Christopher Hitchens’ book “No One Left to Lie To” summed up the zeitgeist of the Clinton administration’s years in office. One Clinton legacy in this respect continues to this day — highlighted by last week’s release of the State Department’s annual survey of global terrorism. It highlighted one of the Clinton lies yet to be addressed by the Trump administration, namely the continued listing of the strategic African country of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism despite two decades of active cooperation in counter-terrorism.
While there is no doubt that Sudan kept bad company for a few years in the early 1990s, there was never any evidence to justify Khartoum being placed in 1993 on the list of “countries determined to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” a list established in 1979 and enshrined in federal law.
Big lie No. 1 was to list Sudan despite any evidence. Interestingly, the Clinton administration admitted this to former President Carter. On asking to see the evidence for the listing, he was told there was no evidence, only “strong allegations” — allegations subsequently seen have been false. The Clinton White House was willing, however, to lie to the then-American ambassador to Sudan who was told in the same week that there was compelling evidence. The White House was clearly lying to one of them.
The Clinton administration’s political abuse of federal anti-terrorism legislation in listing Sudan set into motion a chain of events stretching to this day, which included rejecting repeated Sudanese offers of counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence-sharing that would have seen the extradition of Osama bin Laden -— then living in Khartoum — to the United States in 1996. This would have resulted in the snuffing out of the al Qaeda terrorist organization before it metastasized. Simply put, the atrocities of 9/11 would have been prevented had President Clinton and his administration accepted the Sudanese offers to extradite bin Laden rather than choosing to perpetuate their in-house lie.
Bill Clinton admitted in a 2002 speech that Sudan had made the 1996 offer. When pressed on this offer after the events of 9/11 his National Security Adviser Sandy Berger contradicted himself, claiming both that there had been no such offer and that Washington could not accept the offer for legal reasons.
The Clinton administration continued to push the lie initiated by Sudan’s listing by generating politicized CIA reports of alleged Sudanese involvement in terrorist plots in the 1990s. The U.S. embassy in Khartoum was partially closed and then shut down for several years as a result of more than 150 such CIA reports which were subsequently admitted to have been false.
The Clinton administration also claimed that the Sudanese had sent assassins to kill Tony Lake, Mr. Berger’s predecessor as national security advisor. After almost a year of round-the-clock security and moving Lake into Blair House, these allegations were found to have been baseless.
Big lie No. 2 conveniently serving to distract attention away from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, resulted in the 1998 U.S. cruise missile strike on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum. The administration destroyed the plant alleging Sudanese involvement with weapons of mass destruction — something subsequently disproved by, among others, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Surprisingly perhaps, Sudan continued to offer counter-terrorist cooperation even after this attack. The Clinton White House continued to ignore the offers.
Sudanese offers were eventually taken up post-Clinton, and Khartoum’s help was subsequently described by the Bush administration’s Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as “really terrific.” Sudan has saved many American lives and continues to hold the line in a region wracked by terrorism and Islamist militancy. Despite two decades of close counter-terrorism cooperation, however, senior U.S. officials, including former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, broke repeated promises to remove Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list. They continued instead to use the terrorism list as a political tool and in so doing undermining the credibility of the war on terrorism.
The Clinton administration lied, lied and then lied again with regards to Sudan and terrorism. The American people were poorly served by the deceit and arrogance of the Clinton administration and its political appointees — many of whom were subsequently recycled in the Obama administration. Donald Trump was elected in large part on a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington and to challenge the “fake news” that sustains it. It is in President Trump’s gift to reverse decades of the Washington establishment’s fake claims regarding Khartoum and reward an ally by removing Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list.
• David Hoile is the director of the Africa Research Centre.
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