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
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
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.