Clinton Kept Hotel Rwanda Open
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Paul Rusesabagina still won't go back to his native Rwanda. A decade ago, the courageous former hotel innkeeper saved more than a thousand lives during the genocidal rampage by Hutu death merchants against the Tutsis in Rwanda. The estimate is that a million Tutsis were killed. The movie, Hotel Rwanda , which stars Don Cheadle, and has garnered Academy Award buzz, tells the blood-drenched saga of how Rusesabagina repeatedly risked death to use his hotel to shelter Tutsi refugees. But Hotel Rwanda doesn't tell why President Clinton said and did nothing to stop that genocide, and four years after he left office, and ten years after the slaughter, he continues to hide the truth about his inaction.
During his Africa swing in 1998, Clinton stopped for a brief moment at the airport in Kisagali, Rwanda's capital, and made a bare-my-soul atonement speech to a group of genocide survivors. He blamed the genocide on leaders like himself "who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were engulfed by the unimaginable horror." As part of his atonement, Clinton showered the government with millions more in U.S. aid. Rwandan leaders and Clinton boosters cheered his feel-good words.
In his autobiography, My Life , published in June, Clinton revisited his role in the Rwanda genocide. He again publicly flagellated himself for the apathy and indifference that insured the slaughter. He fingered domestic politics, a callous Congress, a timid UN, and the shell shock of his administration over the botched rescue operation in Somalia in October 1993 that resulted in the deaths of 18 American soldiers for his administration's inaction.
But Clinton's buck-passing covered up the hideous truth that he knew about the genocide from the start, and could have done something about it. Three months before My Life came out the National Security Archive, a Washington D.C. non-government research institute sued in court and got hold of classified intelligence reports. The most damning were the eyes-only national intelligence daily reports that the CIA supplied to Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other top administration officials on the Rwanda massacres. In the reports, diplomats, military and UN officials, aid workers, and intelligence operatives on the scene gave first hand accounts of the holocaust, and told of boasts that Hutu leaders made to wipe all Tutsis out.
The documents are smoking gun proof that Clinton knew from the moment that Hutu thugs hacked to death the first innocents that the slaughter was in full swing. Barely two weeks after the carnage started, Clinton officials privately called the killings genocide. Yet, Clinton, Gore, and Secretary of State Madeline Albright would not publicly use the word. A chilling eyes-only Defense Department memorandum advised Clinton administration officials that if they used the word genocide to describe the carnage it would compel the government "to do something." They followed the script to the letter.
It took more than a month before the word "genocide" on the killings seeped into the Clinton administration's vocabulary. But administration officials watered it down by blandly calling it "acts of genocide."
Even after the UN shook off its see-no-evil slumber, and authorized troops to intervene, Clinton tried to stonewall the deployment of forces, drug his feet on providing funds for the deployment, and reneged on the U.S.'s promise to provide military vehicles to transport troops and refugees from the killing fields. In 2000, Foreign Affairs Magazine assessed the UN and the U.S.'s Ostrich act on Rwanda. It concluded that prompt action could have saved more than 100,000 lives. The intervention would not have required one American soldier, or lengthy debate in Congress. It could have been accomplished for the relative paltry sum of $15 million.
But that isn't the final chapter in the shame and hypocrisy of the Clinton administration over Rwanda. During his truncated visit in 1998, Rwandans were incensed that Clinton did not visit the genocide monument the government had erected a few moments drive from the airport where he spoke. The monument was erected expressly for Clinton's visit. The same day Clinton spoke, forty Tutsi villagers were massacred a few miles driving distance from the airport. Clinton made no mention of these deaths after he departed, or massacres that were reported in Eastern Rwanda. In his last two years in office, the reports continued to pour in of massacres. There's no record that Clinton again publicly condemned the bloodletting.
The release by the National Security Archives of the incriminating documents ten years after the massacres gave Clinton yet another chance to set the historic record straight about his administration's true role in Rwanda. But Clinton did not utter a peep. However, a spokesperson for the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation in New York promised to pass on "the allegations" to Clinton.
Thanks to Clinton's cover-up and the deliberate blind eye the world turned to the Rwandan holocaust, many of Rwanda's genocidal murderers remain at large. It's no wonder that Rusesabagina is still wary about going home. The country might need another Hotel Rwanda in the future.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a featured columnist for Alternet and Blacknews.com and African-American newspapers nationally. He is the publisher of The Hutchinson Report Newsletter, an on-line public issues newsletter.