frontline online: the triumph of evil
tony marley

He was a Political Military Advisor for the U.S. State Department from 1992-95. He participated in several U.S. inter-agency conferences on the Rwanda crisis. In this interview he discusses what went on in those meetings.

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.
Was the U.S. aware of the January 11th cable from General Dallaire to the U.N.?

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 UNAMIR?

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 Rwanda.

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 were there?

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 genocide?

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 something.

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 genocide?

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.

That's correct.

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.

For you?

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 discussions.

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 other.

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 something.


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 act.

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 the refugees.

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 Rwanda?

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 could be.

But from your point of view, as an insider, that was partly from a sense of guilt.

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, yes.

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 syndrome.

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 this magnitude.

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.

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