Releasing Paul Rusesabagina is the Smart Move
by Tom Zoellner
The Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame is about to get a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and he will likely be tempted to do a very stupid thing against his own interests. Yelling at him from a distance will not help, but it bears saying in advance of their August 12 meeting that continuing to hold on to the jailed hero Paul Rusesabagina would be his equivalent of buying a ticket on the Hindenburg.
Kagame’s security services kidnapped Rusesabagina on August 27, 2020, by luring him onto a jet he thought was taking him to a set of speaking dates in the nation of Burundi. Instead, he was drugged on the plane and then flown to Kigali where he was tortured. Then he was given a farce of a trail on “terrorism” charges in which no credible evidence was produced. His illegal captivity has been condemned by a long list of international bodies, including the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the EU Parliament, the Belgian government, Human Rights Watch, PEN International, the American Bar Association, the Lantos Foundation, the Clooney Foundation and many others.
There are longstanding military, economic and cultural ties between the U.S. and Rwanda which precluded a sharp response initially. But the diplomatic winds have since changed. Sen. Robert Menendez of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently announced a halt on $147 million in aid to Rwanda until Rusesabagina is free and Rwanda halts its pattern of making forced disappearances to those who speak out against Kagame. The House passed a resolution last month demanding his release on vote of 413–8. And State Dept. spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. government has “no higher priority to seeing the release of those Americans who were held unjustly anywhere around the world, and that includes Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda.” The House Select Intelligence Committee also held a recent hearing that included discussion of Rwanda’s use of Pegasus spy software on the phone of Paul’s daughter, Carine Kanimba. Many House members responded, wondering why the US should keep funding a government like Rwanda that spies on people in the US and elsewhere.
The best move for Kagame would be to issue an executive clemency for Rusesabagina and let his longtime rival board the plane home with Anthony Blinken. Paul Rusesabagina is a 68 year old man, with ongoing health problems that warrant a compassionate release. It has now become clear that continuing to imprison a winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom is a losing proposition and will result in a continuing deterioration of Rwanda’s important strategic partnership with the U.S. Anything less than an immediate compassionate release is like getting into a car with a drunk driver. Don’t do it, Paul Kagame.