Was the U.S. aware of the January 11th cable from General Dallaire to the
It definitely was aware, because I was aware. I can't remember whether I saw
the cable, itself, or saw it referred to in a cable from maybe our embassy in
Kigali or the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York or had it read to
me or discussed telephonically from either Kigali or New York. But certainly,
those of us in Africa Bureau in Washington were aware of the cable.
How did you react to it?
I, personally, felt that General Dallaire was accurately reporting the
information that had come to his attention. I tended to discredit the accuracy
of the information itself, as I believe others did, because we had heard
allegations of genocide, or warnings of genocide, pertaining to Rwanda dating
back at least to 1992. So we'd heard it before. There had been killings before,
but never on a scale larger than several hundreds of people. So, in retrospect,
I think it was a mistake. We didn't envision, based on the history of claiming
that genocide was underway and it not happening. A little bit of the situation
of Peter and the wolf story. We had heard them cry wolf so many times that we
failed to react to this claim of genocidal planning.
In retrospect, was that a mistake?
In retrospect, based on the genocide that did, in fact, take place months
later, I think it was very much a mistake.
Why was the U.S. so keen to go along with the Belgians who wanted to close
Two reasons. One, with the recommencement of the war in Rwanda in April of
1994, there no longer was a peace for the U.N. peacekeepers to keep. The terms
of the peace accord had broken down. The other reason was bilateral
U.S./Belgian relations. Belgium wanted a face-saving way of extracting its
soldiers from Rwanda and the U.S. was able to accommodate them in the U.N.
Security Council by calling for the draw-down of the peacekeeping force in
So the idea was to please a NATO ally, Belgium?
Yes, this was driven by bilateral U.S/Belgian relations, rather than by
Rwanda's specific issues.
Recognizing that the U.S. didn't want to see its own soldiers come back from
Rwanda in body bags - why was it so keen to make sure nobody else's soldiers
The U.S. was very concerned, especially Defense Department officials, that no
U.S. personnel or U.S. resources be siphoned off into another peacekeeping
operation in Africa. This was, remember, following the Somalia debacle. The
best way to ensure that this would not happen was to prevent there being a U.N.
peacekeeping operation in Africa. If there were no peacekeeping operation, U.S.
support could not be required for it. If there were any type of peacekeeping
operations, there was always the risk that U.S. airlift, U.S. hardware or U.S.
personnel might, over time, be dragged into it.
Can you describe those teleconferences you had?
They were inter-agency teleconferences, being chaired by participants at the
National Security Council. The crisis in Rwanda was serious enough that it
needed inter-agency attention, but had become chronic enough that we no longer
tried to assemble physically at a single location for these reasonably
high-level meetings that had become daily occurrences.
So it had become kind of routine?
It had taken on a routine nature, dealing with this crisis. At each of the
various government agencies around town, there is a teleconference room and,
rather than assemble at one building in Washington DC, the participants would
go to the various teleconference rooms, which are small television studios
essentially, and we would conduct the meetings in that way.
What was the mood at these teleconferences?
At times they were very business-like. At other times, they became emotional as
people's frustration would be reflected in comments or ... they would manifest
themselves in different ways.
Was this unusual for a teleconference or was this just the ordinary way
business was conducted?
It was not normal but Rwanda, because of the magnitude of the dying that was
taking place and the perception by many people that the U.S. government, not
only was doing nothing, but was perhaps obstructing the useful things that the
rest of the international community could do, became frustrated and reflected
their frustrations during the course of these conferences and at times they
became very tense.
In what way?
Statements that were made. You would see emotion sweep across people's faces as
cynical remarks were made, as political or bureaucratic obstructionist policies
would come across and you would just see the frustration reflected on different
participants faces, those that cared. Many people participating knew
individuals in Rwanda, had worked in Rwanda, and looked at this as a
Rwanda-specific situation. The vast majority, however, that participated had
never been in Rwanda, didn't know Rwandans and were approaching these
conferences from institutional interest, bureaucratic interest that had nothing
to do with Rwanda, itself, and so they approached it much more business-like,
or much more cynically, perhaps, than those of us that had personal
relationships with Rwanda.
What kind of discussion was there about whether this was or wasn't
This was a long-running discussion over the course of several teleconferences,
several days, perhaps even a couple of weeks. There were different views being
trotted out. Some people were concerned that if we acknowledged it was
genocide, that that mandated legally in international law that the U.S. had to
do something. Others were concerned that if we acknowledged that it was
genocide and didn't do anything, they were concerned about what the impact on
U.S. foreign policy relations with the rest of the world would be following
inaction after admitting it's genocide ...
There were those, and I was among them, that took a much more pragmatic view:
"Let's look at the dictionary definition of genocide and it either is or isn't
genocide." And to separate the definition from the political decision of
whether or not something was to be done. Those that wanted nothing done didn't
want to even acknowledge the fact that it could be genocide because that would
weaken their argument that nothing should be done. They didn't want to say it
was genocide. When they knew it was, they first moved through this charade of
referring to it as acts of genocide. People were aware it was genocide and then
approached the issue more either in institutional interest, institutional
bureaucratic interest terms or in U.S. national interest. But at least we did
advance the argument, the crucial credible question of whether or not to do
What other objections were there to calling it genocide?
One administration official asked the question at a teleconference as to what
possible impact there might be on the Congressional elections scheduled for
later that year were the government to acknowledge that genocide was taking
place in Rwanda, and yet the administration be seen as doing nothing about it.
The concern seemed to be that this might cost the President's political party
votes in the election and therefore should be factored into the consideration
as to whether or not "genocide" could be used as a term.
How did you react to that?
I was stunned and, I think, judging by the looks on the faces of the others in
the State Department teleconference room, the amazement on their faces, they
were too, because the outcome of the elections had no bearing on whether or not
genocide was, in fact, taking place in Rwanda.
What did it tell you about the political leadership?
It indicated to me that the calculation was based on whether or not there was
popular pressure to take action rather than taking action because it was the
right thing to do.
What kind of things were you saying in State Department conferences about
Separate from the inter-agency conferences, we would have in-house discussions
with the agencies and the State Department, and my personal position was:
"Let's at least be honest among ourselves. Let's acknowledge what is real and
then make the political decisions as to whether or not we can do something
about it. But let's at least not pretend that genocide is not taking place.
Let's not try to find some word to camouflage reality." That position was never
taken into the inter-agency process, however.
Amongst yourselves, were you talking about any kind of intervention in
Rwanda to stop the genocide?
There were discussions about the military feasibility of creating safe havens
in those parts of Rwanda that the combat operations had not yet reached in the
war, where the genocide had not swept through. And these safe havens would have
created buffer areas along the frontier to which people could flee that would
keep them safe from the war and safe from the genocide.
Did that ever go beyond being discussions?
Not by the United States. It was strictly feasibility discussions. Those
discussions, frankly, never went anywhere.
But this was at a time when many people were dying.
Did that make you frustrated at the time?
For those that wanted to do something it caused frustration, yes. For those
that were opposed to doing anything, it did not cause frustration.
I was frustrated. I had advocated that there were a number of things we could
do short of involving U.S. troops on the ground.
And the reaction?
Well, again, these discussions never proceeded beyond being feasibility
When you saw the bodies coming into the lakes, did that make you think we
have to do something now?
There was a great deal of concern when the river was choked with bodies and
they were floating into Lake Victoria and the refugee camps were along the
shores of the lake, and villages along the shores of the lake, about water
contamination and water-borne disease problems that could stem from this. This
was a case where I felt the U.S. could have helped water purification efforts
as well as providing equipment to help local forces recover the bodies from the
lake and get them out of the water to prevent ongoing contamination.
Couldn't stop the killing, but could clear up the bodies.
If we weren't going to stop the killing inside Rwanda, we could, at least,
minimize the disease risk to those who had successfully escaped Rwanda or to
those citizens of the neighboring countries that were now in danger potentially
by disease, that had no involvement the Rwandan conflict one way or the
How did the military react upon it?
It was not acted upon. It was deemed as being a non-starter essentially. It
didn't go anywhere.
But why would anybody not want to do something as simple as that?
Again, there was great reluctance on the part of many defense officials to have
any U.S. involvement of defense resources.
What other concrete proposals did you come up with?
At one point I had recommended that in response to the hate propaganda radio
... that the U.S. could use military radio jamming equipment to block those
radio transmissions, to take them off the air effectively.
Another possible step would have been using regional specialists and broadcast
facilities to broadcast a counter message calling on people in the name of the
international community to stop the killing ...
How did that go down?
It was not favorably reacted upon. In fact, one lawyer from the Pentagon made
the argument that that would be contrary to the U.S. constitutional protection
of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, which of course was a completely
spacious argument because the U.S. constitution doesn't apply to Rwanda. I
would have greater respect for the lawyer had he at least stated that that
would be seen as an act of war and therefore had legal problems. But to try to
prevent it on U.S. constitutional grounds was completely without merit as far
as I was concerned.
When the refugees came into Goma, what was the reaction then and why?
The reaction then very quickly became one of the U.S. having to do
I believe the reason why is what's referred to as a CNN factor. Up until that
point in the conflict there had been credible reporting of the level of death,
the suffering that was going on, but there hadn't been any news coverage
broadcasting this in homes throughout Europe and the United States. Frankly, it
was too dangerous for journalists or anyone else to be in Rwanda, and those few
that did go didn't stay long and didn't get to range very widely.
All of a sudden in Goma you had this enormous outpouring of hundreds of
thousands of people streaming across the border, and almost immediately because
of water contamination problems, you had a cholera outbreak that started
killing tens of thousands of people, and all of this was being broadcast at the
evening dinner hour into people's homes throughout Europe and throughout the
United States. This in turn provoked an almost immediate public outcry and
people started contacting their congressman who in turn started contacting the
White House and State Department demanding action. Two weeks earlier the same
Congress had been more than happy to not have U.S. involvement in another
African adventure because Congress, too, was leery as a function of the Somalia
syndrome. But once CNN and other media began portraying this disaster in Goma
and the public started leaning on Congress, the U.S. government was forced to
How long did it take the Pentagon to respond to the order to get troops and
water purification equipment in to Goma?
They responded very quickly. Once the orders were issued from the White House
to the Pentagon and, in turn, out to the units, within three to four days
troops were on the ground and fresh water was being produced and distributed to
Three to four days?
Yes... I think the U.S. military response to the water crisis, the humanitarian
crisis in Goma, demonstrates how quickly the U.S. military is capable of
responding to clear orders and orders that they support.
But they hadn't responded that quickly over the APCs.
No, they hadn't, but there were professional disagreements as well as
bureaucratic miscommunications that were involved in the APC issue.
Professionally many people thought, myself among them, that wheeled armored
personnel carriers were more appropriate and would better serve the mission
than with tracked armored personnel carriers. This was compounded by the fact
that these armored personnel carriers that were being provided were no longer
in the U.S. military inventory, so they had to be taken out of storage,
recommissioned and then moved over to Africa. One of the difficulties was
finding people that were trained in these older pieces of equipment, drawing
them out of existing units, getting them to the depots to carry out these
operations. Bureaucratic miscommunications came in the fact that armored
personnel carriers were delivered to Uganda, but without the heavy machine guns
or radios, which would make them more functional on a mission basis because the
order was to move the armored personnel carriers and nothing had been said
about delivering or providing machine guns and radios for that.
When the APCs arrived in Entebbe, were they fully operational for
They were not fully mission capable. The vehicles arrived in excellent
automotive condition, but due to bureaucratic miscommunication, the order had
been to deliver the vehicles, no mention had been made of providing the heavy
machine guns that are mounted on the vehicles or the communications radios that
would make the mission capable, and therefore they arrived without the machine
guns and without the radios.
Was that a problem?
It certainly limits the utility of using the vehicles in a field deployment. No
self-defense capability without the machine gun and no communications
capability to be able to deploy them widely without those radios.
How would you summarize the attitude of the U.S. administration to Rwanda in
your own experience?
During the period April through June--extreme reluctance to become involved in
any way. From July onwards, a sense of guilt of having done nothing, of perhaps
having prevented the international community from taking effective action;
therefore, extreme effort on the government's part to then try to be as helpful
as possible, or be seen as being as helpful as possible from July onwards.
What was the mood in the administration in July when people finally realized
how many people had died?
I perceived a sense of guilt on the part of many of those that had obstructed
any U.S. action, or any U.S. response. That our inaction had in some way
contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of people...
A sense of guilt, yes, that action could have been taken, possibly, and no
action was taken.
How did people manifest a sense of guilt? How did you detect that?
It's difficult to pinpoint a good response there. In some conversations there
were manifestations of guilt. But also the very organizations that had tried to
prevent any operation from taking place, lest there be a U.S. involvement, had
changed their position 180 degrees and made every effort to be seen to be as
helpful as possible, as rapidly as possible, and instead of doing nothing, were
struggling to be as helpful to the new Rwandan government, or to the
international community, the international humanitarian organizations as they
But from your point of view, as an insider, that was partly from a sense of
From my perspective it was almost entirely due to a sense of guilt. There had
not been any change in the objective reality. People had known what was going
on earlier, but had done nothing. At this point, now, the U.S. government and
some of the departments within the U.S. government were starting to be publicly
perceived as having done nothing, and a sense of guilt set in very rapidly,
What do you think of President Clinton's apology in Rwanda when he said, "We
didn't appreciate what was going on."
I felt that it was very appropriate that he make such an apology, because it
was, in fact, U.S. administration obstruction of anything being done that did
play a contributory role to the disaster that occurred.
Why should the administration have any obligation to help the people of such
a faraway land in what is, however terrible, an internal affair?
There was honest disagreement within the administration as to whether or not
there was a requirement to be involved. The president was elected based on a
domestic policy agenda, not a foreign policy agenda. There was no interest
whatever to be involved in an African conflict - again, a result of the Somali
There are others, however, that took the position that if the administration
wanted to trumpet its role as the sole remaining super power in the world, that
brought certain responsibilities with it in the international community, and
additionally, for an administration that wanted to be seen as being supportive
of human rights, that drives action on human rights violations of something of
You've been an Africa professional for many years. How do you feel about the
whole thing now, personally?
I think it was an enormous tragedy, preventable to some degree. I think the
primary responsibility, of course, lies within the Rwandans themselves. The
international community may not have responded rapidly or effectively, but the
international community was not killing Rwandans, it was Rwandan killing
Rwandan. It was a lack of political will to make the peace accord work driven
by communal hatred to such a degree that neighbor turned on neighbor and would
use hand tools to kill longtime neighbors and acquaintances. So I view it with
a sense of tragedy, a great sense of regret because of friends and
acquaintances that died in the conflict.