Our Landlord the Torturer

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 12:11 AM EDT

Over at Harper's, Ken Silverstein reports that the U.S. government is paying $17,500 a month to a rent one of its overseas embassies from a known torturer. The torturer in question is Manuel Nguema Mba, the security minister of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny, oil-rich West African nation that, as Peter Maass wrote in an investigative story in Mother Jones last year, seems like a "parody of an oil kleptocracy," where "a dictator, awash in petrodollars, enriches himself and his family while starving his people." In his article, Maass disclosed the rental deal with Mba (who's the uncle of the country's despot, Teodoro Obiang), but Silverstein adds some new wrinkles to the story. Despite reliable documentation from the U.N. and the State Department, our ambassador to E.G. has pled ignorance of Mba's human-rights record. The Clinton-era ambassador is calling for an investigation into the deal.

Sadly, it's not surprising that we're giving $210,000 a year to a man who has overseen the torture of dissidents. Pay-to-play is the name of the game in E.G.—it's a game that several American oil companies have played in order to get access to the country's crude. (In one egregious—but not atypical—instance, Amerada Hess paid $445,800 in rent to a 14-year-old relative of Obiang.) And apparently it's a game that the Bush administration doesn't mind playing, either.

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