By Yvonne Ridley
17/06/08 "ICH" -- -- Does being president of the United States mean you never have to say sorry?
Just how difficult is it to apologize when you are head of a global superpower and you’ve blundered?
It was a thought which occurred to me as I was walking around the dust and the rubble of the bombed out Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan recently.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of blood-soaked pieces of scorched earth which scar our planet are testimony to a whole raft of blunders by various U.S. presidents and intelligence agencies.
Despite all the bilge that comes out of Washington about honesty and accountability, the consequences of the lies from U.S. administrations have scarred the globe.
But there seems to be some sort of unwritten rule in Washington that U.S. presidents can commit atrocities anywhere on the planet, so long as they don’t do it in their own backyard.
It seems that a ‘domestic lie’ will send Congress into a spin and have my lily-livered colleagues in the American Fourth Estate finding some lead in their pencils as they demand resignations and impeachments.
But if the lie happens overseas it seems no one in the U.S. press corps really cares.
This all brings me back to the site of the Al Shifa factory in Sudan. It bears testimony to the recklessness of U.S. presidents and the buffoons who advise them.
More than a dozen cruise missiles laid the factory on the outskirts of Khartoum to waste because, according to U.S. intelligence, the plant was manufacturing chemicals to produce VX nerve gas.
Not only that, the CIA asserted that the factory was being financed by Osama bin Laden.
The truth would be funny if the outcome had not been so devastating… Al Shifa manufactured aspirin.
So the intelligence was bogus (nothing new there, then) and guess what? No one has resigned, quit in shame, or even said sorry. Not even the then president of the United States.
And the U.S. media did their usual rendition of the three wise monkeys.
Thomas D. Tullius, chair of Boston University’s chemistry department, said there was no scientific evidence of chemical weapons production, and evidence from ex-CIA agents in the employ of Kroll O’Gara, the international investigative firm, showed there were no financial, political, or terrorist ties between the owner and Mr. Bin Laden.
In the days which followed, national security advisor Sandy Berger and other foolish White House lackeys 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.”
The media was too dumb or too lazy (you can never tell with the White House press corps) to challenge the information, but within days news was leaking out that the Clinton administration had bombed an aspirin factory.
Time to say sorry? No bloody way!
The CIA resorted to even more lies as it dug itself into a deeper hole. CIA briefers, on condition of anonymity, said the factory had been under surveillance for 18 months and that soil samples proved chemicals were being produced to make the deadly VX gas.
What the briefers overlooked was the fact that the CIA had pulled out of Khartoum in 1996 (a decision based largely on even more false intelligence reports by a totally unreliable CIA asset), which meant that the CIA relied on intelligence from assets with an axe to grind. Sound familiar? Remember Curve Ball… one million dead and four million refugees later no one is anywhere near to apologizing for the disaster which is Iraq.
So, if you’re a U.S. president and you realize that your advisers are the equivalent of Dumb and Dumber, you can literally get away with murder just as long as the crime isn’t committed on U.S. soil.
What I have established is that behind every intelligence failure is a policy failure, and that is self-evident when you look at the U.S. approach to dealing with Sudan.
Sadly, it looks as though former U.S. president Bill Clinton got off scot-free over his decision to bomb Al Shifa despite the best efforts of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the equivalent of a journalistic oasis in a sea of American media mediocrity.
However, I suppose I should give credit where credit is due -- Bill Clinton did make a dramatic break with the policy of previous presidents by expressing regret for the role the United States played in backing a brutal counter-terrorism campaign that caused the deaths of thousands of civilians in Guatemala’s civil war.
He made the apology in Guatemala City in March 1999 following the publication in February 1999 of the findings of the independent Historical Clarification Commission which concluded that the U.S. was responsible for most of the human rights abuses committed during the 36-year war in which 200,000 people died.
“It is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong,” Mr. Clinton said. “And the United States must not repeat that mistake. We must and we will instead continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala.”
He made the apology as the U.S. declassified thousands of documents made available to the commission which tell how the U.S. initiated and sustained a murderous war conducted by Guatemalan security forces against civilians suspected of aiding left-wing guerrilla movements.
A report released by the Guatemala Truth Commission has confirmed that entire communities were massacred. It said children were killed, abducted, forcibly recruited as soldiers, illegally adopted, and sexually abused. Fetuses were cut from their mothers’ wombs and young children were smashed against walls or thrown alive into pits.
I suppose we should take comfort from the fact that Clinton did apologize for that evil.
But I wonder when -- if ever -- we will hear George W. Bush apologize for the illegal war in Iraq, the one million dead, the four million refugees, the torture, murder, and abuse in Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other U.S. detention facilities.
Will he ever apologize to the Afghans for the deaths of 50,000 plus as a fruitless, pointless war continues in Afghanistan -- a war, which like Iraq’s, can not be won by U.S. soldiers, or any occupying force, come to that?
Will he ever apologize for twiddling his thumbs while Israel unleashed cluster bombs over the civilian population of southern Lebanon after the Zionist army was beaten into retreat by a victorious Hezbollah?
I am on my way to Guantanamo Bay very soon (I know, it is encouraging they are allowing me in with a Press TV film crew… let’s hope they let us out as well!)
But I wonder if Bush will apologize for detaining hundreds of innocent men, including a number of young boys, without trial and without charge.
Why is ‘sorry’ the hardest word to say, Mr. President