One of the reasons for the questionable course of American policy towards Sudan for much of the 1990s - especially during the Clinton Administration - was the poor standard of what passed for research and analysis within the United States regarding Sudanese affairs. This misrepresentation has been within both the private and government sectors. While one would expect a wide range of personal bias, prejudice and competence amongst individuals and organizations with their own private agendas, it is disappointing to note that a similar prejudice and unprofessionalism has characterized American government institutions. At the heart of this governmental ineptitude has been the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The service describes itself as "the public policy research arm of the United States Congress" created to provide Congress with "its own source of nonpartisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues."(1) CRS also specifically states that it seeks to "provide products and services that can be relied upon to be free of partisan or other bias" and that are "reliable, current and comprehensive". It is clear that this has not been the case with regard to its work on Sudan. Its principal "expert" on Sudan has for some years been Ted Dagne. He has authored most of Congressional Research Service's documents on Sudan. They have been noticeably partisan, stale and selective.
Sudan has been wracked by civil war for decades. Since 1983 the war in the south has been fought against the Government of Sudan by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Congressional Research Service documents undoubtedly served to underpin the Clinton Administration's skewed Sudan policy within Congress. (2) No less a commentator than former President Jimmy Carter was very candid about both the lack of objectivity in this policy: "If the United States would be reasonably objective in Sudan, I think that we at the Carter Center and the Africans who live in the area could bring peace to Sudan. But the United States government has a policy of trying to overthrow the government in Sudan." (3) Carter bluntly described Clinton's Sudan policy as the "biggest obstacle" to peace in Sudan.
It is a conflict that has cost the country dearly in lost lives and millions of displaced civilians. Dagne's bias towards the SPLA position is clear. In November 1997, for example, Dagne spoke in a seminar on Sudan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Former Congressman Mervyn Dymally, a past chairman of the House of Representatives Africa Sub-Committee, said of Dagne's presentation that instead of an "objective presentation, one would think that Ted represents the SPLA here." It comes as little surprise that former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen confirmed that Dagne was a "good friend" of SPLA leader John Garang, and that Dagne would host meetings for Garang in his Washington home. (4)
Quite what CRS's analyst is doing singing the praises of the SPLA is unclear. It is an organisation described by The New York Times as "brutal and predatory" which has "behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging." (5) Human Rights Watch stated that: "The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses today remain serious". (6) The New York Times described John Garang as one of Sudan's "pre- eminent war criminals". (7)
The Congressional Research Service's poor track record on Sudan spans the 1990s, and has, apart from misanalysis, included the repetition of undiluted disinformation. An early example were claims that thousands of Iranian revolutionary guards were present in Sudan. The Congressional Research Service served as a conduit for this sort of propaganda in the early 1990s. (8) By 1994, however, 'The Independent' newspaper in London was reporting that "intelligence assessments...say that reports of Iranian revolutionary guards [in Sudan]...are without foundation". (9) This is supported by the memoirs of the former United States ambassador to Sudan, Donald Petterson, in which he commented on this particular instance of disinformation:
"Reports appeared in the media that hundreds, even thousands of Iranians, many of them Revolutionary Guard military and security police advisers, had come to Sudan. Reports also persisted that the Iranians were training Palestinian, Egyptian, Algerian, and other radical Islamist terrorists at sites in Sudan, some of them quite large. The reports were based in part on information provided by Egyptian intelligence sources, which were conducting an assiduous disinformation campaign against Sudan. The truth was something far less alarming. There were Iranian advisers and technicians in Sudan, and Shiite propagandists and clerics as well, yet their numbers were relatively small, certainly nothing like the numbers being reported by the Western press." (10)
The reality is that the number of Iranians of all sorts in Sudan at the time could be numbered in tens rather than hundreds or thousands. The "Iranian revolutionary guards" affair was only one of many examples of questionable claims made about Sudan by the Congressional Research Service.
Dagne's selectivity, and that of the CRS, regarding Sudan is equally clear. While reviewing Sudan, "terrorism" and the Clinton years, for example, Dagne cites Osama bin Laden's stay within Sudan, but does not mention any of the well-documented offers made by Khartoum to extradite him to the United States, nor Khartoum's attempts to co-operate in counter-terrorism, including repeated offers from 1996 onwards to share information on the bin Laden network. (11) Indeed, he keeps to the revisionist line, denying that any such offers were made. (12)
In this crass attempt to rewrite history (and to keep doggedly to an anti-Sudanese line) Dagne ignores the fact that President Clinton's National Security Adviser Sandy Berger not only publicly admitted that such an offer was made but went so far as to provide a lame excuse for not accepting bin Laden. Berger was quoted in 'The Washington Post', for example, as saying: "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." (13) Even former President Clinton admitted there had been such an offer, stating that his Administration's refusal to accept the Sudanese offer was "the biggest mistake" of his presidency. (14) It is also worth noting that in his 2002 book on CIA activities in the 1990s, senior CIA officer Robert Baer also confirmed with regard to bin Laden that Khartoum "offered him to us on a platter". (15)
Attempts to rewrite history are a constant theme in the Congressional Research Service's misanalysis of Sudan. Dagne, for example, claimed that Sudan was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (16) - despite this having been denied by the American government. (17) Dagne also ignored the clear statement made on 30 April 1996 by Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox Jr, the Department of State's counter-terrorism supremo it very clear that there was no involvement by Sudan in the World Trade Center bombings: "We have looked very, very carefully and pursued all possible clues that there might be some state sponsorship behind the World Trade Center bombing. We have found no such evidence, in spite of an exhaustive search, that any state was responsible for that crime. (18)
Dagne also conspicuously avoids any mention of the al-Shifa fiasco. (19) In August 1998 the Clinton Administration vividly illustrated the unreliability of its claims about Sudan. Its cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa medicine factory in Khartoum followed the murderous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Clinton Administration erroneously claimed that the factory was owned by Osama bin-Laden and produced chemical weapons. The Clinton Administration failed to produce any evidence for these claims, and blocked any subsequent United Nations inspection of the factory. Every one of the American claims about the al-Shifa factory subsequently proved to be false. Independent tests carried out on the factory by a distinguished American chemist showed no traces of anything associated with chemical weapons. (20) Agence France Press reported that "Western diplomats in Khartoum and other analysts have rejected the US claims that the factory was used for such a purpose". (21) It is now accepted that the attack was a disastrous blunder by the American government. (22)
Far from seeking "reliable" sources, Dagne's lack of professionalism is also manifested by his continuing citing of the heavily discredited Christian Solidarity International (CSI) organisation as a source of information on Sudan. (23) The reliability of Christian Solidarity International has long been questioned by independent observers. One of these was the Canadian government's special envoy to Sudan, John Harker, who noted that "[R]eports, especially from CSI...were questioned, and frankly not accepted." (24) The respected human rights expert, and Sudan specialist, Alex de Waal, while co-director of the human rights group African Rights, referred to CSI as being "overeager and misinformed"." (25) Dagne has even gone so far as to co-author critiques of Sudan policy with anti-Sudan activists such as Eric Reeves. (26) With people such as Dagne providing "research" and "analysis" on Sudan to Congress it is unsurprising that the legislation on Sudan passed by Congress has been as skewed as it has been. What is surprising is that there was no apparent oversight on his work. It is equally disappointing that the Congressional Research Service has clearly not been subject to any meaningful Congressional scrutiny.
The CRS and people such as Ted Dagne have played their part in prolonging one of the world's longest-running conflicts. In so doing they also bear a responsibility for the famine, war and disease that has devastated Sudan. There is little doubt that the Bush Administration has now decided on a constructive engagement with Sudan and within the Sudanese peace process. There is a need for clear, accurate and, above all, reliable information and analysis on Sudan. The Congressional Research Service must be held to account for its shaky and partisan record to date and urged to demonstrate far more professionalism in this respect.
1. "About CRS", Congressional Research Service website at http://www.loc.gov/crsinfo/whatscrs.html
2. For a critique of the Clinton Administration's Sudan policy, see David Hoile, 'Farce Majeure: The Clinton Administration's Sudan Policy 1993-2000', The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 2000 (available at www.espac.org).
3. "CARE Seeks Political Fix in Sudan", 'Atlanta Journal- Constitution', 7 October 1999.
4. Herman J. Cohen, 'Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent', Macmillan, London, 2000, p.83.
5. "Misguided Relief to Sudan", 'The New York Times', 6 December 1999.
6. "Rights Group Warns US Against Feeding Sudan Rebels", News Article by Reuters, 14 December, 1999.
7. "Misguided Relief to Sudan", Editorial, 'New York Times', 6 December, 1999.
8. "Sudan: Civil War, Famine, and Islamic Fundamentalism", Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington-DC, 13 September 1993.
9. See, "'Innocent Sudan' Exploits Carlos Case", 'The Independent' (London), 23 August 1994.
10. Donald Petterson, 'Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe', Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1999, pp.42-43
11. "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.
12. "Sudan and Terrorism", News Article by Voice of America, 7 October 2002.
13. See, for example, Barton Gellman, "'96 Bin Laden Offer Fell Through", 'The Washington Post', 3 October 2001 and "In '96 Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden", 'The International Herald Tribune', 4 October 2002.
14. "US Missed Three Chances to Seize Bin Laden", 'The Sunday Times' (London), 6 January 2002.
15. Robert Baer, 'See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism', Arrow Books, London, 2002, p.360.
16. Ted Dagne, 'Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks, Terrorism, and U.S. Policy', Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington-DC, 23 January 2003.
17. See, for example, 'The New York Times', 'The Washington Post', 25 June 1993.
18. 'Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1996 Briefing', Press briefing by Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox Jr, Washington-DC, 30 April 1996 on US Government Home Page, at http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/96043 0.html
19. Dagne's only mention of al-Shifa was in September 1998, when he followed the Clinton Administration line to the letter, citing the two or three news articles at the time which repeated the Administration line, while studiously ignoring the dozens of American and foreign articles which comprehensively rebutted White House claims about the factory (See, 'Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks, Terrorism, and U.S. Policy', Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington-DC, 4 September 1998).
20. See, "U.S. Evidence of Terror Links to Blitzed Medicine Factory Was 'Totally Wrong'", Andrew Marshall, 'The Independent' (London), 15 February 1999; "No Trace of Nerve Gas Precursor Found at Bombed Sudan Plant", 'Chemical & Engineering News', 15 February 1999.
21. "Khartoum Doubtful Over Likelihood of US Strike on Sudan", News Article by Agence France Press, 16 September 2001.
22. "Clinton Bombed Civilians on Purpose. American Tests Showed No Trace of Nerve Gas at 'Deadly' Sudan Plant. The President Ordered the Attack Anyway", 'The Observer' (London), 23 August 1998.
23. Ted Dagne, 'Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks, Terrorism, and U.S. Policy', Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington-DC, 23 January 2003, p.12.
24. John Harker, 'Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission', Prepared for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000, available at http://www.dfait-maeci.gc-foreignp- 3110186-e.pdf, p. 1.
25. Alex de Waal, "Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and War", 'Covert Action Quarterly' (Washington-DC), Spring 1997.
26. See, Ted Dagne, Eric Reeves and Roger Winter, 'A Critique of the CSIS Report on Sudan', 25 February 2001, available at the Africa Action/Africa Policy Home Page http://www.africaaaaction.org/docs01/sud0 102b.htm. For a critique of the activities of Eric Reeves, see 'The Return of the "Ugly American": Eric Reeves and Sudan', The European- Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, November 2000, available at www.espac.org
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