Journalism in the Public Interest

As Somalia Starves, U.S. Softens Terrorism Rules That Restricted Aid

For the last several years, the story of U.S. humanitarian aid in war-torn Somalia has been more or less the same: Despite great need, the U nited States has restricted or delayed aid to the country over concerns that the assistance will benefit the al-Shabaab militant group that controls much of southern and central Somalia. The group was added to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2008, and aid levels have fallen drastically in the years since.

But with tens of thousands of Somalis dead and many more starving in the current famine, the U.S. stance appears to be softening. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last month that the United States would direct an additional $28 million in aid for Somalia and Somali refugees in Kenya, adding to the more than $430 million in emergency assistance it has already provided to the region this year. And Obama administration officials told reporters today that the United States is relaxing its restrictions and has issued guidance in order to give aid groups working in Somalia confidence that they won't face prosecution for violating anti-terrorism sanctions.

Though the exact details are still unclear, the new guidance marks a shift in how the United States has handled aid to Somalia in recent years. Last April, the president issued an executive order prohibiting the provision of “funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of” al-Shabaab and affiliated individuals who the United States has sanctions against. And as recently as last month, NPR reported that the U.S. government had warned aid groups about the legal risks of working in Somalia—a warning negated by the new guidance.

After all, the current need is more acute than ever. The United Nations declared a famine in Somalia last month—something it hasn’t done in nearly two decades. By the U.N.’s count, tens of thousands of Somalis have escaped to refugee camps in Kenya or Ethiopia, with some so sick and malnourished that they simply go there to die.

Administration officials declined to explain the details of the new guidance but said it would “allow more flexibility to provide a wider range of aid to a larger number of areas in need.” 

"We remain deeply concerned about al-Shabaab's support for terrorism and efforts to destabilize the Transitional Federal Government," State Department spokeswoman Hilary Renner told me. "We continue to work with our implementing partners to ensure our programs in Somalia are accountably managed and monitored." 

Whether easing the rules actually eases the suffering is also dependent on cooperation from al-Shabaab, whose different factions have given mixed messages on whether aid workers are even allowed in the group’s territories. The group has kidnapped and killed aid workers in the past.

Al-Shabaab insurgents have thus far exacerbated the crisis by trying to stop starving Somalis from leaving areas under their control, the New York Times reported today. A spokesman for the group told the Times that the people were staying of their own volition and said that the U.N.’s declaration of famine was “an exaggeration.”

How to help: The State Department’s website directs people to this list of humanitarian organizations accepting humanitarian donations, though it’s still worth checking them out before you donate.

It’s still unclear which, if any, humanitarian groups currently have access to the al-Shabaab areas. The State Department has not provided such details, citing concerns about the safety of workers. 

Stephanie Palmer

Aug. 3, 2011, 7:15 a.m.

The situation in Somalia is horrendous.  But I question the logic behind providing aid given the rebellion that’s going on there. Those people are starving, we send aid, and it sits on the docks until one of the rebel groups steals it. Where is the logic? In this country, we do not have the resources to waste, all the capital has been taken away by the 2% of the population actually represented by Congress.

Barry Schmittou

Aug. 3, 2011, 8:51 a.m.

God please be everyone in Somalia who is suffering and dying !!!!

Why don’t we take out the terrorist groups like Obama is supposedly doing in multiple countries in the Middle East ?

Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no big oil supply in Somalia, or there would not be enough profit for the military industrial complex.

The worlds leaders and the greeders who control them are the cause of a tremendous amount of suffering and death on earth !! The Obama and Bush administrations have given multiple Non Prosecution agreements to large U.S. corporations who have repeatedly rigged bids and engaged in health care fraud.

Obama and Bush have both protected the destruction of thousands of lives every year as they allow doctors’ paid by insurance companies (including MetLife and their consultants including Dr. Gary Greenhood) to ignore brain lesions, multiple sclerosis, a foot a new mother broke in five places, and cardiac conditions of many patients as evidenced in quotes from numerous U.S. Judges and Doctors.

DOL/DOJ will not even ask these doctors to stop ignoring life threatening medical conditions in the claims procedures, even though many patients like myself risk dying during the years it takes their case to get to Court.

The crimes are so bad multiple Professor’s have written the following :

Joseph Belth, Professor Emeritus for Insurance at Indiana University wrote :

“They’ve turned Erisa on its head,”  “It was supposed to protect employees, and it’s being used to protect insurers.”
(end of quote)

“The most important federal insurance regulation of the past generation is ERISA,” says Tom Baker, deputy dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia. “If ever a law backfired for the public, ERISA is the perfect example.”

John Marshall Law School Professor Mark Debofsky wrote:
“empirical evidence is now available that shows insurers operating under ERISA have systematically engaged in the wrongful denial of claims. Cases of abusive benefit denials involving other disability insurers abound. Unum turns out to have been a clumsy villain, but in the hands of subtler operators such misbehavior is much harder to detect.”

(end of quote)

(ERISA is the U.S. Title 29 Employee Retirement Income Security Act which regulates employee benefit health plans of all the 150 million Americans who work for private businesses and corporations in America)

God please help everyone who is suffering in Somalia and around the world !! God please help us all !!

As usual, Washington misses the obvious point that there has never been a famine due to lack of resources.  Every one has been because someone in authority considered his goals to be more important than the survival of mere people.

And as the WHO showed us in the ‘70s, if you’re rich enough, pretty much everything is more important than African lives.  They, after all, supported the DDT ban, pointing out that the rise in malaria deaths would help curb overpopulation.

We can help the Somalians by stabilizing their country or pushing our way in to feed people directly, but not by playing “carrot and stick” games with their government.

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