How to Catch a Dictator
The criminal prosecution of Chad's former leader can teach us a lot.
My guest Reed Brody is a veteran war crimes prosecutor and author of the new book “To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissene Habre.” (Hissene Habre was the brutal dictator of Chad from 1982 to 1990, when he was ousted in a coup and fled to Senegal.)
The book tells the story of Reed Brody’s years long obsession to bring Habre to justice, and his partnerships with African lawyers and victims rights advocates who secured a conviction.
We kick off discussing the abuses of Hissene Habre and the successful legal strategy that resulted in a life sentence. We then take a step back and discuss the lessons learned from this successful trial that might be applied to other abusive leaders elsewhere.
The episode is available here.
The full transcript is available to paying subscribers.
Reed Brody [00:02:52] So Hissène Habré was the dictator of Chad from 1982 to 1990. He was ushered into power by Ronald Reagan, who saw him as a bulwark against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, who had territorial designs on Chad. He's accused, in fact, and ultimately convicted, of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. He was overthrown in 1990 by Idriss Déby, who went on to rule Chad for 30 more years and he fled to Senegal — that's where he was living in luxury until justice caught up to him.
Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:40] Could you explain or describe some of the crimes that he was eventually convicted of? This was an era of many dictators around the world. What made Hissène Habré particularly cruel and vicious as the leader of Chad?
Reed Brody [00:03:59] Chad is a mosaic of ethnic groups and when he came to power, he really didn't trust anybody other than people in his very small Goran Desert clan really. And successively, he launched waves of ethnic cleansing against different ethnic groups when he perceived that their leaders were breaking away from him. So, in 1984, he launched what was known as Black September in the south of Chad, where first he went after the elites, but then ended up destroying whole villages. In 1987, he went after the Hajari ethnic group in the same fashion, first going against leaders and then burning down and destroying villages in the center of Chad. And in 1989, after Idriss Déby tried a coup d’état against him, he took his revenge out on the whole Zaghawa ethnic group and the prisons filled up with Zaghawa and many were killed.
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