In December 2001, ‘Vanity Fair’ published a devastating expose of the Clinton Administration’s mishandling of repeated offers by the Sudanese government, some dating back to 1996, to provide Washington intelligence on terrorism – particularly with regard to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.(1) Part of what was offered to the Clinton Administration were several hundred Sudanese files on al-Qaeda and its members.(2) The Administration also passed up the opportunity of interrogating two al- Qaeda members who had clearly been involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa. In keeping with its very questionable Sudan policy (3), the Clinton Administration rejected all of Sudan’s repeated offers. The implications of this studied indifference are clear. As ‘Vanity Fair’ stated: “September 11 might have been prevented if the U.S. had accepted Sudan’s offers to share its intelligence files on Osama bin Laden and the growing al-Qaeda files.” It had also earlier been revealed that in addition to offering the Clinton Administration intelligence on al-Qaeda, the Sudanese government had in 1996 also offered to extradite Osama bin-Laden – just as Khartoum had extradited the international terrorism known as “Carlos the Jackal” to France.(4) This offer was also rejected by the Clinton Administration.
Mr. Unsurprisingly perhaps, prominent members of the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy and national security team rejected the conclusions of the ‘Vanity Fair’ article, denying the sincerity of the offers. Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State; Samuel Berger, the former national security adviser; Thomas Pickering, former undersecretary of state for political affairs; and Susan Rice, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs claimed that Osama bin Laden had been involved in an attempted attack on U.S. forces in Yemen in 1992; had assisted with attacks on U.S. forces in Mogadishu in 1993; had “financed” the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993; and had “planned and prepared a car-bomb attack on U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia” in 1995. (5) Susan Rice has also attempted to address her badly damaged reputation in, of all places, the May 2002 edition of ‘Elle’ magazine.
There are three points that should be made. Firstly, the Clinton Administration, and its officials, have long shown remarkable dishonesty with regard to Sudan, especially regarding its claims of Sudanese involvement in terrorism. Former US President Jimmy Carter was able to ascertain that the Clinton Administration’s 1993 listing of Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” was not based, as it should have been, on strict legal criteria but rather on the basis of “allegations”.(6) This set the tone for all future Clinton Administration claims about Sudan and terrorism. Albright, Berger, Pickering and Rice also accepted at face value over one hundred intelligence reports alleging Sudanese involvement in terrorism which were subsequently discarded as having been false.(7) It is unclear how many of their subsequent claims about Sudan are similarly muddled or just deliberately dishonest.
‘Secondly, when challenged as to why the Clinton Administration passed up on the offer of bin Laden’s extradition, Samuel Berger stated: “In the United States, we have this thing called the Constitution, so to bring him here is to bring him into the justice system. I don’t think that was our first choice.” (8) Surely, if any of their subsequent claims about bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism against American interests from 1992 through to 1995, as laid out in their response to the ‘Vanity Fair’ article, were true why did the Clinton Administration not jump at the chance of his extradition in 1996?
Thirdly, for all the attempts by his advisers to downplay the sincerity of the Sudanese offers, the simple fact is that former President Clinton displayed considerable courage in describing the refusal to accept Sudan’s 1996 offer as “the biggest mistake” of his presidency.(9) Rather than desperately trying to distance themselves from their role in Clinton’s “biggest mistake”, his national security and foreign affairs team should have the courage to admit that their advice to the president was simply wrong. Those who advised him to ignore Sudan’s offers, Albright, Berger, Pickering and Rice, are ultimately responsible for putting their deeply questionable Sudan policy and spin before the national security of their own country. They were all party to one of the most serious foreign policy failures in American history. Had they not put spin before truth the events of 11 September may well not have happened.
“The Osama Files”, ‘Vanity Fair’, December 2001, pp 50-55.
These offers had also been documented in “Resentful West Spurned Sudan’s Key Terror Files”, ‘The Observer’ (London), 30 September 2001, and “US Rejected Sudanese Files on al-Qaeda”, ‘The Financial Times’ (London), 30 November 2001.
See, for example, “In ’96, Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden”, ‘International Herald Tribune’, 4 October 2001.
“Desperately Seeking Sudan”, ‘Vanity Fair’, March 2002, p.34-35.
‘The Independent’ (London), 17 September 1993.
See, “Decision to Strike Factory in Sudan Based Partly on Surmise”, ‘The Washington Post’, 21 September 1998; and “Sudan Attack Blamed on US Blunders”, ‘The Times’ (London), 22 September 1998.
See, “’96, Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden”, ‘International Herald Tribune’, 4 October 2001.
“US Missed Three Chances to Seize Bin Laden”, ‘The Sunday Times (London), 6 January 2002.
The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)