United States Terrorism in the Sudan



U.S. foreign policy in the Sudan provides a powerful case study of the functional role of the concept of ‘international terrorism’ within world order under U.S./Western hegemony, the domestic process of legitimising that hegemony, and the anti-humanitarian procedures pursued to comprehensively sustain hegemony. This paper analyses the case of Sudan by focusing on the U.S. cruise missile attack on Sudan in August 1998, and examining its relations within the wider framework of U.S.-Sudan relations. The paper discusses how the U.S. deliberately fabricated a terrorist threat in the Sudan to justify its anti-humanitarian policies toward the country. It highlights the deceptions and implications of the U.S. bombing of al-Shifa, and analyses its role in a wider ongoing U.S. military strategy involving the support of the southern rebel movement. The paper concludes that figures such as Osama Bin Laden é who was wrongly linked to the target of the U.S. attacks on Sudan – rather than playing an adverse role, actually play an integral functional role that is essential for the U.S. to exploit as justification for its policies – without the terrorist threat, there can be no pretext for military interventions. Hence, ‘international terrorism’ plays the role of providing justification for U.S. terrorism abroad, perpetrated in the name of strategic and economic interests.

On 20 August 1998, the United States launched an attack on Khartoum in Sudan, bombing the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant under direct orders from President Bill Clinton. The U.S. attack was initiated a week after bomb blasts at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 260 people, blamed on the CIA-trained Saudi dissident and Taliban favourite, Osama bin Laden. The al-Shifa plant was totally destroyed in the American attack.[1]

The U.S. attack was justified on the pretext that the al-Shifa plant was not all that it seemed, but that it was actually a chemical weapons factory linked directly to Bin Laden. U.S. Defence Secretary William Cohen stated on 20th August 1998 that the al-Shifa factory “produced the precursor chemicals that would allow the production of VX nerve agent” and that Osama bin-Laden “has had some financial interest in contributing to this particular facility”. The U.S. Government declared that it “could find no evidence of” the production of medicines at the al-Shifa factory, and that in actuality it was a nerve gas plant.[2] A senior U.S. intelligenaffefficial affirmed that: “[T]he Sudanese target, the Shifa Pharmaceutical plant, is used to make precursor chemicals for the deadly nerve gas VX,” and that “there is no evidence that the plant actually makes commercial pharmaceuticals. It is fenced and guarded by the Sudanese military.”[3] A senior U.S. administration official stated that: “Bin Laden has made financial contributions to the Sudanese military-industrial complex, of which, we believe, the Shifa pharmaceutical facility is part.”[4] Hence, the targeting of the plant in response to the U.S. embassy blasts was justified as a proportionate retaliation against prime suspect Osama Bin Laden. On August 20, 1998, the U.S. Navy launched 75 cruise missiles, against what President Clinton described as “terrorist-related facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan.” Justifying the attack on Sudan, the President stated: “Our forces also attacked a factory in Sudan associated with the bin Laden [terrorist] network. The [Shifa] factory was involved in the production of materials for chemical weapons.”[5]

In a detailed presentation of the U.S. pretext for the attack, the New York Times reported that:

“The U.S. believes that senior Iraqi scientists were helping to produce elements of the nerve agent VX at the factory in the Sudan that the American cruise missiles destroyed last week, Administration and intelligence officials said today. The evidence cited today as justification for the attack consisted of a soil sample secretly obtained months ago outside the factory, the Shifa pharmaceutical Industries, the officials said. Publicly the Administration has refused to describe its evidence in any detail, or to say how it was obtained.


“The rare chemical would require two more steps, one very complex, to be turned into VX, one of the deadliest nerve agents in existence and the chemical, whose acronym is Empta has no industrial uses.


“The United Nations and the Unites States has long agreed that Iraq is extremely skilled at many kinds of VX productioné


“The U.S., however, has rebuffed calls from the Sudan and other countries to turn over its evidence [that nerve gas was being produced at the Shifa factory in Sudan]. At the UN, the Security Council today put off a request by Arab nations, submitted by Kuwait, one of the closest Arab allies of the U.S., to send inspectors to search the rubble in Khartoum for signs of chemicals related to VX… ‘I don’t see what the purpose of a fact-finding study would be,’ Peter Burleigh, the deputy American representative to the UN said after the meeting. ‘We have credible information that fully justifies the strike we made on that one facility in Khartoum’.”[6]

However, several months after the U.S. attack, it was revealed that the al-Shifa plant was not a chemical weapons factory at all, but was, indeed, nothing but a pharmeceutical plant. The London Times, for instance, reported that: “A catalogue of intelligence blunders and wayward political analysis by agents and senior American Administration officials led to the cruise missile attack on a pharmaceutical factory”.[7] Analysis of the facts, however, demonstrates not only that the U.S. was wrong, but that it was deliberately wrong, and played a cruelly strategic role in context with a wider covert military strategy against Sudan. This paper discusses U.S. policy toward Sudan in light of the August 1998 bombings and the events that led up to them, documenting the nature of the current crisis in Sudan in that context.

In the aftermath of the U.S., the owner of the al-Shifa plant Mr. Saleh Idris filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government on 26 February 1999. Unable to challenge the lawsuit, the Clinton Administration instead agreed to release $24 million in assets that the Saudi businessman had deposited in U.S. banks, which were frozen in the wake of the allegations against the Sudanese factory. In filing his lawsuit, Mr. Idris had retained Kroll Associates – the world’s leading firm of private investigators – to examine the evidence of al-Shifa’s link to chemical weapons. Many of Kroll’s employees are former intelligence and law enforcement officials of the British and American governments, and Kroll has also been hired by many governments, including the U.S. Facing a deadline to respond to the suit, the U.S. Government chose not to contest it.[8] Kroll Associates’ investigation of the U.S. missile attack had apparently demonstrated the sheer vacuum of evidence allegedly linking the facility or its owner to international terrorism, chemical weapons production, and Osama Bin Laden.[9] As the Washington Post reported: “Because of a cupful of soil, the U.S. flattened this Sudanese factory. Now one of the world’s most respected labs, and some of Washington’s most expensive lawyers, say Salah Idris wasn’t making nerve gas for terrorists, just ibuprofen for headaches.”[10] According to the New York Times although “senior national security advisers [had] described Al Shifa as a secret chemical weapons factory financed by bin Laden”, “State Department and CIA officials [now] argue that the government cannot justify its actions.” Rather than manufacturing chemical weapons, the al-Shifa plant “made both medicine and veterinary drugs, according to U.S. and European engineers and consultants who helped build, design and supply the plant.” [11]

I.I The Soil Sample Theory

According to U.S. officials, the al-Shifa factory had been attacked in the belief that a soil sample taken from outside, on testing, revealed the presence of Empta – an essential ingredient in the deadly VX nerve gas. Yet the U.S. refused to make the alleged soil sample available to a wider body of international experts for independent verification of U.S. claims. Sudan was among several other countries that requested a United Nations investigation into the matter. The U.S. ignored the request. U.S. reluctance to allow the international community to verify the matter was enough to throw significant doubt on whether the alleged soil sample really did constitute the “credible evidence” that the U.S. had claimed it to be.

The authoritative observations of qualified scientists on the matter were far more fatal for the soil sample theory. According to the testimony of a senior inspector in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (The Hague) Empta was highly unlikely to be found unaltered in the ground, for the simple reason that it is highly reactive and, once in the earth, would react with other chemicals and begin to break down.[12] Other experts pointed out that the chemical structure of Empta closely resembles Fonofos, an insecticide on sale in Africa.[13] British journalist Malcolm Clark further reports that even if Empta was found, it did not necessarily imply that the plant was being used to manufacture VX nerve gas: “These samples were never released to non-military laboratories. Most scientists said EMPTA could just as easily have been from pesticides or insecticides.”[14] 

The Independent thus noted that according to scientific opinion, the soil sample simply did not indicate that the plant was a chemical weapons factory: “Chemical weapons experts believe the evidence presented so far is not strong enough. They point out that key components of chemical weapons have ‘dual use’ and are also used in medicines, even bubble bath and shampoo.”[15] The Observer similarly reported that: “U.S. credibility has been further dented by Western scientists who have pointed out that the same ingredients are used for chemical weapons and beer, and that mustard gas is similar in make-up to the anti-clogging agent in biro ink. It has also been pointed out that the cherry flavouring in sweets is one of the constituent parts of the gas used in combat. Empta also has commercial uses not linked to chemical weapons.”[16] The New York Times also cited experts who challenged the U.S. pretext: “The chemical precursor of a nerve agent that Washington claimed was made at a Sudanese chemical factory it destroyed in a missile attack last week could be used for commercial products.” The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons affirmed that Empta could be used “in limited quantities for commercial purposes”, such as in fungicides or anti-microbial agents.[17]

Professor R. J. P. Williams FRS at Oxford University’s Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory was among the many scientists who rubbished U.S. claims about Empta:

“Types of the compound an ethyl-methyl-phosphorus derivative, can be bought on the open market. If every laboratory which has such a chemical is to be bombed, then it is goodbye to many chemistry departments in UK, USA and all over the world. The public must know the facts about the chemicals concerned in order to feel sure that terrorist targets were attacked and not innocent parties. People world-wide will support the effort to eliminate terrorists, but not just random reprisal raids, just to show the ability to strike anybody, anywhere. The USA must come clean, as must our government.”[18]

Malcolm Clark, writing in the New Statesman, noted other facts illustrating the inconsistencies in the U.S. allegation that al-Shifa was producing chemical weapons:

“Government ministers [from Sudan] had turned up to tour the site the day after the attack, as the plant was still smoking; it was hardly the behaviour of people afraid of chemical weapons in their midst. Then there was [Sudan’s] open invitation to the UN to send a team of investigators. There was also the testimony of a British engineer, Thomas Carnaffin, who had helped build the plant and who pointed out that the very minimum requirement for a chemical weapons plant was that it should have airlocks. The doors on this plant led directly into the streets of a busy Khartoum suburb.”

Clark went on to approach some of the leading scientific experts on malaria to question them about the possibility that the al-Shifa had actually been producing – among other medicines – anti-maleria tablets (chloroquine): “Was there any chance, I asked, that Clinton and Blair were wrong? Could the Sudanese government be right when it said the plant was making chloroquine? Well, yes, actually. Every last white-coated one of them was convinced it was a terrible mistake.”[19]

Western government officials also disputed U.S. claims. Then British Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd had given an assurance to Parliament that there was no evidence linking the Sudanese regime to the manufacture of poison gas agents. Just hours before the U.S. missile attack on the plant, the German Ambassador to Sudan, Werner Daum, sent a letter to his superiors in Bonn stating that: “One can’t, even if one wants to, describe the Shifa firm as a chemical [weapons] factory.”[20]

It is worth noting that the U.S. allegations against Sudan were incredible even without taking into account the convolution of science that they employed. There was no soil outside the plant. Most of the area around al-Shifa was paved with only a small amount of open land to cultivate rose bushes. As Sudan’s Interior Minister observed in surprise at the U.S. pretext: “The American claim is totally unfounded. If you look around, you will not see any soil in the immediate vicinity of our factory premises.”[21]

The United States was, nevertheless, intent on bombing the al-Shifa plant in Sudan. Not long after U.S. missiles turned the plant into a smoldering pile of rubble and junk, there were further revelations contradicting the U.S. justification for the attack. The New York-based anti-war organisation, the International Action Center (IAC) é founded and headed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark é harshly criticised the U.S. military operation, pointing out that: “Since the bombing the U.S. has been unable to offer a shred of evidence to justify this wanton act of terrorism”.[22] IAC Co-ordinator Richard Becker observed that in light of the revelations:

“é the edifice of lies constructed by U.S. national security officials seeking to justify an unjustifiable act has crumbled. The factory’s U.S. designer, the British technical manager for the plant’s construction, and the Jordanian engineer who supervised production, are among those who have testified that it was impossible for Al-Shifa to have been a chemical weapons plant”.[23]

The factory’s American designer Henry Jobe of the MSD Pharmaceutical Company, testified that there was no possibility of the al-Shifa plant being used for the development of chemical weapons: “We didn’t intend a dual use for it. We didn’t design anything extra in there. The design we made was for pharmaceuticals.” He also denied U.S. claims that the factory was not a commercial enterprise: “That is misinformation, because it was designed for it.” British engineer Thomas Carnaffin, who worked at the factory for several years until April 1998, concurred with the testimony of his former colleague, affirming that he had been “into every corner of the plant” and that: “It was never a plant of high security. You could walk around anywhere you liked, and no one tried to stop you.”[24] He continued:

“It was a very simple mixing, blending and dispensing pharmaceutical facility. It wasn’t a large plant. Part of it was used to make veterinary medicines and ointments and part for human medicines. There was never anything like that (making precursors). It was a very open situation. Many people from different countries visited the factory. It would have been a very difficult thing to do (making precursors). That wasn’t the intent of the factory at all.”[25]

The U.S. had, in other words, destroyed a perfectly legitimate pharmaceutical plant. The London Observer thus concluded that the United States had “bombed civilians on purposeé American tests showed no trace of nerve gas at ‘deadly’ Sudan plant. The President ordered the attack anyway.”[26] To this day, the number of civilians who were killed in the U.S. attack is unknown. As U.S. Professor Noam Chomsky records:

“[T]he actual toll in the Sudan case can only be surmised, because the U.S. blocked any UN inquiry and few were interested enough to pursue the matter. That the toll is dreadful is hardly in doubt… One can scarcely try to estimate the colossal toll of the Sudan bombing, even apart from the probable tens of thousands of immediate Sudanese victims.”[27]


Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who led an IAC delegation to the al-Shifa plant after its destruction by U.S. missiles, noted that documents from the United Nations Security Council approved the shipment from the al-Shifa factory to Baghdad of antibiotics and medicines used in the treatment of malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhea. All workers of the factory had been doing was “mixing up [medicinal] powder into tablet or capsule form and packaging it into bottles or foil”. He added that: “It is a crime under international law” to divest a populace of medications that are essential to meet its health needs.[28] Richard Becker more specifically observed that al-Shifa “had raised Sudan’s self-sufficiency in pharmaceuticals from 3% to 50%”, “producing 60-90% of the country’s drugs for treating the seven leading causes of deathé Al-Shifa produced all of the country’s veterinary medicines. The Sudan’s large herds of camels, cattle, goats and sheep – critical to the food supply – are plagued by treatable infestations of parasites.” The plant was crucial as “an exporter of human and veterinary drugs to other African and Middle Eastern countries, and was recently contracted by the UN Sanctions Committee to ship medical supplies to Iraq.” Al-Shifa was also a packaging plant, receiving “processed materials, mixing and packaging them as tablets, capsules and syrups.” According to Dr. B. A. Salam of Sudan’s Central Medical Supply al-Shifa “did not even have equipment to synthesize milk into cheese.” But as Becker points out, “it enabled the country to obtain critically needed drugs at 20% of the purchase cost on the world market.”

Without the al-Shifa plant, Sudan – along with other African and Middle Eastern countries é is now dependent on foreign goods to meet its health needs. Yet it is impossible for Sudan to import replacement pharmaceuticals, since per capita gross national product amounts only to around $300. The result has been immensely devastating. The ultimate consequences of the U.S. missile attack on Sudan has been the ongoing death of thousands of innocent Sudanese civilians who due to the destruction of the al-Shifa plant, have no access to medicines that would otherwise have been made easily available by the plant. The death toll, in other words, of the U.S. missile attack, has continued to increase to this day.

British engineer Tom Carnaffin, with “intimate knowledge” of the plant, noted that: “[T]he loss of this factory is a tragedy for the rural communities who need these medicines.”[29] London Observer correspondent Patrick Wintour elaborated that the plant “provided 50 percent of Sudan’s medicines, and its destruction has left the country with no supplies of choloroquine, the standard treatment for malaria.” Despite this, the British Government é who publicly backed the U.S. attack – refused requests months later “to resupply chloroquine in emergency relief until such time as the Sudanese can rebuild their pharmaceutical production.”[30] Head of the Sudanese humanitarian relief organization, the Near East Foundation, Jonathan Belke, reported that a year after the U.S. bombing:


“[W]ithout the lifesaving medicine [the destroyed facilities] produced, Sudan’s death toll from the bombing has continued, quietly, to rise… Thus, tens of thousands of people – many of them children – have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases… [The factory] provided affordable medicine for humans and all the locally available veterinary medicine in Sudan. It produced 90 percent of Sudan’s major pharmaceutical products… Sanctions against Sudan make it impossible to import adequate amounts of medicines required to cover the serious gap left by the plant’s destruction…. [T]he action taken by Washington on Aug. 20, 1998, continues to deprive the people of Sudan of needed medicine. Millions must wonder how the International Court of Justice in The Hague will celebrate this anniversary.”[31]

The U.S. attack on Sudan was, therefore, an unconscionable atrocity that resulted in the immediate and ongoing deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It was undertaken on the pretext of targeting a chemical weapons factory linked to Osama Bin Laden é a pretext that was entirely fabricated to justify a bombing campaign. The question that remains is with respect to the real reason for the U.S. missile attack on Sudan. Former U.S. official Ramsey Clark argued that the United States “merely wanted an excuse to hit Sudan. The way the target was chosen was purely a political decision”. Sara Flounders, a member of Clark’s IAC delegation to Sudan and a Co-ordinator of the antiwar group, elaborated that:

“The U.S. claimed that they had credible evidence that the Al-Shifa plant was producing weapons, but that’s a lie. The fact is, we have abundant documentation that the U.S. charges are completely false. This was a life-saving pharmeceutical factory… The U.S. wanted to punish the Sudanese for their independence and to show the world that the Pentagon can and will bomb anywhere, anytime with impunity.”[32]

Indeed, the U.S. missile attack on Sudan appears to have been only one part of a wider ongoing military strategy against the country, designed to topple the current government. In a Bay Guardian Op-Ed, Richard Becker recorded that:

“The bombing of Al-Shifa was neither a mistake nor an ‘intelligence failure’. It was instead part of an ongoing war against Sudan. U.S. arms are fuelling a devastating civil conflict that has made more than 10% of the country’s 28 million people refugees. U.S. economic sanctions block the acquisition of insulin, sutures, blood derivatives, and countless other medical supplies. This war is largely hidden here [in America], but it is a daily reality for the Sudanese people. Sanctions, destabilization and war – these are the same deadly tactics that have been used against Nicaragua, Angola, Cuba, Iraq and other developing countries which have had the audacity to seek an independent path. The objective is to make them bow before the dictates of Washington. No single act could have been more devastating to the health of the Sudanese people than the destruction of the Al-Shifa plant.”[33]

The U.S. missile attack on Sudan was therefore merely one aspect of an overall strategy to destabilise the Sudanese government and thereby make it “bow before the dictates of Washington”. An analysis of this wider strategy and the policies it has involved clarifies the ultimate objectives of U.S. policy in Sudan, and the role the August 1998 attack played therein.

II. The U.S. Role in the Sudan’s Civil War

The Sudanese civil war began 34 years before the inception of the present government of the National Islamic Front (NIF) and was consequently inherited by it. The war has continued to this day throughout the rise and fall of various different governments and regimes. Many naive commentators in the West argue that the war in Sudan is primarily a religious one, and this extremely limited interpretation has become quite popular. Contrary to this conventional view, Sudan’s civil war has never been about religion. The war has always related fundamentally to the political status of southern Sudan.

II.I U.S. Support of Southern Rebels

United States intervention in the war has served to prolong and exacerbate the conflict in accordance with its regional interests, with U.S. foreign policy towards Sudan in the 1990s accordingly growing increasingly aggressive. In 1995, Antony Lake, President Clinton’s National Security Adviser outlined U.S. policy toward Sudan: “We will be working with other governments in the region to see how we can best contain the influence of the Sudanese Government until it changes its views and begins to behave in accordance with the norms of international behaviour that we think governments should follow.”[34] John Prendergast, director of East African affairs on the National Security Council, admitted in 1997 that the government of Sudan was viewed as “the principle threat to U.S. security interests on the Continent of Africa today”.[35] On 4 November 1997, President Clinton signed an executive order declaring “that the policies of Sudan constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.”[36] Explaining the context of U.S. hostility to Sudan, Director of the London-based Sudan Foundation Dr. Sean Gabb records that:

“Sudan’s civil war had rekindled in 1983 with the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang. The government gradually civilianised itself and established a modern Islamic republic in Sudan. The independence of the Sudanese government and the threat of a democratic Islamic model to America’s absolutist and authoritarian allies in the Middle East marked it out as a target for American displeasure.”[37]

From the early 1990s onwards, the U.S. implemented a two-pronged strategy against Sudan designed to destabilise its government. The policy enlisted the support of three of Sudan’s neighbours – Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia é and involved support for rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting in the south. According to the National Security News Service (NSNS) reliable reports in the French media show that: “[T]he SPLA rebels receive political and indirect military support from the United States, via American military assistance to Uganda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.” The NSNS reports that U.S. military support of the SPLA has been confirmed by Roger Winter, Director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, and was further confirmed when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright officially met SPLA leader John Garang in January 1998 during her trip to Africa.[38]

Africa Confidential, for example, reported that in Uganda the SPLA “has already received U.S. help via Uganda”, while U.S. special forces are on “open-ended deployment” with the rebels.[39] As the Boston Globe elaborated: “To the peril of regional stability, the Clinton Administration has used northern Uganda as a military training ground for southern Sudanese rebels fighting the Muslim government of Khartoum.”[40] Eritrea and Ethiopia are used similarly to provide military assistance to the SPLA. The Sunday Times reported that: “The Clinton administration has launched a covert campaign to destabilise the government of Sudan… More than $20m of military equipment, including radios, uniforms and tents will be shipped to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda in the next few weeks. Although the equipment is earmarked for the armed forces of those countries, much of it will be passed on to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which is preparing an offensive against the government in Khartoum.”[41]

A 1998 NSNS report on Sudan records that mounting efforts by the U.S.-backed SPLA in the south “place the civilian population at heightened risk”. According to reports from Egypt, an Egyptian delegation to the Sudanese government in Khartoum discussed the existence of a U.S.-Israeli plan to provide direct military support in the near future to mercenaries fighting on behalf of the Sudanese opposition, with the objective apparently being to install SPLA leader Garang as “the new leader of Sudan.”[42] The Washington Post observes that: “Nearly $20 million in surplus U.S. military equipment will be sent to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda, the officials said, adding that the three countries support Sudanese opposition groups [particularly the SPLA] preparing a joint offensive to topple the government of Sudan.”[43] Africa Confidential further confirmed that: “The United States pretends the aid is to help the governments concernedé to protect themselves from Sudan. It is clear the aid is for Sudan’s armed opposition.”[44]

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has observed that U.S. aid to these countries constitutes “a tacit demonstration of support for the overthrow of the Khartoum government.”[45] Describing U.S. policy in the Sudan in the 1990s, East Africa director of the National Security Council, John Prendegast, observed that: “The parallels to Central America in the 1980s are stark. The U.S. provided covert aid to the Contras and because of domestic public pressure urged numerous reforms on the Contras, especially in the area of human rights and institutional reform [although these pressures were undercut by a U.S. administration not serious about human rights].”[46] The London Guardian similarly noted: “Welcome to the 1980s. Long live Ronald Reagan. Remember the scenario – a rebel group being trained and armed by the CIA to topple a sovereign government, cross-border incursions from secluded camps, and the whole de-stabilisation exercise backed by international sanctions and a massive propaganda campaign. It sounds like Nicaragua or Angola circa 1984. In fact it’s Sudan 1998.”[47]

The civil war has thus been drastically exacerbated as a result of U.S. support for the SPLA, with devastating consequences for the Sudanese people. Estimates indicate that 1.5-2 million Sudanese have been killed since 1983 and 85 per cent of the southern population have been displaced. “Some two million Sudanese – nearly 8% of the country’s population – have lost their lives to war or famine-related causes since 1983, when fighting resumed in Africa’s longest running civil war. Millions more have been displaced, many fleeing to neighboring states”, reports Sudan specialist Dan Connell. “Massive injections of U.S. and Soviet arms have kept the war raging between northern and southern Sudan for nearly a half-century.”[48] Contrary to the misleading commentary of supporters of U.S. policy, the SPLA bears primary responsibility for this escalating humanitarian catastrophe, due to the U.S. aim to ultimately topple the Sudanese government and replace it with a regime concordant with U.S. interests.

Democratisation can hardly be integral to U.S. objectives. It is well known that the three neighbouring countries being used as surrogates in the U.S. destabilisation project are severely lacking in democratic and humanitarian credentials. The London Times reported during President Clinton’s 1998 visit to Sudan’s neighbours that: “[Ugandan leader] Mr Museveni is openly hostile to the concept [of multiparty politics] and has developed with American approval, a non-party pluralism. Few of the other Washington favourites in Ethiopia and Eritrea appear to be making ‘strides’ towards democracy.”[49] As British Sudan expert Dr. Sean Gabb elaborates:

“All three of the regimes most recently involved in what could be termed American-backed ‘military adventurism’ against Sudan are run by gunmen who seized power through the barrel of a gun, and whose exposure to politics was within intolerant guerrilla movements. Authoritarianism and intolerance has been the hallmark of all three governments, with the resultant serious problems with regard to human rights and civil liberties. Attempts by Western governments and media to explain the anti-Sudanese stance and activities of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda as being in some way related to the fact that Sudan is an Islamic republic, and alleged to be supporting Islamic destabilisation within their countries, are simply not credible, particularly given the fact that these countries have come into similar conflict with neighbouring countries in which religion cannot be said to have been an issue.


“All three regimes are essentially minority political regimes, with clear ethnic or tribal agendas. As such they can be seen as doing what minority regimes have always done throughout history in similar circumstances, which is to project themselves externally in an attempt to unify their countries. Within the conditions thus created the governments can cite ‘national security’ as a catchall to stifle domestic political opposition. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have significant, and possibly majority, Muslim populations, sections of which may have been seriously alienated by governmental policies. It is then convenient, especially with American encouragement, to blame domestic unease at repressive policies, ethnicity, political authoritarianism and human rights abuses as somehow being the fault of Sudan. Uganda has made similar claims.”[50]


It is instructive to consider in some detail the conduct and activities of southern SPLA rebels in receipt of U.S. military support. An inspection of the record reveals that the principal perpetrator of atrocities and terror in the Sudanese civil war is not the government, but the SPLA. As the New York Times noted, SPLA leader John Garang’s “explicit strategy was to render south Sudan ungovernable, and in that he succeeded. The South today is not only ungovernable but virtually uninhabitable.”[51] America’s ‘newspaper of record’ elsewhere records that the SPLA “have behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging.”[52] The Economist observes that the SPLA is “little more than an armed gang of Dinkasé killing, looting and raping. Its indifference, almost animosity, towards the people it was supposed to be ‘liberating’ was all too clear.”[53]

Eight U.S.-based humanitarian organisations in Sudan – including CARE, World Vision, Church World Service, Save the Children and the American Refugee Committee – report that the U.S.-backed SPLA has “engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, slavery, etc.[54] According to the New York-based rights monitor Human Rights Watch (HRW): “The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain serious.”[55] SPLA leader John Garang – with whom U.S. Secretary of State Albright met in December 1997 and January 1998 in signification of the U.S.-SPLA alliance é has been described by the New York Times as one of Sudan’s “pre-eminent war criminals”.[56]

Numerous incidents of SPLA terror have been documented. The U.S. State Department’s 1990 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reported that the SPLA “conducted indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on the city of Juba, killing more than 40 civilians and wounding many others. These attacks…seemed intended to terrorize the inhabitants”. There had also been “extensive pillaging and shooting of civilians by SPLA/M forces along the Sudan-Ethiopian border”.[57] The State Department added that the SPLA had shelled Juba again, a city in the south of Sudan, in November 1991, killing 70 civilians. The SPLA’s indiscriminate shelling of Juba continued in 1992, killing over 200 civilians. These policies of terrorism are characteristic of SPLA activities throughout the 1990s.[58]

Describing an incident typical of SPLA conduct, the United Nations records that the SPLA attacked two villages in the southern region of Sudan, ultimately massacring 30 men, 53 women, and 127 children – a total of 210 villagers:

“Eyewitnesses reported that some of the victims, mostly women, children and the elderly, were caught while trying to escape and killed with spears and pangas. M.N., a member of the World Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor, lost four of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The youngest child was thrown into the fire after being shot. D.K. witnessed three women with their babies being caught. Two of the women were shot and one was killed with a panga. Their babies were all killed with pangas. A total of 1,987 households were reported destroyed and looted and 3,500 cattle were taken.”[59]

Amnesty International, African Rights, and Human Rights Watch have similarly provided extensive documentation of the SPLA’s war against civilians. Amnesty for example reported similar acts of terrorism where SPLA gunmen lined up 32 women from the village of Pagau, 12 kilometres from Ayod in southern Sudan. The gunmen shot each woman once in the head. Eighteen children were locked in a hut that was then set on fire. Three children attempted to escape and were shot, while the rest burned to death. SPLA forces also burnt to death 36 women in a cattle byre in Paiyoi, an area north-east of Ayod. Nine others were clubbed to death.[60] As Jerema Rone of HRW observes, “at the highest levels”, the SPLA “has refused to respond to inquiries by Human Rights Watch and others about cases of summary execution and disappearances of SPLA detainees, which leads to the inference that these were sanctioned by the SPLA.”[61] East Africa director of the NSC John Prendergast, then a development aid consultant with extensive experience in Sudan, thus noted that the SPLA:

“é was responsible for egregious human rights violations in the territory it controlled. If conventional human rights standards were applied to the SPLA as a government of the territory it controls (a status it confers on itself), non-humanitarian aid would have been prohibited by the U.S. Congress long ago on human rights grounds.”[62]

In other words, by supporting the SPLA, the United States is directly sponsoring terrorism in Sudan. This fact was alluded to in a letter to Madeleine Albright by Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth:

“The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain serious… This pattern makes the provision of any aid to the SPLA wrong, because it would support an abusive force and make the United States complicit in those abuses.”[63]

The United States cannot claim ignorance of this long record of SPLA war crimes. U.S. Sudan expert Prendergast, formerly of NSC and later of the State Department, admitted that the SPLA “was responsible for egregious human rights violations in the territory it controlled” and that the rebel group “has received a tidal wave of accusations and condemnation from international human rights organizations and local churches over its human rights record.”[64]

The contrast between the SPLA and the Sudanese government can be well gauged from a 1994 study by Human Rights Watch, Civilian Devastation: Abuses by all Parties in the War in Southern Sudan. In this 279-page report, 169 pages are devoted to documentation of human rights abuses by the SPLA. In comparison, violations by the Sudanese government are dealt with in 52 pages. In other words, about 76 per cent of the HRW study was focused on SPLA violations, while only 24 per cent sufficed to cover government violations. The contrast is instructive, for it reveals the vacuity of the humanitarian justification for U.S. support of the SPLA, expressed for example by Roger Winter. U.S.-backed SPLA terrorism far surpasses the scale of violations attributable to the Sudanese government. While we are certainly not condoning human rights violations by the Sudanese government, it is clear from this comparison that human rights violations by the U.S.-backed SPLA are enormously preponderant.

This fact can be derived from many other issues related to the Sudanese conflict, such as a comparison of governmental and rebel policies in response to the current famine in Sudan. It has often been alleged that the famine is the product of government policies. Yet there is considerable evidence to the contrary that the current famine, which partly had its root in the drought of 1997-98, is the direct result of SPLA policies. Independent observers report that the famine immediately followed an SPLA attack on the city of Wau in Bahr al-Ghazal, in January 1998. SPLA commander Kerubino Kuanyin Bol led the attack against the city resulting in intense fighting, which in turn severely deteriorated the security and food distribution in the region. Newsweek reported that: “Aid workers blame much of the south’s recent anguish on one man: the mercurial Dinka warlord Kerubino Kuanyin Bol.”[65] CNN similarly reported: “Observers say much of the recent chaos has resulted from the actions of one man, Kerubino Kwanying Bol, a founding member of the rebel movement. He aided rebel forces in seige of three-government held towns, which sent people fleeing into the countryside.”[66]

The government has in contrast illustrated genuine concern for the impact of the famine on the Sudanese people. The government’s co-operation with international agencies was indicated in 1998 by Philip J. Clark, the World Food Program (WFP) Representative in Sudan: “Let me take this opportunity to thank the Government of Sudan for its co-operation in facilitating the efforts of the United Nations to meet the urgent food needs of thousands of people in Southern Sudan who require our help.”[67] Indeed, the primary problem was therefore not related to the Sudanese government, but to the intransigence of the international community in failing to provide funds for the relevant international agencies working with Sudan to alleviate the famine. As admitted by Jenny Borden, Overseas Director of Christian Aid: “Our problem is not access, as with airlifts, but resources.”[68] Indeed, in accordance with Operation Lifeline Sudan – an agreement between the government, the UN and the SPLA – the government has been coordinating thousands of flights over southern Sudan with humanitarian aid, providing thousands of tonnes of its grain as food relief to 180,000 southerners.[69] The government has also agreed to the delivery of aid by foreign agencies to rebel-dominated areas of the country – and in fact consented to an increase in the number of food delivery sites in the south from 20 in 1993, to over 180 in 1998, during the worst period of the famine. Unfortunately, most of these sites are within areas held by the SPLA. In spite of determined government efforts, much of the food aid never reaches the civilians in need of it due to SPLA policies. The French press reports that: “Much of the relief going to more than a million famine victims in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan is empreg up in the hands of the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), relief workers said.”[70] In July 1998, the Roman Catholic Church in southern Sudan publicly stated that the SPLA was stealing 65 percent of the food aid going into rebel-controlled areas of southern Sudan, food aid aimed at the most famine-affected Dinka communities in Bahr al-Ghazal.[71] Indeed, as the London-based African Rights reports:

“On the whole, SPLA commanders and officials of the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA, its humanitarian wing), have seen relief flows as simple flows of material resources. The leadership has also used aid for diplomatic and propaganda purposesé A large proportion of their consumption was food aid. Sudanese who were in Itang during that period later reported they routinely saw trucks being re-loaded with food at the camp stores: at times on a daily basis. Often they were just going to the nearby training camps, but relief supplies were also sometimes sold, or used on military operations in EasternEquatoria and Upper Nile. The SPLA ‘taxed’ the supplies for the refugees, reselling substantial amounts of food on the market and earning millions of Ethiopian Birr. This income was used to purchase vehicles and other equipment for the SPLA Much relief was sold in Ethiopia: traded for cash, clothing, cattle and other items. By 1990, the Itang camp manager was even managing to raise enough revenue to buy vehicles for the SPLA, and was publicly commended by John Garang for doing so.”[72]

The SPLA has even shot down two civilian airplanes carrying humanitarian aid, killing dozens of passengers and crew members, and has attempted to down several more. These incidents have occurred during the worst period of a famine, and led to the government having to temporarily forestall deliveries due to fear of planes being shot down.[73] Dozens of humanitarian aid workers have been murdered at the hands of the SPLA.[74] The primary cause of the violence, terror and famine in Sudan is thus the southern rebel movement supported by the United States both directly and through regional surrogates, not the Sudanese government – many of whose policies are attempting to seriously alleviate the famine and come to a mutually agreed peaceful solution to the conflict.[75]

While there have been allegations that the government is complicit in the forced displacement of civilians in southern oil-producing areas through a combination of ground and aerial bombardment, available data supports the view that either there is no such displacement, or otherwise the primary initiator of violence and perpetrator of displacement has been SPLA rebels. This certainly does not mean that the government has not committed human rights abuses in these areas, but rather that the initiator of violence é and the party primarily responsible for human rights violations é is the SPLA as opposed to the government. In February 2001 for example, amidst numerous accusations against the government of scorched earth operations in Bentui, Reuters reported that: “A spokesman for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which operates around Bentiu, about 770 km (480) miles southwest of Khartoum, where much of the drilling is located, said the WFP was not aware of forced displacements.” [76] The Canadian daily, the Financial Post, reported on another site where such actions were alleged to have occurred: “[A]t Heglig, the site of Talisman’s oil major oilfields and processing facilities, there is no evidence of population displacement. Military presence is low key. Children are playing and going to school near the oil wells. Western and Sudanese workers say thousands of nomads are coming here to look for work, for medical assistance… or for education.”[77]

It is, however, a matter of record that the claims of government-sponsored scorched earth operations within the oilfields supported by oil companies have been disproved by a recent scientific analysis of satellite pictures taken over a number of years in the areas of Sudan concerned. The study, commissioned by one of the oil companies involved in the Sudanese oil sector, was undertaken by a leading British satellite imagery analysis company, Kalagate Imagery Bureau, to analyse a series of satellite photographs of oil producing areas in southern Sudan. The photos – which included recent images acquired by U.S. military intelligence satellites and civilian satellite images of the areas in question é contained intricate detail, with ground resolution varying from about 3-10 feet. Lower resolution Landsat images from the 1980s and Radarsat images from 2000 were also included. These detailed satellite images of the key areas of controversy in the Sudan conflict were analysed by leading British satellite imagery analyst Geoffrey John Oxlee. Oxlee was an analyst for the Royal Air Force (RAF), retiring from the Force with the rank of Group Captain (Colonel in U.S. terms); is former head of the United Kingdom Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre; and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Expert Witness Institute. He concluded that “[T]here is no evidence of appreciable human migration from any of the seven sites examined.” Indeed, examination of the images showed that the facts were entirely the opposite of the allegations against Sudan: “[O]nce the sites were developed, then people did come into the area, and in fact it looked as if people developed around the oil sites rather than going away from it.” When asked if there was a chance that he had been provided with doctored images, Oxlee responded that the satellite photographs he had analysed “are genuine pictures. Having looked at hundreds of thousands of satellite pictures, there’s no way these pictures have been doctored. Absolutely none. We check these things out.” Oxlee further affirmed his willingness to stand by his conclusions in court if need be.[78] In other words, civilians in southern Sudan largely appear to be drawn towards the oil areas, as opposed to being systematically displaced from them. This illustrates the false nature of the claims that the government is systematically forcibly displacing Sudanese civilians in the south through ground and aerial force.

However, as Deputy Country Director of the WFP in Sudan Nicholas Siwinga later clarified, some degree of forced displacement is indeed going on in such areas of the south, but available information does not allow blame for displacement to be laid unequivocally at the door of the government é at the very least, the situation is unclear:

“WFP provides food assistance to displaced people in a number of locations in Unity state including Bentiu and Rubkonaé Our position on displacement around the oil fields in Sudan is that we have witnessed an increasing number of the internally displaced people who have required food assistance in these areas. These are indeed people forcibly removed from their homes due to war.


“As southern Sudan remains embroiled in almost 20 years of civil war, which is rendered even more complex by widespread inter-factional and inter-tribal fighting and militia activies, tragically, populations are being displaced almost continuously. The oil-rich area of Sudan has seen a great deal of population displacement and in fact, is currently one of the most insecure areas in Sudan. Therefore, it is entirely possible and feasible that oil interests in this area have exacerbated the uprooting of people from their homes. In what way? This is precisely what the Canadian government and other parties have been investigating, and what WFP and other humanitarian agencies are most anxious to know. At this point in time, however, there is unfortunately far too little information available.”[79]

The WFP has a total of 300 staff working in the Southern Sector operation, and at any one time they have over 120 staff in the field in southern Sudan “assessing needs and organizing airdrops and food distributions”. Yet despite this ongoing presence within the region, in WFP’s view there is still “far too little information available” to assess whether Sudanese government-sponsored “oil interests in this area have exacerbated the uprooting of people from their homes”. The blame for forced displacement in these areas cannot therefore be so easily laid at the feet of the government. This viewpoint has been vindicated by the East Africa-based South Sudan Relief Agency (SSRA) that flatly denied any fundamentally negative impact on the south due to oil interests:

“While it is true that oil exploration and development operations have added a new element to the conflict for all sides, the presence of these companies such as Canada’s Talisman Energy and the Swedish Lundin Oil Company has been very positive for the people of the south.  They have been active in building schools, health clinics, water purification systems and agicultural projects.   We sincerely appreciate their work and efforts in these regards. In all the years of this conflict we have never seen anyone else undertake such major developments. Therefore, to say that they must leave because some revenue will benefit the Khartoum government in the north would be a significant loss to the people.”[80]

It is noteworthy in this respect that the numerous reports of aerial bombardment by Sudanese forces in the oil-producing areas of the south, suffer from a variety of inconsistencies. Former U.S. Congressman Jon Christensen of Nebraska, a harsh critic of Sudan who returned from a visit to Khartoum at the beginning of 2001, has described Sudan’s fleet of Antonoff planes as troop transport aircraft, and has admitted he knows of no bomber craft in Sudan.[81] The Arizona-based Christian current affairs group, We Hold These Truths (WHTT), has conducted a revealing analysis of the claims of hundreds of bombs dropped by the Sudanese Air Force on hapless southerners, most of which originate from purportedly Christian aid groups with dubious intentions. Citing one example, WHTT records that:

“Gabriel Meyers is a New York based public relations agent for one alleged victim, Bishop Max Kasis, founder of Sudan Relief and Rescue Mission.  On December 29, 2000, Mr. Meyers released a report that 14 bombs were dropped in the vicinity of the village of Turalei, the site of the mission in Southwestern Sudan.  According to the widely-circulated report, two of these bombs made direct hits at the Bishop’s school at 11:00 a.m. while 700 students were in the school.  The report suggested massive destruction.  The implication was that the devastation was so great that the loss of life was inestimable.  No follow-up release came to our attention.


“However, in a telephone interview several weeks later, Mr. Myers startled us.  He admitted the outcome was ‘not as bad as we originally thought’.  It turns out no one was killed or even injured, and no estimate of damages (if any) was ever released.  It appears no correction of the original report was circulated, if it was made at all. But the alleged bombing of this school continues to be used as a fundraising ploy by many Mail-order Missionaries who allude to it all the time.”

Neither Meyers nor Kasis can be described as friends of the Sudanese government. For many years Bishop Kasis was a Sudanese dissident in Khartoum whose evidently inconsistent reports were nevertheless considered damaging enough to lead him to testify before the U.S. Congress. Kasis’ public relations agent, Gabriel Meyers, is of course paid to present the Bishop’s allegations as lucidly and powerfully as possible. Meyers issued a report on Kasis’ bombing claims wrongfully suggesting a massive scale of casualties and destruction. Such reports are commonly taken seriously by human rights groups and other observers. However, in an interview with WHTT under heavy questioning, Meyers admitted some crucial facts in relation to the bombing.

“Mr. Meyers – who claims to be a veteran war correspondent and veteran of Bosnia and Croatia – said he has seen combat, though not in Sudan.  Mr. Meyers told us that the Sudanese air forces are so primitive that its bombings had ‘no military value’ and only serve to scare people. He said Sudan’s entire air fleet is believed by his group to consist of only six ‘Antonoff’ troop transport airlines, and no bombers at all.


“Mr. Meyers stated that bombs dropped on the mission were, in fact,  ‘very crude barrel bombs’, which are literally rolled out of the planes by hand via the loading gate, usually from great height. He told us eyewitnesses believed the barrels were dropped from about 20,000.  He admitted that from such height there was virtually no possibility of hitting a target, and he volunteered that such bombings had ‘no military value.’é


“It does not take a War College graduate to know that without specialized bomber aircraft equipped with sophisticated precision bomb release mechanisms and computerized optic sights, no target could be hit from 2,000 feet, to say nothing of four miles highé It appears the GOS [Government of Sudan] is not even capable of purposefully bombing churches in Sudan, even if they desired to do so.  Yes, there have been occasional crude bombs dropped in Sudan, and a very few may have hit buildings that are used as churches, schools and hospitals, and a few people have been killed.  One would expect occasional injuries or deaths in and around churches in any war.  But there appears to be little chance of anyone being hit in church except by accidenté [T]he reports of wide-scale church, school, and hospital bombings are all based on a few incidents reported over and over again as though they were new occurrences.”[82]

Indeed, despite the paucity of available information noted by the WFP, there are reliable reports indicating that the primary initiators of violence and displacement are SPLA rebels undertaking a systematic scorched earth policy in oil-producing areas in Sudan. In February 2000, a Reuters correspondent in Sudan reported how she had witnessed “a pillar of smoke rising from the besieged town of Mayom, subject to daily bombardments by rebels as they try to advance eastwards to the oil development.[83] Then in June 2000, the rebel movement broke the humanitarian ceasefire that had been established throughout the vast Bahr al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan since 1998. As the United Nations IRIN reported, in early July 2000 “the European Union presidency issued a declaration… expressing its grave concern regarding the offensive by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the Bahr el Ghazal region.”[84] By July 2000, Caesar Mazzolari, Roman Catholic Bishop of Rumbek in the south reported that thousands of civilians were fleeing the town of Wau due to fears of a possible SPLA attack.[85] By August, thousands of civilians fled the fighting initiated by SPLA forces into government-controlled areas such as Bentui: “An influx of displaced people into Bentiu, the capital of Unity state in war-torn southern Sudan, has greatly strained humanitarian and food aid in the town… World Food Programme (WFP) official Makena Walker told Reuters about 20,000 people displaced by recent fighting had reached Bentiu in the last three weeks.[86] The Associated Press reported that the conflict spread to include oil-producing areas of the south due to the fact that the SPLA made a tactical decision to target oil fields. That the government has attempted to defend these areas under rebel attack is not at all surprising.[87]

The same sequence of events continued in 2001. Under the Sudan Peace Act, the United States Congress authorised the release of $10 million in assistance to the southern movement, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The payout came in the wake of an earlier payment of three million dollars.[88] However, as is known to Sudan specialists, the NDA is merely a political front for the SPLA, meaning that U.S. assistance was being directly channeled to southern rebels. U.S. Sudan expert Stephen Morrison, head of the Sudan project at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies has, for instance, observed that: “The NDA is a bit of a phantom. It is basically the SPLA and a few elements.”[89]

Almost immediately after the new boost of U.S. support to the SPLA was announced, the rebels launched another offensive in the Bahr al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan in May 2001, continuing during a regional peace summit in Nairobi in early June. The SPLA rebels also continued to ignore repeated calls from the government for a peaceful solution to the conflict.[90] As with the year before, the SPLA attack led to the massive displacement of southern Sudanese civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported on 8 June that the attack had resulted in the displacement of at least 20,000 civilians. Humanitarian relief work in the region was also ceased due to the attack. According to the Sudanese Catholic Information Office: “[L]ocations from Tonj northwards remain no go areas forcing both church and humanitarian agencies to suspend their flights to the region.”[91] United Nations estimates indicate that 30,000 civilians had been displaced within Bahr al-Ghazal by 11 June.[92] By 13 June just under 60,000 civilians had been displaced under the SPLA attack according to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rumbek, Caesar Mazzolari, who added that the newly created refugees were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.[93]

In response to consistent SPLA offensives over the years, huge numbers of southerners have fled into government-controlled areas. Hundreds and thousands of Christians from the south have escaped the war to reside in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. The New York Times estimates that 1.5 million or more refugees from the war have made the approximately 800 mile march to Khartoum, and further points out that “in dozens of interviews, Christians acknowledge they do not face overt oppressioné By and large, they say they are free to go where they please and worship at the existing churches.” The worst cases of complaints amount only to matters such as “subtle pressures from the Government to convert to Islam” and “social biases against them among Arabs” é yet nothing near the claims of religious repression alleged by groups such as the CSI.[94]

In light of such reports, it is possible to deduce a plausible sequence of events. The oil industry became a strategic target of the SPLA, particularly when oil began to be pumped and exported. Consequently, SPLA forces became militarily active within oil-producing areas, inflicting as much damage as possible, also involving attacks on civilians such as the bombardment of towns. The Sudanese government in response inputted forces into these areas leading to military confrontation between government forces and the SPLA. Subsequently, large numbers of civilians chose to flee the war zone. The SPLA’s role in consistently initiating the violence in these areas, thus being primarily responsible for the mass displacement of thousands of civilians, demonstrates that this rebel movement supported by the United States is the principal aggressor in the Sudanese civil war. U.S. policy has therefore only served to perpetuate the conflict, escalate human rights abuses and sabotage a peaceful solution.[95]

Indeed, emboldened by U.S. support, the SPLA has accumulated an extremely dire record in relation to pursuing peace initiatives. Officially, the SPLA are aiming for a referendum through which the south can vote to be either an independent country or an equal federation with the north. The seriousness of this objective can be easily discerned in light of the SPLA’s responses to repeated offers since 1997 by the Sudanese government for just such an internationally-supervised referendum. The offer was even included in Sudan’s new 1998 constitution.[96] Despite its own professed objectives, the SPLA has been systematically ambiguous about the referendum issue. SPLA commander-in-chief John Garang has admitted that the SPLA is staunchly opposed to separation from the north, revealing the meaninglessness of its official stand on a referendum in which the people of the south make their own choice: “[W]e are not secessionists. And if anybody wants to separate we will fight him because Sudan must be one. It should not be allowed to disintegrate or fragment itself.” Garang’s admission shows that the SPLA is not interested in the will of the people of southern Sudan expressed through a referendum. Contrary to the public relations stance, real SPLA objectives are entirely singular and indifferent to the wishes of the southern population.[97] It is therefore not surprising to see that Garang is on record as admitting to deliberately foiling a peaceful agreement. After the failed talks in Nairobi in 1997, the BBC quoted him declaring: “We intended not to reach an agreement. This is what we did and we succeeded in it.”[98]

SPLA-rejectionism continues in spite of a political climate conducive to a peaceful solution. Former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi who was ousted by the present government and is now the leader of the largest opposition party in Sudan, the Umma Party, recently noted that: “There are now circumstances and developments which could favour an agreement on a comprehensive political solution.”[99] Yet the SLPA, amidst U.S. support, has only continued to scorn such a solution, consistently obstructing the path to a peaceful settlement. As noted by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who for two decades has closely followed developments in Sudan:

“The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is U.S. government policy. The U.S. 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 U.S. government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.”[100]

Carter additionally noted that:

“If the United States would be reasonably objective in Sudan. I think that we at the Carter Center and the Africans who live in the area could bring peace to Sudan. But the United States government has a policy of trying to overthrow the government in Sudan. So whenever there’s a peace initiative, unfortunately our government puts up whatever obstruction it can.”[101]

The result, concludes Carter, is that: “Garang now feels he doesn’t need to negotiate because he anticipates a victory brought about by increasing support from his immediate neighbours, and also from the United States and indirectly from other countries.”[102] As a result, despite the Sudanese government’s repeated offers of a peaceful solution, the war in Sudan continues at the behest of the SPLA with United States support.[103] It is thus worth noting the conclusions of a U.S. official in connection with Sudan: “Peace does not necessarily suit American interests.”[104]

III False Pretexts

III.I Sudan as a Terrorist State?

The United States claims that Sudan is a threat to its national security due its “continued support for international terrorism”. However, there is no evidence that Sudan sponsors international terrorism, and the U.S. has yet to produce any. The year before Sudan was listed by the U.S. as a country sponsoring terrorism, the State Department’s 1992 Patterns of Global Terrorism recorded that: “There is no evidence that the Government of Sudan conducted or sponsored a specific terrorist attack in the past year, and the government denies supporting any form of terrorism activity.” The most the report could do was allege “a disturbing pattern of relationships with international terrorist groups” – namely that: “Elements [of] terrorist organizations continue to find refuge in Sudan.”[105] The desperation behind this attempt to tie Sudan to some sort of vague terrorist connection is clear from the fact that similar such “elements” of alleged terrorist organizations also find refuge in the United States and United Kingdom, as noted by the Reader’s Digest. Yet neither the governments of the U.S. nor UK believe this qualifies them as supporters of terrorism.[106]

The State Department’s 1993 Patterns of Global Terrorism similarly recorded that “there is no conclusive evidence linking the Government of Sudan to any specific terrorist incident during the year”; although in an effort to substantiate unconfirmed U.S. allegations against Sudan, the report added that “five of fifteen suspects arrested this summer following the New York City bomb plot are Sudanese citizens.”[107] In one of its later annual reports the State Department was again compelled by the facts to grudgingly concede that: “There is no evidence that Sudané conducted or sponsored a single act of terrorism in 1994.”[108] Several months after the U.S. decision to include Sudan as a terrorist state in 1993, the evidence contradicting the U.S. pretext only continued to accumulate. The London Independent reported that Sudan:

“é is slowly convincing its neighbours that Washington’s decision to put Sudan on its list of states supporting ‘terrorism’ might, after all, be groundless. Even Western diplomats in Khartoum are now admitting privately that – save for reports of a Palestinian camp outside Khartoum like those that also exist in Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries – there may be no guerrilla training bases in the country after all.”[109]

The next day’s edition of the newspaper further stated that: “So far, no major terrorist incident has been traced to the Islamic regime in Sudan. The Sudanese lack the logistical abilities to run terrorist networks… even if they wished”.[110] The London Guardian corroborated this assertion of the lack of proof for the U.S. inclusion of Sudan in its list of states sponsoring terrorism: “Independent experts believe… that these reports [of terrorist training camps] have been exaggerated, and that Sudan is too short of money to make it an active sponsor of terrorism”.[111]

Indeed, when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter attempted to obtain evidence from  administration officials for Sudan’s listing, he was informed that there was no evidence: “In fact, when I later asked an assistant secretary of state he said they did not have any proof, but there were strong allegations. I think there is too much of an inclination in this country to look at Muslims as inherently terrorist or inherently against the West.”[112] By the end of 1996, the lack of evidence had only become increasingly conspicuous. “U.S. officials have no hard proof that Sudan still provides training centers for terrorists”, reported Tim Weiner in the International Herald Tribune. Interviewing key U.S. officials “responsible for analyzing Sudan”, Weiner found that they were all forced to admit that “we just don’t know”.[113] Two years later near the end of 1998, the New York Times reported the ongoing duplicity of the U.S. position:

“[T]the Central Intelligence Agency… recently concluded that reports that had appeared to document a clear link between the Sudanese Government and terrorist activities were fabricated and unreliable… The United States is entitled to use military force to protect itself against terrorism. But the case for every such action must be rigorously established. In the case of the Sudan, Washington has conspicuously failed to prove its case.”[114]

The British Government has also conceded this. In a debate on Sudan in the British Parliament in February 2001, the Government stated that it would be “quite wrong” to describe Sudan as a terrorist state. Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was responding to a question by Baroness Rawlins.[115] Thus, the key U.S. justification for its war-by-proxy on Sudan é that Sudan sponsors international terrorism é is baseless. The inclusion of Sudan on the State Department’s list of terrorist states is therefore clearly a politically motivated maneuver, with no connection to national security, designed to justify U.S. policy in the region that is geared to secure U.S. strategic and economic interests.

III.II Islamophobic Propaganda

To legitimise the U.S. strategy, much misinformation and propaganda has been galvanised against Sudan. The civil war in Sudan has not only been blamed almost entirely on the National Islamic Front, but has been construed as the results of the government’s attempts to violently impose Islamic Shariah law on the unwilling population of the primarily Christian south utilising massive ground and aerial bombings of civilian structures in the process. The SPLA and other rebel groups are characterised as freedom fighters defending southern Sudan from the state-terror of the central despotic Islamic government. This narrative suits the requirements of U.S. elites and their strategic interests very well, but as already illustrated above, it is in fact quite untenable. Most of this disinformation originates from naive sources deriving their information on the conflict from SPLA rebels or those who sympathise with them. Yet as has been explained by Dr. Peter Nyaba, a SPLA national executive council member, the SPLA is penetrated by a “sub-culture of lies, misinformation, cheap propaganda and exhibitionism”. Dr. Nyaba elaborates that: “Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda machinery… was about 90% disinformation or things concerned with the military combat, mainly news about the fighting which were always efficaciously exaggerated.”[116] Yet well-known human rights groups such as Christian Solidarity International, Christian Aid and Human Rights Watch have openly sympathised, and apparently relied on information from, the SPLA and their associates among anti-Muslim missionary relief organisations.[117]

It is important to note first of all that the common claim by supporters of the U.S. policy é that the south is predominantly Christian é is inaccurate. Both Christians and Muslims are minorities in the south, with a maximum of 15 per cent of the southern population being Christian. The majority of the south are in fact animist.[118] The claim that the civil war is primarily due to the government’s waging of a ‘holy war’ against the unwilling civilian population of the south to impose on them Islamic Shariah law is similarly false. On the contrary, the present NIF government exempted southern Sudan from Shariah law in 1991 because the population is primarily non-Muslim. It is a matter of record that the ten states constituting southern Sudan are governed by their own laws.[119] Prior to the passing of the Twelfth Constitutional Decree, the 1991 Criminal Law Act (CLA 91) provided the basis for Sudanese criminal law. Since then, the power to make and enforce criminal laws has been delegated to the states. As British Sudan expert Dr. Sean Gabb reports: “In 1991, the Government amended and liberalised the sharia laws by exempting the largely animist southern Sudan from its application.”[120] Indeed, one of the first reforms introduced by the Sudanese government was the exemption of the south from Shariah law. According to the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices:

“Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, based on Shariah law, [prescribes] specific ‘hudud’ punishments. The Government officially exempts the 10 Southern States, whose population is mostly non-Muslim, from parts of the 1991 Criminal Act. But the Act permits the possible future application of Shariah law in the south, if the local state assemblies so decide.”[121]

A cursory inspection of various examples of Sudanese criminal law clarifies that the implementation of Islamic Shariah law in Sudan é encompassing such issues as the prohibition of alcohol and the harsh penalties against criminals é are by and large applicable only to Muslims. CLA 91 s78(1), for instance, stipulates that: “Whoever manufactures, possesses or consumes alcohol shall be punished if he is a Muslim.” This law is clearly intended to apply only to Muslims. CLA 91 s78(2) stipulates that: “Whoever drinks alcohol shall be punished if he disturbs the public peace.” This article is implemented in a general manner irrespective of religion with the clear intention of safeguarding public order, and is therefore only relevant to acts performed in public. The Evidence Act 1993 s9(a) guarantees that: “Any piece of evidence illegally obtained shall not be received in any criminal proceedings.” In conjunction with CLA 91 s166 – which makes invasion of privacy a criminal offence é these laws mean that non-Muslims are exempt from the application of alcohol prohibition as long as they do not disturb public order.

As Gabb elaborates: “All these provisions mean that Christians can drink at home, and that even Moslems are safe if they break the law in private – bearing in mind that informers are discouraged.” There is, however, an additional prohibition on the brewing of native alcohol that is not fully enforced in the south, which is justified on public health grounds. But the origin of this law has little to do with the current Sudanese administration. Indeed, the prohibition was in place before the present government came to power, originating in the Sudanese Penal Code established by British colonialists during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominum in Sudan from 1899-1956. Accordingly, the prohibition was “in force throughout Sadiq Al Mahdi’s time in officeé

“It predates the imposition of the Sharia in 1983 by President Nimeiri. It predates his coming to power in 1969. It even predates Sudanese independence in 1956. Its origin is in the Sudanese Penal Code enacted by the British during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium that ruled Sudan between 1899 and 1956. It is at least strange that international complaints against this prohibition began only in the 1990s.”

Elaborating on the implementation of Islamic hudud punishments according to the Sudanese application of Shariah law, Gabb points out in detail that for the most part non-Muslims are simply exempt from their implementation:

“As for harsh Islamic punishments, these also so far as possible are confined to Moslems. They apply only in the Northern States, and Christians and pagans are even there exempted from some aspects of their application. Of course, the chief complaint about the Sharia laws is not whether they apply to non-Moslems, but the fact that they exist at all. Amnesty International, for example, has called on the Sudanese Government to abolish cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments in law. While this is something to be desired, those calling for it must recognise that such punishments are accepted by public opinion in the Islamic world, and that they appear to work. It must also be accepted that there is a solid majority in the United Kingdom for restoring the death penalty for murder; and there seems to be some approval for the idea of castrating rapists and mutilating thieves – especially housebreakers. Furthermore, there is a strong undercurrent of opinion in this country that would object to cruel and unusual punishments not in themselves, but only so far as they are applied without fair trial and to trifling or nonexistent crimes. Here also, the case against Sudan is weak. And it must be said that many of the more severe punishments prescribed in Sudanese law are rarely carried out.”[122]

The fallacious nature of the common charges of the government’s brutally repressive policies against its own people, particularly Christians both in the north and south, have been thoroughly disproved by U.S. Representative in Pennsylvania State Harold James, who visited Sudan on a fact-finding mission in March 1997. James, who having served five years as an undercover policeman in Philadelphia is familiar with the requirements of investigative research and observation, felt that “nothing was hidden” from him in Sudan.

He had “freely mingled with ordinary members of the public in non-threatening and unsupervised circumstances, both in Khartoum and in rural areas that he visited.” He attended several Christian church services, finding them well attended and the Catholic Cathedral in particular “jam packed”. He commented on the  “relative freedom from street crime, drugs and alcoholism evident in the capital city,” and noted significant government efforts to provide care for the large number of refugees streaming north to escape the war zone in the south.  He emphasised that the refugees “showed no visible signs of fearing the government,” but on the contrary had turned to the government for assistance. The U.S. Representative traveled to areas in the south including Blue Nile State where 600 civilians were killed in a rebel offensive to target the Rosieres hydroelectric plant which supplies most of the power to the country near the town of Damzian. He also visited a refugee camp and hospital near the Ethiopian border, containing around 4,300 people, where recent battles had taken place. Freely conversing with patients through English-speaking nurses and aids, the U.S. Representative had observed no apparent fear of government troops. On the contrary, he noted that there seemed to be a dependency and “a good bit of appreciation for them.” In government-controlled areas he found no incidents of starvation and instead noted the favourable food supply in these parts. He concluded that the government was fighting against rebels “controlled from outside”, and that this may be because “Sudan’s strong agricultural assets and potential for oil self-sufficiency might be the target of foreign interests.” And in a rhetorical question challenging the legitimacy of U.S. sanctions on Sudan, Harold James asked: “Why would anybody want to sanction a country like that, that is trying to take care of its people and make peace?”[123]

Another common charge against Sudan is that in accordance with its alleged ‘holy war’ to impose Islamic law in the south, the government is actively promoting slavery. Yet again, the accusation is devoid of any clear evidence and constitutes convolution of the facts. Sudan specialist and Co-Director of the London-based African Rights, Alex de Waal, noted with regard to the allegations of slavery against the Sudanese government that:

“[O]vereager or misinformed human rights advocates in Europe and the U.S. have played upon lazy assumptions to raise public outrage. Christian Solidarity International, for instance, claims that ‘Government troops and Government-backed Arab militias regularly raid black African communities for slaves and other forms of booty.’ The organization repeatedly uses the term ‘slave-raids’, implying that taking captives is the aim of government policy. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed slave raiding or slave trade.”[124]

A joint report by Anti-Slavery International and Sudan Update has similarly observed that “the charge that government troops engage in raids for the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence.”[125] In a submission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Anti-Slavery International warned that:

“There is a danger that wrangling over slavery can distract us from abuses which are actually part of government policy – which we do not believe slavery to be. Unless accurately reported, the issue can become a tool for indiscriminate and wholly undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. [We] are worried that some media reports of ‘slave markets’, stocked by Arab slave traders – which [we] consider distort reality – fuel such prejudice.”[126]

If slavery occurs it is certainly not condoned by the Sudanese government. Even the U.S. State Department admitted in its 1990 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that:

“Slavery reportedly exists in those remote areas where government control is weak and where displaced persons fleeing the war zones come into contact with armed groups… The revival of slavery is often blamed on economic pressure and the civil war, especially the practice of arming tribal militias.”[127]

The 1992 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices further affirmed: “Sudanese law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and there was no evidence of organised or officially sanctioned slavery.”[128]

Of particular relevance in this regard is the authoritative investigation of slavery in Sudan conducted by Lord McNair, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, who has visited Sudan on several occasions including a 1997 fact-finding mission. His findings are thus based on a combination of physical investigation in remote parts of north and south Kordofan and analysis of the literature alleging slavery. The McNair Report on Allegations of Slavery and Slavery-like Practices in Sudan records that:

“As an integral part of this investigation I visited the states of Northern and Southern Kordofan, the site of many of the allegations. I was accompanied by the vice-chairman of the Human Rights Committee, the Reverend Adi Ambrose, and the Member of Parliament for Kadugli East, Emir Hamid Harim, who is a traditional leader from the Nuba mountains. We travelled first to El Obeid in North Kordofan and then to Dellinge and Kadugli in South Kordofané Two themes emerged. Firstly, we could find no evidence of slavery. Secondly, the main concerns of the community leaders we met was for the hundreds, if not thousands, of Nuba and Arab children who had been abducted by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces of John Garang. They appealed to us for help in having the children returned, and various ideas for achieving this were discussed.”

Lord McNair and his colleagues thus found that the principal perpetrator of slavery in Sudan is the SPLA. The McNair Report notes that:

“[T]he abduction by the SPLA of upwards of ten thousand mainly southern Sudanese children over the past decade or more is a far more tangible manifestation of slavery or slavery-like practices than anything alleged by Christian Solidarity International [against the government of Sudan]. The plight of these children has been well documented by Human Rights Watch/Africa, the Children’s Rights Project and others. Many of these children have died in the course of the war, either though being forced into combat by the SPLA, or through the squalid conditions in which they were kept. There is no doubt that the abduction of these boys was a deliberate act of SPLA policy. It is a matter of record that [they] have been isolated in camps far away from the public gaze [and] held in preparation for forced labour or forced military service.”

According to “what Human Rights Watch/Africa calls slavery, these children would appear to be living in conditions qualifying as slavery. It is puzzling to find Christian Solidarity International supporting the SPLA for whom such practices are deliberate policy.” Elaborating on the conclusions of his investigation Lord McNair thus wrote in his report:

“I have, as I mentioned, followed the issue of slavery allegations for some time. This visit, together with my other research, has led me to the conclusion that there is no slavery, certainly within North and South Kordofan which have been the focus of many of the allegations. Having reviewed the literature over the past three years, and having visited the areas in question on two occasions, I note that these allegations may have arisen out of inter-tribal conflict over water and pastures, a regrettable but nonetheless ever present source of difficulty between settled and nomadic peoples in those parts of Sudan.”[129]

This assessment has been corroborated by other investigators. Former researcher in the British Parliament Dr. David Hoile – Director of the London-based European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council (ESPAC), specialist in Sudanese affairs, and author of several studies of African and international affairs – has conducted a meticulous review of the human rights literature containing allegations of government-sponsored slavery in Sudan. In a report published by The Sudan Foundation in London, from which it is worth quoting copiously, he documents a combination of internal contradictions within, and substantial lack of essential evidence for, such allegations:

“Far from proving their case, the material presented by Human Rights Watch/Africa in fact contradicts the claims that the government of Sudan supports or condones slavery in Sudan. Despite lurid claims that the present government is implicated in the slaving of thousands of Southerners, the specific evidence produced by Human Rights Watch/Africa proves that military forces loyal to Sadiq al-Mahdi were directly involved in the kidnapping and abduction of southern Sudanese children. The specific evidence provided by Human Rights Watch/Africa in two reports also clearly demonstrates that the present government’s local government and police authorities have directly intervened on several occasions, occasions documented, in passing, by human rights groups, to release women and children detained by tribal militiasé And, lastly, Human Rights Watch/Africa has also provided ample evidence that in case after case when evidence has been produced of illegal abduction, kidnapping or detention, the government has acted to free those victims of an earlier government’s excessesé The various key human rights organisations have quite simply not produced any credible evidence of state-sanctioned or condoned slavery or slavery-like practices. What these human rights groups have documented contradicts such claims. These human rights groups have shown repeated interventions by government authorities to free people detained by tribal militias. They have also documented that due process of law exists in Sudan, whereby Sudanese courts have repeatedly freed people held illegally. The cases reported by groups such as Human Rights Watch/Africa also show that many of the children freed by Sudanese courts under this government were abducted by militias and forces loyal to Sadiq al-Mahdi before the present government was in power.”[130]

Dr. Hoile’s report was addressed directly to one of the most prominent advocates of Sudan-slavery allegations, Baroness Caroline Cox of Christian Solidarity International (CSI). It is quite plausible that Baroness Cox’s ongoing refusal to reply to Hoile’s paper in fact demonstrates her inability to respond adequately to his rebuttal of the common allegations of government-sponsored slavery in Sudan. To date, neither Cox nor CIS has been able to produce a refutation of Hoile’s report.[131]

Another authoritative source on the slavery allegations is the February 2000 report of the Canadian government’s Special Envoy to Sudan, John Harker. One of the primary objectives of Harker’s fact-finding mission in Sudan was to “independently investigate human rights violations, specifically in reference to allegations of slavery and slavery-like practices in Sudan.” The Harker Report, like the British McNair Report, confirms the baseless nature of these allegations and condemns the fraudulent nature of the ‘slave redemption’ campaigns of many Christian missionary aid groups in Sudan:

“[R]eports, especially from CSI, about very large numbers were questioned, and frankly not accepted. Mention was also made to us of evidence that the SPLA were involved in ‘recycling’ abductees… Serious anti-abduction activists… cannot relate the claimed redemptions to what they know of the reality. For example we were told that it would be hard not to notice how passive these ‘slave’ children are when they are liberated or to realize how implausible it is to gather together so many people from so many locations so quickly – and there were always just the right number to match redemption funds available!é Several informants reported various scenarios involving staged redemptions. In some cases, SPLM officials are allegedly involved in arranging these exchanges, dressing up as Arab slave traders, with profits being used to support the SPLM/A, buy weapons and ammunition… We did speak with an eyewitness who can confirm observing a staged redemption and this testimony conformed with other reports we had from a variety of credible sources. The ‘redeeming group’ knew they were buying back children who had not been abducted or enslaved. The exchange was conducted in the presence of armed SPLA guards. The ‘Arab’ middle man/trader delivering the children for ‘redemption’ was recognized as a member of the local community even though he was dressed up in traditional Arab costume for the event.”[132]

According to the Nairobi-based Christian newsletter Africanews, closely allied to the Roman Catholic Church in Kenya and southern Sudan, the abundance of baseless slavery allegations and redemptions may be rooted in sheer self-interest under the guise of human rights. Certain purportedly Christian aid groups are deliberately exaggerating facts on the ground in pursuit of their own political agenda, with dire consequences for the Sudanese people:

“Analysts, mainstream Church officials, and aid workers are worried that the stance taken by the Christian Right might jeopardize relief operations and precipitate a humanitarian crisis in Sudan… Since last year, interest in Sudan by Americans has mushroomed largely due to campaigns led by missionary groups and U.S. based African-American churches, resulting in an unusual alliance of right-wing politicians identified with the Republican Party and members of the Democratic Congressional Black Caucus… Observers also note that some leaders – particularly Rev. Al Sharpton – could be using the Sudanese conflict to build political careers back home.”[133]

It is thus clear that the abundance of exaggerations, distortions and overall propaganda against the Sudanese government are rooted primarily in incredible and inconsistent reports by SPLA rebels and/or their sympathisers and associates, under the guise of concern for human rights and democracy, but in reality motivated by self-interest, self-aggrandisment and ultimately what appears to be a modern version of the anti-Muslim ‘Crusade’ mentality so characteristic of the Middle Ages.