United Nations Weighs Sanctions for Sudan Officials

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The United Nations is reportedly considering sanctioning a number of officials from Sudan for war crimes in Darfur. But one of those officials is a key intelligence source for the United States. Madeleine Brand talks to Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Silverstein.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The United Nation Security Council faces a moral quandary. Should it sanction a suspected war criminal or look the other way because that person may be key to fighting terrorism?

Today the council is weighing imposing sanctions on Sudanese officials for their involvement in the Darfur conflict. A confidential memo for the closed-door meeting was leaked on Friday, and it included the names of 17 people under consideration for sanctions. The Bush Administration has reportedly tried to keep one of those people, Sala Abdullah Gosh, off the list, as he is considered a key ally in the war on terrorism.

And joining me to talk about this is Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Silverstein.

And Ken, who is Sala Abdullah Gosh? And how key an ally is he to the U.S.?

Mr. KEN SILVERSTEIN (Los Angeles Times Correspondent): Well, he is the head of the Sudanese Intelligence Agency. And depending on who you talk to, he's a pretty important ally of the United States in the war on terrorism. You know, ironically, bin Laden lived in Sudan between 1991 and 1996 before he went to Afghanistan. So there's an old relationship between bin Laden and the Sudanese government. But since the 9/11 attacks, the Sudanese government has made a real effort to engage with the United States primarily through collaboration on intelligence.

And Gosh, as head of the agency, has been someone who has helped the CIA gather information about bin Laden and al-Qaida. His agency has allowed the CIA and FBI to interview al-Qaida suspects who are still residing in Khartoum. In some cases, they were in safe houses for interviews. They've provided a whole range of cooperation, according to U.S. and Sudanese officials. Last year, the CIA sent a plane to Khartoum and brought Salah Abdullah Gosh to Washington. And I just can't see why they would have done that if they didn't think that he was pretty important ally in the war on terrorism.

BRAND: And why is the U.N. considering sanctions against him?

Mr. SILVERSTEIN: Well, you know, a number of Sudanese officials are suspected of being complicit in the atrocities in Darfur. And Gosh, as head of the intelligence agency, almost inevitably would fall under suspicion of being involved. Because naturally as director of that sensitive agency he would have knowledge of the events in Darfur. The charges against him are not terribly specific at this point. And it will be interesting to see what comes out subsequently. The charges in this one are a little bit vague.

BRAND: So this is indeed a quandary for both the United States and the U.N. If he is indeed sanctioned, would that mean he would no longer be an effective ally?

Mr. SILVERSTEIN: I've talked to people about that and it would certainly create a problem. I mean, he definitely would not be allowed to come back to the United States. I'm not sure if there are any plans to bring him here, but certainly if he's identified in that U.N. list, he could no longer come here. That in itself wouldn't create a problem per se, but any continued contact with someone that the U.N. identifies, basically, as a war criminal, are going to be, it's going to make it a sensitive issue.

I've talked to people on the U.S. side about this, and some suggest that there would be a reluctance to simply cut off that relationship, because it seems to be productive. And so there might be attempts made to work around it.

BRAND: Ken Silverstein of the Los Angeles Times, thank you.

Mr. SILVERSTEIN: Thank you.

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