Existence of Secret Sudan Annex Archive was “Fishing Around” For Revealed, After Six Year Delay
By Lauren Harper and Sarah Chaney Reichenbach
In June 2012 Jonathan Lalley, Special Assistant to the State Department spokesperson, sent out an email alert that National Security Archive fellow and author of Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, Rebecca Hamilton, was “fishing around” for information on the existence of a classified annex to the 2009 Sudan Policy Review. The review, undertaken to guide the Obama administration’s strategy as the south of Sudan headed toward a secession referendum, had faced delays and bureaucratic infighting. Lalley said that if Hamilton “comes to you direct asking about an alleged classified annex to the Sudan strategy that resulted from the 2009 review process, please know that both PA [Public Affairs] and NSS [national security staff] have already responded ‘we have nothing for you.’ Please flag for us if she reaches out directly to S/USSES.”
Hamilton had been seeking clarification on contradictory statements about the existence of the annex for a 2012 Reuters investigation on the formation of US policy toward what was, by then, a newly independent South Sudan. Back in October 2009 when the State Department had released an outline of its Sudan Policy Review, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters there was “a classified annex to our strategy” while Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration testified before the House or Representatives in December 2009 that there “is no annex.” But a recently declassified working draft of the strategy, “US Sudan Interagency Policy Review Strategy Paper,” dated May 2009, does have a classified annex entitled “Incentives and Disincentives,” which seems to vindicate Clinton’s claims that the annex, at least at one point, existed.
The draft was among a number of documents that were recently released to the Archive’s Genocide Documentation Project in response to a FOIA request Hamilton filed with the State Department in 2010. While the contents of the annex were redacted in the released document, other parts of the document show that the US government was prepared to “unwind sanctions and restrictive legislation” if the government of Sudan complied with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) it signed with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in 2005.
The draft lays out a set of assumptions undergirding the development of the US government’s Sudan policy. Among them is the assertion that while implementation of the CPA was necessary, its implementation alone would not be sufficient to guarantee peace. This assumption seems to be reflected in the draft’s ambitious “national engagement strategy” that “supports political stability, enhances internal security, improves democratic governance, and promotes economic development for all of Sudan.” The proposal, fleshed out in detail in the May 2009 draft, is absent from the final version released in October 2009.
The draft also assumes – correctly as it turns out – the eventual secession of South Sudan in 2011, and notes that an independent South Sudan “would require a substantially increased nation-building effort resulting in a high degree of US commitment and leadership.” In hindsight, the observation is particularly poignant; the 2013 outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, less than two years after it gained independence, has killed an estimated 50,000 people and left 1.6 million more displaced.
Reviewing the declassified material, Hamilton notes that the documents “reveal the thorny debates that bogged down the review and left the US government’s Sudan strategy in limbo for the first 18 months of the Obama administration.”
The documents also highlight the frustration felt by US officials working on Sudan policy as the country headed toward the secession referendum. In a set of email exchanges, the head of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Alberto Fernandez, wrote that “what Khartoum and the Sudan effort need is not necessarily more bodies but more of the right kind of people and those are often in short supply.” He wrote the email 19 days before he left the post, noting that “with my departure in May, there will be NO Arabic speaking FSOs at post.”
The same set of email exchanges also shows at least one official’s desire to stop using the term “genocide” in the policy review. In an April 27, 2009, email one official writes:
“[T]he use of the word genocide in this document seems out of date and inaccurate. Given current realities on the ground, it could simply say ‘definitive end to the conflict.’”
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell declared Darfur a genocide before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 9, 2004, saying “When we reviewed the evidence compiled by our team, along with other information available to the State Department, we concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the jinjaweid bear responsibility — and genocide may still be occurring.”
The 2009 desire to stop using the word “genocide” draws parallels to Rwanda and the Clinton administration’s refusal to label the mass killings in Rwanda as a genocide in 1994 despite overwhelming evidence; a May 1, 1994, State Department document explicitly warns: “Be careful … Genocide finding could commit U.S.G. to actually ‘do something.'” In this case however, the word genocide ended up in the final Policy Review, a result that Hamilton suggests was the consequence of a vocal constituency of US citizens who pushed to government officials to keep using the word.
The State Department deserves credit for releasing the documents, considering the June 2012 email adds to a growing list of examples of Hillary Clinton’s Department of State scrutinizing politically sensitive documents requested under the FOIA.
The release of Lalley’s “fishing around” email, while mildly embarrassing, is in the State Department’s best interest as it attempts to rebuild public trust and meet its requirements under the FOIA in the wake of the Hillary Clinton’s email fiasco. The release of the draft Policy Review six years later begs new questions on the evolution of US policy towards Sudan and South Sudan, and the public unavailability of this information at the time.