The ATLANTA JOURNAL & CONSTITUTION, September 26, 2001
The HARTFORD COURANT (SUNDAY), September 30, 2001;
The MONTREAL GAZETTE, September 29, 2001
Distributed through the LOS ANGELES TIMES–WASHINGTON POST News Syndicate
“A ‘War on Terrorism’ and the Betrayal of Southern Sudan
by Eric Reeves
America has begun an arduous “war on terrorism,” and the justice of our cause can hardly be disputed. But one of the ugliest consequences of such a war will be the betrayal of moral principle amidst the fierce lust for intelligence about various terrorist groups. For some of the intelligence offered to the US will come from regimes that are themselves complicit in terrorism. And they will offer the intelligence we want only if we abandon people and causes deserving of our profoundest national commitment. Nowhere is this truer than in Sudan.
Sudan’s ongoing agony is simply unimaginable. The extremist National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum has for over a decade waged a brutal war against the African peoples of southern Sudan, who follow traditional religions or Christian faiths. This regime has repeatedly declared a “jihad” against the south, engaging in compulsory Islamization and attempting to impose “shari’a” (Islamic law). Khartoum also wishes to control the abundant natural resources of the south. In the most recent phase of Sudan’s civil war, more than 2 million human beings have perished, overwhelmingly civilians in the south. As many as 5 million more have been uprooted. Colin Powell declared to Congress last spring that “there is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth than Sudan.”
The war conducted by Khartoum is itself a fearsome campaign of terror. Among the barbarous features of this campaign are the relentless bombings of civilian and humanitarian targets throughout the south; the denial of food aid to starving people as a weapon of war; the abetting of a ghastly trade in human slavery; and massive scorched-earth warfare in the oil regions located primarily in the south.
Revenues from the large oil fields secured by these terrible tactics, and operated by callous foreign oil companies, sustain the Khartoum regime—a regime that the State Department recently declared continues to offer “safe haven [to] members of various groups, including associates of Usama Bin Ladin’s al-Qaida organization.” Indeed, Sudan gave Osama bin Laden safe haven from 1991 to 1996, and offered him numerous lucrative opportunities in construction, banking, and agriculture. He was also allowed to develop elaborate terrorist training bases.
One might think that Sudan’s connection to terrorism, and its genocidal war on the peoples of the south, would make it a high-profile target in the “war on terrorism.” In fact, just the opposite has occurred. How can this be?
Precisely because of its terrorist past, a fearful Khartoum has self-interestedly offered the US some potentially important intelligence leads. Significant—but we shouldn’t forget that the regime suddenly so cooperative has until recently been instrumental in propagating world terrorism. Is this regime to be forgiven all past complicity in terrorism because they have now decided, under the clear threat of American military and diplomatic resolve, to be more cooperative?
This is a tough question for the Bush administration. Perhaps the most telling indication of their answer is the decision to put on hold the Sudan Peace Act. This bill is the only legislative response anywhere in the world that has a chance of pressuring Khartoum to end Sudan’s terrible civil war. Passed overwhelmingly by the House (422 to 2), the Sudan Peace Act would deny those oil companies that are sustaining Khartoum access to US capital markets: they would be de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange.
In addition to pressuring Khartoum to negotiate an end to the world’s most destructive civil conflict, the Sudan Peace Act would also provide continuing non-military pressure on Khartoum to abandon completely its support for terrorism. We must remember that the value of whatever intelligence Khartoum is now providing will be vitiated if there is no long-term pressure on the regime to end what has been over a decade of support for terrorism.
But instead of supporting the Sudan Peace Act, the Bush administration has recently demanded that the House Republican leadership put the bill on indefinite hold. The bill is now in limbo, and the White House seems intent on insuring that it will not emerge before Congress recesses for the year.
No one can dispute the compelling need to combat the deadly scourge of international terrorism. We must defend our nation and the task is a daunting one, given the shadowy existence of our enemies.
But if our commitment to a war on terrorism takes the form of abandoning people like those of southern Sudan; if it entails looking away from longstanding patterns of support for terrorism such as we see in Khartoum; if we lose all sense of proportion and moral commitment in our fight against terrorism, then we will be handing the terrorists of September 11th a victory.
[Eric Reeves, professor of English at Smith College, is completing a book on Sudan.]