Two days out from the Iowa Caucus, most campaigns spent time with voters. Ben Carson’s team spent time with a man who has been accused of being a human organ smuggler.
Carson’s campaign touted the meeting in a press release on Saturday announcing that General Bob Dees, the campaign’s Christian-crusading chairman, had met with Hashim Thaci, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo. The meeting allegedly highlighted the “special relationship between the Republic of Kosovo and Iowa,” according to the press release, largely predicated on the recent opening of a Kosovo consulate in Des Moines.
“Having served in Kosovo during my U.S. Army career, I was honored to represent Dr. Carson and the campaign, and delighted to meet with meet with Deputy Prime Minister Thaci,” Dees said in the statement. “I look forward to seeing even greater cooperation between Kosovo and the United States, and Iowa is the perfect state to be the bedrock of that relationship.”
If his excitement wasn’t enough, Carson himself also shared some thoughts on the meeting.
“Kosovo’s history is a testament to the resiliency of its people,” Carson said. “This new consulate also demonstrates that when the United States and its NATO allies commit to the fight for peace and liberty, it can have profound effects for victims of violence and oppression. All Americans should be proud to see this vibrant relationship that has developed between Iowa and Kosovo, and I look forward to seeing this friendship and cooperation grow in the years to come.”
The press release somewhat conveniently neglects to mention that Thaci, was named as the head of an Albanian group which smuggled drugs, weapons and human organs through Eastern Europe, according to a 2010 Council of Europe inquiry into organized crime.
According to a report from The Guardian on the two-year inquiry, Thaci allegedly headed up a network that operated criminal rackets prior to the Kosovo war in the late 1990s. He is accused of having used “violent control” over the heroin trade in the region and individuals within his inner circle were accused of taking captives across the Albanian border after the war, killing them and taking their kidneys to be sold on the black market.
Thaci, in his capacity as a co-founder of the Kosovo Liberation Army, was also accused of ordering killings from a professional hit man responsible for at least 11 contract murders. The KLA was also linked to as the culprit in an alleged organ trafficking case in 2008 during which organs were allegedly taken from impoverished victims at a clinic in the region. A 2003 United Nations report named the KLA as being responsible for the abduction of hundreds of Serbians, many of whom had their organs extracted and died.
When asked about whether the campaign knew of Thaci’s past criminal activities, Carson’s communications director Larry Ross seemed confused.
“The campaign wasn't aware that prior to his positions in government, Mr. Thaci served in the Kosovo Liberation Army,” Ross first told The Daily Beast.
“Just as Dr. Carson's life story involves redemption from anger, one's past doesn't have to dictate or determine one's future.” It’s unclear if that applies to people who steal organs as well.
When pressed about specifically whether the campaign was aware of the organ smuggling allegations, Ross reversed course.
“My response should have read: The campaign WAS aware that prior to his positions in government, Mr. Thaci served in the Kosovo Liberation Army,” Ross said in an email.
According to a newly released Des Moines Register poll, Carson is at 10 percent in Iowa behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, following a calamitous drop in his numbers as 2015 drew to a close.
While the numbers don’t look good for the former neurosurgeon, there were no questions in the poll about Iowans opinions of organ smuggling.