'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Clarke, The Weekly Standard, and al-Shifa

60 Minute's interview with Richard Clarke was a serious broadside at the Bush campaign's major asset, the perception that Bush is "strong on security". However, despite the ruckus it's caused, for those of us who have been paying attention, given such facts as the stone-walling of the 911 commission, O'Neil's statement regarding Rumsfeld's desire to invade Iraq the day after 911, general knowledge of the motives of neoconservatives, and so forth, the interview added little that is new. Yet, it is interesting to see how apologists for the Bush administration are dealing with this bombshell...

Take for example Stephen F. Hayes's "On Richard Clarke" in the Weekly Standard. After making the usual ad hominem attacks on Clarke's character and/or motives, Hayes launches into the meat of his argument: Clarke says that there is no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda but, in fact, there is a significant connection, and further Clarke was involved in the decision to destroy the al-Shifa plant in Sudan during Clinton's tenure, the motivation of which was the alleged link between Hussein's Iraq and the shadowy network of fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. The proof Hayes offers to establish this connection is the following: a statement made by the Clinton Justice Department regarding the attack, a statement made by George Tenet, and a statement in a letter by George Tenet to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Three assertions do not make a fact. Readers of this blog probably do not believe there was ever a significant connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but for the record let us remember that George Tenet recently-- not half a decade ago or two years ago -- disavowed the memo that Dick Cheney called the "best source of information" documenting a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, saying

[The CIA] did not agree with the way the data was characterized in that document. I learned about [Cheney's quote calling Feith's memo the best source on the subject] last night when I was preparing for this hearing, and I will talk to him about it.*

Furthermore, Tenet has made it clear that the Pentagon also does not agree with Feith's memo*. If Hayes has some other evidence that Hussein was in bed with bin Laden perhaps he should share it with us.

As for Clarke, the al-Shifa bombing, and a statement made by the Clinton Justice Department, Hayes's essay assumes that the al-Shifa plant really was producing weapons of mass destruction; it was not -- or at least there is no compelling reason to believe that it was. Once again if Hayes's has such evidence perhaps he should provide it to the proper authorities; the plant's owner's assets were unfrozen years ago, and no legal action against him was ever pursued. Here's the Boston Globe on the subject: (from "Year later, US attack on factory still hurts Sudan", BG, 8/22/99)

The bombing was ordered a week after terrorist bombs destroyed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But now, a year later, there is not a shred of evidence suggesting that the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan produced nerve gas.

After months of waiting, with little fanfare the US government indirectly vindicated Salah Idris, the owner of the factory, and the Republic of the Sudan. While the government didn't admit its guilt or confess its blunder, last May 4 it did remove the freeze it had placed on Idris's assets. (Had the United States not done so, it would have been forced to reply to the factory owner's lawsuits to lift the freeze.)

While this retreat suggests the United States had no evidence to support its claim that the missile attack was to combat terrorism, it brought to light a whole new spectrum of meaning to the phrase "crimes against humanity."

Here is the BBC on the same subject: (from Africa Factory Bombing: A Matter of Evidence", BBC News, 5/5/99)

The owner of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory destroyed by US cruise missiles last August, Salah Idris, has won a key victory in his campaign to win an admission from the US authorities that they bombed his factory in error.

In response to a law suit brought by Mr Idris's Washington lawyers, the US Treasury has unfrozen Mr Idris's US bank accounts, implicitly acknowledging that they do not have evidence to justify their action against him.

Why would the Clinton Justice Department issue a statement implicating Hussein in the production of weapons of mass destruction at al-Shifa? Well, the question is irrelevant given that there were no WMD's being produced at al-Shifa. But, anyway, the answer is obvious: for the same reason that it is convenient for Bush to link al-Qaeda to Iraq, to provide political cover for unsavory actions and policies of the favored state. Hayes writes "Clinton administration officials repeatedly cited Iraqi support for Sudan's Military Industrial Corporation and al-Shifa in their defense of the targeting" -- yes, they did; the Clinton administration had committed what amounted to a war crime and it was convenient to characterize the attack as a strike against a man who had been very successfully demonized for the past decade, Saddam Hussein. Remember, at the time, the name Osama Bin Laden didn't ring any bells.

Hayes concludes his article with five questions, four of which are about the issues I have just discussed:

(1) Is George Tenet wrong about Iraqi support for al Qaeda?
Depends on which George Tenet you mean. The George Tenet of more than half a decade ago was wrong. The current George Tenet is right.

(2) Why did the Clinton administration cite an "understanding" between bin Laden and Iraq in its indictment of bin Laden for the 1998 embassy bombings?
For propaganda purposes. As stated above, it was convenient to characterize actions such as the al-Shifa bombing as a military strike against a hated enemy with name recognition. If there is proof to the contrary, I'd like hear it.

(3) Did Iraq support al Qaeda's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction in Sudan?
There is no evidence of support. There is no evidence of al-Qaeda's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction at the al-Shifa factory. We must base our assessments of the world on facts and evidence, not statements made by public officials.

(4) Clinton administration officials, including Clarke's former boss Sandy Berger, stand by their decision to target al-Shifa. Does Clarke?
He shouldn't on moral grounds, of course, but Clarke's support for the al-Shifa attack would only be grounds to discount his statement, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda, ever," if he supported the al-Shifa attack based on his belief that Iraq was somehow involved, which isn't a necessary corallary of supporting the bombing. Indeed, if the assumptions made by writers for the Weekly Standard are any guide, one would be hard-pressed to find a commentator in the mainstream media who doesn't support the al-Shifa bombing -- but then I guess that's why they're commentators for the mainstream media.

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