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Destruction Of The Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Company

The Destruction Of The Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Company
(Part One)

By Matthew Riemer Columnist (United States)

( – On the evening of August 20, 1998, the Clinton administration conducted simultaneous missile strikes against two suspected terrorist facilities supposedly connected with the heralded, Saudi terrorist "mastermind" Osama bin Laden. The targets: a factory owned by the al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Company in Khartoum, Sudan, said to be making chemical weapons, and terrorist training camps in extreme eastern Afghanistan, where bin Laden's warriors were being hatched. Both of these sites were showered with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships stationed in the Red and Arabian Seas. The New York Times described the attacks as: "[T]he most formidable American military assault ever against a private sponsor of terrorism … with about 75 missiles timed to explode simultaneously in unsuspecting countries on two continents."

The attacks were in retaliation to the U.S. embassy bombings earlier that month in Kenya and Tanzania: events that the U.S. had conclusively linked to bin Laden. The al-Shifa factory was also linked to bin Laden and accused of making chemical weapons. Intelligence reports indicated that bin Laden was a major financier of the plant and was potentially overseeing the production of a chemical known as empta, which is subsequently turned into VX nerve gas, the deadliest such gas in existence. There were also fears in the Clinton camp of imminent deployment, which perhaps fueled what many thought to be a hastily made decision.

What transpired in the weeks following the attack on the al-Shifa factory was a despicable public relations campaign and a digressive situation that could've turned scandalous if the story had been more significant to a broader section of the U.S. population. The Clinton administration, without substantial or adequate evidence, offhandedly destroyed a pharmaceutical factory that supplied more than 50 percent of the drugs to the Sudanese people.

Following the attack, the U.S. then played an immature and inexcusable game of musical evidence; stories were changed or discarded on several occasions, including exactly what the original evidence was justifying the attack, which shifted from one thing to another as soon as someone asked for proof. After this debacle ended, every 'irrefutable' claim made by the government turned out to be untrue.

Then, as if to emphasize their appalling statesmanship and disregard for others, the U.S. blocked a Sudanese and Kuwaiti requested U.N. investigation into the bombing and its effects. Of course, such a request would have been reasonable even if the evidence was legitimate, solely to identify and address any humanitarian issues and concerns. But in light of the incomplete evidence riddled with apparent fabrications, such an investigation becomes morally obligatory for all responsible parties. All the while, this was accompanied by casual indifference to international protocol and law, if not outward contempt.

Such an incident sets a dangerous precedent for U.S. aggression, unilateralism and accountability. It demonstrates that the U.S. can do whatever it pleases, whenever it pleases, for whatever reasons and that no one will question them or call their bluff, most importantly when it comes to "sensitive" information that is actually never revealed.

By examining the actions of the U.S. government, their relationship with the press, and the behavior of that press, much light is shed on the machinations of the U.S. war and propaganda machine. The attitudes and policies revealed below, along with the presses response to them, combined with the vocal yet muted international response, parallels quite well the current "war on terrorism" and can provide us with a useful backdrop with which to decipher the unprecedented stream of propaganda and disinformation now choking the media-waves.

The official story

As stated above, the official reason proffered the day after the strike, other than revenge for the embassy bombings, was that the plant was financially sustained by bin Laden and was making chemical weapons. In the Times of London (8/21/98), Defense Secretary William Cohen explained the choice of the Khartoum target:

"We do know that he [bin Laden] had contributed to this particular facility, we do know that he has an interest in acquiring chemical weapons, we know that this facility produces the precursor chemicals which would allow the production of the VX nerve agents - that was enough of a connection for us." Cohen added: "We have been planning this for several days."

The New York Times (8/21/98) reported: "The targets were identified by Pentagon officials as...a factory for the building blocks of chemical weapons near Khartoum, the Sudan," and that "A senior Administration official said that Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born financier who was linked to the targets of yesterday's bombings, has been working with the Islamic militant Government in Sudan since 1995 to develop equipment that could be used to produce VX and other weapons of mass destruction." (1)

President Clinton, addressing the nation following the attacks, heightened the drama by indicating that the strikes were carried out "because of the imminent threat they presented to our national security."

He emphasized: "Our mission was clear - to strike at the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Osama bin Laden. … the factory was involved in the production of materials for chemical weapons." He concluded by saying: "With compelling evidence that the bin Laden network of terrorist groups was planning to mount further attacks against Americans and other freedom-loving people. I decided America must act."

It must be noted that at this time no evidence had been presented (only talked about and taken on faith by the media) but nonetheless was still referred to as "strong" and "solid."

What exactly was the factory making?

Initially, we see the New York Times and "administrative officials" referring ambiguously to the evidence. They, in fact, use three different terms for what the factory was producing or, as we come to find out later, perhaps only storing. Here's the evolution of the terminology: First, "American officials said [al-Shifa] was making a precursor of VX," then "the building blocks of chemical weapons," followed by "the components for VX gas."

Are "building blocks" the same as "precursors"? Why the ambiguity and number of terms? Are these multiple terms technical or simply colloquial? Would a chemist use such terminology? Moreover, are these pre-whatevers linked to VX nerve gas specifically or chemical weapons in general? Why then sometimes VX and sometimes chemical weapons?

The second day of coverage finds the Times characteristically passing on unverified Pentagon information of grave importance as virtual fact: "Mr. bin Laden...has continued to support the Sudanese military-industrial complex, which operates al-Shifa factory that was bombed today. That factory, which has been said to manufacture pharmaceuticals, in fact makes the components for VX gas and other chemical weapons, the Administration said today." (2)

The preceding quote, in addition to turning out to be completely false, is reported by the Times as absolutely true as casually as one would state the temperature. The first sentence stands alone with no indication that it is a paraphrase. The second sentence ends with "the Administration said." This paragraph, written so as to appear verifiably and obviously true (to the point where the Times barely attempts to indicate that the information is not common knowledge), is complete speculation by the government, which turns out to be incorrect.

Look also at the brazen way in which they reference Sudan's integrity and the veracity of their claims: "...which has been said to manufacture pharmaceuticals, in fact makes the components for VX gas and other chemicals weapons." Why does the Times accept the administration's line so easily? When it comes to this subject obviously they know nothing about it: they're simply passing information on to the reader that has come to them directly from the government on faith. Therefore, all the information and evidence should be presented as just that. But instead they brush aside the Sudanese side of the claim as if there's no possibility of it being factual.

Why can't they say: "The U.S. struck the plant because of this distinct reason. Here it is. The U.S. says this. Sudan says that. Let's look at the evidence and see who's right."


- Part II examines "new evidence" and looks at the Sudanese response to the initial U.S. claims.

[Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. In addition to his work with, he's also maintaining, as well as being in the midst of a larger autobiographical/cultural work. Matthew lives in the United States.]

Matthew Riemer encourages your comments:



(1) New York Times, "U.S. Suspected Deadly Production Line," August 21, 1998.

(2) New York Times, "U.S. Cruise Missiles Strike Sudan and Afghan Targets Tied to Terrorist Network," August 22, 1998. is an international publication. encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction must identify the original source, Internet web links to are appreciated.

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