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USA/Africa: New Evidence on Lumumba Death

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Aug 2, 2010 (100802)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"A 1975 U.S. Senate investigation of alleged CIA assassinations concluded that while the CIA had earlier plotted to murder Lumumba, he was eventually killed 'by Congolese rivals. It does not appear from the evidence that the United States was in any way involved in the killing.' It is now clear that that conclusion was wrong." - Stephen R. Weissman, author of new article "An Extraordinary Rendition"

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes, with permission, the abstract and a short excerpt from the article, as well as an article by Weissman published on on August 1, and a related op-ed by William Minter, published in the Providence Journal on August 1.

Weissman's full article, which appeared in Intelligence and National Security Vol. 25, No. 2, 198-222, April 2010, is available from the publisher at, for readers at subscribing institutions or for a one-time fee of $30.

The Bulletin also includes, for reference, a short excerpt from Chapter 5 of William Minter's book King Solomon's Mines Revisited, published in 1986, with a background analysis of "Ruling Out Lumumba" in the context of U.S. Africa policy in the 1960s. The full chapter is available on-line at

Two other AfricaFocus Bulletins released today on the web, but not sent out by e-mail, contain updates on recent developments related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One, on the new law on conflict minerals approved by the U.S. Congress, is at The other, examining the need for greater accountability in the relationship of UN peacekeeping forces to military operations in the DRC, is at

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins related to Congo (Kinshasa), visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on U.S. policy, visit

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New Evidence Shows U.S. Role in Congo Government Decision to Send Patrice Lumumba to his Death

By Stephen R. Weissman August 1, 2010

[Stephen R. Weissman is author of "An Extraordinary Rendition," in Intelligence and National Security, v.25, no.2 (April 2010) and American Foreign Policy in the Congo 1960-1964. He is a former Staff Director of the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Africa.]

Fifty years ago, the former Belgian Congo received its independence under the democratically elected government of former prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Less than seven months later, Lumumba and two colleagues were, in the contemporary idiom, "rendered" to their Belgian-backed secessionist enemies, who tortured them before putting them before a firing squad. The Congo would not hold another democratic election for 46 years. In 2002, following an extensive parliamentary inquiry, the Belgian government assumed a portion of responsibility for Lumumba's murder.

But controversy has continued to swirl over allegations of U.S. government responsibility, as the reception for Raoul Peck's acclaimed film, Lumumba, demonstrated. After all, the U.S. had at least as much, if not more, influence in the Congolese capital as Belgium. It was the major financier and political supporter of the U.N. peacekeeping force that controlled most of the country. According to still classified documents that I first revealed eight years ago, members of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) "Project Wizard" covert action program dominated the post-Lumumba Congolese regime. However, a 1975 U.S. Senate investigation of alleged CIA assassinations concluded that while the CIA had earlier plotted to murder Lumumba, he was eventually killed "by Congolese rivals. It does not appear from the evidence that the United States was in any way involved in the killing."

It is now clear that that conclusion was wrong. A new analysis of the declassified files of the Senate "Church" Committee (chaired by Democratic Senator Frank Church), CIA and State Department, along with memoirs and interviews of U.S. and Belgian covert operators, establishes that CIA Station Chief Larry Devlin was consulted by his Congolese government "cooperators" about the transfer of Lumumba to sworn enemies, signaled them that he had no objection to it, and withheld knowledge of the impending move from Washington, forestalling the strong possibility that the State Department would have intervened to try to save Lumumba. I detail this evidence in a new article in the academic journal, Intelligence and National Security, vol. 25, no. 2 (The full article is available from the publisher at

Here, briefly, are the most important new findings:

  • Former U.S. officials who knew Lumumba now acknowledge that the administration of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration mistakenly cast him as a dangerous vehicle of Soviet influence.

  • Covert CIA actions against the Lumumba government, often dovetailing with Belgian ones, culminated in Colonel Joseph Mobutu's military coup, which was "arranged and supported and indeed managed" by the CIA alone, according to Devlin's private interview with the Church Committee staff.

  • The CIA station and U.S. embassy provided their inexperienced and politically weak Congolese prot‚g‚s with a steady stream of political and military recommendations. The advice arrived both before Congolese government decisions and shortly afterwards when foreign advisers were invited in to offer feedback. Devlin's counsel was largely heeded on critical matters, especially when it came to Lumumba. Thus Mobutu and former president Joseph Kasavubu were persuaded to resist political pressures to reconcile with Lumumba, and Mobutu reluctantly acceded to Devlin's request to arrest him. After both Devlin and the American ambassador intervened, the government dropped its plan to attack U.N. troops guarding Lumumba. And after Lumumba was publicly brutalized by Mobutu's troops, the U.S. Embassy -- under pressure from the State Department, which was concerned about African governments' threats to pull out of the U.N. Force -- pushed Kasavubu into promising Lumumba "humane treatment" and a "fair trial.".

  • In this context of U.S. adviser-Congolese leader interactions, Devlin's decision not to intervene after he was informed by a "government leader" of a plan to send Lumumba to his "sworn enemy" signaled that he had no objection to the government's course. It was also seen that way by Devlin's Belgian counterpart, Colonel Louis Marliere, who later wrote, "There was a 'consensus' and adviser, whether he be Belgian or American, thought to dissuade them." Considering Congolese leaders' previous responsiveness to CIA and U.S. e\mbassy views, Devlin's permissive attitude was undoubtedly a major factor in the government final action. (Its last minute switch of sending Lumumba to murderous secessionists in Katanga instead of murderous secessionists in South Kasai does not change the crucial fact that Devlin gave a green light to delivering Lumumba to men who had publicly vowed to kill him)

  • Furthermore, shortly before the transfer, Mobutu indicated to Devlin that Lumumba "might be executed," according to a Church Committee interview. Devlin did not suggest that he offered any objection or caution.

  • Cables show that Devlin did not report the impending rendition to Washington for three days (i.e. until it was already under way), forestalling the strong possibility that the State Department would have intervened to try and protect Lumumba as it had done several weeks earlier. When news came that Lumumba had been flown to Belgian-supported Katanga (but before it became known that he was already dead), a top State Department official called in the Belgian ambassador to complain about Belgian advisers' possible contribution to the Congolese government's "gaffe" and to insist upon the need for "humane treatment."

  • The Church Committee failed to uncover the full truth about the U.S. role because of its inattention to the covert relationship between the CIA and Congolese decision makers, CIA delays in providing key cables, and political pressure to water down its original draft conclusions.

Devlin died in 2008 after consistently denying any knowledge of his Congolese associates' "true plans" for Lumumba, and maintaining that he had "stalled" the earlier CIA assassination plot. Yet declassified CIA cables disprove his claims.

One horrible crime cannot, by itself, change history. But the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the most dynamic political leader the Congo has ever produced, was a critical step in the consolidation of an oppressive regime. At the same time, it crystallized an eventual 35-year U.S. commitment to the perpetuation of that regime, not just against Lumumba's followers but against all comers. In the end, Mobutu's kleptocracy would tear civil society apart, destroy the state, and help pave the way for a regional war that would kill millions of people.

There can no longer be any doubt that the U.S., Belgian and Congolese governments shared major responsibility for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in Katanga. The young prime minister was an imperfect leader during an unprecedented and overwhelming international crisis. But he continues to be honored around the world because he incarnated --- if only for a moment --- the nationalist and democratic struggle of the entire African continent against a recalcitrant West.

If the U.S. government at last publicly acknowledged - and apologized for --- its role in this momentous assassination, it would also be communicating its support for the universal principles Lumumba embodied. What better person to take this step than the American president, himself a son of Africa?

An Extraordinary Rendition

Stephen R. Weissman

Intelligence and National Security
Vol. 25, No. 2, 198-222, April 2010


Controversy over alleged CIA responsibility for the 1961 assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba continues to swirl despite a negative finding by the US Senate Church Committee in 1975. A new analysis of declassified and other Church Committee, CIA and State Department documents, memoirs of US and Belgian covert operators, and author interviews with former executive branch and Church Committee officials shows that the CIA Congo Station Chief was an influential participant in the Congo Government's decision to "render" Lumumba to his bitter enemies. Moreover evidence strongly suggests the Station Chief withheld his advance knowledge of Lumumba's fatal transfer from Washington policymakers, who might have blocked it. Flaws in the Church Committee's verdict are traced to CIA delays in providing key cables, staff overreliance on lawyers' methodology, and political pressure to water down original draft conclusions. What happened in Lumumba's case provides insight into the contemporary problem of establishing accountability in US anti-terrorist programs. Current rendition policies are also characterized by ambiguous performance standards for covert operators on the ground and difficulty in pinpointing US responsibility within the intimate relationship between the CIA and foreign government clients. The Church Committee's experience clarifies the conditions for meaningful outside regulation of anti-terrorism operations today.


[in film footage taken after Lumumba's capture, available on] "a tall dark man in his 30s with a small beard and mustache and open collared white shirt sits in the back of an army truck, his hands bound behind him. One of the numerous non-American soldiers around him brutally pulls his hair to raise his face to the cameras; another gratuitously tightens his bonds, causing him to grimace in pain. ... The young Commander watches his men abusing the prisoner, smiling occasionally. The CIA - a strong backer of the Commander - had been trying to kill or capture the 'target' for months. Recently, the CIA Station Chief had met with security officials to make sure the right roads were blocked and troops alerted. According to the CIA Director, the prisoner's background was 'harrowing' and 'his actions indicate that he is insane'. Within weeks of this incident, the authorities decided to transfer the prisoner to another government - one that had threatened to kill him. They immediately informed the local CIA Station Chief of their plan. Three days later, the prisoner and two colleagues were hustled onto a plane bound for enemy territory. Savagely beaten throughout the flight, the prisoners were taken away after landing and never seen again."

U.S.-Africa 'reset' requires honesty about America's wrongs

Providence Journal August 1, 2010

By William Minter


To celebrate 50 years of African independence, President Barack Obama will hold a town hall meeting this week with 120 African youth leaders. The president will probably revisit themes from his visit to Ghana last year: that Africa's future is up to Africans, and that neither colonial exploitation nor Cold War interventions are valid excuses to evade African responsibilities.

He's undoubtedly correct about that, as African activists agree. But there are also lessons from the past that should not be ignored. Over the last five decades, decisions made in Washington and other global capitals have profoundly influenced what happens in Africa. Fresh evidence confirms U.S. responsibility in one of the most notorious cases of Cold War intrigue: the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of 17 African countries celebrating a half century of independence this year. Today, it is the most fragile of Africa's large regional powers and it remains the one most exposed to external influences that fuel conflict.

In July 1960, newly elected Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba visited Washington. His quest: to ask the United States to urge Belgium, the Congo's former colonial ruler and a U.S. ally, to withdraw its troops from the Congo, where it had intervened only a month after independence. Instead of helping, U.S. policymakers quickly decided that Lumumba "threatens our vital interests in Congo and Africa generally," in the words of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

U.S. policy, the ambassador continued in an internal cable, "must be to destroy Lumumba government as now constituted."

As documented by the Senate's Church Committee in 1975, the National Security Council then decided to authorize "any particular activity which might contribute to getting rid of Lumumba." The CIA instigated a coup by Col. Joseph Mobutu, who would rule over the Congo with an iron fist until his death in 1997. Mobutu's troops captured Lumumba and handed him over to a Belgian-backed secessionist regime in Congo's Katanga province. Lumumba was executed on Jan. 17, 1961, only days before President John F. Kennedy took office.

The Church Committee concluded that there was insufficient evidence to confirm U.S. involvement in the murder plot. But new evidence published in July in the scholarly journal Intelligence and National Security tells another story. It confirms that CIA Station Chief Larry Devlin gave the nod to Mobutu to hand over Lumumba to secessionists who had vowed to kill him. Using newly declassified Church Committee files, CIA cables, and interviews with Belgian and U.S. intelligence officials, political scientist Stephen R. Weissman, a former staff director of the House Africa Subcommittee, concludes that there can no longer be any doubt: The U.S. government shared responsibility with the Belgian and Congolese governments for killing the elected Congolese leader.

It would be a refreshing sign of honesty if President Obama were to acknowledge this shared U.S. responsibility when he meets with African youth, as well as the need for critical scrutiny of U.S. influence today. The flawed Cold War assumptions that painted Lumumba as a threat have been discarded. But a rapid expansion of U.S. military involvement in Africa, which began under the George W. Bush administration, continues under Obama. This raises the risk of new flawed judgments of complex African realities. The record already shows some dubious consequences.

Whether under the umbrella of humanitarian action, as in the Congo, or of counterterrorism, as in Somalia, U.S. involvement can fuel conflict rather than promote African or U.S. security.

One danger is that African security forces can themselves threaten their own people, as illustrated by today's Congo. Despite a peace agreement in 2002 and elections in 2006, conflict has continued, particularly in eastern Congo. Horrific abuses of civilians, especially rape, have been the hallmark of this war. The United States and other countries are training Congolese government troops, but this has not stopped them from committing as many atrocities as rebel soldiers. Simply strengthening security forces, without curbing human-rights abuses, is a recipe for disaster.

Calls for more military intervention in Somalia, following the recent terrorist bombing in Kampala, should also be examined skeptically. The threat from the extremist group Al-Shabaab is real. But a U.S.-backed Ethiopian intervention in Somalia in December 2006 escalated the conflict and aided the rise of Al-Shabaab. The United States, with two failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, should be wary of falling into a similar trap in Africa. Nor should it encourage its African allies to adopt America's flawed security paradigms.

President Obama has inspired hope in Africa and around the world.

Africans who heed his call to build the future, however, must still reckon with the stubborn fact that the United States can be an obstacle as well as a partner.

Uncle Sam in the Congo

[excerpted from Chapter 5 of King Solomon's Mines Revisited, by William Minter]

On February 15, 1961, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson addressed the United Nations Security Council as it debated a Soviet resolution condemning UN complicity in the death of Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, announced to the world only a few days earlier. A scream from a woman in the visitor's gallery shattered his first words. Voices shouted, "Murderers," "Lumumba," "You Ku Klux Klan motherfuckers." Maya Angelou, one of some seventy black American demonstrators, relates that her group had planned to stand silently protesting Lumumba's murder. But the call for protest, bringing several hundred people south from Harlem to midtown Manhattan, had released bitter anger, anger that linked white hypocrisy and indifference to black deaths, whether in Africa or America. Demonstrators on 42nd Street later that evening chanted "Congo yes, Yankee no" before being dispersed by mounted police.'

That same day, according to the New York Times, President Kennedy pledged U.S. support to a new military junta in El Salvador and said he was considering a ban on $80 million of agricultural exports from Cuba. James Reston reported on the highest authority that "the Kennedy administration is not going to allow the communization of the Congo even if it has to intervene militarily to stop it." And U.S. officials said demonstrators around the world "sought wrongly to identify the United States and the United Nations with a killing with which they had nothing to do."'

The officials quoted may have been cynical in their denial. Or perhaps, due to bias or ignorance, they were unable to recognize what was obvious to the demonstrators. In the U.S. political context, the protesters' views could easily be dismissed as extremist, influenced by communist or black-nationalist ideology. Nevertheless, it is indisputable in retrospect that the accusations were correct. The United States government, operating through agencies as diverse as the United Nations and the Central Intelligence Agency, was indeed the leading factor behind Lumumba's removal from office and his assassination.

The dramatically internationalized "Congo crisis" took priority on the agendas of three U.S. presidents -- Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Indeed, the papers on this one country, in the national security files of the Kennedy-Johnson years, outweigh in sheer physical bulk those on all the rest of Africa combined. And the Mobutu regime, which the United States then put in power, became a key component in defining U.S. regional policy. The outcome in the Congo also set back the anticolonial war against Portugal and reinforced a multitude of ethnocentric and cold-war images for Western publics.

It was to the accompaniment of conflict in the Congo that Portugal and Britain played out their own versions of the last stages of colonial rule. And for the United States, this abrupt baptism in crisis management revealed and strengthened assumptions that were to hold sway elsewhere, where the United States was less actively involved.

[full chapter text available at]

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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