Kathleen Parker

Obiang, president since 1979, has long been known as ruthless and corrupt, but was largely ignored by the West because, well, who cared about Equatorial Guinea? The former Spanish colony was of little importance until liquid gold was discovered near Bioko Island in the mid-1990s.

Suddenly, Obiang was a hail-fellow-well-met, a "good friend" of the U.S., according to Secretary of State Condi Rice, who in 2006 welcomed Obiang to Washington, where he owns two houses. His flamboyant, playboy Lamborghini-driving son, Teodoro, is a Malibu neighbor of Hollywood stars. President Bush reopened the U.S. Embassy in EG in 2003.

One may argue that a fellow who gets involved in overthrowing corrupt governments accepts a certain risk. But one might also insist that even men who live dangerously deserve due process and an assurance of basic human rights.

This is unfamiliar terminology to prisoners at Black Beach prison where disease, torture, starvation and death are commonplace. Amnesty International has reported the imprisonment of a woman -- wife of an imprisoned political dissident -- who shares a cell with 80-100 men without bathroom facilities or privacy. According to Amnesty International, her crime has yet to be determined.

Mann is believed to be shackled and handcuffed 24 hours a day and kept in solitary confinement. Others in his group who preceded him to Black Beach are believed similarly restrained.

Why should anyone care about Simon Mann? After all, thousands of people with no private wealth or social connections are daily tortured, languish and die in third-world prisons.

The answer may be because you have to start somewhere. Simon Mann puts a high-profile name and face on horror where a woman corralled unprotected with 100 men slips through the cracks.

Confounding matters is the fact that Americans are divided as to what constitutes torture and when torture is appropriate. "Never" is the only answer in a nation that reserves the right to express moral outrage when others do the unthinkable.

The world's eyes are on Obiang. With Simon Mann -- and the poor woman down the hall -- Obiang has an opportunity to prove critics wrong about his rule of inhumanity, and the West has a chance to make good on its pledges to protect human rights.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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