The U.S. bombed the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan because of its alleged link to terrorist Osama bin Laden, who was blamed for the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa. But as the New York Times noted on August 25th, a link between bin Laden and the plant company is completely circuitous. The U.S. is now claiming that he had “financial ties to Sudan’s state-run military industrial complex,” which was itself linked to the plant.
But was the plant a “chemical weapons-related facility,” as President Clinton claimed? The U.S. charge now boils down to one central claim: that a soil sample collected outside the plant contained a chemical used to make VX nerve gas. U.S. officials now won’t even claim that the chemical was manufactured at the plant. It may have only been stored or moved through there. At the same time, the New York Times has reported that this chemical has a benign use, and that the chemical may actually have been an ingredient in herbicides such as Roundup. The U.S. has not provided that soil sample for outside testing and is resisting calls for an international inspection of the plant site.
This doesn’t sound like much to base an attack that resulted in injuries to ten people and a reported $100 million in damage. The plant supplied 60 percent of the medicine consumed in Sudan, a poor nation hit hard by war and famine. Originally, of course, U.S. officials denied that the plant was making any civilian products at all, and that it was strictly a front for chemical weapons production. Publicly, both Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated flatly that the plant was producing the precursors to VX nerve gas.
But let’s go back even further in history. Immediately after the strike, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said the U.S. had “physical evidence” that the factory had produced the chemical but that the evidence couldn’t be made public without compromising intelligence sources. He said he couldn’t even describe the evidence. The subsequent description of this so-called “evidence” has only compromised the credibility of President Clinton and his top aides.
In an August 27th report, ABC News Pentagon correspondent John McWethy noted that an “intense internal review” was underway in the Pentagon over how and why the factory got selected as a target. The review, he said, suggests strong “doubts” about the attack. McWethy noted that U.S. officials were “backing off” their original claims about the nature of the facility and that “holes” were developing in the administration’s case.
Americans cheered the missile strikes, thinking the U.S. was staging a blow against terrorists. There were some concerns about “wagging the dog,” an effort to divert attention from Clinton’s personal scandals, but they were dismissed. However, this appears to be much more than wagging the dog. In the movie, the president’s allies create a phony war to distract our attention. In the case of Sudan, wagging the dog has hurt a lot of innocent people. We have been misled, but the sick and starving people of Sudan may pay with their lives.