The US military should rescue the 200 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, even if the Nigerian government disapproves, Sen. John McCain says. Meanwhile, negotiations on a prisoner-hostage exchange appear to be advancing.
The longtime US senator and two-time presidential candidate told The Daily Beast that the US should feel no compunction to withhold sending special operations forces to find the kidnapped girls – especially in a country led by “some guy named Goodluck Jonathan.”
“If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in US troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country,” McCain said on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan,” he declared, in reference to Nigeria’s president.
As he suggested last week in a CNN interview, McCain insisted that if he were US president, his administration would have prepared special forces ready to enter Nigeria if a rescue opportunity was apparent. His rationale for military intervention rests with the United Nations charter, he said, since the mass abduction was akin to “crimes against humanity.”
“The United Nations Charter recognized crimes against humanity, this fits into the category of crimes against humanity, and that gives any nation the license if they can to stop a crime against humanity, the same reason we should have if we could have freed the people at Dachau or Auschwitz,” McCain said.
Yet, as The Daily Beast points out, the UN Charter “does not explicitly mention crimes against humanity.” But the news website found that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum does, indicating that crimes against humanity “are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings.”
McCain said the US need not receive permission from the Nigerian government, as Abuja would give thanks to any American effort that ends up saving the young girls.
“I would not be involved in the niceties of getting the Nigerian government to agree, because if we did rescue these people, there would be nothing but gratitude from the Nigerian government, such as it is,” he said.
The Nigerian government has been reluctant to work with Washington in recent years in countering Boko Haram, the Obama administration has said. The fractious relationship was a key reason why the US State Department did not officially label the Islamist group as a terror organization in 2011 and 2012.
The Obama administration said Tuesday it will not negotiate with Boko Haram to retrieve the girls.
“We, as a matter of policy, deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, and that includes ransoms or other concessions,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Following initial resistence, the Nigerian government now says it will negotiate with Boko Haram. A spokesman for the militant group said it would not return the girls unless the government released “our brethren.”
The Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that Boko Haram is set to release a list of its members and members’ relatives that it wants freed in one-for-one exchanges for its hostages. The list – and the name of the Islamic cleric the group has sanctioned to negotiate on its behalf – will be announced on Wednesday.
“In total, the numbers to be released will probably be equal to the number of the girls currently held,” a source told The Telegraph.
The State Department said Monday that the US has sent manned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to assist Nigeria with the search effort. The US has also sent 27 security advisors to Nigeria. The State Department has also said that the US is seeking United Nations sanctions against Boko Haram.
“If we rescued these young girls, it would be the high point of the [President Obama’s] popularity,” McCain said.
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, told The Daily Beast he would only advocate the use of US forces if the Nigerian government approved.