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Movie Review: The Devil Came on Horseback

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Photo Credit: Leo Buurman

By now most Americans understand that something awful is happening to the people of Darfur. Relatively few, though, could clearly explain exactly what that is. With an artful simplicity, The Devil Came on Horseback reveals the true scope and horror of the continuing genocide in Darfur. Widely lauded since its debut at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, this fantastic documentary deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

The story is largely told through hundreds of photographs taken by former Marine captain Brian Steidle who worked in Darfur for six months observing a cease-fire for the African Union. While there he witnessed the targeted ethnic cleansing of many thousands of “African” Sudanese at the hands of their Arab government and its proxy militia, the Janjaweed (an Arab colloquialism, “the man with a gun on a horse”).

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The photographs Steidle returned with are unsparing in their revelation of brutality. In one, a charred, contorted corpse is all that remains of a man who had been handcuffed and burned alive. In another, a man lies in a pool of his own blood, castrated and left to bleed to death. Others—many—show children with crushed skulls, their skin rotting off or partially burned away. Torture and rape are commonplace. Whole villages are incinerated following an attack to prevent anyone from returning. The violence is spectacular in its totality and ruthlessness. And through all of this, Steidle and his fellow observers can do nothing. They can neither protect nor evacuate anyone. They are unarmed. They are not allowed to intercede.