Congressmen Payne and Tancredo: More Hypocrisy on Sudan and Terrorism

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‘Against All Enemies’, the recent book by Richard Clarke, the United States government’s former counterterrorism chief, has brought American policy failures with regard to terrorism sharply into focus. In opening up the debate about the extraordinary mistakes made during the Clinton Administration years, it also exposes the shallowness of the February 2004 claims by Congressmen Donald Payne and Thomas Tancredo. At the forefront of the anti-Sudan campaign within the United States, these congressmen wrote to President Bush calling for an investigation into Sudan’s alleged involvement in terrorism.

Their action is significant for at least four reasons. Firstly, its timing, coming as it does just as the Sudanese peace process appears to be reaching its conclusion, was particularly ill-judged. Secondly, their letter called for the investigation for alleged involvement in international "terrorism" of virtually all the Sudanese government’s peace negotiators – something presumably aimed at destabilising the peace process. Thirdly, the allegations made in their letter illustrated the continuing ignorance of even simple facts relating to Sudan, the United States and allegations of terrorism. Fourthly, their outburst and the very questionable nature of their claims clearly demonstrate that the propaganda war that has been such a hallmark of American-Sudanese relations seems certain to continue even beyond the end of the Sudanese conflict.

For all their stated concern about terrorism, the simple fact is that Congressmen Payne and Tancredo dropped the ball on the issue. That they have chosen to make various claims about "terrorism" is all the more hypocritical given that while they were meant to be providing Congressional oversight of the Clinton Administration’s Sudan policy, the White House was party to colossal mistakes with regard to anti- terrorism, intelligence and policy. In October 2001, for example, the ‘Washington Post’ revealed that in 1996 the Sudanese government had offered to extradite Osama bin-Laden to the United States – just as Khartoum had arrested and extradited the international terrorist known as "Carlos the Jackal" to France. (1) Amazingly, this offer was rejected by the Clinton Administration. In December 2001, ‘Vanity Fair’ published a further exposé of the Clinton Administration’s mishandling of repeated offers by the Sudanese government, some dating back to 1996, to provide Washington with intelligence on terrorism – particularly on what would subsequently become known as the al-Qaeda terrorist network. (2) Part of what was offered to the Administration were several hundred Sudanese files on al-Qaeda and its members. (3) The Administration also passed up the opportunity of interrogating two al- Qaeda members who had clearly been involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa. In keeping with its very questionable Sudan policy (4), the Clinton Administration rejected all of Sudan’s repeated offers. The implications of this studied indifference are clear. As ‘Vanity Fair’ stated:

"September 11 might have been prevented if the U.S. had accepted Sudan’s offers to share its intelligence files on Osama bin Laden and the growing al-Qaeda files."

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, President Clinton subsequently stated on record that his refusal to accept the Sudanese offer was "the biggest mistake" of his presidency. (5)

All this happened on Payne and Tancredo’s watch. They had been following Sudan. As legislators they were meant to be providing Congressional oversight of the Clinton Administration’s Sudan policy. They failed because they put their own flawed and partisan stance before American national security.

After several years of declining repeated Sudanese invitations for American intelligence and counter-terrorist personnel to come to Sudan and investigate whatever they wanted to, joint CIA, FBI and State Department counter-terrorism and intelligence teams have been in Sudan continuously, at Khartoum’s request, since early 2000 – almost eighteen months before the attacks on 11 September 2001. (6) The ‘Observer’ newspaper of London confirmed that in May 2001 these teams had given Sudan "a clean bill of health" with regard to allegations of terrorism. In August 2001 Bush Administration officials further confirmed that the Sudanese-American cooperation on counter-terrorism had been positive. (7) This American-Sudanese intelligence cooperation was said to have "covered everything". (8) In fact, based on these extensive investigations, the United States had agreed to the lifting of the limited United Nations sanctions on Sudan referred to by Payne and Trancredo. (9) In December 2001, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner confirmed that Sudan had been co- operating with the United States for some time before the World Trade Center attacks, and that this cooperation had reached new levels since 11 September: "We appreciate Khartoum’s relationship with us." (10) This alone exposes as cheap propaganda the sorts of claims now made again by Tancredo and Payne.

The record of Congressmen Payne and Tancredo on Sudan across the board is not good. They were closely identified with the self-styled 2002 "Sudan Peace Act". A more explicit example of confused, distorted and poorly-informed legislation would be hard to find. It was an Act that while paying lip service to the need for a "negotiated, peaceful settlement to the war in Sudan" at the same time would have provided one side to the conflict with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of logistical assistance, assistance that will be diverted to sustain gunmen and acquire weapons. It was also an act which while decrying the abuse of human rights within Sudan would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to those accused of appalling human rights abuses in Sudan.

Representatives Payne and Tancredo, as key legislators on Sudan, were responsible for the Sudanese war continuing for several years longer than it might have. They were therefore also indirectly responsible for the abuses associated with the conflict. Both were clearly in a good position to influence the Clinton Administration’s disastrous Sudan policy. While decrying the human rights abuses associated with the Sudanese civil war, they supported and encouraged the Clinton Administration’s deliberate policy of prolonging that war – as noted by former President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Laureate and one of the most respected and objective commentators on events within Sudan, on several occasions. In December 1999, for example, he observed:

"The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States … Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war." (11)

Far from working for peace – and the alleviation of human rights – Payne and Tancredo stood by while the Clinton White House States militarily and economically destabilised the largest country in Africa. They helped shape American Sudan policy in the 1990s – precisely the period referred to by Carter. Whilst publicly lamenting the numbers of deaths during this conflict, they are themselves indirectly responsible for the deaths through war, starvation or disease of thousands of Sudanese civilians. The "Sudan Peace Act" merely perpetuated the Clinton Administration’s failed and farcical Sudan policies. Payne and Tancredo have shown themselves either amazingly naïve or blatantly hypocritical in their previous stance on Sudan.

Tancredo and Payne have contributed to the misreading of Sudan. They have done so either because of their inclination to put propaganda before truth and national security or because they themselves were chronically ill-informed. Either way they failed their constituents and the American people at large. Rather than being concerned about national security they have chosen to play at interest group politics. Their February letter merely shows that they continue to do so.

Notes:

[1]. See, for example, "In ’96, Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden", ‘International Herald Tribune’, 4. October 2001.

[2]. David Rose, "The Osama Files", ‘Vanity Fair’, December 2001, pp 50-55.

[3]. These offers had also been documented in "Resentful West Spurned Sudan’s Key Terror Files", ‘The Observer’ (London), 30 September 2001, and "US Rejected Sudanese Files on al-Qaeda", ‘The Financial Times’ (London), 30 November 2001.

[4]. For a critique of the Clinton Administration’s Sudan policy, see David Hoile, "Farce Majeure: The Clinton Administration’s Sudan Policy 1993-2000", The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 2000 (available at www.espac.org).

[5]. "US Missed Three Chances to Seize Bin Laden", ‘The Sunday Times’ (London), 6 January 2002. See, also, "Clinton Blew Chance to Arrest bin Laden", News Article by NewsMax.com, 3 October 2001. Clinton subsequently also admitted that he had turned down the Sudanese offer in a speech to the Long Island Association on 15 February 2002. For the full transcript of his comments see "Accusing Media: What Did President Bush Know About 9/11?", News Article by NewsMax.com, 19 September 2002. It was also covered within the United States by Fox News Channel’s "Hannity & Colmes", "The O’Reilly Factor", WOR Radio’s "The Bob Grant Show" and WABC Radio’s "Batchelor & Alexander Show".

[6]. See, for example, "US Sees Good Progress in Terrorism Talks with Sudan", News Article by Reuters, 25 September 2001.

[7]. "Powell Mulls U.N. Action on Sudan After Report African Government is Moving in Right Direction on Terrorism", News Article by Associated Press, 22 August 2001 and "Sudan Provides Intelligence to U.S.", News Article by Reuters, 29 September 2001.

[8]. "Foreign Minister says Sudan has been Cooperating with the United States in the Fight against Terrorism for More Than a Year", News Article by Associated Press, 25 September 2001.

[9]. See, for example, "US Allows UN Council to End Sanctions Against Sudan", News Article by Reuters, 28 September 2001; "US Ready to End U.N. Sanctions on Sudan Friday", News Article by Reuters, 28 September 2001; "US Allows UN Council to End Sanctions Against Sudan", New Article by Reuters, 28 September 2001. The UN sanctions were imposed, in large part, because Sudan was unable to extradite Mustafa Hamza, one of the gunmen involved in a 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian President Mubarak during a summit in Ethiopia. Because Sudan was unable to extradite Hamza, an Egyptian national living in Afghanistan, for an act carried out in Ethiopia, UN sanctions were imposed from 1996 until 2001. The sanctions came into effect on the assumption that Hamza was in Sudan and despite the fact that Hamza had previously been located and interviewed by the international media in Afghanistan (in ‘Al-Hayat’ newspaper on 21 April 1996, for example). It is worth noting that Hamza stated that the Egyptian group, Al Gamaa al Islamiya, was responsible for the murder attempt. He stated that most of the gunmen involved came from Pakistan, travelling on passports issued by an Arab country, and that one or two men had entered Ethiopia from Sudan, having received visas from the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum. ‘Al-Hayat’ reported that Hamza stated that there were "deep differences between the ruling Islamic Front in the Sudan and his Group (Gamaa Islamiya). He accused the Sudanese Government [of following a] distorted and deviated application of Islam". Simply put, the Sudanese model of Islam was too liberal for him.

[10]. "U.S. Official Accuses Somalia of Harboring Terrorists", News Article by Xinhua, 12 December 2001.

[11]. "Carter, Others Say US Has Faltered in Africa", ‘The Boston Globe’, 8 December 1999.

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