Al Shifa Factory

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 1:29 pm, 24th March 1999

On 20 August 1998, the United States launched a cruise missile attack on the Al Shifa plant in Khartoum. If what the factory made was so awful, why were there no air-locked doors, no guards and no night watchman? Why not accept the Sudanese request for an inspection team? After all, we are bombing Iraq in the cause of establishing inspection teams. Why no inspection for Sudan, which has asked for it?

The Americans, endorsed by Britain, made a serious error when they bombed and destroyed the factory. Chemical and Engineering News of 15 February said: No trace of nerve gas precursor found at bombed Sudan plant". The International Herald Tribune of 10 February gives details of negative tests by American scientists on soil and effluent at the factory site, and the Boston university soil analysis, under the direction of Thomas Tullius, one of the most distinguished men in the field, found nothing.

The New Yorker of October 1998 revealed that the Defence Intelligence Agency, the American joint chiefs of staff and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were kept out of the picture by the Clinton White House on what was essentially a political decision to bomb Sudan.

As soon as I secured this debate, I drew the attention of the Foreign Office to the report of the Monterey institute of international studies. It says: On August 14, CIA Director George Tenet reported that there was conclusive evidence justifying retaliatory attack against bin Laden. Cohen and Shelton briefed Clinton on a general plan for attacks and the President reportedly approved their plans that same day, including the strike on al Shifa. The four chiefs of staff of the armed forces, Attorney General Janet Reno and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis J. Freeh were not informed of the plan until one day prior to the scheduled attack.

Crucially, the report continues: Reno reportedly urged delay to enable the FBI to compile more convincing evidence linking bin Laden both to the embassy bombings and to the facilities targeted for attack. Reno was apparently concerned that the available evidence was insufficient to meet standards of international law, but she was overruled. To overrule one's own Attorney-General is a serious matter. The report continues: Neither the Defence Intelligence Agency nor the FBI was involved in evaluating the data that led US officials to attack Shifa.

Sir Harold Kroto of the Royal Society of Chemistry, who has been rightly lauded by the Prime Minister, said to me that Bob Williams knows more about Empta—o-ethyl-methyl phosphoric acid—than anyone else in Europe, and Professor R. J. P. Williams, of Oxford university, has been my friend in this matter from the very beginning.

Professor Williams said: In view of the fact that there is to be a debate in the House of Commons next Wednesday I wish to impress upon all Members of the House that there is now an opportunity for them to make sure that the government is open with us all concerning the attack on the pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan by U. S. missiles. While it was excusable for the Prime Minister to respond last August by supporting U. S. officials, accepting claims from them which have never been made public, all subsequent and very detailed investigations of these claims have shown that none of them stand up to inspection. I quoted earlier from the serious American press and from an American institute.

Professor Williams continued: No chemicals of any kind which can be linked to nerve gas production have been found by new analyses of the soil around the factory. The factory was incapable of producing any such chemicals. The factory is owned by an innocent man, a Mr Idris. There are no links between the factory and ' any terrorist activities. All this evidence is readily available to Members of the House in leading American and British publications. While we all regret the deaths of over one hundred people in terrorist attacks on U. S. property in Africa it is not for the U. S. or us to take revenge by bombing a source of medical supplies for the sick in the Sudan. How many Sudanese have died as a consequence? Every time questions are asked in Parliament on these points the Prime Minister has replied evasively by reference to the early remarks of U. S. officials which everyone I know believes to have been mistaken. Now he is aware of the facts can not the Prime Minister apologise and attempt to persuade the U. S. government to do the same? Surely even politicians must be wise enough to realise that repeated dodging at Question Time in Parliament only reduces their stature while an apology for a mistake will be greeted as an act of statesmanship. Would it not be even better to send to the Sudan replacement medical supplies? I, too, believe that people should apologise for mistakes when they know that they are mistakes.

Tom Carnaffin, the British engineer involved, wrote to the Prime Minister. He said: I was the Technical Manager for Baaboud Trading and Shipping the main funders and builders of the … factory.I am very distressed and angry at the persistent untruths and innuendoes levelled at the past and present owners of the factory and the true function and purpose of the said facility.At my age and with my background as an engineer having worked in many countries throughout the world, I only believe what I can see with my own eyes, touch, measure or do the calculations for myself. Having worked on the Al Shifa factory from the digging of the foundations to the commissioning, living with the Baaboud family and being very closely associated with them even till now, I can say with my hand on my heart you do not know what you are talking about when you speak about this factory.

The capability of Sudan to provide simple medicines for its people has been damaged by this act of war. It is not sufficient for me to say please apologise. We must be constructive, and the Government should consider all the following moves.

The Government should apologise to the Government and people of Sudan for their endorsement of the destruction of a factory so vital to humanitarian development in Sudan. They should provide the affected communities in Sudan with emergency humanitarian relief in the form of drugs and medicines until the factory is rebuilt and recommences the manufacture of affordable pharmaceuticals.

The Government should support a United Nations weapons inspection of the Al Shifa factory and must take a prominent role in pushing for it at the United Nations Security Council. Should the United States Government continue to block international calls for a UN inspection of the site, the British Government should send a team from the Porton Down chemical and biological weapons establishment to conduct British tests.

The Government must rethink and reassess their attitude towards Sudan in the light of this and other American intelligence failures regarding Sudan. If the most powerful country in the world, with all the intelligence assets and technology at its disposal, cannot get it right on this vital issue, how many other American claims, similarly echoed and supported, I fear, by the British Government, are flawed if not totally inaccurate?

The Government must bring pressure to bear on President Clinton to compensate the families of the dead and injured workers, to rebuild the factory and, in the meantime, to provide Sudan with humanitarian relief by replacing the vital drugs and medicines that were destroyed in the attack or whose supply has been interrupted by it. The Government should press the Clinton Administration to adopt a more constructive and less confrontational role in Sudan.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister is here to reply to this debate, because he has a record of being deeply concerned about and doing good work towards improving relations with Sudan. I hope that those relations can be mended.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 1:39 pm, 24th March 1999

I know of the long interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has in this matter, and I also appreciate his final comments and the way in which he has addressed the issues. The context of the attack on Al Shifa is important to the House and it is right that we are reminded of it. It is important that we take every opportunity in the House unanimously to express our strong opposition to all acts of terrorism, wherever they occur. While my hon. Friend did not do that in his speech, I take it as read that he is a keen and active opponent of all terrorism and all sources of terrorism.

It is worth while reminding ourselves of the newspaper reports on the day after the attack on the Nairobi office block, which was the act of terrorism that led to the Al Shifa reaction. Those reports remind us of the horror of terrorism and the way in which it picks out wholly innocent individuals. More than 250 people were killed in Kenya on that occasion and not one of them had a political manifesto or grievance. They were innocent individuals, going about their business, leaving their homes in the morning and expecting to return in the evening. They were victims of a senseless, evil terrorist attack.

The Daily Telegraph, for example, carried a report on the office block next door to the building in which the bomb exploded. It said that it took the brunt of the blast. It was reduced to rubble. It continues by describing the victims: Most of the victims were Kenyan office workers or passers-by, including the passengers of a bus, some of whom were decapitated by flying debris. That was the nature of the attack, which was designed to injure, maim and kill innocent people. That was its sole purpose. The victims were people going about their everyday business, and there can be no possible political explanation to support such an attack. I know that every hon. Member would wish to condemn that act of terrorism, as is the case with every other act of terrorism. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow makes a particular point about Al Shifa, but it is important to see that event in the context of our condemnation of terrorism, of bin Laden and all such activities.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I agree with the condemnation of terrorism that my right hon. Friend the Minister makes, but did Al Shifa have anything to do with the attack?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am delighted that I took that intervention. I agree with my hon. Friend's condemnation of terrorism and I shall come on to his other point. He has a very good record on human rights and of opposition to terrorism, and it is right that should go on record. In the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, we know about the evil of terrorism and it is right that the House should take every opportunity to remind others throughout the world that we condemn terrorism, and will take action to ensure that we can stand up against terrorists and those who organise and finance terrorism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow has raised questions about Al Shifa on many occasions. He had an exchange with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister only a week or so ago. I shall take this opportunity to remind my hon. Friend what the Prime Minister said on that occasion, because he repeated answers that he has given since August last year. He said: Last August, I gave my support to the United States action. It was action against international terrorists. The US told us at the time of the strike on Al Shifa that it had compelling evidence that the plant was being used for the production of chemical weapons materials. My hon. Friend then asked the Prime Minister whether there was any hard evidence that VX precursors or any other chemical weapons-related compounds were manufactured at the Al Shifa plant. I shall remind the House of my right hon. Friend's reply: The US was quite clear: it had compelling evidence that Al Shifa was involved in chemical weapons production. Terrorist organisations operating out of those places caused the death of more than 100 totally innocent people by acts of terrorism in Africa. The assault on Al Shifa was retaliation for that; no one was killed in it, but we gave a very clear signal—and I think the right one—to those who engage in international terrorism that we are prepared if necessary to take action in retaliation."—[Official Report, 10 March 1999; Vol. 327, c. 364–5.]

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

If the Americans said that they had compelling evidence, why did their Attorney-General, Janet Reno, ask for a delay because she was not convinced? A country whose Attorney-General is not convinced would not appear to have compelling evidence. The truth is that there was deception by the Americans.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend's final accusation is a very strong one. The point he made about the Attorney-General comes, of course, from newspaper stories that are not founded on any evidence. The American Administration's position is that there was compelling evidence. If my hon. Friend reads the newspapers assiduously, he will recognise that the reporting is not always wholly accurate, especially in contexts in which it might be useful to establish differences between individual personalities within a Government. The American Administration's view is that they had compelling evidence.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

That point did not come from newspaper reports. It is contained in the detailed report by the Monterey institute of international studies, to which I referred the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the very moment that I knew that I had secured this Adjournment debate. That report is a serious document.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I will, almost on cue, refer to my hon. Friend's remarks about that document. It makes a number of telling comments that point in the contrary direction to those that my hon. Friend has used as evidence. For example, the document concludes that the eye witnesses are not chemical weapons specialists and it is possible that their knowledge is incomplete. My hon. Friend relied on a number of eye witnesses, including the British engineer who was involved in the construction of the plant, but that balanced report states that we cannot rely on the eye witnesses for evidence on technical details, because they are not chemical weapons specialists. The engineer has knowledge of engineering, but he does not necessarily have any knowledge of chemical weapons systems.

The report also mentions EMPTA and states: There are several possible reasons why such a soil sample might test positive for EMPTA. We should not forget that a positive test result was obtained. The Monterey report offers three possible reasons for that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow did not refer to them during his comments. The report states: U. S. officials may be correct in their allegation that the VX precursor was produced at Shifa.

My hon. Friend has said that it is incumbent on the American Government to produce evidence for its conclusions, but he should be careful in putting his evidence together, because the report accepts that it is possible that US officials were right in thinking that the allegations that the VX precursor was produced at Al Shifa were well based. That could be one of the scientific conclusions from the soil samples and—although one has to be careful when reading a balanced report to recognise that it puts arguments in both directions—that is a telling counter allegation to the one that my hon. Friend makes.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

As the engineer involved is sitting in the Strangers Gallery

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman should know by now that no reference can be made to anyone who is not in the Chamber.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Would my hon. Friend or the science advisers to the Foreign Office be prepared to see the engineer, who set up the factory, in order to gain some idea of its capability, chemical or otherwise?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We should be happy to meet that individual. However, I return to the document's remarks on eyewitnesses to which I have just referred. With the best will in the world, I do not expect that the engineer would set himself up as a chemical weapons expert. However, we should be willing to talk to him about the engineering involved in the factory.

I refer my hon. Friend to the report's conclusion, on page 26, which says: It remains possible that Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Factory may have been involved in some way in producing or storing the chemical compound EMPTA, which can be used in the production of VX nerve gas. The evidence produced by my hon. Friend is, at best, chequered. It is certainly partial, and it is worth pausing to think about the conclusion drawn by the eminent people who wrote the report.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the matter before the House, but the three crucial conclusions that I have outlined—the nature of eyewitness expertise, the fact that EMPTA was found there, meaning the American evidence and conclusions could be correct, and the fact that the report cannot conclude that Al Shifa was not used for storing or producing chemical weapons—seem to undermine his allegations.

Photo of Mr Michael Trend Mr Michael Trend Conservative, Windsor

The Minister has outlined several qualifications from academic papers with which we are familiar. However, the essence of the question is a single soil sample that the Americans claim to have analysed, although some people have cast doubt on both the chemical analysis and the origin of the sample. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked whether the British Government were satisfied that sample was genuine, and that the work done on it was properly conducted. Are the British Government simply taking the word of the American Administration? The Opposition believe that the action was almost certainly right, but that the factory was almost certainly the wrong one. It would be shameful if the Government have been led down a cul-de-sac by the American Government.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am intrigued by the line that the hon. Gentleman is taking. The shadow Foreign Secretary supported the action taken by the United States. Does the hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the position taken by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)? If he is announcing a new departure in Conservative policy, he would be wiser not to do so during an Adjournment debate, and it would have been sensible of him to tell his right hon. and learned Friend. I know that the shadow Foreign Secretary is shortly to leave the Conservative Front Bench, and that the hon. Gentleman may be making a bid for the job, but he would be wiser not to announce his candidacy this way.

Photo of Mr Michael Trend Mr Michael Trend Conservative, Windsor

Rather than continuing the badinage, I shall repeat my important question. Are the British Government satisfied that the chemical analysis of the soil sample—the only bit of genuine evidence that justifies the bombing—adds up?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We are satisfied that the United States had conclusive evidence, and we have said so many times. I need to know whether the hon. Gentleman is dissociating the Conservative party from an attack on the causes of terrorism. Our debate is telling us a great deal about the Conservative party, whose spokesman is showing himself to be soft on terrorism. I am sure that the shadow Foreign Secretary will read the debate with great interest. It is about time that the Conservative party offered support rather than reneging on its traditional position. I should be happy to give the hon. Gentleman another opportunity to clarify his position if he wishes one.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but I wanted to remind the House that this is his Adjournment debate. Interventions by Front-Bench Members are not customary in such a debate.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

The obvious next step would be for the engineer to meet the Minister's advisers. On the question of what will be done about the Sudan, I meant what I said about the Minister's good record in trying to improve relations with that country. Whatever the arguments about Al Shifa, is there any way in which to give help to the Sudan, which has the most appalling malnutrition problems?

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My points about the Monterey institute report have been fully made. I shall go on to the two further points that my hon. Friend has raised.

The next step is for Sudan to sign up to the chemical weapons convention, the verification regime of which would allow us to find out what is going on in Sudan and whether there is any truth in the allegation that there has been, and continues to be, production of chemical weapons. If Sudan has nothing to hide, it should sign in its own interests, in the interests of its neighbours and in the interests of the international community. We should all urge Sudan to take that step.

My hon. Friend referred kindly to my role in Sudan. During 1998, the UK Government was the second largest contributor to Sudan, with more than $40 million. There is absolutely no evidence that the attack on the Al Shifa factory or the fact that it is no longer able to produce have made any difference to the supply of medicines and pharmaceuticals. On the contrary, we can say with confidence that our work through the United Nations and through bilateral aid has had a substantial impact on the well-being of people in Sudan.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I had better not give way again.

My hon. Friend is right to say that there is more to be done. I have tried to move the peace process forward and have engaged with the partners of the intergovernmental authority on development to see whether we can give greater momentum to that process. The United States is very much signed up to a new approach that will help us to move the process forward.

I was closely involved in a UK initiative that allowed us to negotiate, with both the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, corridors of tranquillity in Bahr el Ghazal that have enabled international aid relief to go to poor people in that area. The UK's record in helping the people of Sudan both with resources and politically is substantial, and I am proud of it.

We have also sought ways in which to rebuild and restore our relations with Sudan. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was keen to meet the Sudanese Foreign Minister last September. I hope that issues relating to restoration of our ambassador to Khartoum may be resolved in the near future. That is in our interest, and in Sudan's interest. We are keen that it should happen.

My hon. Friend produced evidence that was not the soundest that I have heard him use. The report used as his main piece of evidence contains contradictory evidence. The Government will continue to rely on the statements of the United States Administration that they had compelling evidence for their action. We are united in the fight against terrorism—at least I thought we were before the debate. Labour Members speak with one voice against terrorism. We shall continue to act against it, and we shall stand up against it every time we can. That is the only way in which the voices of democracy and free will can continue to be heard in the world.

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.