Accuracy in Media

On September 21, in videotaped testimony that was aired worldwide, President Clinton was jousting with prosecutors over lies he told about sex with Monica Lewinsky. At about the same time, he was giving a speech to the United Nations that dealt with terrorism. Coverage on CNN showed the president getting a standing ovation, as if he had command of foreign affairs. But here, too, the Clinton Administration was caught with its pants down. It was exposed of having seriously misled the American people – and the world.

As President Clinton prepared to lecture the United Nations on the matter of terrorism, evidence was mounting that the recent U.S. military attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory was completely unjustified. A front page story that day in the New York Times revealed that the administration’s case for bombing the factory was falling apart, to the point where one official said, “As an American citizen, I am not convinced of the evidence.” The Times quoted other officials as saying they, too, doubted the administration’s case. These officials may be reluctant to come forward publicly and identify themselves because they would be likely to lose their jobs. This administration doesn’t look kindly on whistleblowers.

Administration officials initially claimed that the facility was linked to terrorism and was making ingredients for chemical weapons. But their story soon changed. They now admit that a chemical they found in a soil sample may only have been stored at the plant. And they won’t produce the results of the soil test or the soil itself for further examination. Sudan has requested an international investigation of the plant site. The U.S. has rejected that request.

When former President Jimmy Carter called for an impartial investigation of the plant site, the administration rejected that, too, saying it was not necessary. To put it charitably, this looks like a massive intelligence failure which has resulted in the United States inflicting suffering on many innocent people. The administration reaction has been cover-up, evasions and misrepresentations. Sound familiar?

The Times story, which was written by Tim Weiner and James Risen, found some other significant information. It disclosed that in January 1996, the CIA had formally withdrawn more than 100 of its intelligence reports on the Sudan after concluding that their source was a fabricator. After this, the CIA closed down its intelligence operation in Sudan. This further eroded the U.S. ability to gather information. These revelations add to the strong belief that the United States blew up the wrong building when it hit that pharmaceutical plant.

Some conservatives initially applauded the strike, thinking they represented a long-overdue attack on terrorists. There is no question that the administration has been reluctant to hold state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran accountable for their actions. But it appears that the administration has misrepresented the evidence for the attack on the Sudan and may now be obstructing justice in the search for the truth. This may not be an impeachable offense, but it appears to be a gross violation of the international law the administration claims to respect.

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