Shadow Government

Why Obama needs to intervene to save a persecuted Afghan Christian

An imprisoned Afghan citizen, Said Musa, reportedly faces a possible death sentence for the "crime" of converting to Christianity. His plight represents an appalling human rights violation -- and a potentially serious threat to the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy.

Musa's case has thus far not received much attention in the U.S., beyond a few media reports and the valiant alarms raised by religious freedom scholar Paul Marshall. But that may soon be changing, as more and more media, NGOs, and religious groups are learning of his precarious situation. Imprisoned since last summer, Musa has reportedly suffered heinous physical and sexual abuse for his profession of Christian faith. In an eloquent appeal he asks only to be transferred to another prison, and seems steadfast in his faith: "Please, please you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers...I also agree...to sacrifice my life in public [where] I will tell [about my] faith in Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, [so] other believers will take courage and be strong in their faith."   

His case, lamentable in its own right, also touches on two of the Obama administration's vulnerabilities -- a disregard for religious freedom promotion, and inattention to maintaining domestic support for the Afghan war and troop deployment. Over halfway through the administration's term, the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom still remains vacant (in part due to Senate confirmation complications encountered by the administration's nominee, whose qualifications are questionable). Meanwhile, President Obama's reticence to marshal public support for the war might soon be further tested if this case gets broad attention and Americans begin asking why blood and treasure are being spent for a nation that treats Christians this way. American evangelical Protestants have been one of the domestic communities most supportive of the war, and who might be most exercised over Musa's plight.

The Bush administration faced a similar crisis in 2006, when another Afghan convert to Christianity, Abdul Rahman, also faced persecution and potential death. After attracting much international attention, his case was only resolved when he escaped to asylum in Italy, after personal interventions by President Bush, Secretary Rice, and others.

The Obama administration has said little publicly on the Musa case, other than an Embassy Kabul spokesperson expressing concern. I hope that the White House's relative public silence indicates fervent, high-level quiet diplomatic endeavors with the Afghan Government to spare Mr. Musa's life and provide for his freedom -- often these matters are best handled through such behind-the-scenes efforts. But given the administration's overall indifference to religious freedom, I can't help but worry that the case has not yet been a sufficient priority. The kind of priority that demands President Obama's personal involvement.

Shadow Government

It's not time to remove Cuba from the terror list

As the world's attention remains rapt with the surge of "people power" in North Africa and the Middle East toppling and threatening to topple unpopular dictators, the Brookings Institution this week hosted a panel discussion on ways the United States could better co-operate with the five-decade-old Castro dictatorship in Cuba.

Talk about a monumental case of bad timing.

Keynoting the session was former New Mexico governor and self-styled diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson, who was in Cuba as recently as last August leading a trade mission of businessmen looking to cut deals with the Castro regime.  (Agricultural products are exempt from the embargo.)

Apparently oblivious to the irony of advocating normalizing relations with the Castro dictatorship even as thousands are risking their lives to oppose tyrannies elsewhere, Governor Richardson forged ahead with ways the Obama administration could improve relations with the Castro regime by lessening current U.S. sanctions.

Among them, removing Cuba from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. According to Richardson, "My view is that this terrorism list is not very consistent. It's an emotional issue." In other words, Cuba's listing lacks merit or substance.

Removing Cuba from the terrorist list has long been a goal of the anti-embargo lobby.  It seems the designation tends to arise as an inconvenient talking point when trying to persuade others as to why the United States needs a wholesale reversal of its policy towards the last dictatorship in the Americas.  But to fatuously claim that the reason Cuba remains on the terrorist list is one of "emotion" -- presumably among Cuban-American voters in South Florida -- is to willfully ignore decades of the historical record. 

This is a regime that since even before it seized power has used terror as an instrument of both domestic and international policy to achieve its goals.  At the height of the Castro regime's international influence in the late 1970s into the 1980s, Cuba helped to build up and unify at least 27 different terrorist groups in the Western Hemisphere, totaling about 25,000 armed and trained members by 1987.  

Around the same time, the State and Defense Departments estimated that a minimum of 20,000 individuals from around the world, including more than 10,000 Latin Americans, had attended one or more of the more than fifty guerrilla or terrorist training courses offered in Cuban military facilities since Castro came to power (the most infamous of trainees being, of course, Carlos the Jackal). 

Nor was the Castro regime content to victimize the unfortunate citizens of Latin America and Africa, as it aiding and abetting terrorist groups operating on our own soil, including the Weather Underground (of Bill Ayres fame) and the militant Puerto Rican group, the Macheteros.  Victor Manuel Gerena, a mastermind of the Macheteros' 1983 robbery of a Well Fargo depot in Connecticut, has lived safely in Cuba for decades, joining U.S. fugitives Joanne Chesimard and Charlie Hill, who are wanted in the U.S. for the murders of U.S. police officers, as well as some 70 other fugitives from U.S. justice. 

In addition, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Cuban intelligence sent numerous fake tipsters into U.S. embassies abroad to sidetrack and impede U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.  (Also, following 9/11, U.S. authorities rolled up the Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes at the Defense Intelligence Agency, not wanting to risk her information being passed on by Cuba to other U.S. enemies.)

But the anti-embargo lobby wants us to forget all that.  They will tell uninformed listeners that in 1992 the Castro regime "renounced" the use of violence to achieve its political ends.  But there has never been any profound change of heart, expressions of remorse, or even compensation offered for victims of Cuban-sponsored terrorism.  No, it was merely a change of tactics, forced on the Castro regime by the fact that in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and, with it, its billions in annual subsidies to Cuba.  Castro could simply no longer afford to do it, at least on the scale to which he had become accustomed. 

Indeed, the Castro regime can no more renounce violence as an instrument of policy than it can renounce its totalitarian state.

Clearly, Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terror is well-earned.  The Obama Administration should ignore specious entreaties to delist Cuba as a state sponsor of terror.  As has been proven over and over, tyranny's best friend is a failure to remember.  If Fidel Castro or his brother Raul wants to be removed from the State Department list, there are any number of actions they could take: true expressions of repentance, concessions, recompense, and an accounting for past misdeeds.  I, for one, am not holding my breath.    

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images