Maverick: More Reasons to Apologize (9/98)

Since the president is in the mood to confess and atone, here’s a suggestion: ‘fess up to the wrongdoing, hypocrisy. and misleading statements at the heart of US foreign policy. For starters, he could admit that the year-long campaign to scare the world about VX gas has gone drastically off-track. In August, for example, it provided the excuse to bomb a factory in the Sudan that was actually producing antibiotics and medicines for malaria, rheumatism, tuberculosis, and diabetes, all desperately needed by Africans.

Talk about inappropriate contact.

If he was really prepared to be candid, Clinton might also acknowledge that the recent claim about Iraq arming warheads with the same nerve agent was really a way of neutralizing international efforts to lift sanctions. Apologies might be extended to the families of the more than a million children who have died as a result of the US obsession with Saddam Hussein. Isn’t it time he started feeling their pain?

A month after the Sudan bombing, one administration official made a guarded admission. In true Clintonese, he explained that "we were not accurate" about evidence linking the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant to chemical weapons production. Predictably, the soil samples allegedly establishing the presence of Empta, a VX precursor, still haven’t been produced, and the US continues to block a UN inquiry. Meanwhile, evidence mounts that even if the samples did come from the plant — unlikely, since the only unpaved area around Al Shifa was a tiny plot used to cultivate rose bushes — they prove nothing. Empta is used for legitimate manufacturing, including fungicides and microbial agents. Its chemical structure also closely resembles Fonofos, an insecticide sold in Africa.

Guess it depends on what the words "irrefutable evidence" mean.

Claims by the US last June that traces of VX were found on the remnants of Iraqi missile warheads are equally suspect. That charge, you may recall, came just two weeks after UN chief weapons inspector Richard Butler praised Iraq for its cooperation and predicted that sanctions might be lifted in October. Then tests conducted in a US Army lab conveniently revealed that one of seven warhead fragments showed evidence of a VX stabilizer. However, independent French and Swiss tests have found no signs of it on the same fragments.

Just honest mistakes? Or, are they the tactics of a government that’s all too comfortable with misleading evidence, doubtful intelligence, and transparent pretexts in the pursuit of a foreign policy that shreds human rights and international law? If only a small portion of the $45 million spent to trap Clinton were used to find some answers, we’d likely end up with proof enough to bring the whole administration down on charges a lot more serious that perjury.

The recent bombing alone deserves a congressional inquiry. But, of course, Sudan isn’t the only current victim of US state violence. We may be fighting "retail" terrorists, but we’re still the preeminent "wholesalers."

In Mexico and South America, for instance, the "war on drugs" replaces terrorism as the rationale to go after insurgent groups. Over $235 million in US arms and equipment has been sold or donated to Mexico since 1994 for its alleged anti-narcotics crusade. Supposedly to that end, generals, soldiers, and pilots have received counterinsurgency training at the Special Forces base in Fort Bragg. Once home, however, they use their new skills and hardware to go after the Zapatistas and their peasant supporters in Chiapas. Does anyone think their overseers don’t know what they’re up to?

In Colombia, the CIA finances a military intelligence network which includes paramilitary units and death squads. Rather than drug dealers, they target trade unionists, peasant leaders, journalists, and other suspected "subversives." Apparently, the agency is more interested in taking out leftists than combating drugs. In fact, it knows that Colombia’s army and paramilitaries are deeply involved in the drug trade. Nevertheless, the country remains the leading recipient of US military aid in this hemisphere — $136 million a year. The next step is to provide helicopter gunships. Can massacres be far behind?

The story is essentially the same in Peru and Guatemala. In Peru, the CIA coordinates counter-drug efforts through intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, even though the DEA realizes he’s a drug smuggler. In Guatemala, the spooks work closely with — excuse the oxymoron — military intelligence. But to date, the major syndicate uncovered by US-funded counter-drug operations is linked to the military. Over 30 officers are already accused of drug trafficking. Big surprise.

Clinton may not know about every piece of cooked evidence, or every atrocity made possible by US bucks and training. But he and his co-conspirators have been more than willing to repeatedly mislead the public — and offer no apologies whenever they’re caught. Of course, no Republican or Democrat seems the least concerned about such "high crimes." Protest as they must, they prefer the sexy sideshow. And why not? It offers a perfect excuse to ignore the long-term pattern of international lawlessness.

What we really need isn’t impeachment hearings over sexgate, it’s a Truth and Reconciliation Commission — an independent inquiry that brings the wholesale terrorism of this and past administrations to light. But even if it happened, would the major media be nearly as eager to go wall-to-wall? Not likely. After all, exposing the president’s trivial pursuits is one thing, but going after really big lies … well, as another presidential prevaricator would put it, that "wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture."

Greg Guma is the Editor of Toward Freedom