“A War on Terrorism—and the Betrayal of Southern Sudan”
Eric Reeves [September 24, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
America has begun an arduous but imperative “war on terrorism.” Our nation has been grievously wounded, and we must not only staunch the wound but also seek out those who have inflicted it, bringing them fully and unsparingly to justice. Our task is perilous in many ways; we must use all the weapons at our disposal and be prepared to look for allies in previously unexpected quarters.
But one of the ugliest consequences of a war on terrorism will almost certainly be the betrayal of moral principle amidst the fierce lust for intelligence about various terrorist groups. Armed by overwhelming public support for this urgent and necessary campaign, the Bush administration has already given indication that it is likely to make trade-offs and deals that offer a variety of short-term gains, but may exact terrible long-term costs. For some of the intelligence offered to the US will come from nations and 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, which militarily deposed an elected government in 1989, has waged a continuous, savagely brutal war against the people of southern Sudan and other marginalized areas. 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—internally displaced or fleeing to neighboring countries as refugees. Secretary of State 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, indiscriminate bombing 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 has 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 together they entered into numerous mutually lucrative enterprises in construction, banking, and agriculture. Bin Laden was also allowed to develop elaborate terrorist training bases in Sudan.
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. So far these leads are primarily on terrorists that Khartoum itself has spawned or sheltered, although the regime has also offered access to important bank records. These leads may, in aggregate, be a significant part of the intelligence that will help us in the war on terrorism.
But we cannot forget that the regime suddenly so cooperative has until recently been instrumental in propagating world terrorism. The information that is now coming to the United States has long been available, but deliberately withheld by Khartoum. Moreover, court records in the recent trial for the terrorist bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (224 were killed, including 12 Americans; thousands were injured) are highly revealing. They paint an extraordinarily detailed picture of Khartoum’s support for, and financial interactions with, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
It should also be remembered that the Khartoum regime was directly implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the plot to bomb other targets in New York City. Of the ten people convicted for this terrorist attack, four were believed to be Sudanese nationals. Moreover, two Sudanese embassy officials were implicated; one was expelled and another escaped. Further, Khartoum was also complicit for the 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and UN diplomatic sanctions against Khartoum for its role in this terrorist effort are still in effect.
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, which has previously given hints of wishing to enter into a relationship of “constructive engagement” with Khartoum, despite the regime’s ongoing genocidal war against its own people, and its terrorist-supporting past.
Perhaps the most telling indication of what price the Bush administration is willing to pay for Khartoum’s cooperation is the decision to put a hold on 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 and negotiate a just peace with the long-suffering people of the south. In its House-passed version (the June vote was 422 to 2) the Sudan Peace Act would deny those oil companies that are sustaining Khartoum any further access to US capital markets: they would be de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ.
In addition to pressuring Khartoum to negotiate an end to the most destructive civil conflict in half a century, the capital market sanctions of the Sudan Peace Act would also provide a powerful non-military—and thus indefinitely sustainable—source of pressure on Khartoum to abandon completely its support for terrorism. For we must remember that the value of whatever intelligence Khartoum is providing now will be vitiated if there is no long-term pressure on the regime to end what has been over a decade of highly significant and continuous support for terrorism.
Here it is important to bear in mind that the same people who so fully supported Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization still dominate the Government of Sudan. The same vicious security apparatus that gave free rein to bin Laden and al-Qaeda organization is still an ominously repressive presence in Khartoum and elsewhere in northern Sudan, where bin Laden’s terrorist camps were begun. This is the same regime that has continued to declare a “jihad” against the people of the south, and has supported terrorists who have declared a “jihad” against the United States.
But instead of supporting the Sudan Peace Act, thereby ratcheting up the pressure on Khartoum, the Bush administration demanded on September 20th—the very day of the President’s speech on terrorism before a joint session of Congress–that the House Republican leadership put the bill on indefinite hold. Word came from the White House to Republican leader Dennis Hastert at the very moment a motion was being introduced that would have created a House/Senate conference committee to reconcile differences between the two versions of the bill. Now the bill is in limbo, and the White House seems intent on insuring that it will not emerge before Congress recesses for the year.
No one can possibly dispute the urgency and utterly 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. The commitment to various tools—military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic—may vary, but American resolve can hardly be doubted. At the same Americans cannot be expected simply to forget the history of terrorism directed against us by countries like Sudan. We cannot be expected to forget those Americans killed in terrorist attacks that Khartoum helped sponsor. And we cannot forget the enormity of the human destruction and suffering Khartoum has inflicted on the people of the south.
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 much larger victory than they have already achieved.