Loyal Opposition: Clinton Allowed Genocide [in Rwanda]

by David Corn

www.alternet.org/, July 25, 2000



"A man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest Presidents."

That was the judgment of Bill Clinton that Al Gore pronounced during a tacky pep rally at the White House shortly after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on December 19, 1998. Republican and conservative foes of the Vice President are fond of playing that soundbite repeatedly to remind voters, especially conservative-leaning ones, (as if reminding were necessary) that Gore, perhaps more so than Hillary, faithfully stood by a sex-scandalized Clinton. Yet Gore's excessive, lackeyish praise of Clinton came to mind for a different reason, as I read a report released this month on the Rwanda genocide by a panel established by the Organization for African Unity.

The seven notables on the commission -- including the past chiefs of state of Botswana and Mali, the chairwoman of the Swedish Committee for UNICEF, a former chief justice of India's Supreme Court, and a former Canadian ambassador to the UN -- were asked by the OAU to review the 1994 genocide in which 500,000 to 800,000 people were slaughtered, the actions that preceded the April-to-July massacre, and the world's response to the killings. Their verdict is hardly shocking to anyone who has paid attention to this gruesome episode in which Hutu extremists attempted to wipe out the minority Tutsi.

The nations and international bodies that could have attempted to stop the killing, the report concludes, chose not to do so. The report, which received modest but insufficent media attention, convincingly condemns the United Nations, Belgium (a former colonial occupier), France (which maintained close relations with Rwanda), and the United States -- meaning, the Clinton Administration.

The report recalls that after the genocide began the Clinton Administration refused "to accept publicly that a full-fledged ... genocide was in fact taking place." Under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, once a genocide is recognized, the nations of the world are obligated to prevent the killings and to punish the murderers. But the Clinton gang did not want to become involved in Rwanda -- after 18 American soldiers had been killed in Somalia six months earlier.

In addition to resisting mention of the G-word, the report says, "the Clinton Administration held that there was no useful role for any peacekeeping operation in Rwanda under the prevailing circumstances." Clinton's position was that there was no obligation to act and nothing much to do. Canadian Lieutenent-General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the hand-tied UN peackeeping forces in Rwanda, believed that with a larger force -- 5000 instead of 2000 soldiers -- he could halt much of the slaugher.

As the genocide proceeded, the Clinton Administration went along with -- or forced -- the UN Security Council decision to reduce Dallaire's force to what the OAU report calls "a derisory 270 men." And as the carnage continued, "the UN dithered in organizing any kind of response to the ongoing tragedy. The Americans, led by US Ambassador Madeleine Albright, played the key role in blocking more expeditious action by the UN."

For instance, in early May -- a month into the genocide -- the UN considered sending in a force of 4000 soldiers with a mandate to end the bloodshed and to restore law and order. The Clinton Administration, though, expressed reservations about establishing such a mission -- even though US troops would not necessarily be part of this action. "It is unclear," Albright said then, "what the peace-enforcement mission would be or when it would end." The OAU commissioners have a sharp response for her: "This was a shocking statement, since it was perfectly obvious the purpose was to stop the genocide. But since the Clinton Administration would take any steps to avoid acknowledging that a genocide was in fact taking place, its spokespeople were forced right into June to resort publicly to weasel words about 'acts of genocide' that made them look ridiculous to the rest of the world -- except, of course, to peers on the Security Council who had adopted the same shameful position." The report observes: "At every stage ... US Ambassador Madeleine Albright could be found tossing up roadblocks to speedy decisions for effective action."

Eventually, the Security Council did approve a new UN mission in Rwanda of 5,500 troops. But, the OAU study says, "the US did all in its power to undermine its effectiveness." The deployment of this force was delayed as Albright pressed conditions upon the UN. Then after Washington promised to lease 50 armored personnel carriers to the UN forces in Rwanda, the Clinton Administration caused "another extraordinary delay." (Commander Dallaire felt the APCs could play an important role in saving trapped civilians.) The report notes: "Before [the US] would agree to send its APCs to Rwanda, the world's wealthiest nation raised the original estimate of the cost of the carriers by half, and then insisted that the UN (to which the US was already in serious debt) must pay for returning the carriers to their base in Germany."

That is, the Clinton Administration nickel-and-dimed while thousands of men, women and children were being hacked to pieces. (By the way, the total cost of the APC deployment was $15 million -- less than what Hillary Clinton will spend on her Senate campaign.) It took the United States weeks to get the APCs to Uganda, where they sat unused. By the time the genocide ended on July 17 -- when the Rwanda Patriotic Front, a Tutsi rebel force, pushed out the Hutu military -- not one of the vehicles had made it to Rwanda. And none of the soldiers of the beefed-up UN mission had reached Rwanda.

"Let us say," the report notes, "that this Panel considers it beyond belief, a scandal of the most shocking kind, that the genocide was ended before a single Blue Helmet [UN peacekeeper] representing [the new mission] ever materialized" in Rwanda.

The report damns the other players besides the United States. It assumes that prompt and forceful UN action could have stopped the killings. That proposition -- obviously open to discussion -- does make sense. Even a skeptical analysis of possible UN military options in Rwanda published by Foreign Affairs earlier this year conceded that 125,000 lives could have been saved through outside military intervention. For our purposes, the main point is this: Clinton didn't bother to try.

In March of 1998, Clinton visited Rwanda and apologized. "All over the world," he said, "there were people like me sitting in offices who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror." The United States and the international community had not responded swiftly enough, he admitted, declaring "Never again." This was a clasic Clinton apology, for he found a way to excuse his lack of action: We didn't do anything to stop the genocide, but we didn't know a horrific nightmare was happening.

Clinton was prevaricating -- and lying about genocide is bit more outrageous than lying about sex. The OAU report refers to the well-known fax that Dallaire sent the UN three months before the genocide began. In that dispatch, Dallaire warned an extermination campaign was coming. A few weeks later, the report notes, "Human Rights Watch was told that a US government intelligence analyst had estimated that if conflict was renewed in Rwanda, the worst-case scenario would involve one-half million people dying. Apparently, this analyst's work was usually highly regarded, but this assessment was not taken seriously." In February, the US State Department reported on the existence of death squads. Three days before the genocide started, a Hutu leader told several high-ranking UN officials that "the only plausible solution for Rwanda would be the elimination of the Tutsi." The report sadly states: "There were a thousand early warnings that something appalling was about to occur in Rwanda."

Once the insane killing was under way, information and news of the genocide flowed to Washington and the West. "There was," the OAU report asserts, "no issue of insufficient information in the US. Human Rights Watch and the US Committee for Refugees, both of whom had first-hand knowledge from within Rwanda, persistently held public briefings and issued regular updates on the course of events. That it was a genocide was beyond question. Within two weeks, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that perhaps hundreds of thousands were already dead." The report challenges Clinton directly: "President Clinton insists that his failure was a function of ignorace. The facts show, however, that the American government knew precisely what was happening ... But domestic politics took priority over the lives of helpless Africans." They are calling Clinton a liar -- and a political coward.

Madeleine Albright, now secretary of state, promptly attacked the report, declaring it was wrong for the commissioners to blame the United States. But, she added, while she was UN ambassador, "I followed instructions because I was an ambassador, but I screamed about the instructions that I got on this. I felt they were wrong, and I made that point." Isn't that an admission the OAU and others are right to question and criticize US actions (or lack thereof)? Moreover, if Albright believed the Clinton Adminisitration she served was pushing the wrong policy regarding a genocide, why did she not resign in protest? She wasn't willing to take a career hit to help end mass-murder?

I'd like to see Albright explain that to a woman the commissioners met at clinic in Rwanda that provides services to women brutalized during the genocide. This woman told the panel she had been imprisoned, tied to a bed for several months, and gang-raped continuously: "Her final words to us were the stuff of nightmares, vivid, awful, impossible ever to forget. She said, with a chilling matter-of-factness: 'For the rest of my life, whether I am eating or sleeping or working, I shall never get the smell of semen out of my nostrils.'"

Clinton displayed little greatness during the Rwanda genocide. Ask General Dallaire. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his Rwanda service and in April retired early from the Canadian military for medical reasons. A few weeks ago, this poor soul -- hounded by the belief he could have forestalled the mass-murders had the UN and world powers authorized him to act in the early moments of the genocide -- was found drunk, lying in a park in Canada, curled in the fetal position. He recently revealed that he has twice tried to kill himself. A search of Lexis-Nexis turned up but one mention of Dallaire's suicide attempts in the American media -- a Toronto Star story that was published in The Baltimore Sun. In that article, Dallaire described his gut-wrenching struggle with PTSD: "You become very leery of the dark and the silence. The silence is intolerable."

Not for all. Clinton pushed silence at the time of the genocide, and Gore, Albright and other Clintonites tolerated that silence. If the history books do register Clinton as one of the "greatest," it will be an insult to the memory of hundreds of thousands slaughtered Rwandans.

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