WASHINGTON – Captured by a ruthless African guerrilla group, 12-year-old Jacob Acaye refused to cry as members of the Lord's Resistance Army killed his older brother as an example for those who try to escape.
"So I was to pretend and see as if I'm liking what they are doing, which was so hard in my sight," Acaye said, pausing to collect himself as he described the horrific ordeal in 2001.
Acaye (Uh-chai), now 21 and working for a law firm in his native Uganda, testified Tuesday before a Senate panel examining the U.S. effort to help capture warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in its 26-year campaign of terror in central Africa marked by child abductions and widespread killings.
The hearing came one day after President Barack Obama announced that the United States will continue its deployment of 100 American troops — mostly Army Special Forces — to Central Africa to advise regional forces hunting for Kony. The military move made last October has strong bipartisan support in Congress.
Obama administration officials from the State and Defense departments offered an update during Tuesday's hearing on the search for Kony. But it was the testimony of Acaye and Jolly Okot, who was abducted in 1986 and forced into sex slavery, that drew rapt attention.
Acaye said it was around midnight that members of the LRA took him after breaking down the door where he and his cousin were sleeping in their village of Koro. His parents could do nothing. After a 90-mile walk over three days, Acaye met up with his brother, another abductee. His joy at finding his brother alive turned to sorrow a week later when the boy tried to escape, was caught and killed.
Acaye eventually gained the trust of another LRA leader and, when they neared the border of South Sudan, he managed to escape to a displacement camp. Authorities helped him return to his village. Education, with the help of advocacy groups such as Invisible Children, transformed his life.
"I am happy to pay forward what has been done in my life to many who still need the same," said Acaye, who became well-known in the video by the group Invisible Children that went viral on the Internet, viewed by some 100 million people. In the video, Acaye expressed little hope of a better future.
Okot now works for Invisible Children as the country director, helping children attend school.
"As much as I try to transform my community in a different way, I'm still filled with guilt of what I did more than 20 years ago as a child and as a child soldier," she said.
In the hunt for Kony, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly the subcommittee on African Affairs, have ratcheted up the pressure in recent weeks. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the panel's chairman, has introduced 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, also known as LRA, a terrorist organization in 2001. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for heinous attacks in multiple countries.
"Joseph Kony epitomizes the worst of mankind and evil in the modern day," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the subcommittee.
Kony's whereabouts are unknown. Coons asked about reports that Kony might be seeking sanctuary in Sudan.
"We have been following very closely the reports and allegations that the Khartoum government is supporting the LRA. For some time, we have not seen the evidence. We are looking," said Donald Yamamoto, deputy secretary of State for African Affairs.
Yamamoto said all leads are being followed. "And if we do find verifiable evidence, we are going to act on it immediately."