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Rwanda/USA: "The System Worked"

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 31, 2004 (040331)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"In a sense, the system worked: Diplomats, intelligence agencies, defense and military officials--even aid workers--provided timely information up the chain to President Clinton and his top advisors. That the Clinton Administration decided against intervention at any level was not for lack of knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda." - William Ferroggiaro, National Security Archive Fellow

A new report and declassified documents, released by the non-profit National Security Archive on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, confirms earlier reports that it was political will, not lack of information, that stopped the U.S. from acting to check the killing. Yet despite official inquiries into similar inaction by the UN and the Organization of African Unity, legislative inquiries in Belgium and France, and a host of nonofficial books and reports, there has been no official U.S. inquiry into responsibilities for these failures. Richard Clarke, now featured in the news for his critique of President Bush's counter-terrorism policy, reportedly played a key role in arguing vigorously and successfully against a more proactive U.S. response to the genocide. Yet neither he nor other officials have ever testified on their roles in the U.S. failure to respond.

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a press release and excerpts from the new report by the National Security Archive. The full report, which details many of the key officials and agencies involved in U.S. information-gathering and decision-making at the time, is available on the Archive's website, along with images of selected declassified documents (see URL below).

Additional on-line sources on the U.S. decision-making process during the genocide include a National Defense University paper by Lt.-Col. Richard D. Hooker, Jr. at:
and the 2001 Atlantic article by Samantha Power at:

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today features excerpts from an overview commentary on international response ten years ago, written by Gerald Caplan, coordinator of "Remembering Rwanda: The Rwanda Genocide 10th Anniversary Memorial Project."

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

U.S. Intelligence Warned 'Genocide' In Rwanda In April, But Clinton Administration Waited Until Late May To Use Word

National Security Archive (Washington, DC)

March 29, 2004

Washington, DC

New Documents And Report Highlight Array Of Info Before U.S. Policymakers

U.S. intelligence reports concluded that the slaughter in Rwanda ten years ago amounted to genocide as early as April 23, 1994, while policymakers debated for another month over whether to use the word publicly, according to a new report and declassified documents posted on the Web by the National Security Archive.

Obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the documents illuminate the vast array of 'information and intelligence' available to Clinton Administration officials during the crisis, as well as the policymaking committees and working groups that used the information.

The documents reveal:

  • The CIA's top secret National Intelligence Daily, circulated to President Clinton, Vice President Gore and hundreds of senior officials, featured the slaughter in Rwanda on a daily or near-daily basis in April and May 1994, including an April 23 analysis that Rwandan rebels will continue fighting to "stop the genocide, spreading south";
  • The State Department's intelligence briefing for Secretary Christopher and other top officials saw in Rwanda "genocide and partition" as early as April 26, reporting declarations of "a 'final solution' to eliminate all Tutsis", but the U.S. did not officially declare the killing genocide until May 25;
  • U.S. officials, including Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry, met with and telephoned counterparts such as UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, Gen. Romeo Dallaire, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe throughout the crisis, with Gen. Dallaire pleading with USAID head Brian Atwood that "without U.S. equipment, UNAMIR can do virtually nothing" to save civilians in Rwanda;
  • U.S. officials met throughout April and May with human rights and humanitarian agency representatives concerned with Rwanda, including a May 17 meeting where International Committee of the Red Cross official Jean de Courten told State Department Under Secretary Timothy Wirth the "mass killings" in Rwanda compared to the "genocide in Cambodia".

Archive consulting fellow William Ferroggiaro, who wrote the report and obtained the documents through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, said, "The documents show that despite Rwanda's relative unimportance to U.S. interests and despite other crises demanding their attention, U.S. officials had the capacity and resources to know what was happening in Rwanda. In a sense, the system worked: Diplomats, intelligence agencies, defense and military officials--even aid workers--provided timely information up the chain to President Clinton and his top advisors. That the Clinton Administration decided against intervention at any level was not for lack of knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda."

Ferroggiaro also serves as a research consultant to "Ghosts of Rwanda", a special two-hour Frontline documentary that will be broadcast on PBS on April 1, 2004.

For the report, go to:

The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994

Information, Intelligence and the U.S. Response

by William Ferroggiaro

March 24, 2004

[excerpts: for full report, including footnotes and images of documents, see]


Ten years ago this week, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Prudence Bushnell visited Rwanda and Burundi. Her visit-one of many visits by State Department and Defense Department officials in the preceding year-served dual purposes: to pressure Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, his government and opposition groups to form a transitional government and to gather information for policymakers back home. Such diplomatic activity was emblematic of the resources and attention committed to Rwanda despite its relative unimportance to U.S. interests.

In their hour-long meeting, Bushnell told Habyarimana that "Rwanda was in an historic transition, one which historians would record as being glorious, or ignominious and tragic." She observed that U.S. support of UN peacekeeping in Rwanda was in jeopardy and that "Rwanda was losing funding" from the U.S. "with each day of delay". Both Bushnell and her colleague, Central Africa office director Arlene Render, registered their "deep concern over the mounting violence in Rwanda", as well as "the distribution of arms and arms caches". While the president had earlier dismissed the power-sharing agreement to his followers (Note 1), he told his U.S. visitors that he "supported the Arusha Accord and would continue to do so" but was "greatly disquieted" by the "current political atmosphere". The next day, the officials met with rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front leaders who "blamed the President for the impasse". Document 1 Kigali 01316, 25 Mar 94

Bushnell and Render's immediate efforts were in vain. Two weeks later, upon returning from a regional summit, the plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it approached Kigali, effectively kicking off a genocide. From April to July 1994, Hutu extremists in the Rwandan government, military and militias killed more than 500,000 Rwandan Tutsi and moderate Hutu in an attempt to preserve a chauvinistic, one-party state and prevent the establishment of the transition government called for in the 1993 Arusha Accords. However, Bushnell's visit served to educate her and U.S. officials about the situation in Rwanda, such that she understood and so informed Secretary of State Warren Christopher that the assassination of the two presidents would lead to "widespread violence - in either or both countries". (Note 2)

As horrific as the killing was in Rwanda, the U.S. did not see its interests affected enough to launch unilateral intervention. President Clinton himself best articulated his Administration's calculus during D-Day commemorations in France on June 7 saying of U.S. humanitarian relief efforts on Rwanda "I think that is about all we can do at this time when we have troops in Korea, troops in Europe, the possibility of new commitments in Bosnia if we can achieve a peace agreement, and also when we are working very hard to try to put the U.N. agreement in Haiti back on track, which was broken." (Note 3) While some countries argued early for action, few actually ever brought any means to bear-the "lack of resources and political commitment" was "a failure by the United Nations system as a whole" as the Independent Inquiry on the UN noted. (Note 4) The U.S. did not encourage a UN response because it saw two potential outcomes: the authorization of a new UN force and a new mandate without the means to implement either; and worse, the very real possibility of the U.S. having to bail out a failed UN mission. For the recently-burned Clinton Administration, this looked like Somalia redux.

Nevertheless, throughout the crisis, considerable U.S. resources-diplomatic, intelligence and military-and sizable bureaucracies of the U.S. government-were trained on Rwanda. This system collected and analyzed information and sent it up to decision-makers so that all options could be properly considered and 'on the table'. Officials, particularly at the middle levels, sometimes met twice daily, drafting demarches, preparing press statements, meeting or speaking with foreign counterparts and other interlocutors, and briefing higher-ups. Indeed, the story of Rwanda for the U.S. is that officials knew so much, but still decided against taking action or leading other nations to prevent or stop the genocide. Despite Rwanda's low ranking in importance to U.S. interests, Clinton Administration officials had tremendous capacity to be informed--and were informed--about the slaughter there; as noted author Samantha Power writes "any failure to fully appreciate the genocide stemmed from political, moral, and imaginative weaknesses, not informational ones." (Note 5)

This report examines the information and intelligence resources available to and relied upon by policymakers during the Rwanda crisis. It also highlights the structure and personalities of U.S. decision-making during that late spring of 1994 when hundreds of thousands were killed as the U.S. and other nations stood by.

Who Produced the Information?

[includes details on extensive information available to U.S. officials through diplomatic, intelligence, and military sources. ]

Who Used the Information?

The President and Vice President

As the top elected official in the country and as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, President Bill Clinton had access to any item of information created by U.S. diplomatic, defense or intelligence organizations and could also order the production of any report, analysis or memo by these same Departments and agencies. Vice President Al Gore, who had a close working relationship with the President and whose long experience in foreign affairs and defense issues was much relied upon, could also review or call for production of any conceivable information. For example, both received and reviewed the President's Daily Brief produced by the CIA. In addition, Cabinet officials and others reported up to the President and Vice President. ... Besides official communications, the President had access to all varieties of information. This April 21 letter from Rwandan human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya, whom the President had welcomed to the White House in December 1993, implored President Clinton to act against the "campaign" of "genocide against the Tutsis", reminding him that the U.S. "has a moral and legal treaty obligation to 'suppress and prevent' genocide." Document 47 Mujawamariya Letter to the President, 21 Apr 94 ...

[report includes additional detail on the National Security Council, the "Principals Committee," the "Deputies Committee," and "Interagency Working Groups," and the "Interagency Task Force."]

Excerpt on NSC:

Serving the NSC are directorates to coordinate the work of the agencies and monitor U.S. policy, which vary in size and influence depending on the issue (in early 1994, nine officials were assigned to Europe and the former Soviet Union, two to Africa). NSC Staff Director Nancy Soderberg monitored the work of the directorates and handled issues upon which she had particular expertise. During the Rwanda crisis, the Senior Director for African Affairs was Donald Steinberg, a career Foreign Service Officer with experience in South Africa, in trade issues, on Capitol Hill, and most recently with the press operation. His deputy, serving as Director for African Affairs, was MacArthur "Mac" Deshazer. The Directorate for Global Issues and Multilateral Affairs handled peacekeeping, among other issues; it was headed by Senior Director Richard Clarke, an experienced bureaucratic insider who had previously served the Bush Administration in the critical position of Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs. His deputy active on Rwanda during the crisis was Director Susan Rice, who would go on to serve the second Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Excerpt on Deputies Committee:

The President also directed the establishment of the Deputies Committee "as the senior sub-Cabinet interagency forum" on national security policy to "vet" issues and options for the full NSC and Principals Committee, to monitor "policy implementation", and to lead "day-to-day crisis management". (Note 31) During the Rwanda crisis, Deputies Committee members were deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger as Chair; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Frank Wisner; Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff; Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Adm. William Studeman; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Owens, USN; the Vice President's national security advisor Leon Fuerth; and others, including by invitation. (Note 32) In this April 28th memo, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Bushnell briefed Under Secretary of State Tarnoff for his participation in the April 29 Deputies meeting, emphasizing that State should "share information" it has gained and should push to secure assistance for Rwanda "after the current crisis passes." Nevertheless, she advised Tarnoff, "killing of civilians apparently continues." Document 50 Bushnell Memo to Tarnoff, 28 Apr 94 Given their responsibilities, the Deputies met frequently, upon direction by Mr. Berger. The Administration's new peacekeeping policy also required Deputies Committee review and approval of the U.S. position in the UN Security Council whenever there was consideration of a new peacekeeping operation or revision of an existing one. Consequently, because the UN assistance mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) figured prominently in the crisis, this high-level group met many times on Rwanda.

Excerpt on Inter-agency task force:

Beginning in April and continuing throughout the crisis, an inter-agency task force met to coordinate policy and activities during the crisis. As its name suggests, this group, with more fluid membership, included officials from the NSC, State Department, USAID, defense agencies, and intelligence organizations, and was regularly chaired by NSC officials, including Richard Clarke, or Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Prudence Bushnell. Concerned solely with Rwanda, it was the most active policy grouping on Rwanda, meeting at least daily, receiving intelligence briefings and discussing practical actions and initiatives. This memorandum of the inter-agency group's May 12th meeting, which was called to develop a policy position for Deputies Committee approval concerning an expanded UNAMIR, demonstrates the bureaucratic input process at the mid-level-and also the serious policy differences between the NSC, State Department and the Joint Staff. As the Department of Defense representative noted, "we were unable to get anyone to say they would use the word Chapter VII" for the "mission statement"-the key Pentagon contention, challenged by none other than Gen. Dallaire, that Rwanda would require robust peace enforcement operations (Chapter VII of the UN Charter) as opposed to peacekeeping (Chapter VI). Document 52 Rwanda IWG, ca. 12 May 94


In analyzing the sources and scope of information and intelligence, it is also important to consider the ground-level reporting provided by journalists in Rwanda and in the region. Analysts in Washington often looked first to the newswires before getting confirmation of events from diplomatic, intelligence or military sources. Indeed, beginning April 8th, the massacres in Rwanda were reported on the front pages of major newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts almost daily, including the major papers read by U.S. officials and policy elites. (Note 34) In Rwanda, UNAMIR Force Commander Dallaire understood the power of the news media; despite his other responsibilities, he devoted considerable effort and resources so that a few journalists could get the story to the outside world, reasoning that a "reporter with a line to the West was worth a battalion on the ground." (Note 35) Information reported publicly from Rwanda not only informed policymakers in their decision-making, but led to pressure for intervention at least in France. As the following U.S. Embassy Paris telegram indicates, "the most consistent and readily identifiable element in the GOF decision to intervene was the cumulative effect of French journalists reporting". "Televised images of the slaughter", in particular, had important "effect on GOF Africanists". Document 53 Paris 17431, 24 Jun 94

Departments, agencies and military organizations of the U.S. government provided necessary information up to policymakers for their discussions and decisions during the Rwanda crisis. Although stated policy was that Rwanda did not affect traditional vital or national interests before or even during the genocide, considerable resources were nevertheless available and employed to ensure that policymakers had real-time information for any decision they would make. In sum, the routine-let alone crisis-performance of diplomats, intelligence officers and systems, and military and defense personnel yielded enough information for policy recommendations and decisions. That the Clinton Administration decided against intervention at any level was not for lack of knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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