In a classic English children's story, one character lectures another on the flexibility of language. “When I use a word,” he says, “it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.” "Can you really make words mean so many things?" she asks.
In Mauritania, it’s clear that the military junta that seized power from a democratically elected government in August does intend for words to mean so many things. Under international pressure to release President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who was put under house arrest after the coup, the generals announced last month that Mr. Abdallahi had been freed and released to his family.
But as with the children's story, their use of language is flexible. Yes, he was freed from detention in the capital Nouakchott, only to be put back in detention in his hometown of Lemden. He is forced to remain there, visitors are screened, and a force of police and military personnel are always present. So what is the meaning of “release?”
The junta’s foot-dragging continues in other ways as well. Its leader, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has said repeatedly that the military doesn’t plan to hold on to power in the West African nation for long. Yet it keeps putting off setting a date for promised new elections and restoring constitutional order.
The United States has and continues to condemn the coup in the strongest terms. It opposes any attempt by military elements to change governments through extra-constitutional means. The military should release Mr. Abdallahi – both in word and deed – and restore the legitimate constitutional, democratically elected government now.