Tea With A Warlord
GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, the Gratitude Special. From PRX and NPR, my name is Glynn Washington and, today, we're reaching back to highlight some of the stories that we are especially thankful for. And a person that I'm especially thankful for is Anna Sussman because she's one of the good ones. She has this thing about justice and Anna recently went to a former war zone to see if there really was such a thing - SNAP JUDGMENT.
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ANNA SUSSMAN, BYLINE: There was a morning a few years ago, when I woke up knowing I was about to meet a man that good people had told me was evil. I was covering the peace process in Northern Uganda. I started my reporting at a camp for displaced families. Dark, sooty rain clouds rolled over the clumps of makeshift, thatched huts that had become home to hundreds of thousands during the war. The sky opened up and dropped heavy torrents of rain down onto the camp. I ducked into a damp mud hut; rain began to seep through the thatched roof. I talked to Janet. Her brothers and sisters were killed by the rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army. Her mother is buried in a mound of dirt and hay outside her hut.
JANET: My father dead, my mom dead also (unintelligible).
SUSSMAN: Do you have brothers and sisters?
JANET: No, they kill them.
SUSSMAN: I talked to Yafas(ph). He was captured by the rebels as a boy and forced to cut another child to pieces when he tried to escape. Janet and Yafas wanted the war to end. They were willing to forgive the warlords and let them live free if that's what it took to bring peace. But the International Criminal Court - they wanted the men responsible for the massacres, for enslaving child brides, for cutting off the lips of civilians, the men in oversized sunglasses and army fatigues - they wanted them to face judgment for their crimes.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Recent warrants by the International Criminal Court have turned the spotlight on a rebel group in Uganda.
SUSSMAN: But the warlords weren't having any of it. They said as long as the arrest warrants remained they would continue to fight. The attacks would go on. So the people of Northern Uganda - the victims of the decades-long war - said forget the warrants, forget the international halls of justice. We want peace. We'll forgive the warlords. Give them amnesty. Let them go free if that's what it takes. Who gets to decide what happens to these men - the victims of the war, desperate for peace by any means, or the International Criminal Court, whose offices are out of reach of the wrathful warlords?
I caught a ride out of the camp and next came the hard part - an interview I had secured with the Lord's Resistance Army number three commander, Kenneth Banya. Kidnapped children used to call him the nasty one. He is said to have ordered attacks, enslaved wives and masterminded the whole war. He is said to have orchestrated very, very bad things, things human beings should not do to one another. I prepare for a hostile meeting, peppered with pointed questions about his role in the war. I was ready. I wasn't going to hold anything back. I debated whether or not to shake his hand. I sat down nervously in the courtyard of the restaurant where I had arranged to meet him. I flipped through my notebook. Kenneth Banya strode through the door with a wide smile, his hand outstretched, salt-and-pepper hair, toes sticking out of plastic flip-flops.
KENNETH BANYA: (Laughter) Anna.
SUSSMAN: How are you?
BANYA: I'm fine.
BANYA: How was the day?
SUSSMAN: It was OK.
BANYA: Good, good, good.
SUSSMAN: No sunglasses, no gun, no fatigues, no menace - he asked me if I'd like some tea. I watch him stir spoonful's of sugar and powdered cream into a tiny teacup. His eyes are squinty and kind. He talks about his life. He grew up on a farm in a small village.
BANYA: I had five brothers and one sister.
SUSSMAN: I'm caught off guard by his grandfatherly nature. He invites me to his home down the road - the one the government gave him, along with the amnesty and his monthly salary - a two-story concrete apartment with a blue light bulb swinging from the ceiling and paper posters of nature scenes tacked to the walls. He's kind and relaxed. He explains that he was nervous to come out of the bush - nervous that people would be angry at him, but they were forgiving.
BANYA: It was not easy to mix with people. I was afraid, but it was the people themselves who encouraged me to move free.
SUSSMAN: And finally, I approached the subject of the mass atrocities he's said to have orchestrated. So did you order attacks on civilians? Did you take forced wives? Did you plan the abduction of 139 girls from the Aboke girl's school? Did you order troops to cut off the lips of villagers? He just smiles and denies it all. But he made it clear - the war would not end until the remaining leaders were granted amnesty. Then he introduced me to his nieces and turned on the radio.
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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).
SUSSMAN: Maybe it's these guys - the guys who have committed the most gruesome of human acts, who can look you in the eye and convince you that they're guilty of nothing. Banya is accused of spending years plotting attacks on innocent civilians. And someone on Earth needed to judge him - not on his smile or the way he took his tea, but on the evidence, the facts, the testimonies of people like Janet, but Janet didn't care if Banya was judged. She said she was happy to let him live in his apartment and enjoy his amnesty as long as he stayed away from her. I thanked him for his time. It began to rain. I shook his hand and walked away down the dirt road. And soon, heavy, swollen puddles turned the road into mud and soaked my clothes. I looked back to see Kenneth Banya ducking into his concrete apartment out of the rain.
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WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, Anna Sussman.
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WASHINGTON: Oh, I am grateful for a lot of things, Snappers, but I'm especially thankful that you chose to spend an hour with the Snap crew, know this - there are hours, hours, of Snap available right now. And in fact, you could go to the Jackson Hole Wyoming Airport, fly around the entire world before arriving back at the Jackson Hole Airport and there are enough Snap episodes available for you to enjoy a new Snap the entire trip without having to repeat a single one. What? Subscribe to the podcast - snapjudgment.org, Facebook - SNAP JUDGMENT, Twitter - SNAP JUDGMENT.
Now, are you planning on getting your holiday meal from the frozen food section? Not this year, Snappers - just stop by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They'll hook you up with a meal you will not believe. Tell them Snap sent you - what? Oh, yeah, yeah, tell them This American Life sent you, Ira and them - much love to the CPB. PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, doesn't believe in gravy and it's a shame. Let the record reflect that Snap, on the other hand, takes a firm pro-gravy stance - American - prx.org. WBEZ in Chicago knows the holidays are about food and drink. Know what I'm saying? Isn't that right, WBEZ? And this is not the news. No way is this the news. And in fact, you could screw with the nonsense, man. I'm going to have a peanut butter sandwich with Welch's grape jelly and a cold glass of milk for the holidays, yeah, just that. With the crusts cut off, Trix(ph), that's all I want, leave me alone. And you would still not be as far away from the news as this is, but this is NPR.
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