WASHINGTON – Joseph Kony's days are numbered as offers of amnesty have produced better intelligence on the brutal African warlord's whereabouts, a top senator said Wednesday as lawmakers signaled they will push for expanding the State Department's rewards for justice program to target the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.
"The noose is beginning to tighten," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who traveled to central Africa earlier this month and met with U.S. military advisers and Africans in the hunt for Kony.
The warlord and his ruthless guerrilla group, the Lord's Resistance Army, are responsible for a 26-year campaign of terror in Central Africa that has been marked by child abductions and widespread killings. Last year, President Barack Obama dispatched 100 U.S. troops — mostly Army Special Forces — to Central Africa to advise regional forces in their hunt for Kony, a military move that received strong bipartisan support.
In recent weeks, Kony has become a household name as a video by the group Invisible Children went viral on the Internet, viewed by some 100 million people.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly the subcommittee on African Affairs, focused on Kony long before the video but have ratcheted up the pressure in recent weeks. At Wednesday's hearing, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he will introduce legislation to expand the rewards for justice program to include individuals like Kony.
The program, established in 1984, gives the Secretary of State the authority to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone who plans, commits or attempts international terrorist acts. The amount of the reward would be at the secretary's discretion. The Kerry bill would expand that authority to allow the State Department to publicize and pay rewards for information about individuals involved in transnational organized crime or foreign nationals wanted by any international criminal tribunal for war crimes or genocide.
The United States designated the Lord's Resistance Army a terrorist organization in 2001. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for heinous attacks in multiple countries.
In nearly 30 years, the United States has paid more than $100 million to more than 70 people for information about terrorism.
"He's been a nightmare for too many people for too long," Kerry, who plans to introduce the measure on Thursday, said of Kony.
"Information is a powerful tool, and with these authorities, we can help bring brutal and dangerous fugitives to justice," the senator said in a statement. "Experience has shown that these kinds of programs promote tips and leads that lead to arrests and make the criminal activities themselves more difficult. It's a sound investment in international stability and it sends a message to brutal thugs like Kony that their days are numbered and they can only hide out for so long before they join the list of murderers brought to justice."
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the subcommittee, said the reward offer would be "another tool in the toolkit."
In reporting on his trip, Isakson said Kony is still alive but African and U.S. forces are closer to finding him than they've ever been. The senator, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said one of the most promising moves has been the distribution of leaflets in the region offering amnesty to those who offer information about Kony's location. He also praised the Ugandan leadership for providing troops to search for Kony.
Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the panel that the Obama administration is committed to working with African nations to bring Kony and the remnants of his organization to justice. Carson said the Lord's Resistance Army has about 150-250 members dispersed among four or five group operating in the region.
He said the United States is providing radios and cell phones to a number of communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said Congress, through the defense bill, has provided $35 million to aid in the search.
"It's helped to degrade it, disperse it, but we've not finished the mission of decapitating it," Carson said.
In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of 43 senators led by Coons and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has backed a resolution condemning Kony. The measure also endorses the effort by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan to stop him and the Lord's Resistance Army. It signals support for the U.S. effort to help regional forces pursue commanders of the militia group.
Coons and several other senators plan to release a video on Thursday on the U.S. support for the efforts to capture Kony. Among those appearing in the video are Kerry, Isakson, Inhofe and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
Invisible Children, a small California group that fights against African war atrocities, has designated Friday, April 20, as a day of action to raise awareness about Kony.