United States Violence on Terrorism

Tan Nguyen
As the United Statescontinues what it calls its“war against terrorism,” one can’t help but wonder if such a war is misguided.  After all, if the United States is truly looking to eradicate terrorism, perhaps it should direct its attention to within its borders, or more specifically, within the confines of its government.

In 1986, the United States was found guilty by the World Court
 of“unlawful use of violence” (international terrorism) for its actions in Nicaragua. The United States then promptly vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to adhere to international law.

Exactly how bad were the United State’s actions in Nicaragua?
  According to political scientist Noam Chomsky, “Nicaragua in the 1980’s was subjected to violent assault by the U.S.  Tens of thousands of people died.  The country was substantially destroyed; it may never recover.  The international terrorist attack was accompanied by a devastating economic war, which a small country isolated by a vengeful and cruel superpower could scarcely sustain.”  In the case of Nicaragua, we have the United States using violence to reach its goal of overthrowing the popular Sandinista movement, a coalition of Marxists, left-wing priests, and nationalists.  Was the United States’ use of violence any different from Bin Laden’s?

The United States was using violence in an attempt to influence the
policy of the government of Nicaragua by intimidation and coercion.  The U.S. code defines terrorism in a variety of ways.  One way terrorism is described is as “any activity that appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”  Therefore, the United States, according to its own definition of terrorism, was guilty of this heinous act.
Some will argue that 1986 is now distant history.  The government haslearned from its egregious mistakes and surely has not repeated them since.  If only this were true.  One need to only look at the Clinton administration’s 1998 bombing of the Al-Shifa plant in Sudan to find U.S. terrorism.  The bombing of Sudan, a response to the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, was responsible for an large amount of deaths.  To measure the death toll, it is necessary to examine not only the amount of deaths produced by the bombings, but also those deaths directly related to the bombings, that is the deaths caused by the eradication of the Al-Shifa plant.In his investigation of the bombing, Jonathan Belke of the Boston Globe, regional program manager for the Near East Foundation, a respected development institution providing technical assistance to poor countries in the Middle East and Africa, found that a year after the attack, “without the lifesaving medicine [the destroyed facilities] produced, Sudan’s death toll from the bombing has continued, quietly, to rise…  Thus, tens of thousands of people-many of them children-have suffered and died from malaria, tuberculosis, and other treatable diseases… [Al-Shifa] provided affordable medicine for humans and all the locally available veterinary medicine in Sudan.  It produced 90 percent of Sudan’s major pharmaceutical products…  Sanctions against Sudan make it impossible to import adequate amounts of medicines required to cover the serious gap left by the plant’s destruction.”


Germany’s Ambassador toSudan writes that “It is difficult to assess how many people in this poor African country died as a consequence of the destruction of the Al-Shifa factory, but several tens of thousands seems a reasonable guess” (Werner Daum, “Universalism and the West,” Harvard International  
Review, Summer 2001).  After all, Al-Shifa “provided 50 percent of Sudan’s medicines, and its destruction has left the country with no supplies of chloroquine, the standard treatment for malaria” (Patrick Wintour, Observer, December 20, 1998).

Additionally, Al-Shifa was “the only one producing TB drugs-for more than 100,000 patients, at about 1 British pound a month.  Costlier imported versions are not an option for most of them-or for their husbands, wives and children, who will have been infected since.  Al-Shifa was also the only factory making veterinary drugs in this vast, mostly pastoralist, country.  Its specialty was drugs to kill the parasites which pass from herds to herders, one of Sudan’s principal causes of infant mortality” (James Astill, Guardian, October 2, 2001). 

The bombing of the Al-Shifa plant also resulted in the mass exodus ofSudan’s international organizations.  Human Rights Watch observed that because of the bombing, “all UN agencies based in Khartoum have evacuated their American staff, as have many other relief organizations.”  Because of this “many relief efforts have been postponed indefinitely, including a crucial one run by the U.S.- based International Rescue Committee are dying daily.” Additionally, “the UN estimates that 2.4 million people are at risk of starvation,” and the “disruption in assistance” for the “devastated population” may produce a “terrible crisis.”

Therefore, it is not so surprising that Osama Bin Laden’s popularity rose after the Al-Shifa bombing.  This horrible incident, along with U.S. policy in Iraq in the past ten years, has devastated Iraq’s civilian population while strengthening Saddam Hussein.  The U.S. egregiously supported Hussein during his gassing of the Kurds in 1988 which provided Bin Laden with a way to defend his irrational hatred of the United States.  Perhaps the only way to counter the United States’ terrorism, is with terrorism of one’s own.

If the United States is to continue its war on terrorism, it shouldperhaps aim its war not at Osama Bin Laden or Iraq (what many predict is next on the U.S.’s list), but rather at itself.  It is only by eradicating its status as the world’s leading terrorist state, that the U.S. can eradicate terrorism.