Putting the Vice Back in Vice President

Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate may be controversial. But it's safe to say he's probably less trouble than these five veeps.




Accused of: Human rights abuses, drug trafficking

The Tajik former warlord was instrumental in helping allied forces oust the Taliban in 2001 and served for years as President Hamid Karzai’s defense minister, but Karzai’s choice of Mohammad Qasim Fahim as vice president in 2009 raised more than a few eyebrows in Washington. The New York Times reported at the time that the CIA believed Fahim was still closely involved in Afghanistan’s lucrative drug trade and “now had a Soviet-made cargo plane at his disposal that was making flights north to transport heroin through Russia, returning laden with cash.”

This would be particularly worrying if proved true, as Washington was sending millions of dollars in military aid — some of it aimed at combating the drug trade — and U.S. law prohibits sending aid to known drug traffickers. There were also persistent rumors that Fahim had committed human rights abuses during Afghanistan’s civil war. A Human Rights Watch representative described him as “one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.” Nonetheless, U.S. officials have continued to maintain ties with Fahim, and the vice president attended a meeting with President Barack Obama in Kabul in 2010.

An unreleased report commissioned by Karzai reportedly details the involvement of Fahim — along with a number of other senior Afghan officials — in mass killings during the 1980s and 1990s. The report’s release has been indefinitely delayed, and Fahim reportedly demanded punishment for the official responsible for it, reported telling a cabinet meeting, “We should just shoot 30 holes in his face.”




Accused of: Terrorism

On Dec. 19, 2011, the day after the last U.S. troops departed Iraq, the Iraqi government accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi of abetting terrorism in a highly promoted half-hour television special. On the program, a man claiming to have been a bodyguard for Hashimi, said he had been assigned by the vice president to plant bombs throughout Baghdad and assassinate an official from the Foreign Ministry. Hashimi was in semiautonomous Kurdistan at the time, outside the grasp of Iraqi national security forces. He has since taken refuge in Turkey, creating a new source of tension between Baghdad and Ankara.

The charges against Hashimi were difficult to verify, and many saw them as an attempt by Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to push aside a rival. (Hashimi is a prominent Sunni political leader.) Hashimi denied the charges, and in a Dec. 21 interview with Foreign Policy, he argued that “many of Saddam’s behaviors are now being exercised by Maliki.” Hashimi has continued to make foreign trips as vice president of Iraq, though he has been unable to return to Baghdad.




Accused of: Abetting war crimes, attempted assassination

A lawyer and former opposition activist, Ali Osman Taha has been at Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s side since 1989, when the Sudanese president came to power in a military coup. He was promoted from second vice president to first vice president in July 2011 when Salva Kiir stepped down to become president of newly independent South Sudan.  

Taha is suspected by many, including U.S. diplomats, of involvement in a 1995 assassination attempt against Hosni Mubarak, when the Egyptian president was visiting Ethiopia. Mubarak apparently didn’t hold a grudge, however, and according to one diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, he joked about Taha when visiting Khartoum in 2008.

According to International Criminal Court documents, Taha played a key role in organizing the janjaweed militias responsible for attacks of civilians in Darfur. In 2002, he reportedly secured the release of a janjaweed leader who had been jailed on armed robbery charges so the leader could fight the rebels in Darfur. In a 2004 interview with the BBC, Taha dismissed reports that the Sudanese government was responsible for atrocities, saying, “These reports are reports of war, and everywhere there is war, there could be atrocities.”




Accused of: Tax evasion and money laundering

Known for wearing leather jackets, riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and jamming on his guitar with famous Argentine musicians at campaign rallies, Amado Boudou became known as the “rock ‘n’ roll vice president” when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner surprised Argentina’s political establishment by adding him to her ticket when running for reelection in 2011. Since taking office last December, however, Boudou’s tenure has been more Whitewater than Whitesnake.

Prosecutors are investigating Boudou for influence peddling, illegal enrichment, and money laundering in connection with the purchase of a bankrupt printing company. Allegedly, while still a midlevel government official, Boudou helped engineer the purchase of the company by the Old Fund — a shell company connected to him and his friends — and then helped it win a lucrative contract to print the country’s bank notes. Adding another wrinkle to the scandal, Kirchner has announced plans for a government takeover of the company. Some opposition members have implied that the president might herself have been involved in an illegal coverup.

The opposition has demanded that Boudou step down, but the vice president has rejected the charges, blaming a “mafia” led by a leading opposition newspaper and the head of the country’s stock exchange for trying to bring him down. At least he didn’t compare his accusers to the people that cleaned the Nazi gas chambers, as he notoriously called a couple of journalists in 2010. In any event, it’s not the first year the rock-star veep was hoping for.



Sierra Leone

Accused of: Graft, illegal logging

In November 2011, Samuel Sam-Sumana was the target of an Al Jazeera investigation into illegal logging practices in Sierra Leone, where rain forests have been devastated by rampant illicit deforestation in recent years and the government has made forest protection a major priority. In the sting operation, journalists posing as businessmen looking to start a timber export business met with Sam-Sumana and two of his associates. In a later meeting, the two associates promised to secure the vice president’s support for the business in exchange for cash payments. The government of Sierra Leone promised to investigate the charges raised in the video; Sam-Sumana denied any wrongdoing, saying that he knew the men but that they were not advisors and were not authorized to speak on his behalf.

This July, another controversy erupted around the vice president when an opposition newspaper published a letter from the president of a Minneapolis-based diamond company alleging that Sam-Sumana, who went to college in Minnesota, “has not only stolen large amounts of money from the people of  the country he professes to love, but also from former and current business partners in the United States.”

According to the letter’s bizarre tale, Sam-Sumana, when he was a parking lot attendant in Minneapolis, offered to help the businessman, Mark Heiligman, get into the Sierra Leonean diamond business, but took the money provided and used it to fund his political ambitions and those of President Ernest Bai Koroma. According to local media, Heiligman later apologized for making accusations against the president, but the dispute with Sam-Sumana apparently hasn’t yet been resolved. The vice president recently held a news conference aimed at clearing his name.

Joshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

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