Bipartisan Duo of Ex-Congressional Heavyweights Blocking Action Against Ethiopia – By Ken Silverstein, Harper’s Magazine

July 25th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

There have been a series of accounts out of Ethiopia recently that describe a nasty situation there, (more…)

There have been a series of accounts out of Ethiopia recently that describe a nasty situation there, including a Human Rights Watch report earlier this month that said the Ethiopian military had “forcibly displaced thousands of civilians in the country’s eastern Somali . . . while escalating its campaign against a separatist insurgency movement.” Government troops were “destroying villages and property, confiscating livestock, and forcing civilians to relocate,” according to Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “Whatever the military strategy behind them, these abuses violate the laws of war.” Eyewitness accounts offered to Human Rights Watch said Ethiopian troops had been “burning homes and property, including the recent harvest and other food stocks intended for the civilian population, confiscating livestock and, in a few cases, firing upon and killing fleeing civilians.”

Despite that record, the Bush Administration views Ethiopia as an important counterterrorism ally, especially given Ethiopia’s recent involvement in Somalia, and annually provides the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. But some in Congress have grown weary of abuses committed by Zenawi’s government. Earlier this month a House subcommittee passed a bill that would limit American aid to Ethiopia and ban government officials linked to human rights abuses from coming to the United States. In the Senate, Patrick Leahy of Vermont is seeking passage of a measure that would review some of the military assistance that is being provided.

But two congressmen-turned-lobbyists–former House Majority Leaders Richard Armey, the Republican from Texas, and Missouri Democrat Richard Gephardt–are working hard to block full congressional action against the Zenawi regime. The duo work with the firm of DLA Piper, which federal disclosure records show is being paid at least $50,000 per month by the Ethiopian government for “strategic advice and counsel.”

In 2006, the House International Relations Committee approved the Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act, which criticized the government for its human rights record, called for it to free jailed opposition leaders and restricted security assistance. But the full House never voted on the bill. Two sources that follow the issue–one a former Hill staffer and the other a lobbyist on African affairs–tell me that Armey twisted the arm of then-House Speaker Denny Hastert to ensure that it didn’t come up for a vote. “Armey has a lot of influence over there,” the former Hill staffer said. “A lot of people in the GOP leadership owe their positions to him.”

Armey has no pull with the new Democratic leadership so now Gephardt has apparently been called on to block full passage of this year’s version of the bill. Gephardt, incidentally, also lobbies for the government of Turkey (another Piper client to the tune of $100,000 per month), as was recently detailed in a terrific New Republic piece in which author Michael Crowley wrote about Gephardt’s efforts to stop Congress from declaring as genocide the Turkish massacre of Armenians during the early twentieth century:

A few years ago, [Gephardt] was a working-class populist who cast himself as a tribune of the underdog–including the Armenians. Back in 1998, Gephardt attended a memorial event hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America at which, according to a spokeswoman for the group, “he spoke about the importance of recognizing the genocide.” Two years later, Gephardt was one of three House Democrats who co-signed a letter to then House Speaker Dennis Hastert urging Hastert to schedule an immediate vote on a genocide resolution. “We implore you,” the letter read, arguing that Armenian-Americans “have waited long enough for Congress to recognize the horrible genocide.” Today, few people are doing more than Gephardt to ensure that the genocide bill goes nowhere. It’s one thing to flip-flop on, say, tax cuts or asbestos reform. But, when it comes to genocide, you would hope for high principle to carry the day.

Piper’s lobbyists have been working the “war on terrorism” angle hard, arguing that even a hand-slap of Ethiopia for human rights abuses will jeopardize its support in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. (And we all know what a smashingly successful collaboration that’s been.)

I called Armey and Gephardt but never heard back from them. Piper did, however, send me a statement which said:

The U.S. first established diplomatic relations with Ethiopia more than a century ago and Ethiopia remains a close ally today, particularly in the global war against terrorism. It is crucial for the United States to have friends and allies in the strategically important Horn of Africa region who are committed to democracy, stability and moderation. The firm is assisting Ethiopia in strengthening bilateral relations with the U.S., including increasing humanitarian, economic and development assistance, expanding trade and investment opportunities, and enhancing relationships with financial, academic and public policy institutions.

I had heard that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine, Chairman of the Global Board of Piper and Co-Chair of its Government Controversies Practice Group, was also working on the account. The firm’s statement said that Mitchell “has never lobbied or done legal work on behalf of Ethiopia in connection with DLA Piper’s representation.” However, Piper declined to say whether Mitchell had played a role in winning the Ethiopia deal or whether he was offering strategic advice or playing some other role in the contract.

  1. dinka
    | #1

    This business of ignoring majorities outcry by Bush and compatriots remind me of Mousollini.He did not care if he was killing people or not as long as his dream to make Ethiopia the world bread basket Ethiopians then said”Ma bema bet leeaz”parallely Bush will never care as long as Melles breaks down the hearts and the minds of Ethiopians his excuse is Melles is his good ally of terrorism just the same way Melles’s father(Aboy Asres)sided with the colonialist.But history has tought us Ethiopia prevailed at last and it will happen again!!!!!!

  2. Selamu
    | #2

    These old dogs are amassing money for their retirment and nursing home, so what is wrong?

  3. | #3

    The child bawled becuause it could not find its mother Ethiopia. These old devils amassing money for their retirment and nursing hom, so what is wrong?

  4. ka
    | #4

    i wonder how the lobists blking the human wright and democracy in wthiopia imagine USA te leader of the world inbrasing the lobistes thathave no cure for popel fredem this is america what so ever any way how care about us unles we care about us

  5. ka
    | #5

    i wonder how the lobists bloking the human wright and democracy in ethiopia imagine USA the leader of the world inbrasing the lobistes that have no cure for peopel freedem this is america what so ever any way who care about us unles we care about us

  6. Shumet Menywab
    | #6

    Theirs is business but ours is human freedome. Terrorism is a kind of anti-human action on many innocent peoples’ lives around the world. It does not matter wheather it comes from a group of armed bandits or from a government killing spuads, terrorism must be fought by all human kinds. Lobying for dictator governments like Meles’ would not help to win the war against terrorism. One thing though, these kind of lobists can not stop the peoples’ demand for democracy and rule of law no matter how hard they can work for how much money they can be employed. The people of Ethiopia shall prevail with democracy through peaceful struggle as the people of South Africa did despite the U.S government policy that tried hard to stop it!

  7. tilahun
    | #7

    Thank you, Richard Armey, for reading the attachment that we sent you so that you know who is who.

  8. Mengesha
    | #8

    Those who are not deaf and blind have justified that Meles Zenawi regime or Woyanne in Ethiopia is cliché of terrorist. It is not only hatred against the population or regular massacre or general human rights abuse, but also a huge project of human agriculture has started a decade years ago by the coordinator and the furtive regime leader – Meles Zenawi.

    It is not for fun or benefits that all concerned individuals and authority figures are denouncing this regime to step down, but fearing the worst scenario and its ultimate consequence to peaceful world population.

    I am so surprised to read an article that informs the Ethiopian public like, either stop living or live under the evil and cursed Meles regime for we are collecting $50,000 a month from this regime to block the bill. I tell you, the plantation of future trouble or human agriculture, may not take time to farm lives of societies. That is why I started my statement with the word, “Deaf, and Blind”.

    News Medias mostly expound the Meles effort against Somali Islamists as an ally to U.S.A in fighting terrorists. You know, deploring his troops to the front is a means to hide his evil motives until he gets the strength and defy officially.

    Whether you like it or not this evil regime will leave or go for good. It is the will of His Almighty God and defiance of the Ethiopian population that will compel him to shut the drama and there by himself. God is great!

  9. Tegen
    | #9

    When are you people gonne get it in your head???

    You have been kissing their a**s for the past two years but who helped to get your leaders free???? Yes ETHIOPIAN ELDERS….no HANA GOBEZE or Donald payne. You should have learned alot from this besides for everything an American senator do for you, he or she expect to get something in return…by the way have they ever been in Ethiopia before??? or like Hailu Shawel once said…do they know that Ethiopians are “double faced” people????

    I wonder what the money given by both the government and the desperate DIASPORA to senators could have done if it was invested in Ethiopia.

    Stop and think about it.

  10. Jakob solomon
    | #10

    SHAME SHAME SHAME –ITS A SHAME TO COLLABORATE WITH THE RUTHLESS/SPINLESS AFRICAN DICTATORS-TO CASH IN WITH MILLIONS OF AFRICAN PEOPLES MYSREY AND SUFFERINGS-OMG I FEEL LIKE TO LISTEN /VIEW ABOUT Mr GEPHARTS PROMISED AND SWEET/SMOOTH TALKS DURING HIS ELECTION BID WHILE HE WAS RUNNING FOR PRESDIENCY—IT SHOWS HIGH TIME HYPOCRACY.DID THEY EVER ASKED WHERE THAT MONEY CAME FROM ???? SNATCHED FROM A DYING/SUFFERING AFRICAN CHILDRENS ONLY FOR THE TYRANT ZENAWI TO STAY IN POWER —I STILL HOPE TRUTH AND DEMOCRACY WILL PREVAIL AND WE SHALL REMEMBER WHO WAS ETHIOPIANS FRIENDS AND WHO WAS OUR ENEMIES AFTER DEMOCRACY FLOURISH IN OUR MOTHER LAND ETHIOPIA .

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