The Front

The Torturers' Lobby

ANGOLA HAS A LARGER DISABLED population than any other country in the world. Detonating land mines have been commonplace in the fields of the former Portuguese colony since the Soviet-allied Popular Movement for Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won independence in 1975.

While citizens in the United States may sympathize with the plight of Angolan children, plagued by low birth weight and malnutrition and immobilized by lack of prostheses and wheel chairs, few are aware that until last year, U.S. tax dollars bought up to $60 million a year in guns, ammunition and other military supplies - shipped into Angola via Zaire by the Central Intelligence Agency - to arm Jonas Savimbi's anti- communist, South Africa-backed rebel movement, the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Savimbi's history of success in garnering U.S. aid is due in part to ideological support from powerful forces in Washington, and in part to the Alexandria, Virginia lobbying firm of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. The firm's services, bought for $600,000 a year, have resulted in favorable media coverage for UNITA and secured further political support and aid from U.S. politicians and lending agencies. While the firm works to generate publicity for its clients, it apparently shuns media attention itself; Black, Manafort failed to respond to repeated requests from Multinational Monitor for comment about its lobbying efforts for UNITA.

 According to The Torturers' Lobby: How Human Rights Abusing Nations Are Represented in Washington, a report based on the results of a year-long investigation by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity (CPI), 10 major U.S. foreign aid recipients with a history of hideous human rights abuses spend $24 million on lobbying, legal representation and public relations in the United States each year. Many of the countries receiving U.S. aid through multilateral and bilateral lending agencies collectively receive billions of dollars in U.S. aid and other benefits.

 Pamela Brogan, author of The Torturers' Lobby, reviewed hundreds of pages of documents filed at the Justice Department by U.S. agents representing overseas interests and examined major U.S. foreign aid recipients, all violators of international standards of human rights, that pay Washington lobbyists to press the U.S. Congress for increased aid: Turkey, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, Israel, Guatemala and Angola's UNITA. All 10 commit torture and other atrocities, according to the U.S. State Department and watchdog organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The Torturers' Lobby also examines Colombia and Peru, which hire Washington lobbyists to boost their image and lobby for favorable trade and commercial treatment; and three human rights-abusing nations - China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - that receive no U.S. aid but have close political and commercial relationships with the United States and pay foreign agents to lobby Congress and the executive branch. The study found Kuwait to be the biggest individual spender, doling out more than $12.5 million in fees to U.S. lobbyists, lawyers and public relations firms.

Among the report's most shocking examples of corrupted Washington spending priorities are the following:

 "Unfortunately, the governments of many of the countries that receive U.S. aid money are committing very serious, tremendously documented human rights abuses," says Brogan. The Torturers' Lobby cites critics of the lobbying and appropriations process, who suggest that Congress prohibit foreign-aid recipients from hiring foreign agents, or put a cap on the amount of fees that countries can pay lobbyists.

The author notes, however, that the work of CPI and the report have "already had a significant impact." Unlike past administrations, "Clinton has pledged that all of his top- level people are banned for life from representing foreign governments. Of course, he cannot correct the sins of the past," says Brogan, but it is a step towards "correcting the sins of the future."

 - Julie Gozan