Khartoum Revisited, Part 1
Clinton's bombing of Sudan's Al-Shifa plant doesn't warrant revisionism.
Another potential problem for the EMPTA argument, widely noted at the time, is that pesticide traces in the soil are apparently easy to mistake for EMPTA. (This is quite different from, and less easy to dismiss than, the argument dismissed by Benjamin and Simon above—that EMPTA "could hypothetically have been a derivative of pesticide production.") A third difficulty, cited by the slain reporter Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal (who wrote several characteristically thorough investigations of the Al-Shifa bombing) was attributed to Dr. Jan Medema, a toxic-substances expert in Holland:
Dr. Medema says it is highly unlikely that a plant's ventilation system or underground waste-disposal system would allow O-Empta to get into surface soil outside the plant. More likely, he said, is that the Sudanese wanted to get rid of some already made O-Empta and poured it directly into the soil, and "somebody saw that and took a sample."
This latter scenario is hard to picture. If the plant managers worried that they'd be searched or bombed, wouldn't it have been better simply to remove the EMPTA to a separate, more secure building? Why throw away a substance they would have gone through such difficulty to produce and stash* in the first place?
Benjamin and Simon (whose book is superb on all topics save this one) cite in their book what they present as new evidence justifying the bombing of Al-Shifa. But that evidence actually undermines their argument that the factory was making VX. Chatterbox will take up that topic tomorrow.
Correction, April 1, 2004: An earlier version of this piece suggested incorrectly that the only suspicion surrounding the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory was whether it had manufactured EMPTA. In fact, the Clinton administration also thought it possible that Al-Shifa had been used to store EMPTA.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of President Bill Clinton by Jason Reed/Reuters.