There are news reports this morning that the Obama Administration is considering de-listing the Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. The move is somewhat unusual and likely tied to democracy-enhancing matters, not terrorism. According to the New York Times, Sudanese officials have been told that “if it allows a politically sensitive referendum to go ahead in January, and abides by the results, the United States will move to take the country off its list of state sponsors of terrorism as early as next July, administration officials said Sunday.”
Sudan supports and facilitates fundraising for Hamas which, that alone, warrants inclusion on the state sponsors list but there is more. There is presence of al-Qa’ida influenced groups that may have been involved in the death of at least one American citizen. Sudan also cooperates with other state sponsors of terrorism including Iran and Cuba. And while there is no iron-clad public collaboration that the Sudanese government has been supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), there seems to be sufficient anecdotal evidence to keep Sudan on the list until Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir (pictured) comes clean. That will never happen.
The listing process is in much need of an overhaul as it has not been updated to meet the new challenges of a post-09.11.01 world; however, using existing legal and policy regimes as a political escape hatch for supporters of terrorism renders these tools nearly meaningless. While the human rights situation in the Sudan is especially troublesome, a referendum under current conditions will do little to improve things on the ground (not to mention that the referendum has nothing to do with terrorism). Resolving the security situation must come first and the listing process, if used correctly, can be a power tool when used with other robust measures.
In the war on terrorism, we should be in it to win. Removing the terrorist designation pox on countries such as these made no sense in the case of North Korea when the Bush Administration did it, nor will it in the case of the Sudan. It sends the wrong message to terrorist groups around the world, emboldens them, and will surely make more problems for U.S. interests in Africa and beyond.