© 1998: The Sudan Foundation, Sean Gabb
All opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Sudan Foundation.
"Just who are the terrorists in this case, and why is the British Government supporting acts of incomprehensible barbarity?" (Peter Cockburn, British Businessman, on the American bombing of Sudan, August 1998)1
Dear Mr Blair,
This is an open letter to you from the Sudan Foundation. It is different in nature from most open letters in the sense that it really is open. It is being faxed to you in Downing Street, and is being simultaneously sent out on the Internet to nearly three thousand members of our mailing list and to perhaps ten or twenty thousand other people via the relevant distribution lists and newsgroups. It will then be placed on our Web Page, for permanent inspection. Any reply that you choose to make will be made available in the same way, thereby reaching as many people as read a large regional newspaper. If you do not reply, that fact will also be communicated. In this open letter, we are deliberately focussing on you the attention of thousands upon thousands of people in Britain and throughout the world.
Our purpose in writing is to condemn your uncritical support for President Clinton's 20th August 1998 bombing of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. This left one person dead and many more injured. It was a cold-blooded act of political terror, comparable in nature, if not in scale, to the terrorist killings in Kenya and Tanzania, and to those in Omagh here in Britain. Some observers have compared the al-Shifa bombing to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Certainly, both can be seen as aggressive acts by one independent state against another without any prior declaration of war. The prime difference, though, is that the Japanese bombed the American Pacific Fleet at anchor - a legitimate target. The Americans bombed a medicine factory that the most frantic sophistry has not so far managed to prove was a legitimate target.
Why was the Al-Shifa Factory Bombed by the Americans?
There is an arguable case that the American bombings in Afghanistan were morally justified reprisals for the embassy bombings of earlier this month. Of course, they were wrong under international law - the United Nations unanimously adopted a resolution on the 8th April 1964, declaring such reprisals to be "incompatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations". Of course, more proof would have been appropriate before killing people. But there seems to have been an identifiable connection between the events.
No such case can be made for the al-Shifa factory in Khartoum. No connection has been established with the embassy bombings. No connection has even been credibly been suggested. The Sudanese Foreign Minister has repeatedly condemned the embassy bombings, asserting that These criminal acts of violence do not lead to any goal".2 No one can therefore claim that the Sudanese Government sympathises with terrorism. No one has claimed that the al- Shifa factory was manufacturing explosives of the sorts used in Kenya and Tanzania. No reason has been advanced to justify bombing the factory as any kind of reprisal for the embassy bombings. Instead, we have been told that the factory was involved in the production of chemical weapons, and that this was a good substitute reason for bombing it and calling the act a reprisal. Whatever the truth of this claim, the logic is twisted. Whatever the logic, the claim is almost certainly false.
Chemical Weapons or Aspirin?
The specific claim was that the al-Shifa factory was producing "chemical weapons-related" material. The careful wording of President Clinton's statement is an acknowledgement that the factory was not producing anything that could be classified as a chemical weapon. The Sudanese seem very confident in their claims that it was not. They have left the ruins untouched by the usual salvage crews and are inviting foreign inspection teams to see for themselves. According to Alastair Hay, a chemical pathologist at Leeds University, there would be obvious traces if the factory had been producing the alleged chemicals.3
Even without an inspection, though, there is ample evidence against the American claim. Consider:
* In February 1998, it was claimed in the British Parliament that Sudan was producing chemical weapons for Saddam Hussain. At this time, the British and American Governments were alone among the big powers in taking a strong line against Iraq - even threatening bombings. Even so, your own Ministers stood up in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to declare that there was no evidence that Sudan had any chemical weapons capability.
On the 10th March 1998, for example, replying to Parliamentary questions about allegations of chemical weapons capability in Sudan, Tony Lloyd, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, clearly stated that
the hon. Gentleman mentioned Sudanese chemical warfare capabilities.... The Foreign and Commonwealth Office cannot validate those reports, and is not aware of any fresh or substantiated evidence on the matter.4
On the 19th March 1998, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, stated in the House of Lords that
We are monitoring the evidence closely, but to date we have no evidence to substantiate these claims.... Moreover, we know that some of the claims are untrue.... The defence intelligence staff in the MoD (Ministry of Defence) have similarly written a critique which does not support the report's findings.5
According to a Reuters report from the 17th February, the American Government had already made its own denial of the claims, stating that
[w]e have no credible evidence that Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction technology to other countries since the (1991) Gulf War.
Either vital evidence was not gathered at the time by the British and American intelligence agencies services - and this would merit searching questions about the value of those security agencies - or the Sudanese have acquired a capability in the past five months. The most likely explanation, of course, is that the British and American Governments were telling the truth earlier this year, and are now spreading falsehoods.
* According to several British visitors to Sudan who were familiar with the al-Shifa factory, there was no production there of chemical weapons.
On the 22nd August 1998, Agence Press France reported the comments of Tom Carnaffin, a British engineer who helped to build and equip the factory. He also worked there as a technical manager for four years. He said that it could not have been used to manufacture chemical weapons. He is reported as saying: "I have intimate knowledge of that factory and it just does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons."
He also said he doubted the US claim that the factory was manufacturing chemical-warfare related material in the veterinary part of the factory:
I have intimate knowledge of that part of the establishment and unless there have been some radical changes in the last few months it just isn't equipped to cope with the demands of chemical weapon manufacturing.
You need things like airlocks but this factory just has doors leading out onto the street.
In the days following the bombing, Irwin Armstrong, a British film journalist, added his voice to the doubters. He filmed there in August 1997, and confirmed that, while he did come across several areas in Sudan that were subject to heavy security, the as-Shifa factory was fully open to inspection. There were none of the restricted areas and special protections that one would associate with a military function. 6
Peter Cockburn, another British visitor to the factory, has expressed his own doubts very forcefully:
I was courteously received and shown round every area [in March 1998]. I recognised it as a normal factory for the production of simple pharmaceutical products - syrups for humans, powders for goats and camels.7
The CNN reporters in Khartoum have also expressed severe doubts. They were given unrestricted access to the ruins of the factory, and all they found were bottles of aspirin and anti-biotics.
* Again according to CNN - reporting on the Internet on the 22nd August 1998 - Ghazi Suleiman, the attorney for Salah Idris, owner of El Shifa
Pharmaceutical Industries Co., said that his client did not know Osama bin Laden and has no political affiliation; and he repeated that the factory produced only drugs, not chemical weapons. He said:
"I think the Americans are under bad information and they are not well briefed.... I think it would have been prudent before destroying the plant to come and investigate the site."
Mr Suleiman's is a voice to be respected on this point, as he has no love for the present Government of Sudan. He is a leading opponent of that Government, and spent 25 days in detention earlier this year.
Against this solid wall of doubt, the Americans have brought forward no positive evidence worthy of the name. They have claimed that they have evidence, but have declined so far to produce it.8
Sudan: A Haven for Terrorists?
The specific claim dismissed, let us move to the general claim against Sudan - that it is harbouring terrorists. Even if true, this would not justify the bombing of the al-Shifa factory. But, for the record, let us remind you that there is no evidence to justify putting Sudan on a list of countries that includes Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea. These are countries with proven records of State-sponsored international terrorism. Against, Sudan, however, there is no such proof. There may be claims and suspicions - and the State Department's literature is full of these - but there is no proof.
It is a matter of fact that after having listed Sudan in 1993 as a sponsor of terrorism the American Government admitted that it had no evidence justify that listing. This was confirmed by former President Jimmy Carter:
In fact, when I later asked an assistant secretary of state he saidthey did not have any proof, butthere were strong allegations. I think there is too much of an inclination in this country to look at Muslims as inherently terrorist or inherently against the West.9
Indeed, the State Department accepts this, admitting this a year later in its reports - that
There is no evidence that Sudan... conducted or sponsored a single act of terrorism in 1994.10
Not only has the Sudanese Government consistently denounced terrorism, it has also assisted very materially in the war against it. It was the Sudanese government who identified, arrested and extradited the arch- international terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, otherwise known as "Carlos", to France in 1995. In May 1996, the Sudanese Government expelled Osama bin Laden at the request of the United States and Britain.
The one verifiable claim against Sudan is that for a while, following its interpretation of Islamic law, it allowed free entry to all Arab nationals, and that many thousands of people entered and settled in Sudan, and that some of these were members of radical Palestinian groups. However, the Sudanese Government always denied given any official support to such groups; and its open border policy has been ended.
And even if the government of Sudan did allow various radical groupings to organise politically, how would that differ from many other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom?
Britain gives refuge to large numbers of dissidents from the Middle East - some of them terrorists. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times have made this point embarrassingly clear in their reports. Osama bin Laden's activities appear to have moved to London following his expulsion from Khartoum. Complaints have been made by the Israeli, the Saudi and French Governments, among others, that London has become a safe haven for the plotting and directing of terrorist outrages abroad. In the wake of the November 1997 terrorist murders at Luxor, the Egyptian President accused Britain, not Sudan, of harbouring the terrorist leaders responsible:
Terrorists are present and living on English territory... where they collect funds and plan.11
The British Government's response is that such people are only obliged to obey British law.
The United States also plays host to terrorist groups. As we in Britain know too well, it has been a refuge for many IRA terrorists, and the leader of the political wing of the IRA has even been invited to the White House to shake hands with President Clinton. Otherwise, the United States sponsored what by its own legal definition amounts to international terrorism in Afghanistan and in Central America, and it is presently training and arming what are by the same definition terrorists in Sudan: American military personnel are involved in training Sudanese guerillas in Eritrea and Uganda.
Yet neither Britain nor the United States are listed by the State Department as sponsors of international terrorism! The fact is that the United States is guilty of double standards and hypocrisy in its selective accusations of terrorism. It seems that a terrorist state is defined in practice as a state that is not liked by the United States. Sudan has the misfortune to be such a state. Its Government is not popular in Washington, and the American State has made strong efforts at many levels to overthrow it.
Why Did the Americans Bomb Khartoum?
The real answer to this question is embarrassingly short. President Clinton is under seige in the White House. His inability to translate his lectures on "family values" into practice has led to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He needed a foreign diversion from this scandal. Bombing any facility in Sudan doubtless seemed a good idea at the time. Probably Mr Clinton never even paused to think of the human costs.
Why Did You support the American Bombing?
Within hours of the American attack, you went on television to give your uncritical support for President Clinton. You did not need to do this. No other world leader was so supportive. We have excellent reason to believe that you were not consulted by President Clinton before the bombing, and that he did not explain his reasons afterwards. Without being told the reasons - perhaps without bothering to ask for them, you went on record as British Prime Minister to support an act of state terrorism.
In the 1980s, many of your colleagues in the Labour Party denounced Margaret Thatcher for her close personal alliance with President Reagan. In truth, she was often a restraining influence on American foreign policy. After the invasion of Grenada in 1983, she was even openly critical. For all the abuse heaped on her by the Labour leaders of the day, she acted as a watchdog for President Reagan. We had to wait for your election, Mr Blair, before we could really see a British Prime Minister act as a poodle for the American President.
What Have You Achieved by Supporting this Act of Terrorism?
By supporting President Clinton, you have recklessly endangered 60 million British lives. You have associated us with an act of state terrorism that has appalled the entire Islamic world. Muslims high and low, of all persuasions, in dozens of countries, have denounced us. The Sudanese have withdrawn their Ambassador from London. Other Islamic countries may follow suit. Our television screens are filled with images of mobs chanting "Death to America and Death to Britain". We have seen Union Flags burned. The Foreign Office has warned British citizens against visiting Islamic countries. There are rumours of terrorist reprisals in London as well as in Washington - reprisals that might indeed involve chemical or biological weapons.
More tangibly, you have damaged commercial relations with Sudan and perhaps the entire Islamic world. British companies are closely involved in the Sudanese market. As already said, the al-Shifa factory was built with British involvement. How will these British companies retain the good will of their Sudanese customers and partners when the British Government has associated itself with an act of naked terror?
Britain is poised on the edge of a recession. The last thing this country needs at present is a disruption of commercial relations with a country like Sudan - a vast country of a million square miles brimming with economic potential. What have you to say to those British workers who will lose their jobs because of your support for President Clinton?
A Moral Foreign Policy?
When the Labour Party came to power in May 1997, we were promised that British foreign policy would in future rest on a solid foundation of morality, rather than on the shifting sands of immediate interest. Where is that morality now? Where is the morality in supporting an act of terror that cannot not be justified, but which can be explained as an attempt to divert American opinion from a sordid scandal? Why have you chosen to accept the word of a president who has spent the last year or so lying, dissembling and perjuring himself in order to sustain himself in office? President Clinton appears to be as reluctant to submit the Khartoum factory to independent tests as he appeared to be about independent tests of Monica Lewinsky's dress.
Where is even the immediate interest? Are we so desperate for the good will of President Clinton that we can just throw away what credibility and friendship we retain in the Islamic world?
We denounce you for supporting the American bombing of Khartoum. We call on you for a full explanation. Failing that, we call on you for a full and open apology to the people of Sudan.
Director The Sudan Foundation
London 25th September 1998
1. Letter to the Editor, The Daily Telegraph, London, 22nd August 1998.
2. Mustafa Osman Ismail, Sudanese Foreign Minister, according to an Agence Presse France release of the 8th August 1998.
3. "CIA 'has residue for Shifa plant'", The Guardian, London, 25th August 1998.
4. House of Commons Hansard, 10th March 1998, col. 462.
5. House of Lords Official Report, 19th March 1998, cols. 818-820. Back to document
6. Shown on BBC One Television News several times during the 24th August 1998.
7. Letter to the Editor, The Daily Telegraph, London, 22nd August 1998.
8. "Iraq linked to suspected VX plant in Sudan", The Times, London, 25th August 1998.
9. The Independent, London 17th September 1993.
10. Patterns of Global Terrorism, State Department, Washington DC, 1995, p.23.
11. Mubarak's terrorist claim angers Britain, The Daily Telegraph, London, 24th November 1997.>
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