Trump Campaign Manager’s Firm Turned Blind Eye to Burma Rapes
When Jim Murphy was at DCI Group, the K Street firm distributed ‘propaganda’ insisting Burma’s military junta was not using rape as a weapon of war. It was.
Since the Orlando shootings, Donald Trump has taken to maligning immigrants as misogynistic and touting his allegedly legendary abilities to protect women. He cherishes them, he loves to say; he will keep them safe.
But his newest big hire is a K Street veteran whose old firm once enthusiastically defended a military junta that used rape as a weapon of war—and tried to malign the reputations of the human rights’ groups that worked to protect women and girls from the military rapists.
Jim Murphy, who became Trump’s new national political director earlier this month, was a managing partner at JLM Consulting when Trump hired him. Previously, he was a managing partner at the DCI Group lobbying firm from June 2002 until June 2012. For his last four years there, according to his LinkedIn page, he was also president. The firm is famous for making fake “smokers’ rights groups” to defend Big Tobacco, and for creating an astroturf campaign in favor of Social Security privatization (a campaign that belly-flopped).
In 2002, when Jim Murphy was a managing partner there, the DCI Group worked for a the Burmese military government. As part of that work, it issued press releases saying the country’s military wasn’t responsible for systematically raping ethnic minority women.
Just one problem: Reports from activists on the ground and from the U.S. State Department indicate that the military was, in fact, using rape as a weapon of war when DCI represented it—and still does so to this day. One former U.S. official who worked in Burma while DCI contracted with the country’s government said the firm’s statements on the issue were “propaganda” and “baloney”—all in defense of a military regime that human rights activists held responsible for the systematic rape, torture, and murder of countless ethnic minority women.
Filings with the Department of Justice, available on its Foreign Agents Registration Act database, show the DCI Group took the Burmese government as a client on May 13, 2002. They terminated the contract on Jan. 31, 2003. DCI spokesman Craig Stevens gave The Daily Beast this statement regarding their work for the government:
“When the company engaged with the government 14 years ago, we required certain benchmarks be met—when they were not, we quit the contract after just a few months. Of course, we abhor the horrors of war and oppression, especially physical or sexual violence against women and children. Today, like all Americans, we are pleased to watch as Myanmar continues to evolve as a democracy and in the expansion of civil and human rights.”
When it was a client of DCI’s, the Burmese government faced accusations that it was responsible for more than 100 brutal rapes of ethnic minority women. The country had been (and still is) embroiled in a decades-long civil war pitting its military junta government against armed groups and militias. And countless innocent women and girls were caught in the crossfire.
On June 19, 2002, the Shan Women’s Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation jointly released a report titled “License to Rape: The Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State.”
The report concluded that the Burmese military was responsible for acts of sexual violence that are comparable in brutality to what ISIS does today. It documented 173 cases of members of the Burmese military—often officers—using rape or other sexual attacks against women in the country’s eastern Shan state in their efforts to subjugate insurrectionist groups. The examples detailed occurred mostly between 1996 and 2001, before DCI took on Burma as a client.
Military officers committed 83 percent of the rapes documented, and the report found these attacks were often in front of their troops. Only one perpetrator was ever punished. Many victims were subsequently tortured, beaten, and killed. In some cases, military members displayed the women’s dead bodies.
In 10 cases, officers passed on the women they raped to their own troops, who gang raped or killed them. In some cases, troops beat rape victims, held plastic bags over their heads, or cut their breasts off. In one case, they displayed the body of a dead 12-year-old girl they had raped and refused to let her relatives bury her.
“She must be kept like this as an example for your people of Shan State to see,” troops said. “If you bury her you must die with her.”
In another case, 10 soldiers spent eight hours gang-raping a woman who was seven months pregnant. They took away her husband, who she never saw him again, and she gave birth shortly after the attacks. In another case, a soldier tied up and raped a 5-year-old girl, leaving her sexual organs bloodied. He was never punished.
The report drew international outrage. Kelley Currie, a former State Department official who worked on Burma policy and is now a senior fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, said the report had enormous significance.
“It was the first, most authoritative report on that,” she said. “It was so comprehensive—it was so well-researched, to an international standard in terms of human rights research—that it led the State Department to conduct their own investigation of the charges.”
The subsequent State Department investigation corroborated the findings of “License to Rape.”
Adam Simpson, of the Indo-Pacific Governance Research Centre at Australia’s University of Adelaide, said no serious criticism of the report ever emerged.
“There’s no credible argument that this report produced anything other than documentary evidence of the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war,” he said.
That didn’t stop DCI. The firm distributed numerous press releases—publicly available on the State Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act database—to try to destroy the credibility of the report, and of the groups that produced it.
For example, the headline of a press release from July 10, 2002, read, “Myanmar Government Denounces Smear Campaign Orchestrated By Groups Allied With Drug Trade: Charges of Rape and Abuse ‘Are Complete Falsehood.’”
The same press release quoted government spokesman Col. Hla Min saying the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women’s Action Network had “close ties” to the Shan United Revolutionary Army, which it described as a narco-terrorist group. It concluded by calling the report “horrific and false allegations.”
A July 30, 2002 release also took aim at the Shan human rights groups that produced the report and said the government “never ordered, supported, or condoned rape.” And a release dated Nov. 4, 2002, quoted Burmese government spokesperson Col. Hla Min saying, “Violence against women is not now nor has it ever been a policy or practice of our government.”
A final press release dated Dec. 23, 2002 was titled “Myanmar Government Denounces Rape in Strongest Possible Terms.”
It came out five days after the release of a State Department report that backed the findings of “License to Rape” and criticizing the military junta for using rape as a weapon of war. That report, based on a preliminary investigation, found a dozen women who said credibly that members of the military raped them.
“All of the victims under 15 appeared severely traumatized by their experiences, were disturbed mentally, and spoke in whispers, if at all,” a press release about State’s report said. “The older women sobbed violently as they recalled horrific incidents of their own rapes as well as brutal rapes, torture, and execution of family members. While these interviews are necessarily anecdotal, we note the consistency of the stories across three different locations, among differing groups of women.”
DCI’s press release countered the State Department, saying their report was just a rehash of the Shan rights’ groups allegations to “further attack and isolate Myanmar.”
Priscilla Clapp, who was chief of mission and permanent charge d’affairs at America’s embassy in Burma from 1999 to 2002, said DCI’s assertions that human rights groups were just fronting for narco-terrorists were absurd—and that their assertions that their client wasn’t responsible for the rape of ethnic minority women were “baloney.”
“Some military units clearly viewed rape as a legitimate means of demoralizing and degrading their enemies,” she said. “Yes, that was used. It still is, unfortunately.”
“In reality, the military government was using violence against everybody, not just women,” she continued. “The army was an equal-opportunity violence machine, aimed at men, women, and children.”
Currie added that when Burma’s government signed with DCI, they were among the world’s worst regimes.
“There were almost no authoritarian dictatorships out there that were worse than the Burmese junta 2002,” she said. “They were bottom of the barrel. There weren’t many: Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, a few come to mind. But they were pretty awful.”
On top of that, Currie and Clapp both noted that the military itself profited from narco-trafficking.
Currie noted that DCI had little success selling Congress on Burma’s military junta.
“The Burmese were not happy with the results,” she said. “You can only put so much lipstick on a pig, and they didn’t have a very good story to sell.”
“It basically backfired with the Hill,” she said. “There was no way to paint that military government in a favorable light.”
“DCI was using propaganda they got from Burmese military intelligence, specifically Hla Min, the military intelligence spokesman,” she added. “They weren’t out there finding the information themselves.”
And their information was bad. But that didn’t keep Trump’s political director’s old lobbying firm from using it to malign human rights activists and defend rapists.