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SILENCING LIBERIA'S VOICES



Published: Tue, May 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: Charles Taylor wears the title of president, but he still can't shake his warlord ways. Repression is what the Liberian ex-rebel leader knows best, especially when confronted with calls for change in the country he controls and bleeds. No institution or person is beyond his reach. The Analyst, a Liberian newspaper, recently printed a speech by Tiawan Gongloe, a prominent Liberian human rights lawyer and outspoken opponent of abuses by Mr. Taylor's security forces.

The paper was permanently shut down by the government, and Mr. Gongloe was arrested, stripped naked and brutalized while in police custody. He was reportedly released late last week. Already under a state of emergency since February, Liberia is now in a shutdown mode, with all public gatherings banned except those expressly approved by the government. The world is witnessing Charles Taylor doing what he does best: flogging human rights and crushing independent voices.

Sweet nothings

It is no accident that the ban on public gatherings was imposed on the eve of opposition leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's return to Liberia. A rally had been planned by her supporters, but that long-awaited event was blocked because of the government's ruling. As a result, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf was greeted in Monrovia only by officials of her opposition Unity Party. She met with Mr. Taylor and other opposition leaders on Friday at a staged meeting where he spoke sweet nothings.

Mr. Taylor said Liberians could now gather for worship services, political meetings and campus activities. Huge political rallies, however, in Charles Taylor's Liberia, take freedom of speech and assembly too far. The authorities justify closing down the newspaper and banning public assembly on grounds that both could create chaos when the country, facing an insurrection in the north, is in a state of emergency. That reasoning, of course, is as flimsy as Charles Taylor's claim to respect the rights of Liberians.

Mr. Taylor is the reason the United Nations imposed sanctions against Liberia. He is also the reason the United Nations should extend those sanctions before they expire this week. Lifting the arms and diamond embargo would be a green light for the Taylor regime to continue the gun running and diamond sales that fuel rebel actions in neighboring Sierra Leone.

KAREN HUGHES'S WISE DECISION

Providence Journal: The sudden, and unexpected, resignation of Karen Hughes as a senior adviser to President Bush caught political Washington by surprise.

Because people seldom step away voluntarily from jobs that put them at the president's right hand, the automatic assumption was that there must be a story hidden somewhere. Perhaps Hughes' fellow White House confidant, Karl Rove, outmaneuvered her in a turf fight, or the president had lost confidence in her judgment. Surely she was not leaving glamorous Washington, D.C., to spend more time with her husband and son, and enjoy life in provincial Austin.

Not to disappoint the cynics, but that apparently is the reason. And it is reason enough. As it happens, while Hughes has faithfully served George W. Bush for the past decade, she was never especially eager to leave Texas for Washington, and she found that the hectic pace of political life in the capital was more than she, and her husband and 15-year-old son, could reasonably tolerate. Especially since Sept. 11, the demands on Hughes' time had become acute, and she concluded (reasonably enough, in our view) that she could continue to serve the president, and reacquaint herself with her family, in Austin but not both in Washington.

Perpetual labor

To be sure, Hughes' decision has disappointed those feminists who believe this is an example of the particular difficulties women face in the work force of political Washington. But the truth is that the pace in the nation's capital takes its toll on everyone involved, regardless of sex, and that it is increasingly difficult to serve in public office and maintain the semblance of a private life. Life in the upper echelons of government has never been easy, and presidents have always made inordinate claims on subordinates' time. But since the Kennedy administration, there has been an ever-increasing emphasis on perpetual labor -- round-the-clock consultations, lost weekends, workdays that begin at dawn and end at midnight -- in an effort to appear vigorous and in control, and to demonstrate loyalty to the boss.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence of a correlation between inhuman hours and high quality of work or judgment. In fact, some of the wisest decisions in the modern federal government -- e.g., the Berlin airlift -- were made when people still had occasion to reflect on their actions, had the time to unwind at the end of a week, could eat the occasional meal with their families, and were not weighed down by beepers, incessant meetings, and regular appearances on Sunday morning talk shows.




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