Alternet, July 25, 2000
Title: Loyal Opposition: Clinton Allowed Genocide
Author: David Corn
CovertAction Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2000
Title: The Role of the U.S. Military
Author: Ellen Ray
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips, Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Adam Sullens, Michael Runas
Bill Clinton and his administration allowed the genocide of 500,000 to 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994. In a clear effort to avoid responsibility and embarrassment, the Clinton administration has refused to acknowledge its role in failing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. This allegation comes from the recent report released in July by a panel affiliated with the Organization for African Unity (OAU).
OAU set up a panel comprised of two African heads of state, chairwomen of the Swedish Committee for UNICEF, a former chief justice to the Indian Supreme Court, and a former Canadian ambassador to the UN. The panel was asked to review the 1994 genocide, the actions preceding the massacre, and the world’s response to the killings.
The panel concluded that the nations and international bodies that should have attempted to stop the killing chose not to do so. The report, which received modest but insufficient media coverage, convincingly condemns the United Nations, Belgium (a former colonial occupier), France (which maintained close relations with Rwanda), and the United States. The report found that after the genocide began, the Clinton administration chose not to acknowledge that it was taking place. Under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, once genocide is recognized, the nations of the world are obligated to prevent the killings and to punish the murderers. But the Clinton administration did not want to become involved with Rwanda after 18 Americans were killed in Somalia six months before. The report says, “the Clinton administration held that there was no useful role for any peacekeeping operation under the prevailing circumstances.”
According to the report, the killings could have been stopped before they began. The report refers to the well known fax that Canadian Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda, sent to the UN three months before the genocide began. In the fax, Dallaire warned that an extermination campaign was coming. In fact, 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.” While the report states that, “there were a thousand early warnings that something appalling was about to occur in Rwanda,” the Clinton administration took every step possible to avoid acknowledging that genocide was taking place.
Dallaire asked for an additional three thousand UN troops, which would have brought the total to 5,000, a number likely to have been able to prevent the genocide. However, Madeleine Albright played a key role in the Security Council of the UN in blocking the troop expansion. In fact Albright is cited by the report as “tossing up roadblocks…at every stage.”
Perhaps even more disturbing are reports linking U.S. Special Forces to the training of Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) troops. The Special Forces Command Team known as “Joint Combined Exchange Training” (JCET) is a special foreign arm forces training unit. Since 1994, under the leadership of Paul Kagame, Green Berets were training the RPA. They have been trained in landmine detection and small unit movement. This training continues even though there is mounting evidence that the U.S.-trained Rwandan soldiers have been in the thick of the atrocities inflicted upon the Hutu refugees from before the genocide began, up until the present.
Update by David Corn
There are several forms of censorship. In totalitarian societies, governments simply forbid journalists from publishing and disseminating embarrassing, inconvenient, or troubling information. But in supposedly open societies, where the cyber-fast flow of information creates a white noise that can drown out the trivial and the significant, there are more subtle and less-conspiratorial acts of news-suppression. Most notably, there is the question of triage. A tremendously important matter can receive but several inches of attention in the middle of a newspaper or a brief mention halfway through a news broadcast. (I. F. Stone used to say that the Washington Post was a great newspaper-you never knew where in it you would find a page-one story.) If a story is not deemed vital-if there is no page-one headline, no follow-up-the subject can fade quickly and be swept aside by other news. And-poof!-it’s as if the story never appeared in the first place.
In the column that has been selected as the #6 Censored story of 2000, I attempted to rescue a crucial story from the disposal bin. When an Organization of African Unity panel last summer released a report on the Rwanda genocide of 1994, the New York Times published a news story on the study in the middle of its first section. The article noted that the OAU panel had been critical of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the United States-and that, predictably, the Clinton Administration had brushed aside the criticism. But the story did not go into details. And that was it. When I looked up the report on the OAU’s Web site, I was astonished at how sharp a critique it was of the Clinton administration’s response (or lack thereof) to the genocide, in which 500,000 to 800,000 Tutsi were massacred by the Hutu. Moreover, the report demolished the Clinton assertion that he had not been fully aware of the genocide when it had been under way. (The president had offered this excuse in 1998 while making an apology in Rwanda for his inaction.) That is, the report showed that the president had prevaricated when he had issued his apology. The OAU study also put forward a convincing case that the Clinton administration had stood in the way of a swift and strong international response to the Rwanda genocide. It was a devastating piece of work. Yet, as far as I could see, it had little impact on the Clinton Administration and did not register with the American public. Clinton’s lies about his personal sexual behavior seemed more important to the media than his lies about genocide.
My modest aim was to write a column that would inform people of the full breadth of the OAU report. In the same piece, I also referred to the plight of Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who had been the commander of the UN forces in Rwanda. A few months before the OAU report came out, Dallaire retired early from the military for medical reasons. He had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his service in Rwanda. For years he had been hounded by the belief that he could have prevented the genocide had the United States, the UN, and the international community decided to act more forcibly at the start of the massacre. A few weeks before the report was published, he had been found drunk, lying in a park in Canada. Afterward he revealed he had twice tried to commit suicide. His sad tale went unreported in the United States, except for one brief mention in a Baltimore newspaper that reprinted a Toronto Star article. Dallaire’s personal story and the OAU’s criticism of Clinton were important topics that warranted more than cursory coverage.
Sadly, not much additional information has developed since publication. The Rwanda genocide has receded further in time and memory. It has not been on the top of the list when journalists assess the Clinton presidency.
There was no mainstream press response to this article, as far as I could tell. But that was not surprising. My column was necessary only because the mainstream media had decided not to cover this subject.
To get more information, one can read the report at
For general information on human rights and genocide in Africa and elsewhere, visit the sites of Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org) and Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org).