Boba Fett, Report to Calabar

This is a pretty surreal development, especially in light of my recent ramblings on dictators in exile. Apparently the emergency spending bill Bush signed on November 6—the infamous $87.5 billion—quietly included a $2 million bounty for the capture of Charles Taylor. The State Department spin is that the money isn’t an explicit call for Boba, IG-88, Bossk and the rest of the gang to hightail it to Calabar, Nigeria, where Taylor is cooling his heels. The bill vaguely refers to “rewards for an indictee of the Special Court for Sierra Leone”; Richard Boucher said that they were still deciding just how the money would be spent. But the Nigerian government is, understandably, a bit upset. They were never Taylor supporters, but agreed to host his exile because it was (presumably) the only way to get him to go quietly. The U.S. actively participated in the negotiations that led to that outcome, and now they appear to be going back on the deal in a way that impinges on another nation’s sovereignty.

Which puts me at two minds about it all. It would be a fine thing to see a corrupt dictator get his comeuppance, and while the Sierre Leone court will no doubt be an imperfect vehicle for justice, it’s something. Taylor also remains uniquely able to keep the conflict going in Liberia by meddling from afar; ending his exile would be good for the country as a whole. But what a dumb, bizarro way to go about it.

Ah—pardon me for researching while I’m writing, but the latest appears to be a bit of backpedaling over at State. So the money isn’t a bounty, it’s an “additional tool” for coaxing somebody, somehow, to do something about this whole Taylor thing. But not, apparently, by hiring someone to wrap up the guards in his wrist cords, vault over the outer wall with his jetpack, and stick CT’s carbon-freezed body into the hold of Slave One. So what is the money meant to do, then?

The plot thickens, albeit leavened with some sloppy reporting. This November 2 article in The Observer implies that the money-which-is-not-bounty-money is connected to our friends at Northbridge Services Group, Ltd.—more on them in a moment.

But Obasanjo will not find it easy to dissuade the US from financing an attempt to kidnap Taylor. In August, an Anglo-American mercenary company, Northbridge Services Group Ltd, was quoted on an American conservative website as offering to attempt to arrest Taylor.

As far as I can tell the conservative website in question is Crosswalk.comhere’s the actual article there. Why they’d want to cite that source, when the Northbridge connection is mentioned elsewhere, is beyond me. But the real sloppiness comes from this article on the World Socialist Web Site, which claims:

According to the British Observer newspaper, an Anglo-American mercenary outfit, Northbridge Services Group Ltd., was quoted on a far-right US website in August offering to arrest Taylor for the sum of $2 million.

It would be oh-so interesting if the $2 million figure really had been quoted by Northbridge and then made its way into the spending bill, because that would strongly imply that the U.S. planned to hire Northbridge to get Taylor. But neither the Observer article or the Crosswalk one actually mentions that specific number. It appears to be a conveniently inserted but unsubstantiated claim.

But that doesn’t mean that the situation doesn’t stink. Northbridge is a “private military company”—basically a mercenary outfit. They’re the newest face on Executive Outcomes, a PMC staffed largely by white South African ex-military types going entrepeneurial with martial skills honed while enforcing the apartheid regime. It’s not clear exactly how much overlap there is between the two companies, but EO was hip-deep in Sierre Leone’s civil strife in the 90’s, and now Northbridge is offering its services to apprehend those wanted by the Special Court. Heck, takes you right to Northbridge’s website. Whether those South Africans are out of the picture or whether they’ve simply been airbrushed off the website and corporate image is, for me, the difference between an ethically ambiguous enterprise and a deplorable one. Since I have no way to know for sure, my basic take is that it stinks, and if it turns out that it’s actually true that the $2 million was earmarked (however informally) for Northbridge, it stinks to high heaven.