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Publication Details

Reference
Corn, David  (2004)  Clinton's Lies About the Rwandan Genocide . Centre for Civil Society : -.

Summary
As a fellow who wrote a book contending that the current president is
a serial prevaricator, I often am asked by conservative critics: So
did you ever call Bill Clinton a liar? My reply: Yes; I am a
nonpartisan accuser. But I'm not talking about the obvious lies. Back
in those days, I did say that Clinton's lies about his affair with
intern Monica Lewinsky were wrong and serious--but not worth
impeachment. (And now they seem puny when compared with the
assortment of untrue statements George W. Bush deployed to grease the
way to war.) But what was more outrageous was a lie Clinton told
about one of the greatest failures of his presidency: his inaction
regarding the Rwanda genocide of 1994.

Why revisit this today? Two reasons. First, this month marks the
tenth anniversary of the start of that horrific event, in which half
a million people, mainly of the Tutsi minority, were slaughtered over
three months by Hutu extremists, in one of the most time-efficient
massacres of the 20th Century. Second, the National Security Archive,
an independent, nongovernmental research institute that collects and
analyzes government records, recently released a report that provides
more evidence for the case that Clinton lied to the people of Rwanda.

That lie came four years after the genocide. During a 1998
presidential tour of Africa, Clinton stopped at the airport in
Kigali, Rwanda, and issued an apology. Sort of. Speaking of those
nightmarish months in the spring of 1994, he said, "All over the
world 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." He acknowledged that the United States and
the international community had not moved quickly enough in response
to the horrors under way. To emphasize his sorrow, he said, "Never
again."

Clinton seemed to be taking responsibility, but actually he was
making an excuse. He had inadequately reacted to the genocide, he
said, because he had not really known what had been happening in
Rwanda. That was a disingenuous cop-out.

The National Security Archive report, based on documents the group
obtained, notes:

"Throughout the crisis, considerable U.S. resources--diplomatic,
intelligence and military--and sizable bureaucracies of the U.S.
government were trained on Rwanda. This system collected and analyzed
information and sent it up to decision-makers so that all options
could be properly considered and 'on the table.' Officials,
particularly at the middle levels, sometimes met twice daily,
drafting demarches, preparing press statements, meeting or speaking
with foreign counterparts and other interlocutors, and briefing
higher-ups. Indeed, the story of Rwanda for the U.S. is that
officials knew so much, but still decided against taking action or
leading other nations to prevent or stop the genocide. Despite
Rwanda's low ranking in importance to U.S. interests, Clinton
administration officials had tremendous capacity to be informed--and
were informed--about the slaughter there."

The report, written by William Ferroggiaro, documents the
pre-genocide warnings and concurrent reports of the massacre that
Clinton's administration received. The National Security Archive,
under the Freedom of Information Act, requested copies of the
Presidential Daily Briefs for this period. The PDB is a highly
classified document written for the president. (The current Bush
administration refused to let the House and Senate intelligence
committees even look at an August 6, 2001, PDB that mentioned Osama
bin Laden and hijacking when the committees were conducting their
9/11 investigation.) These PDBs would show precisely what Clinton
read each day about Rwanda. But the Archive's request for the PDBs
was denied. It did, however, obtain copies of the National
Intelligence Daily, which is also classified but has a wider
circulation. NIDs are distributed to several hundred government
policymakers six days a week. It is a fair assumption that they often
reflect what is contained in the PDBs. And the NIDs gathered by the
Archive indicate that the administration was aware a genocide was
occurring in Rwanda. An April 23 NID referred to a negotiation
"effort to stop the genocide, which relief workers say is spreading
south." The April 26 NID item on Rwanda, entitled "Humanitarian
Disaster Unfolding," reported that the "Red Cross estimates that
100,000 to 500,000 people, mostly Tutsi, have been killed in the
ethnic bloodletting" and that "eyewitness accounts from areas where
nearly all Tutsi residents were killed support the higher estimate."

But Clinton did not have to depend on the top-secret PDBs or NIDs to
learn that there was a genocide transpiring in Rwanda. As the Archive
notes, "beginning April 8th, the massacres in Rwanda were reported on
the front pages of major newspapers and on radio and television
broadcasts almost daily, including the major papers read by U.S.
officials and policy elites." And at that time human rights activists
in Washington--who had close relationships with national security
adviser Tony Lake and staffmembers of Clinton's national security
council--were pounding on the doors of the White House demanding
action and suggesting options. The United States could have provided
logistical support to the small U.N. peacekeeping force in the
region. It could have deployed jamming devices to block the radio
transmissions of the Hutu leaders coordinating the slaughter. It
could have pressured France and Belgium to use their influence with
the Hutus. It could have merely spoken out.

In the first weeks of this tragedy, human rights advocates urged
Clinton to issue a clear and forceful declaration that a genocide was
happening and that the killers could expect to be tracked down and
tried for crimes against humanity. But the Clinton administration
dithered for weeks over whether to use the G-word, for doing so would
have compelled the administration, under international law, to take
direct steps to stop the killings. But after the disaster in Somalia,
Clinton had no stomach for becoming involved in another messy
conflict in Africa. In public, he had more to say about the caning of
a young American in Singapore than the murders of hundreds of
thousands in Rwanda.

As the National Security Archive report points out, Clinton was being
pressed by prominent individuals to take action. On April 21, Rwandan
human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya, whom Clinton had welcomed
to the White House five months earlier, implored him to act against
the "campaign" of "genocide against the Tutsis." She argued that the
United States had "a moral and legal treaty obligation to 'suppress
and prevent' genocide." Members of Congress lobbied Clinton as well.
On May 13, Senators Paul Simon and James Jeffords sent a letter to
Clinton criticizing his lack of "leadership" and declaring "swift and
sound decision-making is needed." They urged Clinton to impose
sanctions, establish an arms embargo, and boost the U.N. forces in
Rwanda and allow them to intervene more directly. "An end to the
slaughter is not possible without this action," they wrote.

The National Security Archive report notes, "Although stated policy
was that Rwanda did not affect traditional vital or national
interests before or even during the genocide, considerable resources
were nevertheless available and employed to ensure that policymakers
had real-time information for any decision they would make. In sum,
the routine--let alone crisis--performance of diplomats, intelligence
officers and systems, and military and defense personnel yielded
enough information for policy recommendations and decisions. That the
Clinton administration decided against intervention at any level was
not for lack of knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda."

Four years after the killings, Clinton told the Rwandans (and the
world) that he had not tried to stop the genocide because he had not
known what was truly occurring. Ignorance was not the reason. It had
been a political decision. Clinton was fibbing to the survivors of
genocide. And this deceptive remark sparked practically no outrage.
Today, ten years after the Rwanda massacre, the inaction of the
United States and the world community should not be forgotten, nor
should Clinton's untruthful excuse.


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