A GetReligion reader with an intense interest in history, especially in northern Africa and other regions bordering the Middle East, sent me the URL of to this haunting multi-media feature by CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. Trust me, the text is enough. It is an interview with a Sudanese soldier named "Adam" who -- at gunpoint -- took part in barbaric attacks on children in Darfur. This is not, strictly, a question-and-answer piece, but it is not written in a hard news style, either. The timing of its release is linked to the International Criminal Court's warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes.
Here is the opening, which provides a framework for the haunted -- yes, with a religion ghost -- passage that I want to underline.
I wanted to believe the man in front of me wasn't a rapist. I knew he was a former Sudanese soldier, I knew he wanted to talk about rape in Darfur. ... Last year in Darfur aid workers told me children as young as five were being raped in the huge displacement camps that are home to several million Darfuris. In some camps, they told me, rape had become so common that as many as 20 babies a month born from rape were being abandoned.
As I sat inches from Adam --not his real name -- I feared the revulsion I knew I would feel at my own questions as I asked about rape and his involvement. I have interviewed rape survivors in Darfur. I have two daughters. I am a human being with a conscience. It would be hard to listen to his replies.
"Adam" insisted that he was conscripted by force, yet was also told that he would be doing six months of mere "national service" work in exchange for food and drink -- no pay. Then he was taught to kill and told that they would be expected to "go and burn and kill people."
Is religion part of this, or mere ethnicity? In Darfur, of course, Muslims are attacking Muslims. In South Sudan, the fighting has focused on the Muslim north fighting the Christian and animist South. In horror, Adam testifies that he knew he would be killing his own people:
"They are black," he told me, noting the difference between the lighter skinned rulers of Sudan and the darker farmers of Darfur. "I am black," he said, "this shouldn't be happening." But, he said, worse than being told to kill his own people, was that if he tried to resist, he himself would be killed. "The order is that the soldiers at the front, and there are some people who are watching you from behind, if you try to escape or do anything you will get shot. The order is that we go to the village, burn it and kill the people."
What could be worse? The topic of systematic rape, of course. The rape of children.
He was talking through a translator but his voice was quiet. I thought I heard anger, heard him slow and his voice drop: "I had no choice," he said "but I will say that I didn't kill anybody but the raping of the small children, it was bad" I knew this was going to be difficult and now it had begun.
What happens with the children, I asked. "They cry out," he answered. "And what happens when they cry out?" "Two persons will capture her while she is crying and another raping her, then they leave her there," came his reply.
Silence. "What do I ask now?" I thought. Be forensic. Get the story.
The details are, of course, hellish. But, as a journalist, Robertson soldiers on. Finally, he says, in frustration, "What more could I ask?"
Indeed, what is the next question? That is, what is the next question if the journalist is going to conduct this interview without a single reference to good and evil, or the teachings of Islam or other faiths found in that troubled region?
Is there a ghost here? No question about it.