Tuesday, 23 February 2010

9/11 Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke and the Rwandan Genocide

Richard Clarke testifying before the 9/11 Commission
On September 11, 2001, Richard Clarke served in the crucial position of national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, and he ran the U.S. government's response to the terrorist attacks from the White House Situation Room. It was not until March 2004, though, that Clarke came to wider attention, when he went public with his complaints about members of the Bush administration, who, he said, ignored the threat posed by al-Qaeda before September 11, despite his attempts at alerting them to it. [1] Clarke received praise from some quarters for his various criticisms of then-President Bush.

What is little known, however, is that in 1994 Richard Clarke was one of the key individuals responsible for the lack of international response to the genocide in the small African nation of Rwanda, where an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in just 100 days. At the time of the genocide, Clarke was head of the office of global issues and multilateral affairs on the National Security Council, and was therefore in charge of the White House response to Rwanda issues.

BBC correspondent Fergal Keane, who won an Amnesty television prize for his investigation of the Rwandan genocide, commented in March 2004: "Nearly a million people were killed and the most powerful nation on earth actively worked to ensure there was no international intervention until it was too late. But Richard Clarke still says they did the right thing. He told [an] interviewer that the U.S. should not be embarrassed. ... You may now understand why I felt a certain sense of astonishment watching Richard Clarke denounce George Bush the other night." [2]

Based on Clarke's indifference to the genocide, one Clinton administration official described him as "a man who has no heart." Describing the woman who, half-way through the genocide, took over from Clarke in dealing with the Rwandan peacekeeping process, a Pentagon official responsible for African affairs said this woman "did not appear to have the malice in her that Dick Clarke appeared to have in him." [3]

Clarke's role in the U.S. response to the Rwandan genocide was described in an extensively researched major article by Samantha Power, published in the September 2001 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. [4] This article was summarized in April 2004 by Paul Street in the Internet newsletter Dissident Voice. Street contrasted Clarke's supposed concern about an imminent terrorist attack against the U.S. in the months up to 9/11 with the indifference he'd exhibited toward the plight of victimized Rwandans.

Quoting Power, Street wrote:

"In reality," Power shows, "the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term 'genocide,' for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing 'to try to limit what occurred.'"

Street continued:

Richard A. Clarke, Power shows, was the leading policy actor behind the Clinton administration's refusal to acknowledge and act upon the threat of genocide in Rwanda. As special assistant to the president from the National Security Council and official overseer of U.S. "peacekeeping" policy, Clarke was chief manager of U.S. Rwanda policy before and during the genocide. For Clarke, Power notes, "the news" of mass Rwandan slaughter "only confirmed [his] deep skepticism about the viability of UN deployments" and sparked his fear that "UN failure could doom relations between Congress and the United Nations."

Clarke, Power shows, was a dark force behind U.S. rejection of an aggressive plan to save Rwandan lives put forth by Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who commanded the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. The empty U.S. proposal advanced by Clarke to counter Dallaire, Power shows, abandoned "the most vulnerable Rwandans, awaiting salvations deep inside Rwanda." It falsely assuming (or pretended to assume) "that the people most in need were refugees fleeing to the border" and could actually make it to the border. "My mission," Dallaire told Power, "was to save Rwandans. Their [the U.S.] mission was to put on a show at no risk."

Street then drew a parallel between the actions of the Bush administration prior to 9/11 that Clarke complained about, and Clarke's own actions during the Rwandan crisis:

U.S. officials like Donald Steinberg and Joyce Lawson, a key State Department deputy who argued early on for the U.S. to "send in the troops," were frustrated by official U.S. bureaucratic inaction in much the same way that Clarke credibly claims to have been stymied by Bush and Rice et al. prior to 9/11. "Steinberg," Power notes, "managed the African portfolio at the NSC and tried to look out for the dying Rwandans, but he was not an experienced infighter and, colleagues say, he 'never won a single fight with Clarke.'"


Clarke was the "primary architect" of Presidential Decision Directive (PDD)-25, "a new peacekeeping doctrine" unveiled on May 3, 1994 (the genocide began the previous month). This directive "circumscribe[d] U.S. participation in UN missions" and "limited U.S. support for other states that hoped to carry out UN missions," subordinating basic humanitarian concerns to cold calculations of global realpolitik and "U.S. interests."

Additionally, "Before the mass killing began, Clarke and his colleagues and subordinates in the NSC were scandalously oblivious to abundant, widely available evidence indicating the terrible fate that lay around the corner for Rwanda's Tutsis and moderate Hutus."

In her article, Power had suggested several potentially life-saving actions the U.S. government could have taken in response to the Rwandan genocide. It could have:

● agreed to Belgian pleas for UN reinforcements prior to the genocide;

● deployed U.S. troops to Rwanda once the mass killing had begun;

● joined Dallaire's forces;

● intervened unilaterally with UN Security Council support, "as France eventually did in late June";

● made the case to Congress that genocide was underway, that this reality challenged core American values, and that U.S. forces could "stop the extermination of a people" at "relatively low risk."

But, as Street noted, "None of these basic acts of civilized imperial statecraft occurred, thanks in part to the structurally empowered skepticism and stonewalling of Richard A. Clarke."

Street concluded:

[T]he government and many citizens of Rwanda carried out what Power calls "the fastest, most efficient killing spree of the 20th century." This horrific mass butchery was deeply enabled by the U.S. through stubborn and systematic inaction, reflecting in part the successful "bureaucratic infighting" and moral vapidity of top White House imperial functionary Richard A. Clarke, the chief official accuser of pre-9/11 inaction in the White House. [5]

And, keep in mind, this man--Richard Clarke--is the person described as "the nation's crisis manager on 9/11." [6]

[1] See, for example, Rebecca Leung, "Clarke's Take on Terror." CBS News, March 21, 2004; "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Eighth Public Hearing." 9/11 Commission, March 24, 2004; Joe Conason, "Richard Clarke Terrorizes the White House." Salon, March 24, 2004; Romesh Ratnesar, "Richard Clarke, at War With Himself." Time, March 25, 2004.
[2] Fergal Keane, "The Shocking Story of Richard Clarke and the U.S. Failure to Stop Genocide in Rwanda." The Independent, March 27, 2004.
[3] Jared Cohen, One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007, pp. 101-102.
[4] Samantha Power, "Bystanders to Genocide." Atlantic Monthly, September 2001.
[5] Paul Street, "A Curious Backdrop for the 9/11 Hearings: Richard A. Clarke, Rwanda, and 'Narcissistic Compassion.'" Dissident Voice, April 10, 2004.
[6] Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. New York: Free Press, 2004, from the book's back flap.