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Empire Notes"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.
"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.
A Blog by Rahul Mahajan
Houston Chronicle, August 20, 1999; Idaho Statesman
by Rahul Mahajan
Just over a year ago, the United States destroyed the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, killing one person and injuring others, as part of a massive cruise-missile strike on Afghanistan and Sudan. The ostensible reasons for targeting the El Shifa plant were that it was manufacturing precursors for chemical weapons, and that it was somehow involved with Osama bin Laden, wanted in connection with earlier attacks on US embassies in Africa.
In the time since that attack, there has been media coverage of the fact that the plant produced only legitimate pharmaceuticals, and that no connection with bin Laden could be established. There has been virtually no mention of two rather more important facts. First, that the United States had no right to make such an attack, and that it was a clear violation of international law. The UN Charter allows states to attack other states only to defend themselves from ongoing attack or in accordance with a Security Council resolution. There was absolutely no evidence of any attack by Sudan on the US.
Second, and more important still, the El Shifa plant produced 60 to 70% of the pharmaceutical drugs used to combat the most deadly diseases facing the Sudanese, including malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera. It also produced almost all the veterinary medicine, in a country where much of the economy is dependent on animal husbandry. The plant made vital medicines available to the Sudanese at 20% of world market prices, a matter of life and death in a country with a per capita GNP of roughly $300 per year.
Exact figures are not available, but it is fair to estimate that at least thousands of people have died as a result of the attack, not by fire and explosion, but by slowly, painfully wasting away without the medicine that could save them. There is a distressing trend in recent US military adventures. Not only do the actual bombings kill far more civilians than soldiers and do far more damage to civilian targets than to military ones, far more people die after the bombing is over than died during the bombing.
The sanctions on Iraq are perhaps the most egregious example of this. Since the end of the Gulf War, they have killed perhaps 1 million people, five to ten times as many as died in the war itself. Not only do they involve the largest numbers, they are particularly notable because of the fact that they constitute a deliberate strangulation of a society that is able to provide for itself if allowed to.
Serbia is another example. Several thousand people were killed in the bombings, but just as importantly, the industrial infrastructure was levelled during the war. Almost all of the bridges across the Danube were destroyed, in addition to the main automobile-manufacturing plant, most of the oil-refining and storage capacity, water-treatment plants and hospitals. With the decision by the US and its NATO allies to withhold reconstruction aid as long as Milosevic remains in power, they ensure that thousands more people will die as a result of the war.
Even after the US admitted that there was no evidence of chemical weapons production at El Shifa, it has refused to accept its responsibility. It was only in May that it unfroze the assets of the plant owner. Now, he is threatening to sue the US, which plans to use the defense of sovereign immunity. It is hard to imagine any course of action for a responsible state with any concern for human rights other than to apologize and offer to make restitution. To invoke sovereign immunity after a deliberate and blatant violation of the sovereignty of another country is hypocrisy of the highest order.
In the orgy of Western triumphalism after the "successful" conclusion of the Yugoslavia war, Michael Wines, writing about the new white man's burden -- the need to defend human rights with cruise missiles and cluster bombs -- averred in the New York Times that there is "a yawning gap between the West and much of the world on the value of a single human life." The lack of concern evinced by the US over people dying of malaria in Sudan or marasmus in Iraq as a direct result of its military aggression certainly attests to the truth of that. When will the US close that gap?
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of Empire Notes. His latest book, “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,” covers U.S. policy on Iraq, deceptions about weapons of mass destruction, the plans of the neoconservatives, and the face of the new Bush imperial policies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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