Sudan factory wrong attack
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Blinded By (Bad) Science?
Critics: Sudan Factory Was Wrong Target for Payback
By Sheila MacVicar
L O N D O N, Feb. 10 — Ever since U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles reduced a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant to rubble last August, the man who owns that factory has been fighting to get the U.S. government to admit it made a mistake.
U.S. cruise missiles demolished the plant in retaliation for the terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa. The White House insists the factory made chemical weapons and was financed by Osama bin Laden — the man they say financed the embassy bombings.
ABCNEWS investigated the decision to attack the plant and spoke with Salal Idris, the prominent Sudanese businessman who owned it. He now lives in Saudi Arabia, where he gave his first television interview to ABCNEWS.
“One can understand the legitimate right of the U.S. government to go after terrorists and to control terrorism,” Idris says. “But they need to have legitimate targets. I am not the right target.”
Before it was destroyed, Idris’ Al-Shifa factory near Khartoum produced 50 percent of the country’s medicine. Idris says his factory had nothing to do with chemical weapons and he denies any links to bin Laden. “I have never met him,” he says. “I have never dealt with him. I have never knowingly dealt with any one of his agents.”
The decision to attack the plant has been repeatedly defended by the Clinton administration. They say they have hard evidence of a chemical-weapons presence: a soil sample, obtained by the CIA just outside the plant, contained EMPTA — which is critical to producing the deadly nerve agent VX.
“We have physical evidence that this facility … of the presence there of a chemical that can as far as we know, can only be used in chemical weapons,” said National Security Advisor Sandy Berger on Sept. 18.
But there are now serious doubts about the quality of that evidence.
ABCNEWS talked to many international arms control experts, scientists and some U.S. intelligence officials who say they now believe that the CIA soil sample, and the tests done on it, prove nothing.
Among the points they make:
The CIA test found such a small amount of the chemical EMPTA that the results could have been wrong.
The lab that did the test did not use the most sensitive and reliable technique — mass spectrometry — to analyze the sample.
The CIA used only one laboratory to carry out the tests. International standards normally require testing in three independent labs.
ABCNEWS consulted some of the world’s leading experts in detecting chemical-warfare agents. They believe the CIA’s test results are questionable, at best.
“The evidence is based on trace amounts of a compound in soil, and we know that compound is not stable in soil,” says chemical toxicologist Dr. Hendrik Benschop. “So, this would not add up to solid scientific evidence.”
Was the U.S. Wrong?
A recent investigation of the factory ruins, commissioned by Idris and his American lawyers, collected samples from 13 locations at the site. Sophisticated testing and analysis by three different laboratories showed that the samples contained no EMPTA.
U.S. officials continue to insist that the plant was involved in the production of chemical warfare agents — and that they were right to bomb it.
“There is absolutely no question in my mind that we hit the right targets,” said Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
ABCNEWS has learned, however, that the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency has conducted its own highly-classified review. It concludes that the decision to bomb was based on bad intelligence … and bad science.