U.S. Sanctions Former Head of Sudan's National Intelligence & Security Services

Posted by Mark Hackett on August 15th, 2019

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of State issued a press statement declaring that the United States has sanctioned Salah Gosh. From State:

"Today, the United States designated Salah Abdalla Mohamed Mohamed Salih, known as Salah Gosh, the former director general of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act (Div. F, P.L. 116-6), due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights. Specifically, the Department has credible information that Salah Gosh was involved in torture during his tenure as head of NISS.

Section 7031(c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.

The law also requires the Secretary of State to publicly or privately designate such officials and their immediate family members. In accordance with the law, I am also publicly designating his spouse, Awatif Ahmed Seed Ahmed Mohamed, as well as his daughter, Shima Salah Abdallah Mohamed."

Who Is Salah Gosh?

Putting the legal jargon from State aside, Gosh sums up the horrors of the past 30 years of militarized Islamic governance in Sudan. He was a key regime insider during Omar al-Bashir's disastrous rule that began in 1989. In more recent years, Gosh has had a more complicated relationship with other regime insiders.  

Gosh has played various roles in Sudanese intelligence services for decades. He helped Al-Qaeda establish a base of operations in Sudan in the 1990s and assisted in the formation of the genocidal Janjaweed militias in Darfur, who are now known as the Rapid Support Forces. As head of the brutal National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Gosh built the paramilitary group into the fearsome and loathed security agency that it is now. NISS stands accused of a slew of war crimes and other human rights abuses across Sudan. And these are just the highlights of Gosh's dangerous activities from the past few decades.

But Gosh's position in the regime has grown increasingly unstable the past several years. In 2012, Bashir had Gosh arrested for supposedly planning a coup. He was later reinstated; however, he stepped down following Bashir's downfall in the April 2019 palace coup. 

Why Sanction Gosh Now?

That's the million dollar question that no one has a good answer to. Gosh is currently out of power in state institutions. It's worth noting that a good bit of political power in Sudan exists outside of "official" state apparatuses.

Here's what the State Department's sanctioning of Gosh means in a nutshell:

THE GOOD

Gosh has the blood of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the Sudanese people on his hands. He's one of the key people who actively worked to decimate Sudan in every way imaginable over the past 30 years. Gosh has gone largely unpunished for wreaking havoc in his own country and severely harming international peace and stability. He shouldn't be let off the hook for his crimes, and the State Department sending that message is a good thing. 

THE NOT SO GOOD

This is basically a slap on the wrist for Gosh. It's like telling someone who doesn't like pizza that they aren't allowed to eat pizza. Gosh is a hardline Islamist and has no affection for the United States (a little more on this below). State's decision to ban Gosh from entering the U.S. is the least of punishments and will most likely have no real world consequences. 

THE REALITY 

If the Trump Administration really wanted to go after Sudanese war criminals and human rights abusers, they would have frozen Gosh's assets and pursued commercial enablers complicit in his human rights abuses. The State and Treasury Departments would also be going after former dictator Bashir and current Military Council officials who pose the most severe threats to a transition to civilian governance in Sudan. So far, none of this has happened. 

Looking at this from a wider angle, U.S. officials have admitted to severe intelligence issues in Sudan for months. Gosh has often pitched himself as having a close relationship with certain American policymakers on a counterterrorism basis, but even that should be taken at face value. A former U.S. diplomat who worked on Sudan once told me "I've seen the intelligence Sudan has given us. It isn't worth the ---- on my shoe." That sentiment has been echoed by others elsewhere.

So, there's that. It's entirely possible that American officials have realized Gosh isn't contributing to their counterterrorism efforts and are moving on. This could also be the U.S. government trying to ensure that Gosh does not return to some official role in the regime. It could be a warning shot to the ruling Military Council that they will be punished if they do not allow for Sudan to move toward genuine civilian rule.

This could be something else entirely or, more likely, it is just a continuation of a U.S. policy toward Sudan that has been described by American officials as completely broken. There is still no strategic framework for how the U.S. views Sudan. That means decisions like this one, even if they sound good, may be happening in a bigger vacuum. And that is not good. 

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The people of Sudan are overcoming two of the greatest challenges facing humanity today: war and genocide. Operation Broken Silence is accelerating their ability to generate lasting change by funding storytelling and movement-building, education and emergency response, and grassroots advocacy programs. Here are a few ways you can join us:

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About Mark

Mark began working on issues in Sudan in 2007. He founded Operation Broken Silence in 2011 and has overseen the steady growth of our organization since then. 

Mark supports our Sudanese partners and helps our movement remain focused on supporting them in everything we do. He is one of only a few Americans who have been in frontline areas of the Nuba Mountains of Sudan during the war.

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