The Foreign Service Journal, June 2009

J U N E 2 0 0 9 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 33 not want to consider the idea that the death, destruction and offense to the nation were being used as pre- texts for pursuing unrelated goals— much less allegations that credible intelligence available before the at- tacks had been disregarded. Leaving 9/11 to future historians, we might more usefully ask how American policymakers reacted to previous acts of terror- ism against U.S. targets, and then re-examine the question of how best to deal with this awful blight on modern civi- lization. My limited experience suggests a disturbing pat- tern of inconsistency, dishonesty and deceit in high places, centered on the oft-repeated dictum that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. That serious charge is best illustrated by a gruesome tale of interrelated events spanning nine years in Africa and the Middle East — a tale I could not tell before now, because of one secret I knew and another I did not. The recent re- lease of documents some 35 years after the events re- counted below compel me to tell that story and to offer some unremarkable, textbook proposals for handling fu- ture crises. OnMarch 1, 1973, the Saudi ambassador in Khartoum, dean of the diplomatic corps, hosted a reception in honor of departing U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission George Curtis Moore. Early on, eight armed men crashed the party; cap- tured Moore, newly arrived American Ambassador Cleo Noel Jr. and Belgian Chargé d’Affaires Guy Eid; and de- manded the release of several Palestinians from custody in Jordan and freedom for Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan. The terrorists were members of “Black Septem- ber,” an instrument of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Fatah wing, led by Yasser Arafat. Sudanese security forces sur- rounded the embassy but did not in- tervene for fear of putting the lives of the hostages at risk, while the gov- ernment attempted to secure their release by other means. Others elsewhere were less concerned, or more cava- lier, respecting the hostages’ fate. On March 2, 1973, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management William Macomber was dispatched to Khartoum, presumably in the hope that their release could be arranged. Before the envoy could arrive, however, President Richard Nixon let it be known loudly and publicly that in keeping with U.S. pol- icy against negotiating with terrorists, Washington would pay no blackmail. Shortly after that pronouncement, intended for a world- wide audience and bolstered by a comment for the press from the State Department to the effect that Macomber had no negotiating authority, Noel, Moore and Eid were murdered in cold blood. Sudanese forces promptly ar- rested the Palestinians and placed them in prison pending trial. Over the ensuing 15 months, American officials at- tempted to hold the Sudanese government’s feet to the fire, urging that priority be given to the judicial proceedings that had been promised. The Sudanese kept promising, but in the early hours of June 24, 1974, after a court had sum- marily sentenced the accused to life imprisonment and President Jaafar al-Nimeiry had immediately thereafter commuted the sentences to seven years each, Sudanese au- thorities spirited the prisoners out of jail and onto a plane bound for Cairo, saying they would be handed over to the PLO for execution of the sentences. Washington reacted swiftly, recalling American Ambassador William Brewer fromKhartoum and suspending various bilateral programs and projects. The Egyptian government, for its part, seized the killers at the airport and imprisoned them. Where I Came In About to complete a tour at the U.S. embassy in Bel- gium and with four years of African experience, I was sent to Khartoum in late July 1974 as chargé d’affaires, with only an overnight briefing from Amb. Brewer in Brussels and instructions not to initiate any discussions with Sudanese F O C U S I could not tell this tale before now because of one secret I knew and another I did not. Alan Berlind retired from the Foreign Service in 1986 after 25 years in nine jobs, including three in Washington, plus a year each at Columbia University and the National War College. Specializing in political-military and trans-Atlantic affairs, he served as DCM in Khartoum and Athens, direc- tor of the Office of the Law of the Sea Negotiations inWash- ington and political adviser at NATO. Following retire- ment, he taught at two American colleges in Greece and now lectures occasionally at the University of Bordeaux in France, where he lives with his wife and son.