U.S Intelligence Warned Early of Genocide in Rwanda

Posted: December 29, 2010 in Evidence Material
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By Jim Lobe–Inter Press Service–April 12, 2004

According to newly declassified documents released by the independent National Security Archive (NSA), President Bill Clinton’s somewhat indirect 1998 apology to Rwandans over Washington’s failure to act to stop the mass killings until it was too late was at best disingenuous, and more likely a deliberate distortion of what he knew and when he knew it.

WASHINGTON, Apr 5 (IPS) – Lest anti-George W. Bush forces become too self-righteous over his administration’s failure to heed intelligence alarms about signs of an imminent terrorist attack by al-Qaeda in the summer of 2001, the refusal of his Democratic predecessor to react more forcefully to intelligence reports during the Rwanda genocide 10 years ago might inspire a certain humility.

According to newly declassified documents released by the independent National Security Archive (NSA), President Bill Clinton’s somewhat indirect 1998 apology to Rwandans over Washington’s failure to act to stop the mass killings until it was too late was at best disingenuous, and more likely a deliberate distortion of what he knew and when he knew it.

“The international community must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy”, Clinton told survivors of the massacres that killed between 500,000 and 800,000 people, the vast majority of whom were ethnic Tutsis, in less than two months.

“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 added.

But that account is challenged by newly declassified intelligence reports that were circulated to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the president’s Oval Office, and which began using the word “genocide” to describe the killings as early as Apr. 23, 1994. That was just 16 days after the Hutu-led Army and paramilitary groups launched the slaughter in the wake of the Apr. 6 shoot-down of a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana as he returned from peace talks in Tanzania.

“It wasn’t a question of not knowing”, said NSA fellow William Ferroggiaro, who obtained the latest documents through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. “It was a question of wanting to know”, he told IPS.

The new documents, he said, show, “that the system worked: diplomats, intelligence agencies, defence and military officials — even aid workers — provided timely information up the chain to President Clinton and his top advisors”, Ferroggiaro said. “That the Clinton administration decided against intervention at any level was not for lack of knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda”.

The documents’ release, timed to mark the tenth anniversary of what Clinton himself called “the most intensive slaughter” of the 20th century, is one of a series of activities here to commemorate the genocide, including the broadcast last week of a full-length documentary on public television, the hosting of several events by the U.S. Holocaust Museum and a congressional hearing Apr. 23 featuring Canadian Romeo Dallaire, then head of United Nations forces in Rwanda (UNAMIR).

It was Dallaire — whose book ‘Shake Hands With the Devil’ tells his story of the genocide — who pleaded repeatedly but unsuccessfully with his U.N. superiors, including then undersecretary-general (now secretary-general) Kofi Annan, for reinforcements and more aggressive rules of engagement when he first received reports of the plans of extremist Hutus and as the genocide began unfolding.

The new batch of 51 documents, taken from U.S. intelligence and other national-security agencies, add to some 14 others obtained by Ferroggiaro three years ago that focused on internal U.S. government deliberations from April through July about whether and to what extent Washington would support some kind of international intervention to stop the killing.

Several documents released at that time shed light on inter-agency discussions about the public use of the word “genocide” to describe what was taking place in Rwanda and whether such use would require Washington to intervene in the violence under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

“Be careful”, a May 1 Pentagon document advises. “Legal (bureau) at State (Department) was worried about this yesterday — genocide finding could commit USG (U.S. government) to ‘do something’.”

“Doing something” appeared to be the chief fear of the Clinton administration, which was still reeling from the “Blackhawk Down” incident, in which 18 U.S. troops were killed and some of their bodies mutilated while on a supposedly humanitarian mission in Somalia just six months before.

That event, which resulted in moving up U.S. plans to withdraw from Somalia, also generated enormous pressure from Congress to establish strict new conditions under which the president could provide U.S. troops for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Believing that it could not rally congressional or popular support behind any U.S. action in Rwanda under these circumstances, the administration not only encouraged UNAMIR to withdraw its forces, but also repeatedly opposed other nations’ efforts at the U.N. Security Council to authorise a new intervention, at least until the genocidal forces were chased out of the country by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Forces (RPF) rebel army.

While U.S. agencies agonised over the consequences of calling the killings in Rwanda “genocide”, the latest documents clarify that the intelligence agencies reached the conclusion that genocide was indeed taking place early on. The term first appears in the Apr. 23 National Intelligence Daily (NID), a memo which goes to several hundred top U.S. officials and forms the basis for the “Presidential Daily Briefs” (which have not been declassified).

On that day, the NID noted that the RPF might be open to negotiations “in an effort to stop the genocide, which relief workers say is spreading south”. The almost-casual reference in the text, Ferroggiaro told IPS, suggests that senior intelligence analysts had accepted the accuracy of the word by the third week of the massacres.

Three days later, the State Department’s own top-secret briefing paper, which went to other cabinet officials, foresees “genocide and partition” in Rwanda and asserts that “the butchery shows no sign of ending”. Another NID issued the same day reported Red Cross Estimates that 100,000 to 500,000 people had been killed and cited “eyewitness accounts” that support the “higher estimate”.

On Apr. 27, Pope John Paul II called the situation a “genocide” for the first time, while the Czech Republic and Argentina proposed a resolution in the Security Council condemning “genocide” in Rwanda. But the word was omitted in the final draft, partly at Washington’s urging. One week later, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called the killing “genocide” in a U.S. network television programme.

Yet, it was not until Jun. 10 that U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher became the first U.S. official to use the term, telling a press conference in Istanbul that it was “the operative term, from a legal standpoint”.

For several weeks before that, officials were instructed to assert only that “acts of genocide may have occurred”, a phrase considered sufficiently vague as to not require intervention under the Genocide Convention.

Ironically, Richard Clarke — the White House counter-terrorism chief who has accused Bush of ignoring the terrorist threat in 2001 — chaired an inter-agency task force in 1994 that discussed peacekeeping in the National Security Council and played a central role in developing options for U.S. action and coordinating the response.

In a May 28 memo to his agency counterparts, Clarke requests direction, “on the degree of activism that (deputy secretaries) wish to encourage on further international steps aimed at addressing the slaughter and assisting refugees”.

Among other questions, Clarke asks whether Washington should back a genocide investigation called for by the Czech-Argentine draft Security Council resolution; engage in propaganda activities to counter extremist Hutu radio stations in Rwanda; and impose directed sanctions against specific individuals “who may have engineered the slaughter”.



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