In a series of statements and reports, all now available on the US State Department website [http://www.state.gov/p/af/ci/su/c9101.htm], the State Department and the White House seek to justify the April 21, 2003 Presidential certification that the Khartoum regime is “engaged in good faith peace negotiations,” and is not “unreasonably interfering with humanitarian efforts” (language from the Sudan Peace Act, Section 6 (b)(1)(A and B). The statements and accounts are, in various places, inaccurate, disingenuous, and marred by omissions so consequential as to call into question the good faith of final authorship and editing. The two-part State Department report (per the requirements of Sections 8 and 11 of the Sudan Peace Act) and the President’s statement (“Memorandum of Justification Regarding Determination Under the Sudan Peace Act”) are of the same rhetorical character. They far too frequently indulge, with considerable repetition and prolixity, in what can only be called “moral equivalency”—the shameful willingness to equate the actions and conduct of the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum with those of the southern resistance in the form of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). To be sure, the SPLM/A deserves vigorous criticism for those human rights abuses and war crimes of which it is guilty. But honesty demands that we see clearly and consistently that the equities, certainly the moral equities, that the two parties bring to the negotiating table are entirely different. Not to see this, or to be unwilling to say this, is a form of diplomatic expediency and is surely destined to produce effects opposite from those intended. For the people of the south will simply not accept a peace that is unjust, that does not derive from a clear and honest assessment of past suffering and present realities—military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. Observers of the Machakos process as well as the parties themselves realize there is no better alternative to a negotiated peace settlement. But such a settlement will come only if it is informed and guided by an accurate representation of the realities in Sudan; unfortunately, this is not sufficiently the concern of the State Department or the White House.
Eric Reeves [April 24, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
Though the two-part report from the State Department and the White House “Memorandum of Justification” run to a great many pages, they are in fact quite repetitive, frequently verbose, and all too obviously the product of many hands which have not been fully synchronized. They are also—in their errors, consequential omissions, and misleading characterizations—all too revealing of a purpose that is clearly not to render a full, and fully honest, account of present military, humanitarian, and diplomatic realities. Rather, the intent is too often to create the impression of a “moral equivalency” between the Khartoum regime and the SPLM/A. The apparent strategy behind this effort is to pressure the SPLM/A, when all the evidence—including a great deal that the State Department report itself cannot escape revealing—indicates that for peace to be achieved, pressure needs to be considerably increased on Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime.
Given the length of the State Department report and White House “Memorandum,” an appropriate critical strategy might be to look at characteristic errors, omissions, and misrepresentations, rather than to offer a comprehensive account of all facets of the documents. Assiduous readers are encouraged, however, to review the documents themselves in light of such a critical analysis. They can be found at: http://www.state.gov/p/af/ci/su/c9101.htm
A useful place to begin is with factual errors, places where what might be expected to be completely authoritative accounts are simply incorrect.
 Section A of the White House Memorandum of Justification speaks of the Verification Monitoring Team (VMT), envisioned in the February 4, 2003 “Addendum,” as having been created and already detailing Khartoum’s ongoing violations of various agreements:
“The VMT, created as a means to supplement an October 2002 cessation of hostilities between the SPLM and the GOS, detailed [sic] violations by Khartoum’s regular and irregular forces.”
But the VMT does not yet exist in any meaningful sense, has certainly not been deployed, and most certainly has not been “detailing” anything of Khartoum’s behavior. Such factual error on such a significant matter should give serious pause.
 The Section 11 part of the State Department report alludes to the growing insurrection in the western province of northern Sudan known as Darfur, and then speaks of the “pursuit of war objectives by allies of the SPLM/A [ ] in western Sudan since the beginning of 2003,” implying that there is a direct military connection between the SPLM/A and opposition military forces now operating in Darfur. This is false: there is no such historical connection. The very recent uprising in remote Darfur may indeed be a response to Khartoum’s oppression of the Masseleit and other marginalized people of the region; this does not make the forces involved military “allies” of the SPLM/A, or indicate that there are shared “war objectives.” This is a very serious and tendentious factual error on the part of the State Department.
 The White House Memorandum of Justification speaks of “steady progress” being made “on a number of issues.” This claim is open to dispute on several counts, but is simply factually in error again when it includes “security arrangements” among the issues on which “progress” has been made. General Lazaro Sumbeiywo is the chair of the Machakos peace talks being held under the auspices of IGAD; he is frequently cited and praised by both the State Department and the White House. Yet when negotiations on “security arrangements” broke down without any progress on April 16, 2003, General Sumbeiywo declared this failure in explicit terms: “In a negotiation, one has to move; this did not happen. Both parties kept to their positions” (Reuters, April 17, 2003). We need not assess responsibility for this negotiating failure on security arrangements to note the clear error in the White House account. Moreover, on the same occasion General Sumbeiywo declared that a “[final peace deal] will not be feasible by June ” (Reuters, April 17, 2003). This came only two days after Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner spoke to reporters and invoked precisely a June target date for a completed peace agreement (Reuters, April 14, 2003).
There are a number of others examples of consequential factual errors in the State Department report and the White House memorandum. Readers of these documents should be aware of this disturbing propensity.
On other counts, the report of the State Department is especially prone to both disingenuous commentary and critical omissions. For example, in discussing the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (the result of a March 2002 agreement between Khartoum and the SPLM/A), the State Department report (on Section 11) declares that “the team became fully operational in October 2002, coincident with the parties’ signing of the [October 15, 2002] MOU [concerning cessation of hostilities].” This clearly tries to imply that the belated deployment of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) was related to the date of the MOU signing.
But this is deeply disingenuous: deployment of the CPMT was held up because Khartoum would not permit deployment, and because the Africa Bureau at the State Department did not commit the diplomatic resources or energies to insure deployment occurred in a timely fashion. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner was questioned on the issue of deployment of the CPMT in a July 2002 Senate hearing on Sudan, and indicated that August 2002 would be a reasonable time in which to expect deployment; in the event, it was almost early November. Senior Congressional staffers reported in September a mystifying State Department refusal to push the issue of the CPMT. None of this had anything to do with an October 15, 2002 MOU that none of the parties was at the time contemplating.
In another moment of revealing disingenuousness, the State Department report declares the presence of CPMT has “probably helped to deter [Khartoum’s] attacks [outside of Western Upper Nile].” There is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case, and it is difficult to imagine what form this evidence could take, since CPMT presence outside Western Upper Nile has been so very limited, and fighting—heavy at times—has continued in Western Upper Nile itself during the time the CPMT has been deployed. Even more disgracefully disingenuous, however, is the failure of the State Department report to say a single word about the grounding of CPMT by Khartoum, from March 7, 2003 through April 11, 2003. This grounding occurred despite Khartoum’s agreeing in March 2002 to provide “unhindered flight access.” It is difficult to see how CPMT could have a “deterrent” effect when it is not flying and when that failure to fly is a function of Khartoum’s military command deciding not to grant flight clearance, in violation of a signed agreement.
Another example of disingenuousness is the State Department account of the February 4, 2003 “Addendum” to the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement. After noting the various obligations Khartoum incurred under the February 4 agreement, the report declares that “the United States continuously pressured the government and its allied militias to cease hostilities in Western Upper Nile.” But the paragraph in which this is noted does not have the honesty to declare that this US “pressure” has been unsuccessful: construction continues along the Bentiu-Adok road, despite the February 4 “Addendum”; thousands of civilians displaced by fighting in this region cannot return to their homes or villages, despite the stipulations of the “Joint Communiqu” that accompanied the February 4 “Addendum”; none of the many government military garrisons set up along the Bentiu-Adok road has been dismantled, per the February 4 Addendum. Symptomatically, none of this is frankly acknowledged by the State Department. Nor is the obvious inference drawn: Khartoum has consistently refused to honor signed agreements, even under US “pressure.”
Perhaps the most deeply disingenuous omission in the State Department report is the failure to note Khartoum’s massive redeployment of offensive military assets to various strategic sites in southern Sudan, all clearly in violation of the October 15, 2002 cease-fire agreement. Reports from extremely reliable sources throughout the region all confirm these buildups in the Juba area, in Wau, in Adok, in Bentiu (and thus in Mayom and Mankien). And yet none of these reports is cited by the State Department. Indeed, the State Department fails even to note the section of the CPMT Final Report of February 6, 2003, which gives an account of the military buildup in Western Upper Nile. While the State Department uses the adverb “reportedly” to excess throughout its document, there is an inexplicable reluctance to use the adverb for the accounts of Khartoum’s military redeployments, even when they come from the US-led CPMT.
As the State Department is well aware, aerial photography of barge movements by Khartoum’s forces southward on the Nile River provides unambiguous evidence that the regime is violating the specific demand in the October 15 ceasefire agreement that it “cease supplying all areas with weapons and ammunition” (Section 3, “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army on Resumption of Negotiations on Peace in Sudan”). So, too, do highly authoritative eyewitness accounts from overflights of Wau and Juba and Adok. (This writer can attest to the very large and readily visible military buildup at Wau from recent personal experience.)
There are also clear cases of misrepresentation in the State Department report. In speaking of fighting and displacement in Western Upper Nile prior to October 21, 2002, the State Department cites Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders as reporting that up until 2002, the primary engine for human displacement in the region was “fighting between the SPLM/A and SSIM/SPDF.” Strikingly, the State Department here makes no mention of the fact that the SSIM/SPDF (which it describes simply as a “pro-government Nuer militia”) had been directly funded and ultimately commanded by Khartoum—and that Khartoum’s most basic military strategy is and has been to pit Nuer factions against one another in an effort to widen human clearances in the oil regions. Khartoum’s funding and supplying of the SSIM/SPDF was, indeed, the most salient feature of the militia.
But MSF is most consequentially misrepresented as suggesting that SPLM/A and SSIM/SPDF fighting was the primary engine of displacement for all of Western Upper Nile up to 2002. The MSF report that speaks most fully to the question is “Violence, Health, and Access to Aid in Western Upper Nile” (April 2002). There MSF specifically cites as causes:
“Bombings and burnings of civilian homes and forced displacement in Panarou [Ruweng County] and in the vicinity of the new oil road by Government of Sudan forces using aerial bombardment, helicopter gunships, and ground troops.” [page 1]
MSF is well aware that only Khartoum’s regular, not militia, forces have aerial combat capability. And in the Panarou area of Western Upper Nile displacements were not because of militia fighting, but as MSF reports:
“[The people of Panarou (Ruweng County)] described two ways in which the degree of conflict in 2001 differed from previous years. First, all of the people interviewed described regular attacks by helicopter gunships, a new and fearsome development in the last two years. Everyone interviewed described the helicopter gunships as flying at very low levels  and firing at groups of civilians, including women and children. Second, people stated that the establishment of Government garrisons within Panarou limited the ability of people to return to their homes and cultivate in the rainy season.” [page 25]
Displacement here is clearly by Khartoum’s regular forces. The MSF report also speaks of a “large number of people displaced [south of Bentiu] due to construction of the new road by the Government of Sudan and oil companies in 1998-2000.”
In short, the State Department has sought to trade on the prestige and authority of MSF by taking a comment about displacement in Western Upper Nile out of context, and providing no adequate context of its own. Indeed, the entire section in which this critical issue is discussed (III.D.ii) is poorly organized, misleading, and insufficiently well-informed.
What lies behind the errors, disingenuousness, and misrepresentation? All too clearly a desire to create “moral equivalency” between the Khartoum regime and the SPLM/A. Thus we find sentences such as the following:
“The parties have imperfectly honored the October 15 MOU [cease-fire agreement], but humanitarian access to opposition areas has improved and the government has ceased aerial bombardment in southern Sudan.”
One would seem free to draw the conclusion that the October 15 MOU has been “imperfectly honored” to the same degree by Khartoum and the SPLM/A—even to conclude that Khartoum’s behavior has improved more than that of the SPLM/A. But of course this is nonsense, as much of the State Department report elsewhere reveals, and as any informed assessment of Khartoum’s behavior would conclude. Khartoum has continued to impede at various points and in various ways humanitarian access since October 15, 2002, including as recently as mid-February of 2003 (see below); Khartoum has continued to redeploy offensive military assets in violation of the October 15 agreement; and Khartoum’s massive military offensive in Western Upper Nile for all of January 2003 was an egregious violation of the October 15 agreement. There are simply no equivalents in SPLM/A actions.
Elsewhere the State Department report offers as its key generalization on slavery in Sudan the assertion that “both the government and the SPLM/A were guilty of forced abductions, although armed pro-government militias were the principal agents.” Such refusal to make a vigorous distinction is morally outrageous, given how Khartoum has for many years used the taking of slaves, primarily Dinkas from Bahr el-Ghazal, as a primary weapon of war. This glib equanimity about responsibility for human chattel slavery should be a disgrace to the State Department, and is deeply insulting to the many thousands of human beings who have endured this most barbaric and cruel loss of all human rights.
This theme of “moral equivalency” is sounded in the White House “Memorandum of Justification” as well:
“Both the GOS and the SPLM have failed to live up to their commitments to halt rhetoric unhelpful to the peace process.”
“Both parties have expressed their mutual desire for peace, but continue to be hampered by lingering obstinacy and inflexibility.”
It is this last comparison that explains the peculiar persistence of the “moral equivalency” theme that runs through the State Department report, the White House “Memorandum,” and that gives the dismayingly disengaged, almost perfunctory tenor to Special Envoy John Danforth’s comments (also available at the State Department website). Because peace hasn’t been achieved, even though by almost all accounts from Nairobi it is Khartoum that has been much the more intransigent and unforthcoming party in the negotiations, the diplomatic problem is viewed as manageable only so long as pressure is increased equally on both parties.
No matter that the SPLM/A has largely abided by the October 15 MOU and the February 4 Addendum and Joint Communiqu; no matter that it has produced working documents for the IGAD mediators even as Khartoum’s representatives have frequently and contemptuously refused to produce anything for discussion; no matter that the impeding of humanitarian access is clearly the responsibility of Khartoum. In order to “facilitate” the process, the US is now willing to engage in the kind of “moral equivalency” that has rendered so many of the Western democracies impotent in responding to Sudan’s crisis. For Khartoum regards “moral equivalency” as a victory, as well it should, given the regime’s overwhelming responsibility for the death, destruction, displacement, and human rights abuses that have made Sudan’s civil conflict such a vast source of suffering.
And even in the most basic terms of policy response to this suffering, even in offering an account of humanitarian access, the State Department is again guilty of serious omission. In turn, if the people of South Sudan feel that their suffering can be elided by convenient history writing, and if Khartoum believes that its efforts to impede humanitarian access will not receive a full reckoning, then the prospects for peace will dim. This is the paradox of the expediency represented by assertions, explicit and implicit, of “moral equivalency” between Khartoum and the SPLM/A.
In a characteristic omission, the State Department report notes that from September 2002 to January 2003 Khartoum “denied flight approvals to UN cargo aircraft, called Buffalos.” The report then notes the importance of the Buffalos, and that Khartoum’s denials “severely disrupted [humanitarian] operations.” The report then goes on to talk about “positive developments in humanitarian access.” But deliberately omitted from this account is Khartoum’s renewed grounding of the Buffalos on February 9, 2003—a grounding of which the State Department was well aware. The grounding, with all the same potential for disrupting humanitarian aid efforts, continued for over a week. Nothing is served by ignoring such inconvenient facts, as the State Department evidently wishes to do in creating a contrived picture of “steady progress.”
There are scores of others points in the documents, both from the State Department and the White House, where such omissions occur, with consequential distortions as a result. In discussing the military implications of very substantial oil revenues, for example, the State Department notes military acquisitions from abroad but fails to discuss what is perhaps even more significant: Khartoum’s burgeoning domestic weapons production capacity, especially at the huge GIAD industrial production facility outside Khartoum. This omission occurs despite the explicit charge of the Sudan Peace Act: for the State Department to give an account of “ability of the Government of Sudan to finance war in Sudan with the proceeds of oil exploitation.”
Another example is the excessively limited consideration of evidence that would indicate the full extent of Khartoum’s use of helicopter gunships in attacking civilians after the signing of the Sudan Peace Act (October 21, 2002). Reports of the deployment in 2003 of these fearsome weapons of human destruction are much more extensive than the State Department acknowledges.
At yet another point the State Department report says baldly that “there are indications that aerial bombardment had also been used to terrorize civilian populations even when there are no direct casualties.” This is absurd understatement. Even the most casual perusal of the data available on bombing targets makes clear that the overriding purpose of such attacks is civilian terror. The Antonov aircraft that drop the bombs are simply retrofitted Russian cargo planes flying at very high altitudes, from which barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay. They are notoriously inaccurate, indeed virtually useless for real military purposes. Their primary purpose has always been, beyond any reasonable or credible doubt, to destroy civilian morale, to frighten people away from larger population centers, and to disrupt the agricultural economy. To suggest we have only “indications” of this basic reality is callous or thoughtless—or worse.
What we have in this report, along with the ghastly realities that even State Department disingenuousness and expediency can’t conceal, is a willingness to attempt to manage Sudan’s crisis rather than confront it in decisive and effective terms, terms that would set clear deadlines and equally clear benchmarks for Khartoum in the peace process. Instead, there is both a self-defeating strategy of “moral equivalency” and a high propensity to self-congratulation. It is a combination that may very well proved fatal to whatever chances there are for peace.
A concluding vignette from the State Department report: it is all well and good to declare that, “United States pressure, through the Department of State, was instrumental in both the government and the SPLM/A signing the October 15 MOU, and the February 4 Addendum that called for the establishment of a verification mechanism.” But what is missing, and profoundly revealing in its absence, is any ability by the US to insist that Khartoum comply fully with these agreements. Until such an insistent voice is found, this report and its successors will prove hollow at the core, as will any peace agreement that simply requires Khartoum to sign another piece of paper.