October 6, 2002
PRETTY WORDS & FOUL DEEDS:The blood-stained truth behind Clinton's fine words in Blackpool (Fergal Keane, 05 October 2002, Independent uk)
I remember standing in the UN compound in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Mortars were flying back and forth. A few days earlier, a round had hit the peacekeepers' building, another had killed a UN captain as he tried to negotiate the release of trapped civilians. A few weeks previously, the UN force had been scaled down from several thousand to several hundred; this with the active encouragement of the US and approved by President Clinton. The remaining soldiers from Ghana and Bangladesh and Tunisia were led by one of the bravest military men in history, General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian who'd been left to do his best with the tiny force and a few antiquated armoured personnel carriers. I was talking to a Nigerian UN officer about the possibility of reinforcements coming. It wasn't going to happen, he said. The UN force couldn't even get some extra armoured vehicles to allow it to patrol more extensively. He then said something which-- even in the midst of a charnel house like Kigali--shocked me to the core.
"The vehicles are ready, man, but the Americans are arguing over the rental terms." There were questions about who would pay for what and when. So the vital vehicles didn't make it to Rwanda until July as the genocide was ending. The Clinton administration did more than haggle over terms. Even when it was clear as daylight that a genocide was under way the US State Department consistently refused to use the G word. In one unforgettable exchange a spokeswoman said "acts of genocide" had occurred. She was then asked by an exasperated reporter how many "acts of genocide" it took to make a genocide.
This was the response: "That's just not a question I'm in a position to answer." Which was true, since the man who could have given the answer, William Jefferson Clinton, had decided that Rwanda was a lot more trouble than it was worth. Had the US accepted that the attempt to exterminate the Tutsi was genocide then a legal obligation to intervene would have swung into force. That was the 1948 Genocide Convention framed in the wake of the Holocaust to ensure that never again meant never again. So rather than step in to save a people from extinction the Clinton administration lied. It was the lie of obfuscators and dissemblers, but a lie all the same.
I, as I expect many of you, would have opposed sending U.S. troops to intervene in Rwanda, so we can hardly fault Bill Clinton for heeding our wishes. But, if you've seen the speech, it was revolting hearing him go on about his recent visit to Rwanda and then talk about his experience in sending troops to war (Kosovo) and the efficacy of international institutions. If you actually believe in the whole skein of international laws you have an obligation to apply them, and Bill Clinton's failure to do so in Rwanda should shame him to silence. Sadly, as we all know, he has no capacity for shame. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2002 8:35 AM