It takes an entire week for the Sudanese army and its militias to burn a village of some 20,000 black African civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan. Survivors flee to rebel strongholds or stream into neighboring Chad, where the conflict often follows. U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle found this out while working as an unarmed observer of a "cease-fire" in that region after taking a job offered by a private, off-shore military firm, which Steidle says is financed by the U.S. State Department. The 30-year-old marine photographed and video-taped six months of pillage, rape and slaughter in Darfur before quitting his post with the African Union and taking his story to The New York Times.
The documentary film The Devil Came on Horseback, produced by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern with help from the Sundance Institute, follows Steidle as he discovers extensive carnage brought by the Arab-led Khartoum government on its citizens. The government organize cellular communication blackouts and attacks with Russian-made Antonov helicopters before unleashing the Janjaweed Arab horseback militias to plunder, torture and mutilate Sudanese men, women and children. In a voice-over of a weary Steidle reading from a letter to his sister, Gretchen Wallace, he laments, "I have seen things here that are not meant to be seen."
Apparently, the U.S. State Department agreed. After extensive media coverage and after congressional testimony and meetings with Condoleeza Rice and other top government officials, Steidle was told by State Department officials they would prefer he not show his stack of photo albums to the public.
The Devil Came on Horseback presents Steidle's photos in a sweeping and disturbing documentary, and includes Voice of America and BBC radio broadcasts, TV clips of Elie Wiesel, George Bush and others, as well as interviews with survivors of the genocidal conflict. The documentary tells a tale of government-sponsored atrocity: 400,000 dead and 2 million displaced in a war that the international community has deemed genocidal, but in which--awaiting a UN Security Council vote--the United Nations has yet to intervene.
Forced to stand by with a camera while Darfurans were slaughtered and driven from their land, Steidle was compelled to tell his story. His is a story that was meant to be told, and he has spoken to thousands on the Washington, D.C., mall about bringing divestment strategies to U.S. lawmakers and micro-loan economic development plans to Africa.
There are a dozen ways to view this atrocity, even after watching an exhaustive documentary on the subject: racial conflict, tribal feud, corporate business imperative or the result of a necessary and evil relationship with Khartoum during the "War on Terror." Or is this all taking place at the beginning of some Malthusian nightmare in which people risk their lives to gather fire-wood and fight for a place in line at the water truck? Is this a war, or is the world just slowly burning?
Steidle's story leads to lush Rwanda, where it looks like any seed dropped would produce a fruit tree. He interviews a survivor of that country's genocide who keeps a makeshift holocaust memorial of lime-covered corpses in what was once a technical school, before giving way to his own emotions. "I have no idea what you have been through," Steidle says through tears. "But I am here to support you, and that's that." If you get a chance, see the film. Share the burden.
For information, visit www.thedevilcameonhorseback.com