Reed Irvine - Editor
|December A , 1990||XIX-23|
POST SWALLOWS ANGOLAN LIES By William Sutcliffe
On September 30, 1990, The Washington Post published a sensational story by reporter Leon Dash alleging major human rights violations by Jonas Savimbi's UNITA freedom fighters in Angola. The centerpiece of the article, headlined "Blood and Fire: Savimbi's War Against His UNITA Rivals," was the claim that Savimbi had denounced two women as witches and had them burned at the stake. These and other abuses were alleged to have been committed because of Savimbi's paranoia towards persons threatening his UNITA leadership.
Published on the eve of an official visit to Washington by Savimbi and of a congressional vote on whether to continue military aid to UNITA, the Dash story seemed a devastating indictment and a journalistic coup. Hurried congressmen rely upon the press -- and especially the "hometown" Post -- as a guide on relatively obscure issues such as Angola. However, there were two problems with Dash's story: it was neither new nor true.
The allegations first appeared in 1988 in an obscure Portuguese-language newsletter named Inform Africa, which is considered of dubious reliability by persons who follow African affairs. They resurfaced in 1989 -- as in 1988, on the eve of a key congressional vote on aid for UNITA. At that time the charges were proved false. Their republication in 1990 suggests an attempt to manipulate congressional and public opinion "disinformation," as the process is generally known.
Writer William Sutcliffe has followed the Angolan situation closely for five years, including a reportorial trip there in 1989. He is a frequent contributor to The Washington Inquirer.
Since 1988 when the allegations surfaced, the House and Senate intelligence committees, the State Department, and other U.S. agencies have investigated them. They could not be substantiated. In its most recent report this fall the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence stated, "we did look at the charges, as we had looked at them before, and we could not uncover any evidence that supported [them]." Rep. John G. Rowland (R-Conn.), of the House Intelligence Committee, stated, "We have found no information that substantiated allegations that have surfaced...that Savimbi has tortured or killed close associates." The State Department reported, "There has been no confirmation of these reports. They are old allegations...." But these findings did not dissuade Leon Dash.
LUSA, the Portuguese news agency, and an assiduous watcher of events in the former Portuguese colony, reported on October 4, a week after the Dash article, that such "accusations...are part of a disinformation package forged by Luanda [the communist MPLA government in the Angolan capital] according to a diplomatic source accredited to Lisbon." LUSA continued, "For three years, every time the U.S. Congress has had to vote on aid to UNITA, articles came out based on the testimony of UNITA dissidents accusing Savimbi and his movement of human rights violations that are known not to be true."
The MPLA had expert guidance in crafting a disinformation program. For more than a decade its intelligence service worked under the Cuban Direction General de Inteligencia (DGI), which had marked success in adapting Soviet-style disinformation techniques for use in the Third World. The MPLA's international chums recognize the utility of lying. President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia is a hard-line MPLA supporter. In a February 28, 1989 broadcast over Lusaka Domestic Service radio, Kaunda called on the Organization of African States, which he then chaired, and the so-called frontline states to "find ways of mounting a propaganda campaign against...UNITA. Unless a vigorous campaign is waged, it will be difficult for the U.S. to recognize [Communist] Angola" and halt its aid to UNITA, he continued.
The Angolan situation is tailor-made for disinformation. The guerrilla war being waged there is distant, and confused, with many events difficult or even impossible for reporters to confirm. Both UNITA and the MPLA have extensive information apparatuses, which seek to tell their stories to the West with the best possible spin. Hence a reporter faces a special challenge in insuring that he is writing truth, not propaganda. Circumstances suggest that the Post's Dash walked into an MPLA disinformation trap.
Dash spent about a year in Angola in the mid-1980s, reporting on the war from both sides. He has also lived in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast. He is knowledgeable of personalities in both UNITA and MPLA. But the only major new element in his September story was a supposed fresh source, George Pinto Chikoti, who was claimed to have "special credibility." The major allegations in Dash's story were:
* The 1988 imprisonment, beating and torture of Brigadier Pedro "Tito" Chingunji, former UNITA Washington representative, "after he was charged with plotting to overthrow Savimbi."
Reps. Dan Burton, David Dreier, Bob McEwen and Norman Shumway talked with Chingunji during a visit to Jamba, the UNITA headquarters in Angola, in March 1989. They reported that Chingunji's recall from Washington was prompted by a major promotion, not by Savimbi's displeasure. On Chingunji's return to Angola, he was elevated to Deputy General Secretary of UNITA, the organization's No. 3 position. In that job, which he continues to hold today, Chingunji handled relations with congressional delegations, foreign officials and the international press. The four congressmen circulated a "dear colleague" letter after their return attesting to Chingunji's health and position. Later Washington Times correspondent Peter Young husband reported visiting Jamba and seeing Chingunji walking about unescorted, composed and wearing a sidearm. (Dash says that if this is true, Chingunji must have been rehabilitated. He said, "I stand by every word of my story.")
* The beating to death of Jonatao and Violetta Chinunju, two elderly UNITA supporters, in 1979.
UNITA says Jonatao and Violetta Chingunji "died of natural causes" in 1979. It admits that it has no documentation of that fact. This is not surprising, for in 1979 UNITA was a fledgling guerrilla organization lacking its present impressive administrative structure. However, the accusers have produced no proof that the Chingunjis died of foul play -- leaving this charge as a standoff.
* The 1979 beating and imprisonment of Jorge Sangumba, "UNITA's popular foreign secretary at the outbreak of the civil war." According to Dash, Sangumba was "seen by Savimbi as a threat to his control of UNITA. Imprisoned in one of UNITA's damp prison pits...Sangumba is alleged to have dwindled to a thin, haggard and sickly reflection of himself before he died."
So, too, with the charge about Sangumba having died in a prison pit. UNITA says he and a driver set out cross- country in a jeep and disappeared. In a fluid civil war situation, that is plausible, and no evidence of the alleged false imprisonment -- for instance, testimony by former fellow inmates -- has been presented.
* The burning at the stake in 1983 of two families: Aurura Katalayo, her daughter and her son, aged 14 and 6; and Joao Kalitangui, his wife, three children and niece.
UNITA categorically denies that public burnings have been held in Free Angola. It says the Kalitangui family is fictitious -- that it never existed, a statement that has not been refuted in the three years since the charge was first made. UNITA says that Aurora Katalayo and her husband, UNITA Maj. Mateus Katalayo, were killed in 1982 in a communist MPLA raid on the base where they lived, a year before the alleged burning.
Does George Chikoti have the "special credibility" claimed by Leon Dash? The Post article portrayed him as an outstanding soldier, a member of Savimbi's private bodyguard so highly regarded he was sent to study abroad. Dash wrote that Chikoti was finally repelled by UNITA's repression and human rights violations. The truth seems somewhat different.
UNITA spokesmen confirm that Chikoti was a "trusted member" in 1977, when Dash first met him in Africa. There the stories diverge. UNITA records show that Chikoti served in its armed forces only 20 months. In late 1977 he was sent to study in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast. He remained there until 1985, when he went to Paris for graduate studies.
That year Chikoti "began to get into trouble," according to Marcos Samondo, information officer at UNITA's Washington office. UNITA alleges heavy drinking, failing grades, a paternity suit involving a 15- year-old girl and numerous bad check charges. According to UNITA, Chikoti fled Paris to escape creditors and French authorities, eventually settling in Canada. Today he heads a tiny expatriate Angolan organization there called the "Angolan Democratic Front." According to UNITA, ADF is one of several groups being either financed or courted by the MPLA, both for their propaganda value today and against the time when the MPLA must accept a multi-party government and will need political allies to retain power. In any event, Chikoti now bitterly hates UNITA.
UNITA cites much "circumstantial" evidence linking Chikoti to the MPLA. It says there are frequent meetings between Chikoti and his ADF colleagues with the MPLA ambassadors to Egypt and the United Nations and that Chikoti's ADF deputy, Dias Kanombo, travels to Luanda. It claims there are signs of sudden affluence, including frequent first-class air travel by Chikoti and other ADF figures, all of very modest means until recently.
Other evidence links Chikoti to disinformation activities. An English-language transcript was obtained from the Free Angola Information Service of what it says is a lengthy telephone conversation in Portuguese between UNITA diplomat Horatio Njunjuvili and a close Chikoti associate who is a UNITA dissident but nonetheless opposes the disinformation campaign against Savimbi. In this conversation the dissident states: "[A] nother project involves George [Chikoti] and our sister Olga [another dissident] who both had a long discussion with the journalist Leon Dash. The objective is to write and publish the so-called 'final article' to destroy UNITA during Dr. Savimbi's visit to Washington.... George has been bribed, too. That's why now he has to go to Washington to make propaganda, because he has been paid by the MPLA...and I know that there is big money for a campaign to defame UNITA."
UNITA does not claim any "hard" evidence of collusion between the MPLA and Chikoti, however. Dash would not credit any of the adverse information about Chikoti, saying both sides spend time discrediting one another.
In crafting his story, Dash significantly misrepresented the position of Amnesty International (AI), particularly regarding the alleged incinerations. According to Dash, AI "said three women were burned to death [by UNITA] in 1982, and it identified Aurora Katalayo, Joao Kalitangui, his wife, three children and.niece among 12 persons burned to death [by UNITA] in 1983." AI actually said something quite different: that it had received reports of these and other alleged UNITA human rights violations but had not been able to confirm them. For example, in its 1988 annual report AI states unequivocally, "It was not possible to verify (these) allegations or attribute responsibility for individual killings." And in a March 1989 memo to its chapters AI noted receiving "reports" of various UNITA atrocities but concluded, "Independent corroboration of reports of these and other abuses attributed to UNITA is not available...."
Susanne Riveles, program officer in AI's Washington office, said the word "report" in AI's lexicon means "something that has been alleged by at least two apparently independent sources who were not eye- witnesses, and which the organization has been unable to confirm [or disprove]." Dash's Post article ignored this caveat.
It is not clear why AI mentioned having received these "reports" without investigating them. Dr. Savimbi first invited AI to Free Angola in 1978 to investigate atrocities allegedly committed by the MLPA government and its forces. Since then, UNITA has repeatedly offered AI and other human rights monitoring groups its complete cooperation in investigating alleged human rights abuses. For instance, on March 12, 1989, Savimbi publicly invited "human rights organizations and other interested bodies" to come to Free Angola and "talk freely with the alleged victims." Despite these invitations and pledges of cooperation, AI never conducted an on-the- ground investigation in Angola.
The allegations "reported" by Dash first surfaced as part of a long laundry list of atrocity charges published in 1988 in InformAfrica, a Portuguese newsletter specializing in the affairs of former Portuguese colonies in southern Africa. InformAfrica is a publication of dubious reliability: reporters who write about Africa consider it little more than a "rumor mill." A classic disinformation technique perfected by the USSR and its allies is to plant bogus material in an obscure publication, and then watch it spread upward to more respectable media. Persons who reprint the lie can state -- correctly -- that they got it elsewhere, and even cite a putative source.
As published by InformAfrica, the charges initially attracted little attention, other than perfunctory reports in the British press, because the many Portuguese who visit Free Angola on business easily dismissed them.
But The New York Times gave the allegations new life in a front-page story on March 11, 1989 by London correspondents Craig R. Whitney and Jill Jolliffe. The article repeated selected allegations from the InformAfrica piece and embellished them with more recent material, chiefly statements from "students" who supposedly had fled Free Angola and found their way to Scandinavia and England. These "students" included Tito Chingunji's nephew Dinho and Sousa Jamba. The New York Times also quoted an interview with Fred Bridgland, author of a generally friendly 1986 biography of Savimbi. Similar stories followed in The Washington Times (March 13) and The Washington Post (March 14). And on March 20 PBS aired a "documentary" alleging UNITA atrocities.
Bridgland's role in the affair is puzzling. In his biography of Savimbi, Bridgland described himself as a left-wing British journalist who went to Angola for information to discredit Savimbi but instead came away with deep respect. The 1989 statements The New York Times attributed to him thus were particularly damaging to Savimbi. But the picture was muddied five days later when Bridgland circulated a letter in which he seemed to be belligerently repudiating the Times article. The Times
Refused to publish the letter, whereupon Bridgland published an article under his own byline in the London Sunday Telegraph, which confirmed the thrust of, the Times article -- that is, that UNITA indeed was guilty of murder, witchcraft accusations and ritual burnings at the stake. Bridgland's argument with the Times seemed to concern peripheral issues such as whether he made his charges on his own or in collaboration with the Angolan "students." But neither Bridgland nor the "students" presented any hard evidence to substantiate their allegations -- only unsupported third- and fourth-hand material.
The evidence is circumstantial, but compelling, that the gush of anti-UNITA publicity was the fruit of a cleverly orchestrated disinformation campaign. The original InformAfrica charges lay dormant for a full year, only to be put before the U.S. public at a time when UNITA was particularly vulnerable because of the cut-off of South African aid to UNITA by the 1988 Brazzaville Accord.
On March 14, just three days after The New York Times article, Democrat congressmen Steven Solarz, Howard Wolpe and William Gray, all longtime UNITA foes, distributed a "dear colleague" letter demanding that the U.S. halt aid to Savimbi because of the alleged human rights violations. Clearly, it would take far more than three days for a congressional staff to investigate such charges, determine their truth, and then write and distribute such a letter. Almost certainly no investigation was made -- the congressmen were waiting for a package to be handed to them. The New York Times obliged.
The PBS "documentary" aired just nine days after The New York Times article. Developing such a program requires much lead-time, especially when the reporter and camera crew must travel to a place as remote as Angola. PBS had the completed show in hand -- and chose to air it at a time when the MPLA and its supporters knew it would provoke maximum controversy. Even more interesting -- damning is perhaps the accurate word -- is the fact that the documentary was produced by Jonathan Kwitny, a former Wall Street Journal reporter with a long record of being a cheerleader for leftist causes. Among the program's credits is the Cuban Mission to the United Nations for helping its crews gain access to Angola.
According to the Free Angola Information Service, most of the students quoted in The New York Times and Telegraph articles are children of expatriates who fled Angola in 1976 and never were fully committed to UNITA. These students lived in Zambia for more than a decade before finding their way to Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. One of the "quoted" students was Sousa Jamba, who lived in Zambia from 1976 to 1986, when he returned to the UNITA center of Jamba, professed his loyalty to Savimbi, and begged a scholarship. In October 1990, in an interview with The Washington Times, he "retracted all his charges" that had been made in The New York Times and Telegraph articles.
The 1989 charges contained instances easily refutable by anyone -- journalist or otherwise -- who did independent investigation. The most glaring involved Gen. Antonio da Costa Fernandez, president of the UNITA Foreign Affairs Commission (the equivalent of foreign minister). Fernandez was said to have been tortured and killed. In fact, Fernandez makes frequent diplomatic and speaking tours outside Angola and has met with, and been interviewed by, numerous congressmen, U.S. and other government officials, and newsmen.
Dr. George Alicerces Valentim, reported by the "students" to have been executed several years ago on Savimbi's orders, is UNITA's minister of information. In June 1988 he visited the U.S. as part of Savimbi's official delegation, when the freedom fighter met with President Reagan. In October 1990 he headed UNITA's delegation to the negotiations with the MPLA being conducted in Lisbon under auspices of the Portuguese foreign office.
Wilson dos Santos, said to be in prison on Savimbi's orders, has held a variety of senior UNITA positions since 1975. He is currently sub secretary for press and visual arts and sits on UNITA's central committee. And his wife, Helen Chingunji, said by the students to be imprisoned for "witchcraft," lives with her husband in freedom and had a baby daughter in 1988.
An October dispatch from the Portuguese news agency LUSA, concerning Leon Dash's story, was headlined "Angola: Campaign Against UNITA Without Results." Unfortunately for Jonas Savimhi's freedom fighters, the disinformation campaign did get results: only through strenuous efforts did his supporter's beat back leftist congressmen who wanted to end aid altogether. The ultimate package of approximately $60 million -- half military, half non-lethal -- is partially contingent on a peace and national reconciliation process that many observers consider "iffy." That The Washington Post would be gullible enough to run disinformation discredited three years ago shows the tenacity of the big lie technique when the Free World is jousting with communism.
Send the enclosed postcard, or your own letter, to Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, demanding that (a) he assign another reporter to examine the UNITA smear charges and write a rebuttal reflecting the information ignored by Leon Dash; and (b) that he alert his staff that even though the "Cold War is over," Soviet-style disinformation techniques remain alive and well.
AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media, Inc., 1275 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, and is free to AIM members. Dues and contributions to AIM are tax deductible. The AIM Report is mailed 3rd class to those whose contribution is at least $20 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non- members subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).
THE DISARRAY OF THE COMMUNIST MOVEMENT IN EASTERN EUROPE HAS considerably diminished Americans' interest in the snuggles of freedom fighters who are battling communists in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The steam has gone out of American support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan, even though that country is no less ruled by communists than it was before the Soviet army withdrew, and there are still millions of Afghan refugees who live in miserable conditions in Pakistan and Iran, afraid to return home as long as the communists are in power. Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA followers are still a painful thorn in the side of the communist rulers of Angola, who tenaciously cling to power. The leftists in this country are still doggedly fighting aid to Savimbi, as this AIM Report shows. They are strangely unable to transfer the lessons of communism's rejection by Eastern Europeans to other parts of the world. They see no inconsistency between hailing Havel in Czechoslovakia and Walesa in Poland and supporting the MPLA in Angola and the FMLN terrorists in El Salvador. It is not at all clear that these communists are going to quietly fold their tents and disappear of their own accord. Communism is still a cancer that is bringing misery and death to over a billion people in the world, and while the threat to our security has certainly diminished, we should not forget its victims, nor should we ignore our compatriots who give aid and comfort to their oppressors.
TWO AIM MEMBERS WHO HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THE VICTIMS ARE DR. MIGUEL A. Faria, Jr. and his wife Helen of Macon, Georgia. The Fadas participated in AIM's conference in El Salvador last March, and immediately after returning home, Dr. Faria wrote to Dr. Thomas Frist, Jr., CEO of the Hospital Corporation of America, describing what he had learned about the acute need for medical supplies and equipment in El Salvador. Dr. Faria described the visit our group made to the military hospital. He said, "They are extremely short on supplies. At times the hospital runs out of medication, IV fluids, medical equipment and supplies. I was extremely moved as I was shown one slide after another of amputees, crippled and handicapped from the war. I had an opportunity to see four wounded soldiers that had been flown to the emergency room via helicopter. When I returned to the states on March 6, I told myself I would do what I could to help the government there take care of its people, and I thought you might help. I think that if we could even airlift some of our leftover supplies, we would be doing that country a great service." As a result of this letter, the Hospital Corporation of America made available a wide variety of supplies and equipment with a total depreciated value of $558,000. The actual cost of this equipment if the Salvadorans had to buy it on the market would be much higher. I know that you will want to join me in expressing appreciation to Miguel and Helen and to Dr. Frist and the HCA.
YOU MAY RECALL THAT LAST JANUARY WE CRITICIZED THE JANE WALLACE SHOW on the Lifetime Cable channel for having put on Jennifer Casolo, the American "church worker" who was arrested in El Salvador after a terrorist arms cache was discovered in the back yard of her home there. Our complaint was that Jane Wallace made no use of the video tape that had been provided to her showing the excavation of the munitions and had given Bob Brown, the editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine, little opportunity to describe the evidence against Casolo even though he had been invited to participate in the program and his air fare from Colorado had been paid. We said a producer on the program had told us that Casolo had refused to appear if the tape was shown or if Brown was on the stage with her. He appeared only as a questioner in the studio audience. Many of you sent our postcards or your own letters to Jane Wallace protesting this. It seems that Lifetime didn't get around to responding until October, and we have received from our members many copies of the letter that C. Alex Wagner, director of public affairs for Lifetime, has been sending out. Mr. Wagner says the tape was not used "because the producers could not verify the authenticity of the tape," and that Bob Brown was "invited to speak during the show as part of the attempt to achieve a balance of viewpoints." I discussed this with Mr. Wagner, and at his request I sent him a transcript of the phone conversation I had with producer Ginny Somma in which she told me that Casolo would have refused to go on the show if the tape and Bob Brown had been used as planned. I have asked Mr. Wagner to send out a corrected letter.
JENNIFER CASOLO, MEANWHILE, STILL WORKS THE PROPAGANDA CIRCUIT, where she continues to benefit from an unquestioning press. In late November, Dan Nell of the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer, who wrote that she was "on a peace mission that has taken her across the nation", interviewed Casolo. Recounting her arrest, Neil wrote "troops stormed into the house" and "led her to the back yard, pointing out a wide shallow hole [sic] containing a cache of guns, knives, ammunition and dynamite." Actually, these "wide shallow holes" were cavernous enough to hold 55-gallon drums in which the arms were buried; the video shows soldiers standing in them chest-deep. Casolo doesn't want her admirers to know the work that the FMLN put into using her yard as an arms dump. "Hers is a stinging indictment of U.S. foreign policy," Neil wrote admiringly. "She is determined and honorable, but with the countenance of some saint on a cathedral wall. The personal cost of her mission has been substantial."
TRUTH PAID THE HEAVIEST "PERSONAL COST" THE LAST TIME WE HEARD CASOLO in person. The woman's value as a propagandist is that reporters such as Dan Neil report what she says at face value and make no visible effort to acquaint themselves with what is happening in El Salvador. For instance, we are still waiting for the press to mention an important speech made last Sept. 5 by Rep. Joe Moakley (D., Mass.) a longtime FMLN supporter. Moakley castigated the communist terrorists for making "extreme and unrealistic" demands in the off-again/on-again peace talks. "I also condemn, in the strongest possible terms, FMLN threats of another military offensive," Moakley said. "The Salvadoran people are sick of war, and sick of people who talk of nothing but war." The FMLN in late November launched its new offensive, albeit a scaled-down one. Lee Hockstader of The Washington Post on Nov. 26 described an FMLN attack on the village of Chalatenango, where the "main legacy is the anguish of innocent civilians." The FMLN's main accomplishment, Hockstader wrote, "may be to embitter many of the humble people on whose behalf the rebels say they have fought a civil war for 11 years." This explains, he said, why "the guerrillas have been unable to expand their popularity significantly beyond a committed core of supporters who have backed them for years." I am sending Hockstader's fine article to Dan Neil of Raleigh with the suggestion he do a followup interview with Jennifer Casolo to see if she can explain away the latest FMLN atrocities.
I AM PLEASED TO REPORT THAT THREE FAR-LEFT PUBLICATIONS ATTACKED ME and AIM for our involvement in the recent PBS series "Korea: The Unknown War," which aired in November. Here is what happened. The series, written by an ultra-leftist Britisher named Jon Halliday, originally aired over Thames Television in the United Kingdom in 1988. The chief American consultant was Dr. Bruce Cumings, a revisionist historian at the University of Chicago who is a veteran of the anti-war movement. The North Korean and Chinese Communist governments helped Thames, and the result was a massacre of history. Among other errors, the original series glossed over the North Korean dictatorship, gave credence to the discredited germ warfare charges the communists made during the war, and disparaged American soldiers.
WHEN I HEARD THE SERIES WAS BEING ADAPTED FOR U.S. AUDIENCES BY WGBH of Boston, I urged that producer Austin Hoyt consult persons knowledgeable about Korea, rather than rely upon such biased sources as Cumings. I recommended retired Gen. Richard G. Stilwell, who was in Korea during the war, and who later commanded all U.S. forces there. Unbeknownst to me, Dick Stilwell had advised Thames earlier, and he now tried to help WGBH. Hoyt made a few, but by no means all, of the revisions Stilwell recommended, and his production was sloppy history. Stilwell and two other authorities, Billy Mossman, a military historian, and Jack James, UP correspondent in Seoul when the war began, demanded that their names be taken off the credits. The idea that experts were grading his paper sent Prof. Cumings into a foot-stomping tizzy over AIM'S role. His rage was reported under such headlines as "Right Revises PBS's Korea Series" (The Guardian); "Korea: PBS Takes AIM" (The Village Voice) and "Propaganda as History" (In These Times). Cumings said the changes were made "under pressure from Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media" and that I had threatened to attack the series unless Stilwell vetted it. Prof. Cumings is absolutely right. I see no justification for the producers of a TV documentary giving any audience-- American or British-- lies under the guise of "history," which is what Thames did with the original series. We will analyze the PBS version in the next AIM Report.