Ruqio Muse, a 22-year-old mother of three young children who said her thigh was shattered by an Ethiopian sniper’s bullet as she retrieved goods from her clothing stall in one of the city’s battlegrounds. Next to her lie two semi-comatose girls — 16-year-old cousins — whose skin was burnt from their faces by a landmine explosion. Ahmed, 14, has had a leg amputated.

...We had first visited Mogadishu early last December, five months after the Courts ousted the warlords, and found a city still rejoicing. Gone were the ubiquitous checkpoints where the warlords’ militias killed, extorted and stole. Gone were their “technicals” — Jeeps with heavy machineguns mounted in the back. Hundreds of Somalis were returning from foreign exile, businesses were reopening, and for the first time in a generation people could walk around safely amid the ruins of their once-fine capital, even at night.

The Courts’ leadership undoubtedly contained Islamic extremists with dangerous connections and intentions. They banned the narcotic qat, cinemas, Western music and dancing. But the Courts also achieved the almost impossible task of imposing order on one of the world’s most dangerous cities, and for that most Somalis were content to accept their strict Islamic codes. Today Mogadishu is a warzone once again...

An estimated 20,000 Ethiopian troops are battling against the insurgents — an alliance of Islamic Court fighters and elements of Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan who control much of the outer city. The Government’s own army consists of barely 5,000 “soldiers” — former members of the warlords’ militias who inspire fear, not confidence. They man checkpoints and stand on corners in central Mogadishu, flaunting their semi-automatics. Many chew qat. Some steal and extort (we twice had to pay bribes at checkpoints).

...On Industrial Road, a major thoroughfare, we were shown trenches and barricades built to obstruct Ethiopian tanks, burnt-out Ethiopian vehicles, and the charred remains of both a charcoal market and a camp for 1,200 homeless families shelled by the Ethiopians. More than 50 died as fire raged through the camp’s rickety shelters made of wood and plastic sheeting. All that remains is an expanse of ash littered with the blackened remains of cooking pots, lamps and corrugated iron. “My family fled to the countryside,” said Hussain Ibrahim Yusef, a young boy standing alone in the devastation. “We were separated. I don’t know where to follow them.”

...Another day we drove south from Mogadishu towards Afgoye. The refugee camps started about ten miles out and went on and on — thousands upon thousands of families who are living out in the bush beneath orange tarpaulins or in the open, sheltered from the blazing sun and torrential rainstorms only by trees.

These people fled with little more than sleeping mats and the clothes they wore. Food is scarce. Vendors charge extortionate prices for water, so some refugees are drinking from dirty rivers. There is no sanitation, and relief efforts are hampered by the lack of security, poor infrastructure and harassment by government soldiers...

In five days we spoke to scores of ordinary Somalis. Overwhelmingly they loathed a government they consider a puppet of the hated Ethiopians. “As long as the Ethiopians are on Somali soil the insurgents will get support,” said Muhammad Ibrahim, a gardener now living with his wife and three children at the Lafole hospital. “In the six months the Islamic Courts were here, less than 20 people lost their lives through violence. Now that many die in ten minutes,” said Hussein Adow, a businessman waiting outside the Madina hospital.


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