By Danny Schechter /opednews
Somalilandsun – It’s been called “The Long Goodbye” with the world press updating their updates hourly on Nelson Mandela’s health status with lots of speculation about when he will pass on. (My own source close to the family in South Africa cautioned not to believe everything I read about his imminent demise, and we soon learned that the media “death watch” may, once again prove premature.)
The massive media interest in Mandela is a remarkable tribute to a very special man who helped undo apartheid while thrilling the world with his courage as the prisoner who became a President.
By Catherine Zemmouri /BBC Africa, Paris
Somalilandsun – A 35-year-old Somali fisherman, wrongly accused by the French government of being a pirate, has spent five lonely years in Paris – mostly behind bars – unable to see his son or wife and is now fighting for compensation.
For many people in Africa, the idea of visiting the French capital is an unattainable dream but for Abdulqader Guled Said, his real-life experience of Paris has been a nightmare.
At the end of the four-month 2008 fishing season, he was heading from the coast of Somalia to his home in the town of Garowe, about 180km (110 miles) inland, but never arrived.
He was detained in a dramatic helicopter raid by French commandos near the town of Jariban on 12 April, along with five others.
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It was awful. I was on my own in a very small cell; not understanding a word of what I was told”
Abdulqader Guled Said Somali fisherman
The French authorities suspected them of being behind the hijacking of the French luxury yacht, Le Ponant, the previous week in the Gulf of Aden.
Its 30-member crew was released on the morning of 12 April after a ransom was paid, reportedly by the yacht’s owner.
Later that day, Mr Said accepted a lift home from his brother from the port city of Gara’ad.
The four-by-four vehicle was stopped en route on a desert road by four French army helicopters.
The passengers had their hands tied behind their backs, were blindfolded and airlifted out of Somalia.
Mr Said says he had no idea at the time that his brother, Daher Guled Said, had taken part in the hijacking.
Last June, Daher and three of the other Somalis who had been detained in 2008 were found guilty of piracy in a Paris court.
Footage from 2008 of French commandos detaining Somalis soon after the release of 30 hostages
Mr Said and one of the other accused were acquitted.
But his acquittal has done nothing to undo the damage – and he says his life remains in tatters from the traumatic experience.
“It was awful. I was on my own in a very small cell,” Mr Said told the BBC about the confusing days after his abduction.
“Not understanding a word of what I was told. Not being able to communicate with the other detainees. The pain was deep. I suffered a lot,” he says.
In fact, the trauma he suffered was so profound that he has been diagnosed with a severe case of Ganser syndrome, also known as prison psychosis.
It is a reaction to extreme stress and symptoms include confusion and making irrational statements, and he complains of hallucinations.
“It took me time to understand why all this had happened to me,” he said.
“But then, when I understood, I also knew I was innocent and I was just hoping that the French judges would acknowledge this and free me.”
This took four years.
Sadness remains etched upon his face – and more bitter times were to come.
He thought after being found innocent, his life would improve and he would be returning to his family.
But instead he was thrown out onto the streets of Paris with a prison “survival kit”, which included a Metro ticket and a Sim card.
He had no money in his pocket.
“I’m ashamed by the whole story,” his lawyer Augustin d’Ollone said.
Pirates in Hobyo town, January 2010 Successful pirate attacks off Somalia have decreased in the last few years
“This is just outrageous to have transferred them in total irregularity to France and to have mistreated them in this way.”
The BBC has repeatedly asked for a statement from the French justice ministry about Mr Said’s treatment, but it has refused to comment on his case.
Four months later, a French court ruled that the government should pay Mr Said 90,000 euros ($119,000; £76,500) in compensation for the judicial mistake.
This is far lower than compensation received in other cases of miscarriages of justice.
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In other times pirates would have been hanged right on the boat”
Jacques Myard UMP MP
Last year a French farm worker wrongly accused of rape was awarded nearly 800,000 euros for his seven years behind bars by a court of appeal. His family were also compensated, his mother getting 50,000 euros and each of his three siblings 30,000 euros.
So Mr d’Ollone has decided to appeal for higher compensation for Mr Said – and separately has filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights about his illegal rendition and trial in France.
Since former French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the decision to abduct and put on trial those accused of hijacking the French yacht, there has been a sharp fall in the number of acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
This is partly because of the increased use of private security guards on ships and better co-ordination between patrolling international navies.
Fear of returning
For Jacques Myard, an MP in Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party – now in opposition – piracy would best be dealt with using methods of old.
Le Ponant pictured in April 2008 after the hostages were released The Le Ponant hostages were released after the ransom was paid
“In other times pirates would have been hanged right on the boat. It was the custom over the past centuries because piracy is an international crime and it’s not acceptable by any civilized nation,” he said.
He does admit, however, that France has an obligation to the Somalis wrongly accused in this case.
“As for the ones who were mistakenly brought to France, they should be helped to go back home,” he says.
But even that prospect is of little comfort to Mr Said as he is scared of returning home, fearing the pirate community may accuse him of collaborating with the French against his brother and the other pirates.
Mr Said still does not have access to any of the money he was awarded. He was given food and shelter by a small non-government organisation and assistance from his lawyer when first released.
He has now applied for asylum, which means that since October he has been getting a monthly government grant of 280 euros – a sum on which it is hard to survive in France – so he eats just once a day.
Before being abducted he was able to support his wife and son and help out his mother from his income as a fisherman.
In his absence, they have been surviving with the help of family members.
His plan is to bring his wife and son to France should he be given asylum.
He says he deeply regrets the day he accepted the lift from his brother.
But for him the greatest anguish has been being deprived of watching his son – now aged nine – grow up.
It’s been said that Mandela has become, after Coca-Cola, the second best known brand in the world so perhaps the media focus is understandable given his high approval numbers and status in the pantheon of liberators. What other ailing political leader gets this kind of sustained attention?
Widely accepted heroes in the world are in short supply these days as we can see also from the media treatment of whistleblower Edward Snowden who many also view as a hero —a majority of those surveyed–while, curiously, a majority of the media punditocracy takes a more cynical view.
Many of our “thought leaders” ask if he isn’t really a traitor to be prosecuted rather than an information liberator to be hailed.
Clearly these two stories are very different, but there are some parallels that almost no one in the media commented on.
Both men are heroes to those who believe in freedom–the right to be free from racist laws in one case, and onerous spying in another.
Both men stood up against the powers to be. One was prosecuted and jailed; the other soon may be.
One was a radical movement and political liberation fighter. The other is more the loner and electronic liberation guerrilla, but now seen a part of a loose anarchistic affinity network that includes Bradley Manning, Wikileaks, Anonymous and many politically conscious hactivists.
We can’t forget that Mandela was branded a terrorist for years, and hidden from media view. He was tried for treason, and aquitted in a widely consdemned trial that in retrospect may have been fairer that the ones Manning and his band of brothers faces.
Snowden, has now been denounced for treason and is now in the media eye but also the target of top politicians and the media that takes them seriously and questions his motives and impact. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a “patriotically correct” call for Snowden to be persecuted.
In both cases, their examples excite admirers who shower them with praise for a gutsy defense of liberty.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma–who has, in many ways, betrayed Mandela’s moral mandates–nevertheless says his country not only admires him but needs him:
“We need him to be with us,” he said. “We are all feeling it, that our president, the real father of democracy in South Africa is in the hospital.” Snowden’s followers seem to be expressing a similar need for someone to challenge Big Brother.
What many in the media chose not to remind us is that South Africa’s “real father of democracy” was actually caught and imprisoned thanks to a tip from the very forces Snowden is fighting.
What is widely perceived as their greed is evidence of how the values Mandela fought fore are being corrupted in the new South Africa. When he was more politically active Mandela spoke out against this betrayal of the struggle that was his life.
Snowden’s stance grew out of his sense that the public was being abused by the rise of technocratic surveillance leviathan. American officials are now speaking out against him.
Both are now joined together as rebels of our time.
It was the CIA which had been tracking Mandela —with the less sophisticated surveillance technologies available then–and then tipped South Africa’s secret policy as to his whereabouts
A June 10th 1990, New York Times report “quoted an unidentified retired official who said that a senior CIA officer told him shortly in after Mr. Mandela’s arrest, ‘We have turned Mandela over to the South African security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be.'”
AP quoted Paul Eckel, then a senior CIA operative, as boasting that Mandela’s capture “was one of our greatest coups.” There were some earlier press reports in the 80’s about this CIA role too but they never triggered the scandal they should have. This American support for apartheid was treated as a footnote.
This is a connection between Snowden and Mandela that may explain why American “intelligence” tends so often to be on the wrong side, or maybe just is the wrong side. Clearly our intelligence overlords had as their priority then what they do today: the protection of the global status quo.
Despite his many detractors in the intelligence “business,’ and its supporters in Congress and rationalizers in the press, Snowden’s actions seems to have turned him into a popular figure, writes Gary Stamper:
“Edward Snowden” is coming across as the all-American hero according to a poll today that showed 70% support for him and his actions with the American public. Compare that with the popularity of Congress who is mostly calling for Snowden’s Bradley Manning moment. If he continues to elude the CIA and American Security Apparatus can’t catch him soon, his stock will soar as Americans pretty much love a heroic underdog.
“One of the reporters from the Guardian newspaper who arranged with Snowden to meet in Hong Kong for interviews told the Associated Press that he had been contacted by “countless people” offering to pay for “anything [Snowden] might need.”
The 94 year old Mandela and the 29 year old Snowden come from different parts of the world and fought in different eras.
Already, Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian who Snowden supported with a campaign donation is fearing for his life, saying, “I’m worried about, somebody in our government might kill him with a cruise missile or a drone missile” we live in a bad time where American citizens don’t even have rights and that they can be killed, but the gentlemen is trying to tell the truth about what’s going on.”
A computer genius, Snowden has managed to throw his pursuers off his trail up until this point, and now vows to remain in Hong Kong. (This emerged after a erroneous reports that he was on the run!)
Activists there are supporting him. He is likely to leak more secrets.
Mandela’s supporters are bracing for the end of his life because of his age and an infirmity he contacted in prison.
He has been a political genus, and fortunately blessed with good genes that allowed him to live long enough to complete what he called his “long walk to freedom.’
He has written that that journey is not over for South Africa, even though it may be ending for him.
Snowden knows his travails may just be starting as he becomes an international outlaw, but one with access to secrets that the powerful want to keep secret. He faces many challenges., and soon, perhaps, many charges.
Mandela’s not only has health issues but also a family revolt on his hands with two daughters suing his lawyer and close friend who are administering a trust that he set up looking for money for themselves.
News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com.
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.