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Bill Clinton Bombs an Aspirin Factory

The following are ten articles, in reverse chronological order, about the US cruise missile demolition of a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan.

from TPDL 2000-Aug-1, from the Associated Press 2000-Jul-31:

Owner of Destroyed Plant To Sue

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Sudanese owner of a pharmaceutical plant destroyed by U.S. cruise missiles is seeking $50 million in compensation on the ground that his Khartoum factory was targeted because of false charges that it had terrorist links.

Salah Idris, who purchased the al-Shifa plant five months before the August 1998 bombing, will file a civil action suit in the U.S. Court of Claims in hopes of obtaining restitution.

He has retained the Washington law firm of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue, which said in a statement that Idris will establish that al-Shifa was "engaged only in pharmaceutical processing and packaging," with no connection to international terror.

President Clinton ordered the attack, alleging that the plant had links to Osama bin Laden, exiled Saudi-born millionaire suspected in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998.

The retaliatory attack against the Khartoum facility was two weeks later, coupled with cruise missile strikes against alleged terror camps in Afghanistan said to have been under bin Laden's control.

The statement by the law firm said the U.S. government has retreated systematically from declarations that high officials made two years ago to justify the attack on the plant, "except for the claim that a chemical component of VX nerve gas known as Empta was found in a soil sample taken by a foreign agent near the plant."

It added that a study commissioned by Idris found no trace of Empta in the ground soil and drainage sludge at al-Shifa but instead found evidence of common pesticides with "chemical similarity" to Empta.

Idris said he has always opposed terrorism as a tool of political action, has never met with bin Laden and has not knowingly done business with him or any of his associates.

In its most recent comment on the issue, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said last week the administration stands by its initial justification for the bombing. He said evidence suggests that bin Laden was seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, for use against American targets. He said Empta, used to make chemical weapons, was found outside the al-Shifa facility.

"In the nearly two years since the attack, the evidence about the purpose of this chemical plant remains persuasive," Reeker said.

Idris said he understands the need of the U.S. government to defend itself against acts of terror. "But a government becomes what it fears most when it lashes out against the innocent and then fails to recognize its errors and make full restitution," he said.

The Sudanese government backs Idris's claims that the plant was not carrying out illicit activities and has demanded that a U.N. fact-finding mission be established to investigate.

from TPDL 1999-May-5, from the Washington Times, by Jerry Seper:

U.S. OKs payout for Sudan bombing 'mistake'

The Clinton administration will not challenge a lawsuit filed by a Saudi businessman who said the bombing last year of his pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was a "mistake" based on faulty intelligence data.

The administration also agreed to release $24 million in assets that the businessman, Saleh Idris, had deposited in U.S. banks.

The Aug. 20, 1998, cruise missile attack, which the White House claimed was in retaliation for terrorist attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa, came three days after President Clinton's appearance before a federal grand jury investigating his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Hours after his grand jury testimony, Mr. Clinton made a dramatic address to the nation admitting an "inappropriate relationship" with the former White House intern.

The White House insisted at the time it bombed the plant, located near Khartoum, Sudan, because it was tied to international terrorist Osama bin Laden and was producing precursors to VX nerve gas. Sudan countered that the plant manufactured only pharmaceuticals and offered inspection tours for U.S. officials and reporters.

Facing a deadline to respond to the suit, filed Feb. 26, the Justice Department told Mr. Idris' attorneys on Monday that the administration had ordered that the freeze placed on his U.S. bank accounts be lifted immediately.

An administration official said yesterday the plant was targeted based on "physical and circumstantial evidence" and those involved were "totally confident" the information was correct. The official, who asked not to be identified, said the decision not to pursue the case was based on concerns that classified intelligence data and methods used to gather it would have been compromised in a court proceeding.

"We have a number of concerns about the actions and the background of Mr. Idris," the official said. "He has associated himself with people that I think that every American would find reprehensible. And we will continue to protect our national security."

But Mr. Idris' attorney, George Salem, said the government backed out because it could not prove its case.

"Faced with the need to answer a legal challenge to its actions freezing Mr. Idris' . . . accounts, the government chose not to make any attempt to justify its actions against Mr. Idris," he said. "Instead, today's order . . . effectively removes any suggestion that Mr. Idris has, at any time, maintained a relationship with Osama bin Laden or any terrorist group or organization."

White House spokesman James Kennedy did not return calls for comment.

In the suit, Mr. Idris said the government froze deposits he had at the Bank of America despite having no evidence to support accusations that the plant was tied to bin Laden or had produced precursors to nerve gas. The suit said the government wrongly portrayed Mr. Idris as an associate of bin Laden's and a supporter of terrorism.

Bin Laden is the exiled Saudi Arabian who has vowed a reign of terror to rid the Persian Gulf region of Americans.

"I am grateful that the United States has taken the honorable course and has corrected, in part, the serious harm that has been done to my family and our good name," Mr. Idris said in a statement, adding that while he understood the United States' desire to "wage a vigorous fight against terrorism," it had made a "mistake" in targeting his plant.

Mr. Salem, partner at the Washington law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, said the decision to bomb the plant was "based on very circumstantial evidence, all of which we have been able to refute."

He said the United States had poor intelligence from Sudan and relied on operatives from other countries, whose data was wrong.

"Fortunately, we live in a country where we have a system of justice that requires that people produce evidence when someone is accused of being a terrorist," Mr. Salem said.

"But I am concerned about the awesome power of a few individuals to make these kinds of decisions in a vacuum," he said. "Because of the unique circumstances of the White House at the time, which was under political siege, hawks were able to convince otherwise cautious people to act."

After backing down on claims that the plant produced precursors to VX nerve gas and was connected to bin Laden, Mr. Clinton's aides later said precursors were found in soil tested at the site. But Mr. Salem noted that independent experts hired to conduct chemical examinations of the soil at the plant found no trace of substances used in chemical weapons.

U.S. cruise missiles launched from Navy ships struck the Sudanese plant and also hit terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The attacks were the most significant military retaliation for terrorism since President Reagan sent warplanes against Libya in response to the 1986 Berlin disco bombing.

In his suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, Mr. Idris demanded the release of $24 million in deposits that had been frozen by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. He filed a similar suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the Bank of America.

With the full and unconditional release of Mr. Idris' bank accounts, Mr. Salem said both actions would be dismissed.

Two days before the Sudan attack, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr had pressed his case against Mr. Clinton, calling Miss Lewinsky for a return grand jury appearance to testify on gifts from Mr. Clinton that later were retrieved and to further clarify specifics of what he called an inappropriate sexual relationship. Mr. Starr also was considering subpoenaing Mr. Clinton for questions he refused to answer before the grand jury.

from PDL 1999-Mar-15, from the Village Voice, by Jason Vest:

The Bombing of the Al Shifa Pharmaceutical Plant in Sudan is one of Clinton's lamest lies- but who cares?

Despite all the bilge that's gushed through institutional Washington over the past year about the importance of "honesty" and "accountability" vis-=E0-vis the dishonorable, immoral Mr. Clinton- homilies to the importance of telling the truth, rebukes for lying under oath, anguished hand-wringing about how these tawdry lapses will warp a generation of children, etc.- one fundamental reality of Babel on the Potomac remains unacknowledged. Simply put: While the Domestic Lie will draw the wrath of Congress and the independent counsel and whip the Fourth Estate into a frenzy that flings all else aside, the National Security Lie- though more blatant and consequential- will be granted and allowed to fly off into the horizon of memory.

Case in point: Last August's obliteration of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. Two Fridays ago, the Al Shifa's owner, Salah Idris, filed lawsuits against the U.S. government in Washington and San Francisco to release millions of dollars the Treasury Department ordered frozen last year, not long after the Defense Department- on instructions of the commander in chief- destroyed Idris's Khartoum plant with 13 cruise missiles on the heels of Clinton's grand jury testimony in the Lewinsky matter. The grounds for converting the Al Shifa to rubble, some may recall, were that the plant was supposedly the weapons-of-mass- destruction arm of new U.S. foreign policy bogeyman Osama bin Laden's international terror empire, churning out precursor chemicals to concoct VX nerve gas. At first, the U.S. government asserted that Al Shifa was financed by Bin Laden; upon finding out it wasn't, the government said that Idris was a front man, a Bin Laden confederate, and, despite not being on the State Department's list of "designated terrorists" (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing), the Sudanese-Saudi banking and investment magnate would have to deal with his U.S.-held millions being put into stasis.

Less than a month ago, the story's radar signature blipped briefly onto the front page of The New York Times , where it was reported that lawyers Idris had retained from Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, & Feld (how many international terrorists retain attorneys, much less from the law firm of Clinton crony Vernon Jordan?) were in receipt of two reports- one from Thomas D. Tullius, chair of Boston University's chemistry department, the other from ex-CIA agents now in the employ of Kroll O'Gara, the international investigative firm- that showed, respectively, no scientific evidence of chemical weapons production, and no financial, political, or terrorist ties between Idris and Bin Laden. Not that this should have been entirely unexpected. In September, another Times story had said that indicators were strongly pointing in a dubious direction. In October, The New Yorker published a penetrating piece by Seymour Hersh, whose demonstrations of national security ineptitude in regard to Al Shifa would have moved key officials to resign in most other countries.

One shouldn't forget the details, or think they've ceased to matter, according to a veteran intelligence agent who spoke with the Voice on condition of anonymity, and who has spent most of his career in the shadow of mosques- including those in Khartoum. "You once could have made the argument that the intelligence community was subverting the policy," he mused. "This is a case that shows a change- the policy subverting the intelligence community. And it underscores how oblivious Americans are to the rest of the world that they can be fed this shit. Al Shifa was bogus."

In the days immediately following the bombing, "senior U.S. officials" (including a few "names," like national security adviser Sandy Berger) repeatedly claimed that Al Shifa produced "no commercial products," had a "secured perimeter patrolled by the Sudanese military," "in fact makes the components for VX gas and other chemical weapons," and "had links to Osama bin Laden." No details were given about how any of this was known. Within days, though, it all began to break down: it turned out that the plant was not only commercial but had been approved by the UN Security Council to package veterinary medicines for relief shipments to Iraq. (Indeed, medical vials and pharmaceutical parcels were identifiable among the wreckage at the plant formerly known as Al Shifa.) Scores of foreigners who had toured the facility- including the German and Italian ambassadors to Sudan- couldn't recall any security. And the British designers of the plant testified that it hadn't been built for, and couldn't produce, chemical weapons.

Then the administration changed its tune: Al Shifa had, officials claimed, been under CIA investigation for 18 months, and the CIA had a soil sample to prove that it had been up to no good. However, the agent who spoke to the Voice said there were problems on both fronts. Since the U.S. pulled out of Khartoum in 1996 (a decision based largely on false intelligence reports by a CIA asset), the CIA has treated Sudan as a "denied area"- off- limits to actual CIA officers. This led the CIA to depend on either recruiting a foreign national or one on loan from a friendly neighboring intelligence service. Egypt has no love for Sudan, and Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda all receive "non-lethal" U.S. military aid used to help the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement fight the Islamist regime in Khartoum. While declining to confirm specifics about how the sample was collected, the agent stated that the choice of operative for the mission likely did not lend itself to ensuring entirely objective results.

Immediately after the bombing, the U.S. propagated the notion that Al Shifa had vats of lethal brew ready for action. Indeed, unnamed government sources told U.S. News & World Report that this was old news: that Al Shifa "had been in the Pentagon's inventory of targets for several years," and that "one final step" before loosing the Tomahawks was running "computer models of the risk that explosions at the chemical factory would unleash a plume of poison gas across Sudan." However, when it quickly became evident that the plant was not the "clear and immediate danger" that Clinton had declared it to be, backpedaling commenced: the scientific basis for the attack was a soil sample containing EMPTA, a non-lethal VX precursor.

No more details than that, sayeth the White House, in the name of protecting intelligence "sources and methods." However, everyone from an EMPTA authority at Oxford's chemistry department to the American Chemical Society has pointed out that the presence of commercially used EMPTA proves nothing. According to a recent issue of ACS's Chemical & Engineering News , the administration's refusal to examine the results of Professor Tullius's investigation, and its contention that intelligence activities would be "jeopardized by disclosing the amount found, the analytical techniques used, or the other chemicals detected . . . [serve] only to exacerbate people's disbelief of the U.S. government's claims."

No matter. On January 22, as demonstrated in The Washington Post , the government's story underwent yet another permutation. Currently, according to White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke, the U.S. is "sure" that the Iraqis were the sinister force behind Al Shifa, producing what the Post characterized as "powdered VX-like substance at the plant that, when mixed with bleach and water, would have become fully active nerve gas." This, says Professor Tullius, strains credulity: "Bleach is often used to detoxify nerve agents," he says. "Using bleach to activate an agent makes no sense." While the Iraqi and Sudanese militaries are known to have collaborated on limited munitions projects, says investigative reporter Frank Smyth, there is nothing linking these endeavors to Al Shifa or Bin Laden. "It looks like the administration acted based on inferences drawn from pieces of intelligence they presumed were connected," he says.

That seems to be about par for the Clinton foreign policy course. According to the intelligence agent who once hung his cloak and dagger in Khartoum, behind every intelligence failure is a policy failure, and, he says, one has to question the U.S. approach to Sudan. Currently controlled by a government with a horrible human rights record- which is at war with Christian and animist rebels with somewhat less horrible human rights records- the Khartoum government has been the focus of a hard-line approach by a clique of U.S. foreign policy officials: Berger, Clarke, Madeline Albright, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice. This has been the case despite Khartoum's attempts at international outreach, through acts such as delivering Carlos the Jackal to the French and expelling Osama bin Laden for the U.S. ("The Sudanese aren't sweethearts, but even the Taliban in Afghanistan get more respect than Khartoum does," a rueful mid-level State Department official says.) If the U.S. government is serious about neutralizing threats of Islamist terrorism from Sudan, says former Sudanese foreign minister Francis Deng, it should try to understand this famine-plagued country and work to change it from the inside rather than bombing it.

At this stage, the truth about Al Shifa remains elusive. It used to be that embarrassing front-page disclosures in The New York Times , lengthy investigative articles by Sy Hersh, and aggressive congressional probes by the likes of Senator Frank Church and New York's late, lamented Representative Otis Pike were enough to instill fear- and even inspire change- in the establishment gray zone where spooks, soldiers, and diplomats converge. The presence of two of these factors seems to have made little difference in this instance; as for Congress, shortly after the bombing, CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary William Cohen convened an ad hoc closed briefing for curious senators. Almost all emerged satisfied- and bound to secrecy.

Not long after that briefing, this reporter had occasion to interview Senator John McCain, who was asked his opinion on the matter of the bombings. "It's entirely appropriate for us to examine whether they were well-motivated and whether the national interest was clearly served," McCain said. "I still have some major questions. One, the factory: Why did it have to be struck exactly then? The factory was not going to go away. It was not going to launch a missile. What was the rationale for saying this has to be done now?"

Nice sentiment. It seems, though, that the senator has decided that trips to Las Vegas to rattle the tin cup for presidential campaign donations, and pushing an aviation bill that would add more flights to Washington's already overburdened National Airport, take priority over agitating for a congressional probe into the bombing of the Al Shifa plant. No driving interest in the House either. So where are the Churches and the Pikes of 1999? Somewhere, perhaps, out on the horizon.

from TPDL 1999-Feb-9, from the New York Times, by James Risen and David Johnston:

Experts Find No Arms Chemicals at Bombed Sudan Plant

WASHINGTON -- Chemists who examined soil, sludge and debris samples from a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant destroyed in August by American cruise missiles found no traces of chemical weapon compounds, according to a scientist hired by the owner of the plant.

The findings, though prepared privately for lawyers for the owner, who is now seeking redress from the United States, raise new questions about the government's reliance on tests of soil samples from the site obtained clandestinely by the CIA. American officials had said the samples contained traces of Empta, a precursor used in the production of deadly VX nerve gas.

The United States attacked the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum and suspected terrorist training camps near Khost, Afghanistan, on Aug. 20 in an effort to curb the activities of the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden after the bombings of two American embassies in East Africa. American officials have said the bin Laden terrorist network was behind the bombings of the diplomatic missions in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden has denied any role in the bombings.

At the heart of the new evidence are 13 carefully cataloged samples taken from the wrecked plant and its grounds late in October. The sampling project was designed and supervised by Thomas Tullius, chairman of the chemistry department at Boston University.

"The point of what we did was to carefully and scientifically collect samples from a variety of locations and have them analyzed by one of the top laboratories in the world for this kind of work," Tullius said in an interview. "What they found was that in those samples, to the practical limits of scientific detection, there was no Empta or Empa, its breakdown product."

In response to the new findings, Clinton administration officials said they stood by their decision to strike the plant. The officials dismissed the findings of chemists working on behalf of the plant's owner, Salih Idris, noting that their soil samples were taken long after the United States obtained its soil from the site and long after the bombing and rains could have dispersed incriminating evidence.

Moreover, while they acknowledged that they did not know that Idris owned the plant at the time of the attack, other American officials say they now have strong evidence linking him to bin Laden.

"We stand by our evidence indicating the presence of a chemical weapons precursor at this plant," said P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. "We stand by our evidence linking this plant to Osama bin Laden's network. We continue to believe that this was an appropriate action to pre- empt Osama bin Laden from further attacks against the United States."

Several ground locations at the plant were surveyed, along with interior sites in the plant that were covered by debris and partly protected from rain. One location, a septic tank, was found intact and provided what Tullius said was a historical record of the chemicals flushed through the plant drains.

The lab analysis found that none of the samples contained detectable levels of Empta, nor did they find Empa, the subsidiary compound into which Empta rapidly breaks down. Empta, Tullius said, breaks down within days, but Empa remains in the soil, and even in small quantities would be detectable for weeks or months after contact with the ground.

In addition to the evaluation of the new soil samples, an international security company, Kroll Associates, was hired by Idris' lawyers to conduct a detailed review of the Shifa controversy. In their report, made available to The New York Times, Kroll Associates found no evidence of a direct link between Idris and bin Laden.

The scientists and investigators were hired by the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, which represents Idris, a Sudanese- born Saudi businessman. The law firm has a long-held reputation of influence in Democratic circles with partners like Robert Strauss, the former Democratic Party chairman, and Vernon Jordan, a close friend of President Clinton.

But its credentials have not benefited Idris. The firm's lawyers have been flatly rebuffed in their efforts to present their findings to the White House, National Security Council or the Justice, Treasury and Defense Departments.

"We've been confronted with the problem of proving a series of negatives that there was no Empta at the plant and that Idris was not a terrorist," said Mark MacDougall, a partner at the law firm. "We think we've done that with evidence that can be admitted in court. But to date responsible officials, including at the White House, have flatly refused to look at the facts. We're sorry about that."

The lawyers have not yet decided whether they will sue the government, in what would probably be complex litigation with an uncertain outcome. Nevertheless, MacDougall said Idris wanted to clear his name and unfreeze millions of dollars in bank accounts at the Bank of America that the Treasury Department's office of foreign-assets control blocked after the Shifa attack. In addition, Idris is seeking millions of dollars to replace the plant.

In interviews with Western consultants to the factory, employees and others, the Kroll investigators said they had found no evidence that the plant had been heavily guarded or that there had been secret areas in the factory off-limits to outsiders, where chemical weapons might have been produced or stored. The report concluded that the plant produced only veterinary medicines and pharmaceuticals for human consumption. While Al Shifa did export to Iraq, Kroll found no evidence of a chemical weapons link to Baghdad.

But the Kroll investigation did provide new details about Idris and confirmed his commercial links to Sudan's Military Industrial Corp., the government entity that produces weapons for the Sudanese army. The United States charged that the industrial corporation was also responsible for chemical weapons production in the country, and that bin Laden had provided financing for the agency.

The Kroll report determined that Idris had links to the military corporation through his other business interests in Sudan, but not through Al Shifa. Kroll investigators said the industrial corporation was a powerful military-based organization that reaches into many parts of the Sudanese economy, including Idris' business empire.

from TPDL 1999-Feb-26, from the Washington Post p.A3, by Vernon Loeb, staff writer:

Plant Owner to Sue U.S. To Free Frozen Assets
Saudi-Owned Factory Destroyed in Sudan Raid

A Saudi businessman whose pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was destroyed by a U.S. missile attack last August is launching a legal counterattack with a lawsuit contending that the Treasury Department unlawfully froze $24 million in his bank accounts immediately after the missile strike.

Saleh Idris, a Sudanese-born magnate who purchased the El Shifa plant in Khartoum last April, was set to file the suit in U.S. District Court here today, associates said. The suit alleges that the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control froze his funds on deposit in London without designating him a terrorist or formally declaring he is linked to a designated terrorist, as the law demands.

Controversy has swirled around the El Shifa attack ever since 13 cruise missiles slammed into the facility Aug. 20, 13 days after U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. Senior Clinton administration officials have provided elaborate justification for the attack--saying the plant played a role in chemical weapons production--but criticism has mounted at home and abroad from those who argue the administration made a mistake in its haste to strike back against terrorism.

"We think that they are seeking to position Saleh Idris as someone connected to terrorism without any basis or evidence at all in order to justify the attack on the plant," said Mark J. MacDougall, one of Idris's lawyers at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. "We know of no evidence connecting Saleh Idris . . . to any form of terrorist organization."

Steven R. Ross, another Akin Gump lawyer representing Idris, said the case Idris plans to file today "is not about whether the U.S. should or should not fight terrorism. It's about how, if the U.S. government makes a mistake, it should stand up and admit that mistake and not ruin an innocent person's life."

A senior administration official responded that "it is our belief that there is a link between Mr. Idris and Mr. [Osama] bin Laden, and it's the administration's judgment that we have to use all the tools available to undermine the effectiveness of [bin Laden's] terrorist organization."

In launching the cruise missile attacks against El Shifa and against camps in Afghanistan run by exiled Saudi dissident bin Laden, they said they targeted the Khartoum plant as a chemical weapons facility with links to bin Laden. They subsequently admitted that they did not know at the time of the attack that El Shifa was owned by Idris, who purchased the facility four months before it was destroyed.

But U.S. officials now say bin Laden, who has been charged with engineering the embassy bombings in Africa, has ties to the plant's former and current operators. As criticism mounted in the attack's immediate aftermath, U.S. officials also took the unusual step of disclosing that the CIA had obtained a soil sample from the plant grounds containing EMPTA, a known precursor of deadly VX nerve gas.

Idris, an entrepreneur and former bank executive at the National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia, has fought back in an attempt to clear his name.

He has hired Thomas D. Tullius, chemistry department chairman at Boston University, to take a complete set of soil samples at El Shifa to show that he never made chemical weapons there. The samples, including specimens gathered from the plant's destroyed laboratory and its septic tank, were tested at three European laboratories and contained no VX precursors of any kind, according to Tullius.

But the lawsuit Idris plans to file today against the Treasury Department represents the first concrete step he has taken to regain use of assets frozen by the U.S. government. Loss of the pharmaceutical plant could be the source of a second lawsuit, associates have said.

Idris' lawsuit says that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze $24 million of his assets through a one-page letter sent four days after the missile strike to the Bank of America. The letter stated that Idris's assets "are blocked pending investigation of interests of Specially Designated Terrorists" named by U.S. officials. But the government has never designated Idris as a terrorist or provided any evidence linking his assets to bin Laden, according to MacDougall and Ross. Without such a declaration, they say, the Treasury Department has no legal basis to freeze Idris's funds.

Stanley J. Marcuss, a Washington attorney who has written extensively on the government's powers to freeze terrorists' assets, said the Office of Foreign Assets Control "has tremendous powers in this area and a lot of latitude" to freeze assets, but only after it has officially designated someone as a terrorist. Seizing Idris's assets without such a declaration, he said, would be "quite unusual."

"An interesting question for OFAC would be, why isn't he on the list?" Marcuss said. "That's not a difficult thing to do. It can be done with the stroke of a pen."

from The New American 1998-Oct-12

American-Made Terrorists
by William F. Jasper

President Clinton's rationale for calling the August 20th cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan has been steadily unraveling. Initially the nation was told that the strikes were launched both in retaliation for the terrorist bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two weeks earlier, and as a preemptive measure against imminent terrorist attacks directed at American targets.

In very rapid order, however, the Clinton terror scenario began falling apart. The alleged VX poison gas plant in Khartoum, Sudan appears to have been only a pharmaceutical plant, and the Administration has provided no proof to back its claims that the plant was connected to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden. Nor has it produced evidence to support the early assertions that bin Laden's network was behind the bombings of the U.S. embassies. There is plenty of evidence that Sudan has been, and is, a major sponsor of international terrorism, and it is no secret that bin Laden has declared war on America. But the justification for the specific targeting of the Sudan site and what were reputed to be bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, together with the particular timing of the attack - coinciding with Miss Lewinsky's August 20th reprise before the grand jury - has not been forthcoming.

Lies Upon Lies

As with virtually every other aspect of the Clinton Presidency, the August 20th "strike against terrorism" has turned out to be a series of lies built upon lies.

In launching Tomahawk missiles to destroy the Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Co. factory in Khartoum, the Clinton Administration claimed it had destroyed a "chemical weapons-related" facility that was being used for the production of deadly VX nerve gas. Officials averred that the evidence was "compelling" and "irrefutable." It was neither, as unfolding events showed:

  • British engineer Tom Carnaffin, who served as technical manager of the plant from 1992 to 1996, was quoted in the New York Times and other publications as saying, "I have intimate knowledge of that factory and it just does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons."

  • Germany's ambassador to Sudan, Werner Daum, was quoted in the August 31st issue of Der Spiegel as saying that the factory "mainly produces antibiotics, medicaments against diarrhoea and malaria, preparations for transfusions, and veterinary products."

  • Sudanese rescue workers and firemen could be seen on television news in the midst of the factory rubble without protective suits, together with barefoot, lightly clad onlookers, none of whom, apparently, suffered any ill effects from the supposed deadly chemicals.

  • Under increasing pressure to produce evidence of chemical weapons production, Clinton officials claimed that a soil sample that had been secretly taken from the Al-Shifa site before the attack showed traces of the chemical compound EMPTA, which has no use except in chemical weapons. However, the New York Times reported that EMPTA can easily be confused in lab tests with FONFOS, an agricultural insecticide common throughout Africa.

  • Administration officials have yet to produce any "compelling," let alone "irrefutable," evidence that the bombed complex was a "chemical weapons-related" facility. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger told a global CNN television audience that "we have physical evidence" but "are not going to release it."

    In a press briefing after the missile attack, Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Sandy Berger claimed that exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden helped finance the Al-Shifa "chemical weapons plant." Claims of proof for this tie-in have turned out to be as empty as the EMPTA "evidence."

    Although bin Laden did live in Sudan during the early 1990s and is reliably reported to still have operational ties to the terror regime in Khartoum, Clinton officials have shown no trail linking either bin Laden or the Sudanese government to Al-Shifa. No evidence has been forthcoming to support claims that the facility was part of Sudan's "military industrial complex." (Even if evidence were produced drawing the bin Laden financial connection to the Al-Shifa plant, what justification would it provide for a military strike against a civilian target?)

    As the bin Laden connection foundered, officials leaked another anonymous story: Saddam Hussein had helped set up the supposed VX facility at Al-Shifa. But again, no evidence, and this line had its own problems. If Baghdad was behind the facility, and if this connection provided the rationale for the attacks, then why was the White House attacking bin Laden and simultaneously bending over backwards to avoid confronting Saddam over his chemical and biological weapons facilities in Iraq?

    In his televised address to the nation, President Clinton claimed that the Afghan sites had been chosen as targets because "a gathering of key terrorist leaders was to take place there today." "Our target was terror," Mr. Clinton claimed in his August 20th Oval Office address, asserting that "convincing and compelling" intelligence reports indicated bin Laden's network was planning further attacks. The frightful spectre of a global convocation of terrorist kingpins planning imminent destruction for America was a powerful selling point. But it too appears to have been a Clintonian fabrication.

    Reports on August 21st suggested that as many as 600 terrorists were in attendance at bin Laden's mountain redoubts. "This is the largest Sunni terrorist training facility in the world," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton told a Pentagon briefing. In later reports, however, officials acknowledged that the terror summit story had been erroneous; bin Laden and other leaders were probably nowhere near the four camps that were hit by the Tomahawk attack.

    On August 21st Sandy Berger offered this positive assessment: "The attacks have significantly disrupted the capability to use these camps as terrorist training facilities." William Cohen also claimed that the strikes "destroyed a number of facilities." But reporters who journeyed to the remote locations described only a few thousands of dollars worth of damage to obstacle courses, barracks, and tents, all relatively easy to replace. A paltry return for the expenditure of an estimated $100 million in cruise missiles.

    Dubious Bomber Links

    At about the same time that President Clinton was announcing to the world the compelling proof for his missile attack on bin Laden, FBI Director Louis Freeh was stating that his investigators had reached "no final conclusions" concerning who was responsible for the embassy bombings. And the Washington Post reported the day after the missile attack: "Even Thursday, federal law enforcement sources said they were a bit surprised by the attacks, since they are nowhere near bringing criminal charges against bin Laden - or anyone else allegedly involved in the embassy bombings." Little evidence has been released concerning the two prime suspects in the Nairobi bombing - a Yemeni national named Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, arrested in Kenya, and a Palestinian engineer named Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, arrested in Karachi, Pakistan - but there is justifiable cause for skepticism concerning the hasty, "detailed confessions" obtained from the duo.

    Christopher Kremmer, correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald in Islamabad, interviewed General Hamid Gul, the former chief of Pakistani intelligence, who was quoted as stating: "Odeh is an imposter, planted by a foreign intelligence agency - probably Israel's Mossad or the US's Central Intelligence Agency - to provide a justification for the cruise missile attacks on bin Laden's Afghan bases." "It costs 1,000 rupees [about $30] to buy[off] any passport officer at Karachi airport," said General Gul. "Odeh's millionaire backer bin Laden hadn't given him that much money, nor even a reasonable forgery of a passport? This man wanted to be caught." Kremmer also quoted Pakistani defense analyst Dr. Shireen Mazari, who agreed with General Gul: "It just doesn't make sense. Hard-core political terrorists do not volunteer information the way Odeh has done. It's a set-up."

    Ordering military strikes against targets in foreign countries is serious business, morally and politically, and always has carried serious and unknown ramifications.

    The fact that both of the countries targeted by Mr. Clinton are run by radical Islamic regimes meant that there was already a special fallout danger that could be expected among Islamic co-religionists worldwide. That danger was greatly exacerbated by the obvious failure of Team Clinton to justify its target selection, especially in Sudan, where the destruction of the Al-Shifa plant took out a major source of medical supplies badly needed by the civilian population. This provided glorious grist for the anti-U.S. propaganda mills.

    Even worse, from an Islamic perspective, are the charges by survivors of the Afghan camps that the U.S. missiles destroyed two mosques. Photos purporting to show the two pulverized buildings littered with singed fragments of the Koran have been circulating in the Muslim world press, inciting ever greater anti-American fervor.

    Red Puppets

    Many of the points in our foregoing analysis have been made by other observers as well. However, precious few of even the most penetrating Clinton critics have managed to cut through the obvious failings of Mr. Clinton's overall policies concerning terrorism in general and his specific actions on August 20th to the core issue at stake. That core issue is this: We have no more hope of winning the "war against terrorism" than we have had in our failed "war against drugs," if we allow our leaders and policy makers to continue to subsidize, support, and treat as "allies" the principal state sponsors of terrorism. As long as the U.S. and other Western governments pretend not to see and understand the Russian and Chinese hands behind international terrorism and continue to pretend that Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, the PLO, Libya, Iran, Syria, et al., are independent actors, we will see the victim corpses of terrorism pile higher and higher.

    Middle East expert Laurie Mylroie has been a persistent and perceptive critic of President Clinton's terrorism policy. "One of the most extraordinary developments in American policy under Bill Clinton has been a shift in the nation's response to terrorism," she wrote in the April 1997 American Spectator. "Previously the United States had acted under the assumption that terrorist bombings were the work of terrorist states or terrorist organizations. President Clinton, however, has subtly but unmistakably turned terrorism from a national security issue into a law enforcement issue - rather than punishing nations or groups thought to be behind terrorist acts, Clinton lays the blame on individuals, and makes public pronouncements that the individuals will be brought to justice." As Mylroie pointed out, "the results have been disastrous." And as a specialist on Iraq, she has focused particular attention on the Clinton Administration's incredible contortions to avoid identifying the obvious hand of Saddam Hussein in a number of terrorist attacks on America.

    Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Washington Times columnist, shares much of Mylroie's perspective in these matters. Thus, he applauded the recent U.S. retaliation as "a faltering first step in what we can all hope is America's too long-delayed counteroffensive." "Sudan and Afghanistan are low-cost hideouts for terrorists, unfortunately not their headquarters," Beichman correctly pointed out. "The real culprits are those states whose past records and present activities indicate their dedication to terrorism as an instrument of national policy. What these states have learned is the importance of cutouts so that if a terrorist is caught he will be unable to implicate let alone identify anybody except one or two corporals, but never the generals who have mounted the jihad against America and the West." According to Dr. Beichman, "The attack on Sudan and Afghanistan will have meaning if and only if Iran and Iraq are persuaded that the next terrorist incident will be followed by attacks on military installations - not population centers - in those Middle East countries or the other three members of the Radical Entente - Libya, North Korea and Cuba."

    The Radical Entente terror states do indeed use cutouts - individuals and organizations - both to carry out terrorist acts and to stake out more extreme positions that make the terror states appear moderate by comparison. This strategic use of "deniable assets" in a classic good cop-bad cop fashion has been copied with phenomenal success by terrorist groups such as the African National Congress, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Irish Republican Army.

    But this scheme did not originate with the Radical Entente states. As Anatoliy Golitsyn, the most important Soviet defector to the West, has repeatedly pointed out, much of what passes for "Islamic fundamentalism," "Pan-Islam," "Islamic nationalism," and "Pan-Arabism" is, in reality, Moscow-directed and Soviet-controlled, with Iran serving as the principal change agent. In his 1984 book New Lies for Old, and his 1995 book The Perestroika Deception, Golitsyn revealed the Soviet plan for using and co-opting Islam. In The Perestroika Deception, he wrote that the upgraded Soviet strategy in the Commonwealth of Independent States "involves the use of the new `independent' [but Soviet-controlled] Muslim states in the CIS to establish and develop economic and political cooperation with the fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim world." Explained Golitsyn, "A primary objective of the strategy here is to achieve a partnership with the fundamentalists in Iran and Algeria and to replace the present American-oriented rulers of Saudi Arabia with fundamentalists."

    Long-Range Strategy

    This is happening through a number of important avenues. Christopher Story, publisher of the authoritative, London-based intelligence reports Soviet Analyst and Arab-Asian Affairs, has noted that Iran's revival of the Economic Cooperation Council (ECO) is a vital part of this Moscow-directed strategy. The new ECO, launched in Teheran in 1992, includes Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and CIS states Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan. "Thus, while Pakistan is supposed, according to conventional analysis, to be in `China's camp,'" writes Story in the June 1998 Arab-Asian Affairs, "here we find it incorporated willingly within a transnational regional economic grouping of which Iran, extensively controlled by Moscow, has seized the leadership." This has resulted in "the establishment of a Muslim bloc to Russia's south with the appearance of geopolitical `autonomy' but in practice controlled by Moscow."

    In nearly every issue of his newsletter, Story provides new, additional proof that the communist strategists in Moscow and Beijing are carrying out a long-range, coordinated, Sino-Soviet strategy for control of the Middle East. The "fundamentalist" terror states and terrorist organizations are dependent upon Moscow and Beijing not only for weapons, but for much additional technology and technical support. The so-called Sino-Soviet experts who continue to insist that the "Cold War is over" have no excuse for their blindness, writes Story. "The evidence is now so overwhelming and blatant that the Communist strategists are still carrying out a strategy for global control - which includes international terrorism as a vital component," that only those who are totally dishonest or have a vested interest in their own ignorance can refuse to see.

    Hilaire du Berrier, a longtime contributor to The New American and publisher of the Monaco-based HduB Reports, sees the recent Clinton attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan as a very foreboding development. As one who speaks Arabic, monitors the Arabic press, and has lived in and traveled throughout much of the Islamic world, du Berrier says the negative consequences of Mr. Clinton's act "are incalculable." One likely result, he told The New American, is that the ailing King Fahd of Saudi Arabia will likely be overthrown soon by the Russian-directed "fundamentalists." "It will be Iran all over again," he said, referring to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. King Hussein of Jordan is also very ill, he notes, and "there is a strong likelihood that he will be replaced by a radical, anti-American regime as well." Predicts du Berrier, "This will push many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims into the radical camp, and will almost certainly lead to bloody global conflict on a scale far greater than most imagine."

  • from TPDL 1998-Oct-5:

    Joint chiefs, FBI chief reportedly bypassed in raid planning

    Copyright © 1998
    Copyright © 1998 The Associated Press

    NEW YORK (October 5, 1998 00:03 a.m. EDT -- The White House planned the bombing raids on suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan and the Sudan without the involvement of four members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and FBI Director Louis Freeh, The New Yorker reported.

    The magazine also said in its Oct. 12 edition, due on newsstands Monday, that Attorney General Janet Reno was ignored when she questioned whether evidence linking Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden to the terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa was strong enough to justify the retaliatory attacks.

    The Aug. 20 Tomahawk missile strikes hit bin Laden's purported terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and a chemical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. President Clinton said the latter raid was based on evidence of a nerve gas component found at the Al Shifa plant.

    The New Yorker said the White House consulted Joint Chiefs Chairman Henry H. Shelton on the raid plans but instructed him not to brief the three generals and one admiral who run the nation's armed forces, nor to consult with experts in the Defense Intelligence Agency.

    That led to the four service chiefs being kept out of the planning loop, learning of the attack only one day before it was carried out, according to the article, which cited a variety of sources that included anonymous military officials.

    The four service chiefs were able to force one significant change in strategy when informed of the planned attack, calling off a strike on a storage facility in Khartoum, the magazine said.

    The New Yorker also wrote that there is widespread belief that senior White House officials misrepresented and overdramatized evidence suggesting that the Tomahawk raids had prevented further terrorist attacks.

    The Pentagon declined to comment to The Associated Press on the article. "I have nothing for you on that," Marine Maj. Elizabeth Kerstens said Sunday.

    David Leavey, spokesman for the National Security Council, said, "We feel confident in the evidence that shows bin Laden association with Al Shifa and fully justifies the action the president ordered on Aug. 20."

    Freeh was excluded, the magazine said, even though his agency had actively investigated the events that precipitated the raids -- the Aug. 7 terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Saalam, Tanzania, that killed 12 Americans and more than 250 Africans.

    The article said Freeh and many of his top aides believe the agency was left out because President Clinton "questions his political loyalty."

    Reno, it said, believed that the evidence tying bin Laden to the embassy attacks did not meet the "Tripoli standard," a gauge used to justify the 1986 bombing of Libya in retaliation for actions by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

    Chris Watney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told The Associated Press she could not comment on "internal security deliberations." The FBI did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

    from TPDL 1998-Sep-25, from USA Today:

    Dem in House criticizes Sudan bombing

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Barney Frank, one of President Clinton's most outspoken supporters on Capitol Hill, said Thursday he believes Clinton made a mistake last month in ordering the bombing of a Sudanese factory suspected of manufacturing chemical weapons agents.

    Frank, D-Mass., said in a letter to Clinton he initially supported the bombing of sites in both Sudan and Afghanistan but now believes the administration went too far in the Sudan attack.

    Frank said he did not mean to argue that there was no case for the Aug. 20 bombing. "But being able to make a case is far from being able to justify a military attack on an installation in a foreign country," he said.

    For any such activity, "there ought to be a degree of certainty or fear of imminent danger which in neither case seem to be present regarding Sudan," Frank said.

    Democrats, along with Republicans, have been highly supportive of the bombings, although some lawmakers have said the case for bombing the suspected terrorist complex in Afghanistan was stronger than that for Sudan.

    Former President Carter has called for an investigation into whether the factory actually produced chemical weapons materials.

    from TPDL 1998-Aug-29, from the New York Times, by Tim Weiner and Steven Lee Myers:

    Flaws in U.S. Account Raise Questions on Strike in Sudan

    WASHINGTON -- In the days since the United States bombed what it called a secret chemical weapons plant in Sudan, some of the key statements made by administration officials to justify the attack have proven to be inaccurate, misleading or open to question.

    U.S. officials continue to say they bombed a facility that produced a key ingredient for a deadly nerve agent. But their descriptions of the plant as a highly secretive, tightly secured military-industrial site, their initial statement that the plant produced no commercial products, and their statements that the exiled Saudi millionaire, Osama bin Laden, directly financed the plant, do not appear to be factual.

    Administration officials' efforts to strengthen their case have been complicated by the extreme secrecy they imposed in launching the attack, which they now say prevents them from showing their evidence to the world. That secrecy and the inconsistencies in their public statements have given the Sudanese government, which the United States calls a sponsor of international terrorism, a chance to challenge the justification for the attack and call for an international inquiry. The administration's refusal to endorse an inquiry also has become an issue in the international debate over the attack.

    President Clinton personally chose the bombing site, a pharmaceutical plant in an industrial area of northern Khartoum, as the target for U.S. cruise missiles, declining to strike any other among a larger set of targets presented to him by military planners.

    But it is unclear whether the CIA ever told Clinton that it was also a medicine factory with a United Nations contract.

    "There may have been better places to go," a Pentagon official said Friday. "That doesn't mean it was the wrong place to go."

    Clinton said Monday that he stayed awake "up till 2:30 in the morning trying to make absolutely sure that at that chemical plant there was no night shift." He added: "I didn't want some person who was a nobody to me, but who may have a family to feed and a life to live, and probably had no earthly idea what else was going on there, to die needlessly."

    The plant made both medicine and veterinary drugs, according to U.S. and European engineers and consultants who helped build, design and supply the plant. The plant they describe was not a tightly guarded chemical-weapons facility patrolled by Sudanese soldiers, as a senior intelligence official described it last week.

    Briefing reporters hours after the attack on the plant, the senior intelligence official said: "We have no evidence -- or have seen no products, commercial products that are sold out of this facility." That representation was also made by the CIA to the nation's most senior military officers, Pentagon officials said.

    The point the senior intelligence official was trying to make in his briefing was that "this was not a normal pharmaceutical facility," his spokesman said Friday. His focus was on the presence at the plant of Empta, a precursor chemical used to make VX, a deadly nerve gas, the spokesman said. Senior U.S. officials said that the CIA secretly took a soil sample from a few yards outside the plant that, upon analysis, contained Empta.

    The plant "just didn't lend itself to making chemical weapons," said Tom Carnaffin, a British mechanical engineer who served as technical manager at the plant during its construction from 1992 to 1996. Workers there mixed pre-formulated chemicals into medicines, he said, and lacked the space to stockpile or manufacture other chemicals.

    But another government official said "you could spin several scenarios" as to why Empta was found at the plant, including suppositions that the chemical was stored or transported there. Other officials now say it is unclear that Empta was actually produced at the plant, but insisted that the soil sample proved the factory's complicity in making VX.

    Several chemical-weapons experts outside the government say the single soil sample, if it was not carefully preserved and quickly tested, could have misidentified the key ingredient. They said Empta is chemically similar to several commercially available pesticides and herbicides, including the well-known commercially available weedkiller called Round-Up. Senior government officials say they are sure the CIA's chemical analysis was correct, and the most compelling evidence they saw for attacking the plant.

    The CIA did not make clear to senior military officials that the plant produced a large share of the medicine used in Sudan, a Pentagon official said.

    The Pentagon official said: "Some of the intelligence people didn't know they would find any of that there," referring to shattered remnants of medical products found in the wreckage of the plant after the attack.

    A spokesman would not say Friday whether the intelligence agency told Clinton that the plant made medicine, or whether the agency deemed that fact important. Several government officials said any aspect of the plant beyond the presence of Empta in it was irrelevant.

    Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in briefing reporters shortly after the attack, said that bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multi-millionaire whom the U.S. blames for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, helped finance the plant.

    "We do know that he had contributed to this particular facility," Cohen said. The U.S. government has presented no evidence to support that, and some U.S. officials now say bin Laden's financial support for Hassan al Turabi, Sudan's leading political figure, as well as for the Sudanese military and intelligence services did not directly flow to the plant itself.

    Officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA insist that they hit the right target, and cite the soil sample as proof.

    "I do not sense here any question about the legitimacy of this target," one administration official said. "We have confidence in the soil sample. It categorically demonstrates the presence of a compound good for just one thing -- making VX by the Iraqi method. The plant was set up with the encouragement of Turabi who urged bin Laden to finance it. End of story."

    An intelligence official said: "In retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight it was the right target."

    The decision to attack the plant was made in extreme secrecy by a very small circle of senior officials, including few beyond Clinton, Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, national security adviser Sandy Berger and Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of U.S. forces in the region, drew up the plans.

    In less lofty circles of the government, there is some controversy about the attack on the plant in Khartoum. "This is all anybody in these corridors is talking about," one official said. "Why this facility? Why did nobody bother to talk to the technical people who know about the evidence they had? Why was there only one soil sample? And one lab test?"

    Other government officials have suggested privately that the United States would have done better to strike other military-industrial sites in Khartoum that, they say, are more closely linked to chemical-weapons production. But this is armchair generalship to senior military officials.

    In the days after the strike, the Pentagon conducted a thorough review of all the evidence and reasoning that went into choosing the factory. A senior military officer said that "had we to do it over again," the plant would remain a target.

    "My feeling is the evidence is there," the officer said.

    The small amount of intelligence information released by the Clinton administration to justify the attack contrasts with the detailed intelligence made public by other administrations to justify military strikes.

    In April 1986, President Reagan went so far as to make public the contents of decoded Libyan diplomatic cables in explaining why he had ordered a U.S. bombing raid that month on Tripoli, the Libyan capital. In a White House speech, Reagan said the United States had "irrefutable" evidence linking Libya to the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque that killed a U.S. serviceman.

    While he did not divulge the exact source of the information, he said that the Libyan government had sent messages to its embassy in East Berlin about a week before the bombing at the discotheque to conduct a "terrorist attack against Americans."

    The day before the attack, he said, the Libyan embassy "alerted Tripoli that the attack would be carried out the following morning -- the next day, they reported back to Tripoli on the great success of their mission."

    His move outraged intelligence officers, who said the disclosure had damaged their ability to gather information on terrorist groups, but it was seen by the Reagan administration as vital in winning the support of U.S. allies and the public.

    from TPDL 1998-Aug-28, from the Wall Street Journal, by Daniel Pearl, staff reporter:

    New Doubts Surface Over Claims That Plant Produced Nerve Gas

    The American designer and Italian supplier of a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan cast further doubt on U.S. allegations that the plant, destroyed last week by U.S. cruise missiles, was a well-guarded nerve-gas plant.

    Dino Romanatti, whose Milan company supplies powders that generic-drug companies form into pills, said in an interview he was given the run of the plant during long visits this February and June. He said the managers of the privately owned plant even left him and his technical staff alone in the factory when they worked late, and gave them the keys to the main office to make international phone calls.

    "I didn't see any equipment -- and there wasn't even the space -- for any production of chemicals," Mr. Romanatti said. Besides, he added, "the availability of tools in the factory was close to zero. You couldn't get a piece of steel, a screw, a saw. To imagine a plant that makes chemical weapons is absolutely incredible."

    Also skeptical is Henry R. Jobe, a retired pharmaceuticals consultant who designed the plant, known as the Ashifa factory, and others in the Middle East. Mr. Jobe, while acknowledging that he last worked on the plant before it opened in 1996, said there was no outside interference in the plant's initial choice of equipment, which didn't include any of the laboratory equipment that experts say is needed to make nerve agents.

    "They pretty well did what I recommended" to set up the factory, said Mr. Jobe, reached at his home in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He also said he didn't get any inquiries from U.S. officials about the plant until Thursday, when a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency official phoned and asked questions about the plant's equipment.

    U.S. Says It Has Evidence

    The U.S. continues to insist it had firm evidence the Ashifa plant was making a key chemical for the manufacture of VX, a deadly nerve agent. The alleged evidence, compiled hastily as the U.S. searched for targets to retaliate for embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, includes a soil sample taken from outside the factory, and telephone conversations among plant officials, Iraqi chemical-weapon experts and associates of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic fundamentalist suspected in the embassy bombings and accused by the U.S. of seeking chemical weapons.

    But international skepticism persists, in part because the U.S. has to back away from three initial allegations: that there was no evidence the plant made pharmaceuticals, that the plant was government-run, and that Mr. bin Laden had a financial interest in the plant.

    "The story keeps changing too much," said one Arab diplomat. Some pro-American Arab officials believe Sudan may well be making chemical weapons, but that the U.S. chose the wrong target. Britain, which withdrew its United Kingdom embassy staff from Sudan Thursday, continues to support the destruction of the factory, but now acknowledges it has relied on U.S. assurances rather than first-hand evidence of chemical production.

    A Sudanese official said Thursday that if the United Nations declines Sudan's request to investigate the site, Sudan will assemble its own team of European weapons specialists to do so. Sudan hasn't signed the international chemical-weapons treaty, but the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, which implements it, would consider any Sudanese request for a special inspection, said Donato Kiniger-Passigli, spokesman for the Hague-based organization.

    Some chemical-weapons experts are uncomfortable with the apparent reliance of the U.S. on a single, secretly taken soil sample, in part because the sample could have been tainted by whoever provided it. Also, the substance the U.S. says it detected -- O-ethylmethylphosphonothioic acid, or O-EMPTA -- is difficult to isolate when it is in soil, according to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons. One expert at the group said a laboratory told to look for O-EMPTA could get a false positive result if there were pesticide traces in the soil. "To convict somebody, we would have to have at least two results out of three" from different independent laboratories, he said.

    Dr. Jan Medema, manager of the Netherlands' TNO Prins Maurits Laboratory, said the U.S. has two strong laboratories for detection of VX precursors. Still, he said, "Their case would be so much stronger if they were willing to have an independent laboratory make its own analysis." Dr. Medema added that it is highly unlikely that a plant's ventilation system or underground waste-disposal system would allow O-EMPTA to get into surface soil outside the plant. More likely, he said, is that the Sudanese wanted to get rid of some already made O-EMPTA and poured it directly into the soil, and "somebody saw that and took a sample."

    A spokesman for Aldrich Chemical, a Milwaukee unit of Sigma-Aldrich Corp., says his company makes very small quantities of O-EMPTA that are sold to research laboratories that might want it for scientific studies. But the spokesman says he didn't know of any company that used the chemical for manufacturing products.

    He also noted, however, that all one needs to make EMPTA is the raw materials, a recipe and basic glassware of the sort found in a college lab. "A good, competent chemist with reasonable glassware and access to the materials could make a nerve gas, no question," says Aldrich spokesman Clint Lane.

    Ties to Sudan Regime

    Experts say small amounts of O-EMPTA could be made in a small space, using the laboratory equipment typically found in a pharmaceuticals company that develops or tests the powders used as active ingredients. The Ashifa factory bought the powders from outside, though Mr. Jobe, the American designer, said the founders did talk of producing some on their own eventually.

    The Ashifa plant was launched by a Sudanese engineer, Bashir Hassan Bashir, and a Saudi shipper, Salem Baaboud, both of whom deny the U.S. claims. Mr. Bashir said he has no government connections, though Sudanese dissidents describe him as a figure closely tied to the regime. He said the plant's funding included loans of $6 million from local banks, $6 million from an east African development agency, and $1.4 million from a local development agency, and that it had no connection to a government "military industrial complex" three kilometers away. The U.S. alleges the Ashifa factory is part of the complex.

    Mr. Bashir said the partners sold the plant for about $32 million on March 30 to a company controlled by Salaheldin Idris, a Sudanese-born Saudi businessman. Mr. Bashir said he didn't believe the new company, called Ginawa, had other participants, but that a Sudanese chemical engineer related to Mr. Idris did help him look over the site. Mr. Romanatti, the Italian supplier, says neither the management nor the management style changed after the sale.

    Mr. Bashir acknowledged the plant had some Iraqis as employees, including one of the technicians, and that Ashifa entered one pharmaceuticals contract with Iraq, but said the plant otherwise had nothing to do with Iraq. The U.N. has confirmed that it approved a contract last January, under the oil-for-food program, for Iraq to buy 100,000 liters of veterinary pharmaceuticals from Ashifa for $199,000. In July, the factory requested an extension to complete the order.

    --Robert Langreth contributed to this article

    from the London Observer, Sunday Aug 23, 1998:

    Clinton Knew Target Was Civilian

    American tests showed no trace of nerve gas at 'deadly' Sudan plant. The President ordered the attack anyway

    By Ed Vulliamy in Washington, Henry McDonald in Belfast , and Shyam Bhatia and Martin Bright Sunday August 23, 1998

    President Bill Clinton knew he was bombing a civilian target when he ordered the United States attack on a Sudan chemical plant. Tests ordered by him showed that no nerve gas was on the site and two British professionals who recently worked at the factory said it clearly had no military purpose.

    The disclosure will deepen the crisis, following the American attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan, in relations between the US and its Muslim allies, who have called upon Clinton to produce hard evidence that the attacks had a legitimate relevance to the war against international terrorism.

    The US claims that the Al-Shifa Pharmaceuticals Industries plant in North Khartoum was producing the ingredients for the deadly VX nerve gas. But Sudan's assertion that it produced 50 per cent of the country's drug requirements is much closer to the truth.

    Several vital pieces of evidence point to this conclusion. US forces flew a reconnaissance mission to test for traces of gas and reported that there were none. Nevertheless Clinton immediately authorised the attack. He was also told that the absence of gas would avoid the horrifying spectacle of civilian casualties. Sudan has said 10 people were injured, five seriously.

    Belfast independent film-maker Irwin Armstrong, who visited the plant last year while making a promotional video for the Sudanese ambassador in London, said: "The Americans have got this completely wrong.

    "In other parts of the country I encountered heavy security but not here. I was allowed to wander about quite freely. This is a perfectly normal chemical factory with the things you would expect - stainless steel vats and technicians."

    Tom Carnaffin, of Hexham, Northumberland, worked as a technical manager from 1992 to 1996 for the Baaboud family, who own the plant.

    "I have intimate knowledge of that factory and it just does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons," he said.

    "The Americans claimed that the weapons were being manufactured in the veterinary part of the factory. I have intimate knowledge of that part of the [plant] and unless there have been some radical changes in the last few months, it just isn't equipped to cope with the demands of chemical weapon manufacturing.

    "You need things like airlocks but this factory just has doors leading out onto the street. The factory was in the process of being sold to a Saudi Arabian. They are allies of the Americans and I don't think it would look very good in the prospectus that the factory was also manufacturing weapons for Baghdad.

    "I have personal knowledge of the need for medicine in Sudan as I almost died while working out there. The loss of this factory is a tragedy for the rural communities who need those medicines."

    The engineer, who has said he will be returning to Sudan in the near future to carry out more work for the Baaboud family, condemned the American attack and its resulting loss of life.

    "It's a funny feeling to think that I had a cup of tea in that place and the security guard on the gate who used to say hello to me is very probably now dead. The Baabouds are absolutely gutted about this. People who they knew personally have been killed - it is very upsetting."

    Meanwhile, an assurance that British targets will not be included in any retaliatory strikes has come from sources close to Osama bin Laden, the multimillionaire Saudi fundamentalist believed to be behind the twin bombings of US embassies in East Africa.

    Bin Laden, who survived the American air-strikes on his training camp inside Afghanistan, telephoned the editor of the London-based Arabic daily newspaper al Quds al Arabi to declare he was only interested in hitting the US and Israel.

    The "Secret" Chemical Factory that No One Tried to Hide

    By David Hirst in Khartoum

    Whatever Al Shifa Pharmaceuticals Industries Company did produce - precursors for the VX nerve gas, according to the United States, or 50 per cent of Sudan's drug requirements, according to its own staff - it was very precisely targeted indeed.

    The projectiles that smashed into it at about 7.30 local time on Thursday evening went unerringly to the heart of the plant, and nothing else - not even the Sweets and Sesame factory so physically close that, at first sight it looks like an integral part.

    Al Shifa certainly did not try to hide its existence. Signs in plenty direct you to it long before you get there. But to find it with such pinpoint accuracy from the air was no small achievement.

    The Khartoum North district in which it is located is an amorphous, dismal suburbia, semi-residential, semi-industrial without obvious landmarks; steeped in dust for most of the year, its largely unpaved roads and alleyways ankle-deep in the rainy season's mud.

    The factory's core is flattened. The roof is almost on the ground. Here and there smoke still rises from the debris; the still burning chemicals give it a mildy unpleasant odour. There is no sign amid the wreckage of anything sinister. Of course, for the layman, there probably wouldn't be anyway. But there is no sign of anyone trying to hide anything either. Access is easy. Much of Khartoum seems to have come to take a look. Women in long bright dresses, and even high heels, pick their way through the mud and jump across roadside gutters to get a closer view. Most stare in what seems to be disbelieving silence.

    "I still can't quite believe it's gone," said Dr Alamaddin Shibli, the factory's export manager. "I still have to knock my head into realising that when I come here I'm coming to a complete ruin." He pointed to his office on the third floor of the administrative building. "On Thursday, I had gone home earlier than I usually do." He was not the only lucky one. "If the Americans had chosen Wednesday evening, instead of Thursday, it would have been a disaster."

    About 300 people worked in the factory, he said, but on Wednesday evening a shift of 50 had been working on a special assignment of veterinary products.

    These were destined for Iraq, commissioned by the United Nations under its food-for-oil programme. "I suppose the Americans would say that one Arab producer of chemical weapons was supplying them to another - Saddam Hussein."

    He says the factory was one of the biggest and best of its kind in Africa. It was privately owned, and had changed hands since it went into production two years ago; the new owner was a Sudanese living in Saudi Arabia. It had been partly financed by the Eastern and Southern African Preferential Trade Association, a thoroughly respectable body.

    It produced the full range of antibiotics, medicines for malaria, rheumatism, tuberculosis and diabetes, you name it. Samples of its products lay around the reception area: Shifatryp, Shifamol, and in a plastic bag with the picture of an eagle on it, Shifacef proclaimed its Continued Efficiency Over the Years.

    Apart from the administration block, only two parts of the factory were not unrecognisably demolished. One was the water-cooling works, which Shibli called the most modern in Africa, with its equipment from Italy and the United States. The other was the laboratory - for him, the most important loss. It is very badly damaged, but amid the rubble rows of phials remained discernibly intact.

    The Sudanese government, which the US accuses of sponsoring international terrorism, seems to think it now has all the evidence it needs to incriminate the US. It wants a United Nations team to investigate.

    "This is what we will show them," Shibli said. "In those bottles are the reagents that will prove what we really produced here - and it wasn't chemical weapons."