The politics of denialism: The strange case of Rwanda -- review of Herman and Peterson's ‘The Politics of Genocide’
Skulls of victims of one of the massacres during the 1994 Rwandan genocide are displayed at the Genocide Memorial Site church of Ntarama in Nyamata, Rwanda. Photo: AFP.
Review by Gerald Caplan
The 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsi never happened. This is this unfounded and disturbing allegation at the heart of a new book by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson. Instead the authors claim that that it was part of an elaborate US conspiracy to “gain a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals' influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo”. Why they want to create such gratuitous hurt for the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda is ‘impossible to fathom’, says Caplan, but their ‘egregious views’ ‘relegate them squarely to the lunatic fringe’.
Edward Herman is a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and David Peterson is described as a Chicago-based journalist and researcher. Those who have read Herman's work, some of it in collaboration with Noam Chomsky, will only partly know what to expect from his latest book. Herman and Peterson argue that in a world controlled by the American empire and its media and intellectual lackeys, genocide has become a political construct largely manipulated by Washington and its allies. The claim of genocide becomes an excuse for so-called humanitarian intervention that disguises malevolent imperial motives: ‘The Western establishment rushed to proclaim “genocide” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur…In contrast, its silence over the crimes committed by its own regimes against the peoples of Southeast Asia, Central America, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa is deafening. This is the “politics of genocide”.’
Herman and Peterson give some examples that should be familiar to all who reject the notion of the US as a unparalleled force for good in the world. The suffering of Iraqis under US-led sanctions in the 1990s, American support for Israel's repression in Gaza and destruction in Lebanon, the American role in the brutal massacres of Guatemalans and Salvadorans in the 1980s, America's backing for Indonesia's blood bath in East Timor – all are true, all are appalling, and all have been thoroughly documented. No doubt it's good for a new generation to be reminded of these atrocities, invariably distorted or ignored by the mainstream media. But I'm not at all sure that it's helpful to explore these issues against a frame of genocide, and it's supremely destructive that incontrovertible incidents of American crimes, such as the above, are included with bizarre fictions that have poisoned the authors' minds, such as below. This was decidedly unexpected from Edward Herman.
Playing the `expert' card
To this stage, this little volume might on balance just be considered recommended reading. Despite its strange biases and excesses in belabouring its thesis, it's a useful reminder of American double standards that should not be forgotten (particularly given the disappointing record of the Obama administration).
But all of this is mere preliminary for Herman and Peterson. Their main target, which is none of the cases mentioned so far, can be found squarely in the heart of the book. It's chapter 4, the longest single section, and its purpose is to show that the 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsi never happened. In fact the entire ‘genocide’ in Rwanda is an elaborate American conspiracy to ‘gain a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals' influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo’. The authors' greatest bete noir is Paul Kagame, commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels during the 1990-94 civil war and 1994 genocide, long-time president of post-genocide Rwanda – and leading Yankee stooge.
Yes, in order to blame the US empire for every ill on earth, Herman and Peterson, two dedicated anti-imperialists, have sunk to the level of genocide deniers. And the ‘evidence’ they adduce to back up their delusional tale rests solidly on a foundation of other deniers, statements by genocidaires, fabrications, distortions, innuendo and gross ignorance. In this Grimm fairy tale, everyone who contradicts their fantasies is an American/RPF pawn – Paul Kagame, human rights investigator Alison des Forges, the head of the UN military mission in Rwanda during the genocide General Romeo Dallaire, and entire human rights organisations.
The main authorities on whom the authors rest their fabrications are a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers, who gleefully drink each other's putrid bath water. Each solemnly cites the others' works to document his fabrications – Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Christian Davenport, Allan Stam, Peter Erlinder. It's as if a Holocaust denier cited as supporting evidence the testimonies of David Irving, David Duke, Robert Faurisson or Ernest Zundel. Be confident Herman and Peterson are now being quoted as authoritative sources on the genocide by Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Davenport and Stam, Peter Erlinder.
In reality, there is only a relative handful of these American deniers, but the vast power of the internet makes them seem ubiquitous and forceful. Any online search for ‘Rwanda genocide’ gives them a vastly disproportionate pride of place. Besides the five cited by Herman and Peterson, this rogue's gallery of American deniers also includes Keith Harmon Snow and Wayne Madsen, who will bitterly resent the authors for failing to invoke them in their book.
Let me take a moment on Peter Erlinder, since he's been in the news recently. (I wrote about the case the other day in the Globe and Mail). As of this writing, Erlinder is in prison in Rwanda, charged, apparently to his great surprise, with genocide denial. I regret this decision by the Kagame government. I wish it had simply denied him entry when he provocatively showed up as counsel for Victoire Ingabire, a declared presidential candidate who is also controversially accused of being a denier. But no one could really be surprised at his arrest – especially Erlinder himself.
For Erlinder has explicitly conceded, more than once, that he knows he has broken Rwandan laws on genocide denial, and not in his work as a defence counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda (ICTR). For example, in a February 2008 article titled ‘Genocide Cover-up’, Erlinder writes that ‘under the laws of Rwanda I too am a criminal “negationist” for writing this essay.’ And in a May 2008 article, ‘Victor's Impunity’, he agrees that ‘Under the laws of Rwanda, I have violated the ban against “negationism” by questioning the Kagame version of events.’ Of course he considers the laws he violated to be unjust. Nevertheless, he chose to enter Rwanda aware he had broken them. Was this not daring the Rwanda government to lock him up? Why would they not when he had confessed his guilt?
That was by no means his only provocation. Erlinder flew to Rwanda last month directly from a conference in Brussels that was notable for its collection of deniers and accused genocidaires. So extreme was the composition of the conference that one of the world's most rabid Kagame-haters withdrew his participation. Indeed, shortly after the conference French authorities arrested one of the participants, Dr Eugene Rwamucyo, accused of taking part in the genocide.
Perhaps even worse, Erlinder has shamelessly distorted a ruling of the ICTR on which he's based so many of his attacks on Kagame and company beyond the Tribunal. A 2008 judgment ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to find that Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, seen by many as the mastermind of the genocide, had engaged in a conspiracy to exterminate all Tutsi. In a series of speeches and writings, including one of his better-known articles ‘Rwanda: No Conspiracy, No Genocide Planning…No Conspiracy?’ (Jurist, Dec. 24, 2008), Erlinder milked the decision for all he could. The title of the article said it all, and the question mark of course really doesn’t exist in his mind. As he said shortly before leaving America, there ‘was no conspiracy or planning to commit genocide or other crime’. No planning, no genocide. What could be simpler? (Once arrested, however, he found it far more prudent to declare that he in fact did not deny the genocide.)
Yet in none of his frequent references to this judgment has Erlinder thought it worth including the following statements from the judgment: 1. ‘Indeed, these preparations [by the accused] are completely consistent with a plan to commit genocide.’ 2. ‘It cannot be excluded that the extended campaign of violence directed against Tutsis, as such, became an added or an altered component of these preparations.’ Readers can judge for themselves whether this kind of intellectual dishonesty makes Erlinder a credible witness on any aspect of Rwanda history.
On the other hand, there are other writers on Rwanda on whom Herman and Peterson do not rely. They are many in number and they are totally ignored, except for the late Alison Des Forges, who is shabbily denigrated. In fact they include the overwhelming number of those who have ever written about the genocide. They include academics, human rights activists, journalists who were in Rwanda during the genocide or soon after, and others whose work brought them in close proximity to the events of 1994. Without exception, every single one agrees there was a genocide planned and executed by a cabal of leading Hutu extremists against Rwanda's Tutsi minority. Except for Des Forges, plus Linda Melvern, whose indispensable oeuvre merits a lonely footnote, not a single one of the following authors is cited by Herman and Peterson:
Alison Des Forges
Alex de Waal
John Berry and Carol Berry
Patrick de Saint-Exupery
Bruce D. Jones
Before we dismiss all these authors as tools of Yanky imperialism, it needs to be added that several of the most prominent – Des Forges, Uvin, Prunier, Lemarchand, Kuperman – are (or were) fierce critics of the post-genocide Kagame government in Rwanda. Yet none has thought to retract their original views on the reality of the genocide.
There are of course also the many grim testimonies of both Tutsi who somehow survived and Hutu who are confessed genocidaires. Both kinds are now widely available in published collections or online; the three volumes by French journalist Jean Hatzfeld are a good beginning. Not a single such testimony or collection is referred to in ‘The Politics of Genocide’, and in fact I've never yet met a denier who had the guts to make his case before an audience of survivors.
Nor is a single mention made of the testimonies of the few outsiders who remained in Rwanda through all or much of the 100 days:
Romeo Dallaire (UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda–UNAMIR)
James Orbinski (Medicíns Sans Frontiérès)
Phillippe Gaillard (International Committee of the Red Cross)
Carl Wilkens (Adventist Development and Relief Agency International)
Henry Anyidoho (UNAMIR)
As it happens, I know all of the above and none has the slightest doubt, having lived through it, that a genocide organised against the Tutsi took place. Three of them – Dallaire, Orbinski and Anyidoho – have written about their experiences. Of course, some of Herman and Peterson's most treasured sources like Robin Philpot insist that General Dallaire was also a US puppet. So we can obviously ignore Dallaire's views completely.
How deniers handle inconvenient opinions
As for Alison Des Forges, until her untimely death perhaps the most prominent scholar and activist on the Rwanda file, she is dismissed as following: ‘[Prior to 1993], des Forges had worked for the US Department of State and National Security Council.’ Nothing more is said to disqualify des Forges, so we must conclude that simply working for these bodies demonstrates the unreliability of her views on the genocide. That her MA and Ph.D. theses were on Rwandan history, that she knew the country for 30 years before the genocide, that she was among a tiny number of outsiders who spoke Kinyarwanda, that she spent five years after 1994 researching the crisis, that her ‘Leave None to Tell the Story’ is a highly-respected encyclopaedic history of the genocide – all this is irrelevant to Herman and Peterson. In their obsessive anti-Americanism, they blithely smear des Forges entire life: ‘Alison Des Forge's career is best understood in terms of the services she performed on behalf of US power-projection in Central Africa, with this policy-oriented work couched in the rhetoric of 'human rights'. In the process, Des Forges badly misinformed a whole generation of scholars, activists, and the cause of peace and justice.’ But if she was such a loyal American hack, why was she such an unrestrained critic of the United States' great ally Kagame? This obvious contradiction is of no apparent interest to Herman and Peterson.
The work of the 1993 International Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda is similarly dismissed. The Inquiry brought together four well-known human rights organisations whose investigation led them to conclude that the Habyarimana government was deliberately targeting Tutsi for massacre, that extremists anti-Tutsi rhetoric was growing and that anti-Tutsi militia were being formed. Yet none of this needs to be taken seriously. Why? Because the Commission was little more than an RPF front, ‘either directly funded by the RPF or infiltrated by it’. The sole source for this very serious accusation – made by no others of whom I'm aware – is Robin Philpot, Canada's preeminent denier of the genocide.
Is Philpot's charge remotely credible? Has he exposed some deep conspiracy no one else has ever detected? By coincidence, I know both the person who initiated the Commission of Inquiry, Ed Broadbent, and one of its members, William Schabas. (Alison Des Forges was another member, representing Human Rights Watch.) Instead of just dismissing the Philpot charge, I asked each of them about the Commission. Broadbent, a former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, was then the president of Rights and Democracy, an independent Canadian-based international human rights organisation funded by the Conservative government of the day. I spoke to him by phone. Rumours of foul doings in Rwanda took him to the country in 1992, he told me, and he was so shaken by the evidence he found of violence and discrimination against the Tutsi minority that he organised and mostly funded the International Commission to follow up his work. He told me he is simply incredulous that anyone would claim a role for the RPF in its work, since it wasn't true.
Broadbent asked William Schabas, then professor of human rights law at the Universite du Quebec a Montréal, to represent Rights and Democracy in this investigation. Schabas is now director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland in Galway, where he also holds the chair in human rights law. In an email, Schabas told me he had never been to Rwanda before this mission and knew nothing about the country. ‘I certainly never detected any pro-RPF sentiment from Ed…There was one member who seemed to be a sympathiser of the RPF…Otherwise, many members were quite openly critical of or hostile to the RPF.’
Is this just a case of ‘he said–they said’? Does an open-minded reader consider that the accusations of Robin Philpot, a man who also believes General Dallaire was an American stooge, are as worthy of consideration as the two statements by Ed Broadbent and William Schabas? Are both Broadbent and Schabas, 17 years later, blatantly lying to me, just as Dallaire's entire life for the past 17 years must be a lie?
Or does one rather draw another conclusion about how the deniers operate? If there are views that contradict your own, you simply dismiss them as tools of either the US State Department or the RPF. Further proof is not required.
Ugly Americans everywhere
Let me cite the authors themselves to assure readers I haven't exaggerated or distorted their extraordinary re-writing of history. Chapter 4 of their little book is devoted to Rwanda and the Congo and its 18 pages constitute far and away their longest case study.
They begin by asserting that ‘the Western establishment [has] swallowed a propaganda line on Rwanda that turned perpetrator and victim upside-down’. In their Rwanda story, it's not Hutu extremists, the Presidential Guard, the post-Habyarimana interim government and the interahamwe militia who were the ‘prime genocidaires’. It was the RPF. As a matter of fact, ‘the Hutu members of Rwanda's power-sharing government couldn't possibly have planned a genocide against the Tutsi.’ In fact, President Habyarimana repeatedly refused, until literally the end of his life, to implement the power-sharing agreement set out in the Arusha Accords. In any event, why the Hutu members of the government ‘couldn't possibly have planned a genocide against the Tutsi’ is never remotely explained.
Next: The 1990 invasion of Rwanda from Uganda was carried out not by Rwandans but by Ugandan forces under Ugandan President Museveni, the RPF being ‘a wing of the Ugandan army’. There is no source given for this assertion, which contradicts almost all other histories of the invasion.
‘It is clear that Museveni and the RPF were perceived as serving US interests and that the government of President Habyarimana was targeted for ouster…The Ugandan army and the RPF were doing what the United States wanted done in Rwanda.’ This is the central thesis of the entire chapter on Rwanda, but the only source who actually ‘perceives’ matters this way seems to be Robin Philpot, the Canadian who denies the genocide, since he is the only source offered for this categorical assertion. No other historian of the genocide of whom I'm aware makes this claim and no evidence for it exists.
Turning Linda Melvern’s seminal book ‘Conspiracy to Murder’ on its head, the authors give us ‘an RPF conspiracy’ to overthrow the Hutu government and capture the state for themselves. Since one of their sources, Christopher Black, considers Melvern part of the ‘RPF-US propaganda machine’, she too can be dismissed. But then why, they want to know, has the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda( ICTR) ‘never once entertained the question of this conspiracy?’ This is indeed a reasonable question; I wondered about it myself. Here is their answer: ‘This, we believe, flows from US and allied support of the RPF, reflected in media coverage, humanitarian intellectuals' and NGO activism, as well as the ICTR's jurisprudence.’ In other words, a giant US-led conspiracy is at work here.
Dupes like me and most other writers believe the US and its allies betrayed Rwanda by refusing to reinforce the UN military mission there, as general Dallaire was pleading with them to do. Eyewitnesses in Rwanda believed they witnessed for themselves what was developing. The media actually played a deplorable role in the first month of the genocide, confusing a planned extermination with racist views of ‘primordial African savagery’. And the many different ICTR judges over 15 years, from around the globe, all pretended to base their findings on the legal evidence. Yet in reality, all this time everyone was subtly being manipulated by the United States. Indeed, so subtle was the manipulation that the devilishly cunning Yanks left no proof of it. Moreover, every leading member of the Clinton administration, including the president himself, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, after her stint as ambassador to the UN as Clinton's Secretary of State, have shamefacedly admitted abandoning the Tutsi. Each claims to consider it perhaps the greatest regret of his/her time in office, merely demonstrating, of course, what unconscionable hypocrites they are.
Herman and Peterson hammer their charge home: ‘Paul Kagame and the RPF were creatures of US power from their origins in Uganda in the 1980s’. They have the undisputed evidence. From Allan Stam, ‘a Rwanda scholar who once served with the US Army Special Forces,’ they learn that Kagame ‘had spent some time at Fort Leavenworth…not too far before the 1994 genocide’. Fort Leavenworth, Stam explains, is ‘where rising stars of the US military and other places go to get training…The training that they get there is on planning large-scale operations. It's not planning small-scale logistics. It’s not tactics. It's about how do you plan an invasion. And apparently [Kagame] did very well.’
This crucial paragraph deserves a little parsing. To begin, it's absolutely no secret that Kagame was briefly at Fort Leavenworth, though Stam doesn't mention how very brief his stay was. Kagame himself has never kept it a secret. Note too that Allan Stam's credibility is based on two factors. First, that he is a ‘Rwanda scholar,’ though I believe not a single scholar listed above ever cites his work. Second, that he ‘once served with the US Army Special Forces’. Presumably this service gives him special insight into how the US army works. Yet he presents not a single specific detail about Kagame's few weeks at Fort Leavenworth that ties him to American interest in and plans for Rwanda, which no one has ever documented. And since thousands of officers from nations around the world have passed through Fort Leavenworth, you'd think that the thousands of large-scale invasions they would return home and orchestrate would be better-known to the world than they are.
Stam's curious thought processes are on display again, thanks to another citation by Herman and Peterson. By 1994, Stam has written, Kagame's ‘sophisticated plan for seizing power in Rwanda…looks staggeringly like the United States' invasion of Iraq in 1991.’ Perhaps it's my failing, but I have no idea what this means.
Hutu genocidaires becomes dead Hutu victims
Herman and Peterson now take their argument further. They have concluded that the all-important conventionally-accepted truth about the 100 days of genocide is all wrong. In fact this was no genocide at all against the Tutsi in which at a minimum 500,000/600,000 and perhaps as many as a million unarmed Tutsi were slaughtered, along with many Hutu who wouldn't cooperate with the extremists' genocidal conspiracy. On the contrary. They cite the sensational estimate by Christian Davenport and Allan Stam that one million deaths occurred from April to July 1994, and that ‘the majority of victims are likely Hutu and not Tutsi.’ That the methodology employed to arrive at such an Orwellian assertion has been totally discredited is of no interest to our authors and never mentioned.
Indeed, even a million dead, mostly Hutu, isn't good enough for them. They refer to ‘a number of observers as well as participants in the events of 1994 [who] claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million.’ With Herman and Peterson, you always have to watch your wallets. Checking the endnote for this rather extravagant statement, we find the figure comes from ‘a former RPF military officer Christophe Hakizimana’ in a letter to the 1999 UN Commission of Inquiry into the genocide. But that Commission, chaired by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, hadn't the slightest doubt that genocide against the Tutsi had taken place and their report harshly criticised the US and its allies for refusing to intervene to stop it. So it's hardly surprising that the Inquiry's report never mentions Hakizimana and his accusations.
So how did our authors know about it? ‘We base this on personal communications with the international criminal lawyer Christopher Black of Toronto.’ It will by this time come as no surprise to readers to learn that Christopher Black is prominent among the small notorious band of deniers who cite each other so faithfully and who alone are the sources for Herman and Peterson's chapter 4. Even among the lunatic fringe of deniers, Black inhabits a universe of his own. Not only is the genocide of the Tutsi a ‘myth’, not only did France have nothing to do with it, not only did the RPF rampage ‘across the country massacring hundreds of thousands of Hutu and any Tutsi who were seen as non-reliable.’ As well, he asserts, before 1994 there was no ethnic problem in Rwanda, then 'a semi-socialist country considered a model for Africa’. For perspective, I note that this authority on Rwanda visited North Korea in 2003 and emerged to describe it as ‘a progressive, socialist country deserving the support of all progressive peoples around the world.’ Black also considered Slobodan Milosevic completely innocent of the charges brought against him and believes Milosevic was consistently committed to a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia during his time in government.
Do I belabour the obvious by pointing out that not a single one of the long list of authors cited above mention either Christophe Hakizimana or Christopher Black? Yet they are the two sources Herman and Peterson give for their stunning statement that ‘a number of observers as well as participants in the events of 1994 claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million.’
The authors simply dismiss out of hand the widely accepted facts about the genocide. ‘The established narrative's 800,000 or more largely Tutsi deaths resulting from a “preprogrammed genocide” committed by “Hutu Power” appears to have no basis in any facts beyond the early claims by Kagame's RPF and its politically motivated Western sponsors and propagandists.’ With this single sentence, and with no further amplification of any kind, the question of the number of Tutsi murdered is closed.
But there's much more about murdered Hutu. It is no surprise to the authors that the RFP killed so many people. After all, ‘the RPF was the only well-organised killing force within Rwanda in 1994...Clearly the chief responsibility for Rwanda political violence belongs to the RPF, and not to the ousted coalition government, the FAR [Rwandan army], or any Hutu-related group.’ So much for the interahamwe, apparently figments of everyone's imagination. And for the Hutu Power and Zero Network hit lists, which many diplomats actually saw. And for the explicit public threats against the Tutsi from RTLM hate radio and Kangura magazine. In the report I wrote for the International Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the Organization of African Unity to investigate the genocide, there is a chapter titled ‘The Eve of the Genocide: What the World Knew’. The report, published in 2000 and called ‘Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide’, is still available online, so readers can access it in full, as indeed could Herman and Peterson.
Chapter 9 includes (among much else) the notorious 1990 racist document ‘Ten Commandments of the Hutu’; the dramatic increase in Habyarimana's military budget; the formation of the extremist radical Hutu party CDR; the beginning of military training for the youth wings of both Habyarimana's party (the interahamwe) and the CDR; Leon Mugesera's speech inciting annihilation of the Tutsi; the repudiation by Habyarimana and many of his officials and officers of the Arusha peace agreement; the opening of RTLM hate radio in mid-1993, funded by Habyarimana's inner circle; the report by Belgian intelligence at the end of 1993 that ‘The interahamwe are armed to the teeth and on alert...each of them has ammunition, grenades, mines and knives. They are all waiting for the right moment to act’; the Dallaire ‘genocide fax’ of 11 January 1994; the constant flow of new arms to Habyarimana's forces from France or from South Africa and Egypt paid by France; RTLM's broadcast on Match 1, as reported by the Belgian ambassador in Kigali, of ‘inflammatory statements calling for the hatred—indeed for the extermination of the Tutsi’; the late March statement by the officer in charge of intelligence for the Rwanda army that ‘if Arusha were implemented, they [the Rwanda army] were ready to liquidate the Tutsi’; the several RTLM and Kangura statements in the last days of March and early April that something major and dramatic was going to happen within the next few days; the public threat uttered on 4 April, two days before the genocide began, by Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, widely considered the ringleader of the Hutu extremist conspirators, that ‘The only plausible solution for Rwanda appears to be the extermination of the Tutsi.’
Can every one of these well-documented points actually be some fantastically clever component of the American conspiracy behind Kagame's RPF? Don't bother asking Herman and Peterson; they don't even try to explain them all away. They simply ignore hundreds of different pieces of evidence pointing to a developing Hutu extremist plot to annihilate the country's Tutsi.
Instead, they focus on the crimes of the RPF. Despite recklessly throwing around figures such as a million or even two million Hutu killed, the numbers they seem to take more seriously total some 25,000 to 45,000 Hutu massacred from April to July 1994. As evidence they cite the investigation led by Robert Gersony for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and even though Gersony's report mysteriously vanished, both UNHCR and the US State Department seem to have found these figures credible.
Typically, Herman and Peterson refer to the Gersony Report as ‘a whole body of important but suppressed research’. Maybe this reflects the problem of only reading other deniers. Yet look at chapter 22 of ‘Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide’, the report of the OAU-appointed panel, titled ‘The RPF and Human Rights’. It points out that while the actual Gersony report seemed to be missing, Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch had uncovered confidential notes based on briefings by Gersony and his colleagues. On p.253, the panel describes the supposedly ‘suppressed research’: ‘Gersony reportedly estimated that during the months from April to August, the RPF killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons.’
After reviewing all the other evidence we could, the panel approved the following paragraph: ‘Our own conclusion, based on the available evidence, is that it is quite unrealistic to deny RPF responsibility for serious human rights abuses in the months during and after the genocide. They were tough soldiers in the middle of a murderous civil war made infinitely more vicious by the genocide directed by their enemies against their ethnic kin…Some had lost family and were aggressively looking for revenge. But none of these factors excuse the excesses of which they [the RPF] were guilty.’
So in fact the so-called suppressed research by Gersony has been well-known for years. But the panel also knew this: The fact of the genocide against the Tutsi was proved beyond any question, and while 25-45,000 deaths is a huge and gruesome number, it pales beside the genocide being executed at the same time. As noted earlier, the lowest estimate by serious scholars of Tutsi killed during the 100 days is 500,000–600,000; some believe it could be closer to a million.
Beyond that, the reason the catastrophe is called a genocide is precisely because it meets the definition laid down in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’. That's what qualitatively distinguishes the organised and systematic campaign led by a cabal of well-placed Hutu extremists in government and the military from the terrible killings by the RPF. That's why the ICTR has deemed its priority to be the trial of accused genocidaire rather than of accused RPF soldiers. It's the well-understood distinction between the Nazis and the fire-bombers of Dresden and Hamburg. All are horrific crimes. But genocide is, in our world, the crime of crimes, and it comes first.
Final aspects of the great US conspiracy in Rwanda
Let me address only two remaining points that are integral to the authors' case.
Almost every well-known writer on the genocide condemns the international community, led by the US, for refusing to intervene to stop the massacres of the Tutsi. Richard Barnett's book Eyewitness to a Genocide, for example, describes his year as a staffer at the US Mission to the UN – it happened to be 1994 – watching as the US and the entire UN chose to abandon Rwanda's Tutsi to its inexorable fate. Samantha Power found a large number of President Clinton's senior advisers who contritely explained to her why they failed to support General Dallaire's urgent cries for reinforcements. Madeleine Albright, Clinton's ambassador to the UN, has abjectly apologised for her role in leading the Security Council to decimate Dallaire's puny military mission, and has righteously claimed that behind the scenes she attempted to get the White House to change its position. Non-permanent members of the Security Council later complained they were kept in the dark about the real situation in Rwanda by those who resisted intervention, including UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali. All of this is now well known.
Here's what Herman and Peterson have to say: ‘What the United States and its Western allies (Britain, Canada and Belgium) really did was sponsor the US-trained Kagame, support his invasion from Uganda and the massive ethnic cleansing prior to April 1994, weaken the Rwandan state by forcing an economic recession and the RPF's penetration of the government and throughout the country, and then press for the complete removal of UN troops because they didn't want UN troops to stand in the way of Kagame's conquest of the country, even though Rwanda's Hutu authorities were urging the dispatch of more [sic] UN troops.’
The endnote for this dramatic paragraph gives as the source ‘the Rwandan UN ambassador Jean-Damascene Bizimana’. Presumably, though, it's only the last part of the sentence that comes from Bizimana. Bizimana had been appointed by President Habyarimana. When the President's plane was shot down on 6 April, an interim government of Hutu extremists was formed under Theoneste Bagosora. Bizimana remained in his post. In one of the many mind-boggling sidebars of the genocide story, 1994 happened to be Rwanda's turn to fill a rotating Security Council seat. So Bizimana ended up representing a genocidaire government on the Council throughout the entire genocide. Soon after the plane crash and the start of the genocide, Bizimana reported to his Security Council peers that the Rwandan military and its people had ‘reacted spontaneously’ and were attacking those suspected of being responsible for killing their president. Bizimana's peers eventually understood the obscenity of having a spokesperson for the genocidal regime sitting among them, but as the British ambassador told Linda Melvern, there was no procedure for getting rid of him.
The 6 April plane crash, as is entirely predictable, features prominently in Herman and Peterson's Orwellian version of Rwanda. The plane, a gift from French President Mitterrand to Habyarimana, was bringing from Dar es Salaam to Kigali not only Habyarimana but the President of Burundi as well. Both were killed, along with everyone else on board. In what we have seen is a typical trick of the authors, they state that ‘It has also been important to suppress the fact that that the first Hutu president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, had been assassinated by Tutsi officers of his army in October 1993.’ That this assassination happened is true; that anyone has ever tried to suppress it is ludicrous. Why Herman and Peterson insist on it is incomprehensible. For the record, this incident is included in my own report, ‘Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide’, in Rene Lemarchand's chapter on Rwanda in ‘Century of Genocide’, in Gerard Prunier's ‘The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide’, in Stephen Kinzer's ‘A Thousand Hills’, and in Linda Melvern's ‘A People Betrayed’, just to mention the few volumes that I took down at random. Far from being suppressed, virtually everyone who writes about Rwanda recognises the great impetus given to Hutu Power advocates in Rwanda by Ndadaye's untimely murder.
Herman and Peterson have no doubt that the RPF shot down Habyarimana's plane. In fact they go that extra mile and add that ‘the United States and its close allies…very possibly aided the assassins in the shoot-down.’ The sole source for this ‘very possible’ charge is Robin Philpot. As for the crash itself, the authors invoke the familiar figures of Michael Hourigan and Jean-Louis Bruguiere. Hourigan is a one-time ICTR investigator who found a few disaffected RPF soldiers who accused the RPF and Kagame personally of responsibility for the crash. Bruguiere is a French magistrate who used some of the same informants as Hourigan, as well as the testimonies of accused genocidaires being held in Arusha, Tanzania, whom he took the trouble to visit (though he never went to Rwanda or spoke to a single RPF official). He too concluded that the RPF and Kagame were guilty. Alas for both of them, their case fell apart when several key informants retracted their entire testimonies, some declaring they had never said anything like what they were quoted as saying. This is all public knowledge, yet the authors never even hint that the basis of Bruguiere's conclusions had been substantially undermined.
It has always seemed most plausible to a majority of those studying the genocide that Hutu extremists and not the RPF shot down the President's plane. But proof was never available and the issue remained moot. It's been one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. At the beginning of this year, however, a new report appeared by an Independent Committee of Experts appointed by the government of Rwanda, with the explicit title Report of the Investigation into the Causes and Circumstances of and Responsibility for the Attack of 06/04/1994 against the Falcon 50 Rwandan Presidential Aeroplane [sic], Registration Number 9xR-NN. The head of the 7-person committee was Dr Jean Mutsinzi, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Rwanda, now a judge of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. The Mutsinzi Report is available at mutsinzireport.com, and my review of the report can be found at Pambazuka News 466, January 21, 2010.
While my review regretted that the Rwandan government hadn't sought an independent investigation to take place, and while the Committee had obvious pro-RPF biases, I nevertheless found their comprehensive report highly persuasive. They also smartly included a ballistics report from staff at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom based at Cranfield University that supported their conclusions. The report demonstrates why the RPF could not have been in a position to launch the fatal missiles while elements of the Rwandan army and Presidential Guard had the capacity, the means and the will to do so.
The report also documents the only logical motive for the attack, one that many other scholars had already anticipated. In the Dar es Salaam meeting of regional presidents that he attended on his final day, 6 April, Habyarimana announced what he had just told his own senior advisors. After stalling for months (a fact Herman and Peterson seem not to grasp at all), he was finally about to implement the Arusha Accords. That meant power-sharing in government and the full integration of the Rwandan and RPF armies. The personal consequences for many Hutu government and military officials would be disastrous. The latter had long sworn, publicly and privately, that they would accept Arusha over their dead bodies, and had pressured Habyarimana not to succumb to external pleas to implement. Finally, however, he decided he had no recourse but honour the agreement, and the extremists decided to nullify Arusha over their president's dead body.
Any reasonable person open to the evidence, including the likely motivation for the deed, will find the Mutsinzi Report credible. But I don't expect for a second that Messrs. Peterson or Herman or Black or Erlinder or Stam or Davenport or Philpot to accept a single word of it. No more do I expect them to agree with a single word in this review. They are well beyond evidence or reason or commonsense. They live in a different universe of witnesses and evidence, enough to satisfy themselves that the world has gotten Rwanda wrong and only they in the world have got it right.
The tragedy of American anti-imperialism
Edward Herman and David Peterson have written a very short book that's not nearly short enough. It should never have seen the light of day. It brings shame to its two American authors, its publisher Monthly Review, and all those who have provided enthusiastic jacket blurbs, many of them prominent in progressive circles – Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Solomon, David Barsamian. If this is what Anglo-American Marxism, or socialism, or anti-imperialism has degenerated into, we can hang our heads in shame for the future of the left.
Why a lifetime anti-imperialist leftist like Herman (and presumably Peterson) wants to exculpate the Serbs of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia of crimes against humanity is beyond my understanding. Why would it not have been enough to point out that appalling crimes were committed by all sides, but in every case Serbs were one of those sides? The only conceivable reason seems to be that the US and its allies singled out the Serbs for attack, which ipso facto makes them the real victims. Indeed, the authors' ally Christopher Black perversely sees Milosevic as an heroic figure.
As we've already seen, hyperbole and slipperiness are cherished tools of the authors, and not just in regards to Rwanda. ‘The leading mainstream experts on “genocide” and mass-atrocity crimes today,’ they assert, ‘still carefully exclude from consideration the US attacks on Indo-China as well as the 1965-1966 Indonesian massacres within that country’. First note the way they add ‘mass atrocity crimes’ to genocidal crimes. In fact, in many circles it surely remains widely accepted that the US was guilty of appalling atrocities in its aggressions against Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. As for the ‘exclusion from consideration’ of those Indonesian massacres, chapter 7 of Totten and Parson's popular volume Century of Genocide, is titled ‘The Indonesian Massacres’.
Two other similar examples: In true conspiratorial fashion, they argue that the crisis in Darfur was exaggerated to distract attention from United States' real African interest, the mineral resources of the Congo. Why both weren't worthy of serious attention is beyond me. Nonetheless, they insist that Darfur solidarity activists dishonestly succeeded in framing Darfur as the ‘unnoticed genocide’, though many, including me, have long understood that it's been the best publicised international crisis in decades. And they charge that it's the calamity in eastern Congo that ‘has been truly ignored’, even though numerous celebrities, including playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), actor Ben Affleck (at least four times), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all made high-profile visits to the Kivus. When the US Secretary of State visits a small province in eastern Congo, you know it's the opposite of being ignored.
Many of the Rwanda deniers flaunt their left-wing credentials. As this essay makes clear, they are driven by their anti-Americanism. Certainly I agree that every progressive necessarily must be anti-American to some degree or other. But this little band has driven over the edge. As Peter Erlinder once wrote, America is ‘the most dangerous Empire the world has ever seen’. Everything bad must be America's responsibility. There's not even room for others to share that responsibility, though the French government's complicity in the Rwandan genocide, for example, has been definitively documented and is now even implicitly accepted by President Sarkozy and his foreign minister Bernard Kouchner.
Why the deniers are so determined, so passionate, so intransigent, so absolutely certain, so satisfied to remain part of a tiny minority of cranks, is completely unknown to me. Why they want to create such gratuitous, almost sadistic hurt for the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda is impossible to fathom. But in the end, it's irrelevant what furies drive their obsessions. It's their egregious views – not their motives – that matter. And their views relegate them squarely to the lunatic fringe.
[This article first appeared at Pambazuka News. Gerald Caplan has a PhD in African history. He recently published The Betrayal of Africa.]
Once upon a time, the name Ed Herman meant something on the left, but for well
over a decade he has penned nothing but trash, along with his sidekick blogger
Peterson, from about the time he, I guess going through some kind of change of
life, decided inexplicably to turn himself into a full-time apologist for the
Serbian racist/Crusader Muslim-eating regimes of Milosevic/Karadzic etc. This
eventually morphed into denying genocides in general as a full-time career.
For the record, here are links to some of my pieces debunking this sorry record,
which could be added to the Links page:
Srebrenica: Response to left-wing apologists for genocide
How Many, and Who, Died in Bosnia?
Reply to Ed Herman on Body Counts in Kosova
The Article that Fooled the Left
July 15, 2010 -- Edward Herman and David Peterson’s response to Gerald Caplan’s review of their book, 'The Politics of Genocide' (8 July), merits a lengthy riposte. I will limit myself to a few comments, pending a closer engagement to follow.
(1) Herman and Peterson contend that mainstream scholarship on Rwanda in 1994, such as Caplan’s, “turns perpetrator and victim upside-down.” In fact, they allege, Hutus were the principal victims of the bloodbath, and the RPF/Tutsis – “the ‘only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994’” – were “both the initiators and the main perpetrators of 1994's mass blood-letting.”
The crucial source they cite in support of this argument is research by Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, notably their October 2009 article, “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Curiously, though, Herman and Peterson never mention Davenport and Stam’s core finding: that “the vast majority of the 1994 killing had been conducted by the FAR [Rwandan army], the Interahamwe [militia] and their associates.” All three of these Hutu-controlled bodies were apparently quite “well-organized killing force[s],” if they were responsible for “the vast majority” of up to a million murders in a few months. With regard to the RPF, Davenport and Stam claim that it played a “not insignificant role” in the carnage. Certainly, the RPF’s probable tens of thousands of killings in Rwanda in 1994 are significant. But they are hardly justification for flipping the Rwandan genocide on its head, and depicting the RPF/Tutsis as “the main perpetrators” of the killing, as Herman and Peterson do. Indeed, Davenport and Stam’s finding was precisely the opposite.
(Note in passing, however, the fundamental illogic which characterises both Davenport and Stam’s article, and Herman and Peterson’s mendaciously selective use of it. If the Hutu-controlled 'FAR, the Interahamwe and their associates' were responsible for the 'vast majority' of the 1994 murders, and if – as Davenport and Stam also allege, and Herman and Peterson repeat – the majority of those killed were likely Hutus, why on earth would Hutus have been killing other Hutus on such a massive scale, and in such a seemingly systematic fashion? We know that many oppositionist and other Hutus did perish in the genocide. But where is the evidence for such a gargantuan Hutu-on-Hutu bloodbath, with Tutsi victims pushed to the periphery?)
(2) Perhaps the most disturbing passage in Herman and Peterson’s response to Caplan is this: “Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’ at the same time.”
Of course, no mainstream authority has ever claimed that the Tutsi “victims of genocide” in Rwanda in 1994 were drawn from “Kagame’s Tutsi forces.” The latter were invading from Uganda, as Herman and Peterson themselves emphasize. They were outsiders with no connection to, and apparently no particular sympathy for, the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda. It was the Rwandan Tutsi population which, by all serious accounts, bore the overwhelming brunt of the Hutu Power genocide.
So Herman and Peterson’s mocking reference to the “minority Tutsi” population supposedly bearing the brunt of the massacres, then assuming “complete control” of Rwanda, is pure sleight-of-hand. To repeat the indisputable: it was the foreign-based RPF that took “complete control” in July 1994 and “wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’” – not the “minority Tutsi” population of Rwanda, which had been mostly exterminated by that point. By insinuating otherwise – by conflating Rwanda’s civilian Tutsis with “Kagame’s Tutsi forces” – Herman and Peterson none-too-subtly adopt Hutu Power’s justification for slaughtering Tutsi civilians: that they constituted a “fifth column,” indistinguishable from the invading RPF. This casual parroting of the most virulent Hutu-extremist propaganda effectively blames Rwanda’s Tutsis for their own extermination. It is a disgraceful ploy, and by itself it casts Herman and Peterson’s “analysis” into utter disrepute.
(3) Herman and Peterson quote approvingly Allan Stam’s claim that the RPF’s military maneuvers were “staggeringly like the United States invasion of Iraq in 1991.” This is advanced to buttress their (painfully thin) argument that the RPF acted as a US proxy throughout 1994, and after. But if RPF military actions were indeed “staggeringly like” those of the US and its allies in the 1991 Gulf conflict, we must assume that the RPF mustered over half a million troops for its offensive; dropped tens of thousands of tons of bombs on enemy positions and population centers; mounted massed armoured thrusts to overwhelm its opponent; and routed the foe in a mere 100 hours of land warfare. Since none of these remotely obtained in the RPF’s 1994 campaign, an objective observer might rather conclude that in all central respects, that campaign was staggeringly unlike the 1991 invasion of Iraq.
(4) At various points, Herman and Peterson make much of the supposed lightning speed of the RPF victory (“incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days,” etc.). One hundred days, in fact, can be a very long time in war and genocide. In the 1991 Gulf War, as noted, the Allies crushed Iraqi forces in 100 hours. Many other examples could be cited, from the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israel nearly obliterated the forces of three Arab states, to the six-week blitzkrieg in which the Nazis conquered France in 1940. For Hutu Power to have supervised the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in three-and-a-half months is surely “incredible” in a moral sense – not that we can expect such an acknowledgment from Herman and Peterson. But it is perfectly credible in a logistical sense, with the target populations utterly defenseless, and prone to be rounded up and slaughtered by the thousands or tens of thousands at a time. That, in any case, is what actually occurred in Rwanda in 1994. Herman and Peterson’s attempts to disguise and deny it constitute the nadir of their respective careers.
Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
July 14, 2010
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Adam Jones is associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.
By Adam Jones
[Introductory note: In July 2010, Pambazuka.org published a long review by Gerald Caplan of the recent book by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, in which Caplan accused the authors of denying the 1994 holocaust in Rwanda. Herman & Peterson responded with a lengthy broadside against Caplan, published on Pambazuka on July 8, to which I issued a stopgap response from my temporary base in Burkina Faso. That intervention elicited another outpouring by Herman & Peterson, specifically attacking me, posted to the Monthly Review blog on August 14. The following comments represent a fuller engagement with Herman & Peterson's assertions, accusations, and denialist fabrications.]
When I first learned of the publication of Edward Herman and David Peterson's barely-a-book, The Politics of Genocide, and when I read Gerald Caplan's lengthy review followed by Herman & Peterson's 8,000-word response, I was travelling with no fixed address in West Africa. While necessarily postponing an engagement with the volume until I returned to Canada, I felt justified in preparing (from Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso) a thousand words or so of comments explicitly limited to the assertions made in Herman and Peterson's riposte to Caplan. Having now imbibed a further 6,000 words from the authors, specifically denouncing me and my work, and having read The Politics of Genocide, my concerns about their denialist and fundamentally anti-scholarly enterprise have only deepened.
In a paper to be presented to the conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars next year, I will examine Herman & Peterson's work alongside that of their fellow Rwandan genocide deniers. I limit my comments here to the authors' published statements on Rwanda, both in their online posts and in The Politics of Genocide. (I trust I have the title of their book right, by the way. Herman & Peterson manage to misstate the name of my own work, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, no fewer than eight times in the footnotes of their latest post.)
In my response to Herman & Peterson's first missive, I accused them of a "selective and mendacious" use of a key source: the research (itself highly problematic) of Christian Davenport and Allan C. Stam. Nowhere in their 8,000-word response to Caplan -- which will be read by many times more people than their book will be -- do Herman & Peterson acknowledge that Davenport & Stam found "the vast majority" of the 1994 mass killing to have been carried out by "the FAR [Rwandan army], the Interahamwe [militia] and their associates" -- that is, the shock troops and death squads of Hutu Power.
Their treatment of this source in The Politics of Genocide is likewise highly misleading. In a single glancing mention in the text (p. 59), they write that Davenport & Stam "are inconsistent on the question of likely perpetrators, with their evidence of likely RPF responsibility contradicted by assertions of primary responsibility on the part of the FAR." Note first that there is no inconsistency in Davenport & Stam's findings, since there is no evidence, in their work or elsewhere, of "likely" (i.e., primary) RPF responsibility for the mass killing. Note too that "primary responsibility on the part of the FAR" is a much more anodyne framing than "the vast majority," Davenport & Stam's actual phrasing. Moreover, Davenport & Stam list the perpetrators not as the FAR alone, but the Interahamwe militia, and (as I read them) diverse allies of both these forces. That is, the perpetrators were drawn from a coalition of distinct, overwhelmingly Hutu actors and agents. Not only does this imply a coordinated and systematic genocide, but it makes a mockery of Herman & Peterson's absurd assertion, in The Politics of Genocide, that "the RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994" (p. 58).
For Herman & Peterson to offer any evidence at all for their squalid inversion of reality, however, they need Davenport & Stam. There is almost nothing else in the scholarly literature that can be squeezed into their framework, even in denatured form. So in the process of bending Davenport & Stam to make them fit, they not only jettison their sources' core conclusions and substitute their own; they toss out Davenport & Stam's guiding assumptions as well! In preparing their statistical analysis of patterns of violence, Davenport & Stam divided Rwandan territory into zones that were government-controlled, RPF-controlled, and contested. Herman & Peterson aver that this is "problematic." In fact, they allege, those whom Davenport & Stam deemed guilty of "the vast majority" of the killing were such a bumbling bunch that "it is frankly counterintuitive" to consider them "in control of anything" (p. 133). Really, it's a wonder the poor dears could tie their shoes -- let alone mobilize to massacre at least half a million Tutsis and oppositionist Hutus.
So now, "the vast majority" of the killing that Davenport & Stam specifically attributed to Hutu Power forces is thrown up for grabs. Herman & Peterson can seize upon Davenport & Stam's finding that "when the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased" to contend that this shows RPF forces were "the initiators and the main perpetrators of 1994's mass blood-letting." Davenport & Stam's framing in fact fits with a picture of Hutu Power agents lashing out genocidally at Tusis, in spasms that correlate with RPF advances. There is a certain logic to that -- panic and insecurity are frequently spurs to more frenzied killing -- but there is no other evidence for it that I am aware of, and in any case Herman & Peterson's "logic" is entirely different. They point out in their attack on me that in The Politics of Genocide, they do indeed note the incongruence between their arguments and Davenport & Stam's findings. But they word it as follows: "Davenport and Stam fail to draw the most important conclusion from their superb work ..." They don't fail to draw the important conclusion; they draw the exactly opposite important conclusion. Davenport & Stam, apparently, are "superb" and credible authorities when their findings are convenient. When they are inconvenient, they must be ruled out as "problematic" or "fail[ing]," and replaced by rickety fabrications of Herman & Peterson's own, mercifully unique devising.
Does all of this qualify as a "selective and mendacious" use of Davenport & Stam's research -- the allegation I made in my earlier comments on Herman & Peterson's work? You be the judge.
With Davenport & Stam's core schema dismissed, on no evidence whatsoever, Herman & Peterson can substitute "roving patterns of killing" (p. 58). And from this now-nebulous mist emerges their pièce de résistance: "Clearly, the chief responsibility for Rwandan political violence belonged to the RPF, and not to the ousted coalition government, the FAR, or any Hutu-related group." Again, not a shred of evidence is offered to buttress an assertion that is more extreme, in its denialism and revisionism, than any statement I have heard or read, save from accused or convicted Rwandan génocidaires, their supporters, and occasionally their lawyers.
And yet, this is actually one of the more serious analytical strategies pursued in the Rwanda section of The Politics of Genocide. Elsewhere, Herman & Peterson's revisionist claims are so thinly-sourced as to be risible. Typical is the assertion that "a number of observers as well as participants in the events of 1994 claim that the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million" (p. 58, emphasis added). The "number of observers" and "participants" appears to be one -- perhaps. The sole source cited in the footnote (p. 132) is a letter allegedly written by a renegade RPF officer. It was reported to the authors by Christopher Black, who (as Herman & Peterson almost proudly proclaim) happens to be a defense attorney for an accused Hutu génocidaire
Similarly, the conspiracy theory that "Paul Kagame and the RPF were creatures of U.S. power from their origins in Uganda in the 1980s" (p. 55), used as a Yankee tool to wrest control of D.R. Congo's rich resources, rests mainly on the fact that Kagame "had spent some time at Fort Leavenworth, [Kansas] ... not too far before the 1994 genocide." Here they again cite Allan Stam -- in fact, they bet the farm on this figure, alone or in collaboration with Davenport. Herman & Peterson claim, remarkably, that within one or two hours of the missile strike on the plane of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, 50,000 RPF troops moved "into action on two fronts, in a coordinated fashion" (p. 56). The source for this striking assertion? A public lecture by Allan Stam.
One last example: Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General at the time of the Rwandan genocide, is quoted as declaring that "The genocide in Rwanda was 100 percent the responsibility of the Americans!" (p. 135). Even if Boutros-Ghali made such a statement, it is impossible to know how to interpret it without an understanding of the relevant context. It might well have reflected the Secretary-General's frustration with America's failure to supply intervention forces to suppress Hutu Power's killing machine. But who knows if the statement is genuine? The source is one of Herman & Peterson's fellow travellers, Robin Philpot, who assures us that Boutros-Ghali "told him [this] on the record."
On the basis of this casual abandonment of scholarship, we are supposed to reject and invert the entirety of the scholarly literature on the 1994 Rwandan genocide; all major human-rights investigations; and the immense wealth of survivor testimony. Herman & Peterson's hubris is awe-inspiring. But it prompts me to ask: just whom do they expect to buy their swill? The authors include passing citations of a small handful of distinguished Rwanda scholars -- Gérard Prunier, René Lemarchand, Linda Melvern, Filip Reyntjens. None of them supports (to say the least!) the denialist interpretation advanced by Herman & Peterson, depicting the RPF/Tutsis as the principal agents of the mass killing in Rwanda in 1994, ordinary Hutus as the primary victims, and "Hutu Power" as an utterly disorganized and victimized entity. Nor do I know of any human-rights report that asserts it, and Herman & Peterson cite none in their supporting notes.
So let us face it. This brand of extreme revisionism and denial of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is shared by only "a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers, who gleefully drink each other's putrid bath water," as Gerald Caplan so aptly phrased it in his review of The Politics of Genocide. Like Herman & Peterson, the deniers cherry-pick a few useful factoids and declamations from serious scholarship on Rwanda (or halfway serious, like Davenport & Stam), while dismissing the vast bulk of the scholarly and human-rights literature as hopelessly corrupted by nefarious (western/imperialist) interests. This has the additional advantage of cutting down on what would otherwise be an onerous reading list, since the literature on Rwanda is now so extensive, detailed, and utterly contrary to Herman & Peterson's formulations.
I confess I wondered, when preparing my first response to Herman & Peterson, whether their depiction of events in Rwanda in 1994 resulted from ignorance and incompetence, rather than actual malice. Their latest post rules this out, I'm afraid. In first criticizing their framing, I drew special attention to a passage to which they had given considerable analytical weight (it appears in very similar form in their book, pp. 56-57):
Would it not have been incredible for Kagame's Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its 'genocidaires' at the same time. If ever a prima facie case existed for doubting the collective wisdom of 'academics, human rights activists, [and] journalists' whose opinions the establishment respects, we find it here, with the alleged Hutu perpetrators routed and fleeing for their lives in neighbouring countries, and the alleged Tutsi victims in complete control.
I responded: "By conflating Rwanda's civilian Tutsis with 'Kagame's Tutsi forces' -- Herman and Peterson none-too-subtly adopt Hutu Power's justification for slaughtering Tutsi civilians: that they constituted a 'fifth column,' indistinguishable from the invading RPF." It was, I asserted, "a disgraceful ploy [that] ... by itself ... casts Herman and Peterson's 'analysis' into utter disrepute."
It is frankly nauseating to witness Herman & Peterson retreating not an iota from this calumny against a defenseless civilian population. Indeed, they press the point further: "Jones fails to mention the long historic class division and warfare between Tutsi and Hutu, and the creation of many hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees after the RPF invasion of Rwanda," along with similar irrelevancies and imputations of guilt-by-ethnocultural-affinity, all intended to support a framing that -- yes, Rwandan Tutsis were intimately in cahoots with the murdering RPF. So they really were responsible for their own genocide ... except that, of course, Herman & Peterson deny they ever experienced a genocide. At which point words fail me.
In the Rwanda section of their book, and in their online posts, Herman & Peterson do deploy one piece of real evidence: the 1991 government census in Rwanda. This estimated that Tutsis constituted 8.4 percent of the Rwandan population, or about 600,000 people. Natural increase would have boosted this population by some tens of thousands by 1994. If 70-80 percent of this number perished, then the Tutsi death toll would fall at the lower end of mainstream estimates (that is, it would be around half a million), rather than at the upper end by which Tutsis constituted the large majority of 800,000 total victims (Gérard Prunier) or roughly one million (the Rwandan government; Davenport & Stam, with caveats).
The precise death toll will, of course, be debated forever, and is of secondary importance. What is essential, and unquestionable, is that systematic, organized killing of Tutsis took place on a massive scale in Rwanda between April and July 1994. How centrally organized the genocide was remains a subject of intense and legitimate dispute. There is of course no requirement that killing be centrally organized in order to qualify as genocidal.
For the toll of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis to lie at the upper end of available estimates, Tutsis would have to have been substantially undercounted in the 1991 census. There are very good reasons to believe they were. As Prunier pointed out in his early (1996) classic on the genocide (The Rwanda Crisis, never cited by Herman & Peterson), the total given for Tutsis "can safely be reckoned a low figure, first because the government systematically tried to underestimate the Tutsi population in order to keep its school and employment quotas [for Tutsis] low, and secondly because the Tutsis themselves often tried to pass themselves off as Hutu, going as far as acquiring ID cards mentioning the wrong ethnic grouping to avoid discrimination. So a reasonable and even conservative estimate would make the Tutsi population no less than one-third higher, i.e. about 12%, which would give about 930,000 Tutsi living in Rwanda on 6 April 1994" (pp. 263-64) -- taking into account natural increase between 1991 and 1994. Prunier cites "more accurate estimates of the Tutsi population surviving in late July 1994" in arguing for "a grand total of 130,000 Tutsi survivors," which by his careful reckoning "gives a casualty figure of around 800,000 Tutsis killed in three months, to which an unknown number of opposition Hutu (between 10 and 30,000) must be added" (pp. 264-65).
As an addendum, the likelihood that Tutsis would self-identify as Hutus for census purposes was in fact acknowledged in the final census report itself, issued in April 1994, the very month the genocide erupted. "Given that the declaration of the ethnic group is not a simple matter in Rwanda," the report's authors noted, "one may wonder whether the current proportion of Hutu is not overestimated. Indeed, some members of other ethnic groups report that they are Hutu. This practice has existed since the end of the Tutsi Monarchy (1961)." This passage is quoted in Marijke Verpoorten's article for Population, published in 2005, available in full online, and again uncited by Herman & Peterson.
Note, finally, that even Herman & Peterson apparently regard much higher estimates of the Tutsi population as credible. They write on p. 55 of their book that Rwandan Tutsis constituted "a numerical minority in the country (at most 15 percent overall)" (emphasis added).
What of the issue of RPF atrocities, up to and including genocide against Hutus, both within Rwanda and in next-door D.R. Congo? My own engagement with this subject over the years bears comparison, I think, with that of anyone in genocide studies. And it is far more extensive and detailed than Herman & Peterson's.
In my first published piece on Rwanda ("Gender and Genocide in Rwanda," 2002), I pointed to the RPF's "apparent duplication" of Hutu Power strategies, particularly gender-selective ones, "both during the rebel invasion of Rwanda and in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 holocaust." Just as Herman & Peterson quoted from a US State Department memorandum to the effect that RPF killings after the genocide "served to reduce the population of Hutu males," I suggested back in 2002 that some of the widely-observed gender disparities (an underrepresentation of males) in post-genocide Rwanda might be linked to "a substantial underrepresentation of Hutu men," reflecting "the RPF's apparent duplication of Hutu Power's gendercidal strategies, both during the rebel invasion of Rwanda and in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 holocaust." I noted further that aside from gender-selective massacres, "the atrocities inflicted by the vengeful, predominantly Tutsi forces of the RPF also included a number of indiscriminate slaughters, such as the mid-April attack on a 'mixed group of hundreds of civilians and militia at the hill Kanazi [which] killed all except three persons,' and neighborhood sweeps at Murambi (Byumba prefecture) where the RPF 'killed seventy-eight persons, of whom forty-six were listed as children.'"
This analysis was based mostly on the work of the very human-rights investigator that Herman & Peterson so malign: Alison Des Forges. According to the authors, Des Forges was a tireless "advocate for the standard model of the 'Rwandan genocide'" (p. 129), and so deeply compromised that an investigative commission she co-chaired in Rwanda in March 1993 was "either directly funded by the RPF or infiltrated by it" (pp. 64-65; this according, naturally, to the gossipy Robin Philpot). Yet when Herman & Peterson declaim about the "suppressed Gersony report" (p. 59) at the UN, they at least have the grace to cite as a key source (p. 131) -- Des Forges's 1999 book, Leave None to Tell the Story! This includes some 35 pages on RPF atrocities and abuses during the April-July 1994 period. So a central piece of evidence supposedly undermining the standard model is culled from the author who typifies that model for Herman & Peterson. As this suggests, the scholarly mainstream on Rwanda is, in fact, a great deal more nuanced and balanced than Herman & Peterson fantasize, or themselves aspire to.
In the new edition of my Genocide textbook, printed a few days before I saw Herman & Peterson's critique of the first edition (or at least a version of it they know as Genocide: A Critical Introduction), I detailed further allegations levelled against the RPF for its conduct both before and during the genocide:
Mounting criticism of the RPF-dominated regime's authoritarianism has been accompanied by an increasingly skeptical appraisal, in the scholarly and other commentary on Rwanda over the past few years, of the actions of the RPF during the genocide, when its forces almost certainly massacred tens of thousands of Hutus in revenge for the scenes of carnage that their troops discovered as they advanced against the Hutu Power regime. Roméo Dallaire, commander of the UNAMIR forces in Rwanda, was harsh in his assessment of [the] RPF's performance before and during the genocide, condemning its "inability to see beyond [its] own self-interest" in his widely-read memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil. The RPF was "intransigent" and "relentlessly inflexible about any concessions that might have eased the tension in the country, both before the civil war broke out and later, when they had [government forces] on the run." On April 18, ceasefire negotiations broke down, and the RPF resumed its advance toward Kigali; for Dallaire, "it was absolutely plain that [the RPF] didn't want a ceasefire." Meeting in early May with RPF commander (now Rwandan president) Paul Kagame, he records Kagame's "pragmatic" demeanor, "the complete portrait of the cool warrior," and quotes him as saying: "There will be many sacrifices in this war. If the [Tutsi] refugees have to be killed for the cause, they will be considered as having been part of the sacrifice." According to Dallaire, it was only one of "several points" at which Kagame "talked candidly ... about the price his fellow Tutsis might have to pay for the cause." While serious attention to Tutsi/RPF abuses and atrocities was present at the outset in some human-rights commentary (see, e.g., Alison Des Forges's Leave None to Tell the Story) ... and has gradually percolated into the scholarly literature, it has been notably absent in the quest for justice since 1994. ... (pp. 360-61)
With reference to Rwanda's domestic politics, I quoted Gérard Prunier's contention that the RPF government was "perceived by the average Hutu peasant as a foreign government" (p. 360). In appraising whether, in its domestic policies, post-genocide Rwanda under the RPF should genuinely be counted as a "success story," I wrote that the issue was "controversial" in light of the Rwandan government's status as "a thinly disguised Tutsi dictatorship" (quoting René Lemarchand). I noted that "no opposition party was allowed to contest" the first two post-genocide elections (or, for that matter, the one just concluded), and cited a judgment by the UK Economist that the Kagame regime "allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe," while "anyone who poses the slightest political threat to the regime is dealt with ruthlessly." I also pointed out that part of Rwanda's spectacular post-genocide growth was ascribable to the "half-acknowledged boost [the economy received] from the looting of eastern Congo's rich resources, following the extension of Rwandan power there in 1996" (pp. 588-89). Further on D.R. Congo, I noted Rwanda's "depredations" against Hutus (p. 589), and wrote in my case study of this internationalized war:
... In 1997 Rwanda assisted the overthow of the Mobutu regime by Laurent Désiré Kabila, viewed as a Rwandan proxy and partner in the struggle against Hutu killers. En route to Kinshasa, Kabila's force and the Rwandan army rampaged against Hutu populations in eastern Congo. By one estimate, some 200,000 people died in these little-known, RPF-engineered, and so far unprosecuted massacres. It was, noted historian Gérard Prunier, "the first known instance of postcolonial imperial conquest in Africa by an African country."
In similar fashion, I detailed the atrocities of the Tutsi client militia leader, Laurent Nkunda, whose "record of violence in eastern Congo includes destroying entire villages, committing mass rapes, and causing hundreds of thousands of Congolese to flee their homes" (p. 369, quoting Howard French). A footnote explored the Rwandan government's "close ties to the warlord" (p. 376, again quoting French).
It is perfectly legitimate, and important, to highlight these aspects of the Kagame regime, and to explore relatively understudied elements of the Rwandan genocide, its aftermath, and the wars and genocides in D.R. Congo. That inquiry is in fact well advanced, conducted by scholars with deep knowledge and an abiding understanding of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. The long-overdue United Nations report leaked in August 2010, documenting in detail the Rwandan army's role in genocidal atrocities against Hutus in Congo during the 1996 "clearing of the camps" and after, is clearly a watershed that no scholar or student of the region -- and no analyst of Rwanda and the RPF -- will be able to ignore.
It remains, nonetheless, malicious and profoundly illegitimate to deny the systematic genocidal killing of Tutsis in Rwanda, by diverse institutional agents of "Hutu Power," from April to July 1994. Such brazen denialism is what Herman & Peterson have propounded, online and in The Politics of Genocide. In Herman's case, this besmirches an often honorable career on the progressive left, though the decline was already well advanced -- he has gained notoriety in recent years for efforts to obscure and deny the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, among other inexplicably reactionary campaigns.
The only humane and politically mature response to such denial, on the left and elsewhere, is to confront it squarely, and reject it unequivocally.
November 17, 2010
Text is to be considered final.
 Notes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 20, 26. I will not respond here to Herman & Peterson's criticisms of my textbook, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (Routledge, 2006), except to express a hope that the second edition, just published (August 2010), will assuage them somewhat. It includes more material (including three photos) on US genocide in Vietnam, a case-study of genocide in Iraq since 2003, the revised death-toll they mention for the wars of the Yugoslav succession, and many other emendations and additions. Herman & Peterson also cite my edited book Genocide, War Crimes & the West: History & Complicity, though they don't draw conclusions about what this might suggest about my leftist-progressive credentials. I have much more commonly been denounced as anti-American than as an imperialist stooge (see, e.g., "Genocide Scholar 'Silenced' on Academic List For Comments About Bombing of Afghanistan", Counterpunch, October 26, 2001). My work has been warmly praised by Michael Parenti, Richard Falk, Mike Davis, and other leftist luminaries. Intriguingly, around the time that Herman & Peterson's post appeared, so did a review of Genocide, War Crimes & the West (first published in 2004) in The Red Phoenix, blog of the communist American Party of Labor. According to this far-left source, "Adam Jones' book ... is an incredibly revealing anthology containing accounts of atrocities carried out by Western imperial capitalism and those who serve its interests abroad. Articles describing the little-known and little-understood history of imperialist actions from Algeria to Vietnam, Armenia to Yugoslavia, and even the genocide of Native peoples by colonialism in the United States and Canada are reproduced in this essential text. Jones' book serves as an important lesson to its readers about the reality behind the United States and other powers' attempts to 'spread democracy and civilization' at gunpoint, as well as to remind those who advocate 'peaceful resistance' to imperialism of the futility of their position."
 I will not seek to evaluate the credibility of the estimate of 300,000 Tutsi survivors offered by the survivors' organization Ibuka, except to note that (1) it is exceptional to my knowledge, and I can think offhand of all manner of reasons for a survivors' estimate or roll to be inflated, as I'm sure Herman & Peterson can; (2) it is typical of Herman & Peterson's method to combine the lowest available estimate of Tutsis living in Rwanda at the time of the 1994 genocide with the highest available estimate of survivors in the aftermath; and (3) if Rwanda is the totalitarian dictatorship that Herman & Peterson allege it is, then surely any such organization must be a craven patsy of the Kagame regime. Why, then, would the authors accept its estimate as gospel -- except that it is too convenient to resist?
 Verpoorten pointed out further that in three population counts carried out by the Belgian colonial authority (in 1933, 1952 and 1956), "data show much higher proportions of Tutsi than under the Hutu regime: respectively 15.3%, 17.5% and 16.6%." While "this hardly constitutes evidence for the under-reporting of Tutsi" in the 1990 census, it is suggestive. And Verpoorten's own statistical inquiry in Gikongoro prefecture finds that while Tutsis were counted as 12.8% in the 1990 census, local population data, which she considers more reliable, has the population at 17.5% Tutsi. "... Interestingly, if the scale of under-reporting at the national level was the same as that found in Gikongoro -- i.e., about 40% -- the calculated death toll would be close to 800,000, in the order of magnitude put forward by Gérard Prunier ..." (However, Verpoorten herself supplies "an estimate of 500,900 Tutsi killed in the genocide, a loss of 77.0% of the Tutsi population of Rwanda.")
 It is worth noting that Des Forges claims "the number of civilians slain [by the RPF] diminished markedly after late September " (p. 732). This was the very month that the State Department memo cited by Herman & Peterson was prepared, describing "10,000 or more Hutu civilians [killed] per month" since the outbreak of mass violence in April. The order of magnitude of the killing, as described in the State Department memo, is in keeping with the findings of the Gersony commission and Des Forges ("Gersony himself reportedly estimated that during the months from April to August the RPF had killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons, between 5,000 and 10,000 persons each month from April through July and 5,000 for the month of August" [Leave None to Tell the Story, p. 728]).
 In The Politics of Genocide, Herman & Peterson appear to retreat a grudging half-step from their denialist stance on Srebrenica. They still contemptibly place the "Srebrenica massacre" in scare-quotes, and proclaim that "the case for eight thousand 'men and boys' being executed at Srebrenica is extremely thin ..." "But even if an event such as the Srebrenica massacre occurred exactly as accepted by the Western establishment, we are still faced with the anomaly that the total number of deaths in Bosnia ... pales into relative insignificance ...," etc., etc. (pp. 47-48, emphasis added).
A couple of further points. I realized after crafting this response that in fact, the very first thing I published on Rwanda was not the "Gender and Genocide in Rwanda" article from 2002, but a snippet in my 2000 article for the Journal of Genocide Research, "Gendercide and Genocide". The snippet in question concerned not Hutu atrocities against Tutsis in 1994, but RPF atrocities against political dissidents in 1997. The quote was from Seth Sendashonga, the ex-Minister of the Interior in the RPF government, speaking from exile in Kenya. I felt strongly enough about it to transcribe it personally from a video source: "I've been a member of the RPF since April 1991," said Sendashonga. "I know a lot about the massacres committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. The RPF wanted to establish its supremacy, and to do so they had to eliminate any potential rival. In many cases the Army came for men, ages 18 to 55, and took them away by night, never to be seen again. Their families search for them in vain, in the prisons of Rwanda, but they all died at the hands of the Rwandan Patriotic Army. The general pattern was to select youth and men who were still active, as well as leaders, teachers, farming instructors -- anyone who played a role, any community leader was particularly singled out." This was presented as an emblematic case of "gendercide," hence genocide, in my analysis.
A second and final thought, concerning the supposed discombobulation of all Hutu Power forces in 1994, such that Herman & Peterson cannot conceive of them as having sponsored or organized the mass killing of defenseless Tutsis. If these forces were so utterly inept and fragmented, how did they manage one of the most rapid and intricately-organized refugee flows in history -- at the end of the genocide, as the RPF pushed Hutu Power's allies and quiescent civilian population into forced exile in Zaire (D.R. Congo)? In that exile, at least 1.2 million refugees were organized according to their original prefecture/commune/cell structure in Rwanda. The structure held under de facto Hutu administration until the camps were liquidated, and at least tens of thousands of Hutus exterminated, by the RPF.
How was that possible, Messrs. Herman & Peterson? How did forces not "in control of anything" manage to orchestrate this almost surreal flow of over a million Rwandan Hutus, and their subsequent micro-organization and administration in the camps? Go figure.
This text may be freely circulated and reproduced.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
|Bodies of Rwandans murdered in the 1994 genocide, washed up on the
Ugandan shores of Lake Victoria.
(Photo by David Blumenkrantz)
Monday, May 21, 2012
Genocide Denial / Rwandan Genocide / Srebrenica Massacre
My Fight May Be Hopeless, But It Is As Necessary As Ever
By George Monbiot
The Guardian (UK), May 21, 2012
"The term genocide conjures up attempts to kill an entire people: the German slaughter of the Jews or the Herero; the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians; the near-extermination of the Native Americans. But the identity of the crime does not depend on its scale or success: genocide means 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group'. Though, in 1995, the women and children of Srebrenica were first removed from the killing grounds by Bosnian Serb troops, though the 8,000 men and boys they killed were a small proportion of the Bosnian Muslim population, it meets the definition.
So the trial of Ratko Mladic, the troops' commander, which began last week, matters. Whatever one thinks of the even-handedness of international law, and though it remains true that men who commissioned or caused the killing of greater numbers of people (George Bush and Tony Blair, for instance) have not been brought to justice and are unlikely to be, every prosecution of this kind makes the world a better place. So attempts to downplay or dismiss this crime matter too -- especially when they emerge from the unlikely setting of the internationalist left. I'm using this column to pursue a battle which might be hopeless, and which many of you might regard as obscure.
Perhaps I have become obsessed, but it seems to me to be necessary. Tacitly on trial beside Mladic in The Hague is a set of ideas: in my view the left's most disturbing case of denial and doublethink since the widespread refusal to accept that Stalin had engineered a famine in the Ukraine. I first raised this issue a year ago, when I sharply criticised a book by two luminaries of the left, Edward Herman and David Peterson. The Politics of Genocide seeks to downplay or dismiss both the massacre of Bosniaks at Srebrenica in 1995 and the genocide of Tutsis committed by Hutu militias in Rwanda in 1994. Their claims are extraordinary: that the cause of death of the 'vast majority' of the Bosniaks at Srebrenica remains 'undetermined'; that rather than 800,000 or more Tutsis being killed by Hutu militias in Rwanda, 'the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million', while members of the Hutus' Interahamwe militia were the 'actual victims' of genocide. What has changed since then is that the movement to which I thought I belonged has closed ranks: against attempts to challenge this revisionism, against the facts, in effect against the victims of these genocides.
My attempts to pursue this question number among the most dispiriting experiences of my working life. After I covered the issue last year, Herman and Peterson wrote a long denunciation on the Znet site. I believe in testing every proposition, so I set out to discover whether, as they insisted, I was wrong. I consulted four of the world's leading genocide scholars: Martin Shaw, Adam Jones, Linda Melvern and Marko Attila Hoare. I asked them each to write a brief response to the claims the two men made on Znet. Their statements, which I have also posted on my website, are devastating. They accuse Herman and Peterson of obfuscating, distorting and misrepresenting the evidence, and of engaging in genocide denial.
For Edward Herman and David Peterson to be right, the entire canon of serious scholarship, human rights investigations, exhumations and witness statements would have to be wrong. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But they offer little but the recycled claims of genocidaires and genocide deniers, mashed up with their own misrepresentations.
But this discovery did not disturb me as much as the responses of their supporters. I wrote to Michael Albert, the publisher of Znet, asking whether he might publish Martin Shaw's review of Herman and Peterson's book (originally published in the Journal of Genocide Research) as a counterweight to their article. He flatly refused, then went on to accuse me of a long list of heinous beliefs. I wrote to Noam Chomsky, a hero of mine, who provided the foreword to Herman and Peterson's book, asking whether he had read it and whether he accepted the accounts it contains of the Rwandan genocide and the massacre of Srebrenica. Watching that brilliant mind engage in high-handed dismissal and distraction has been profoundly depressing. While failing to answer my questions, he accused me of following the Washington script (I have posted our correspondence on my website). John Pilger, who wrote a glowing endorsement of the book, volunteered this response: 'Chef Monbiot is a curiously sad figure. All those years of noble green crusading now dashed by his Damascene conversion to nuclear power's poisonous devastations and his demonstrable need for establishment recognition -- a recognition which, ironically, he already enjoyed.' The leftwing magazine Counterpunch cited my article as evidence that I am a member of the 'thought police', and that the role of the Guardian is 'to limit the imaginative horizons of readers'.
Thus has this infectious idiocy spread through the political community to which I belong. The people I criticise here rightly contend that western governments and much of the western media ignore or excuse atrocities committed by the United States and its allies, while magnifying those committed by forces deemed hostile. But they then appear to create a mirror image of this one-sided narrative, minimising the horrors committed by forces considered hostile to the US and its allies. Perhaps this looks to you like the kind of esoteric infighting to which the left too often succumbs, but this seems to me to be important: as important as any other human rights issue. If people who claim to care about justice and humanity cannot resist what looks to me like blatant genocide denial, we find ourselves in a very dark place.
Those of us who seek to judge a
case on its merits, rather than according to the identity of the victims
and perpetrators, have a duty to defend the memory of people being
airbrushed by Herman, Peterson and their supporters. This does not make
us apologists for western power, or establishment flunkies or thought
police. It means only that we care about the facts."
[See also Monbiot's correspondence with Chomsky and the statements of genocide scholars.]
This is supporting material for the article See No Evil.
Posted on monbiot.com, 21st May 2012
I asked four of the world’s leading genocide scholars to assess Herman and Peterson’s response to my first article about their claims, in order to discover whether I had got it wrong. Here is what they said.
Statement by Professor Adam Jones, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, author of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction.
“Ed Herman’s shift from unmasking atrocities, as with Vietnam, to denying and concealing them in the cases of Srebrenica and Rwanda, is one of the most depressing things I have witnessed on the left. Herman began grinding a denier’s axe on Srebrenica soon after the events — perhaps out of some nostalgic attachment to the oppressive and atrocious ‘Yugoslav’ government of Slobodan Milosevic. His more recent intervention on Rwanda is truly his nadir. He has demonstrated no past familiarity or competence with this case, and yet he advances what is probably the most systematic denial of the Tutsi genocide I have ever read, at least from anyone who’s not on trial for genocide or defending them.
“Herman and Peterson present an interpretation of the events in Rwanda from April to July 1994 that is a straightforward inversion of the reality accepted, and studied in intimate detail, by every major scholar and investigator of the subject. I am not aware of a single exception in comparative genocide studies and scholarship on Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. This is quite analogous to declaring that the Jewish Holocaust did not occur, and in fact, the real victims were Germans slaughtered by Jews. Herman and Peterson contend that the ‘only well-organized’ killing force in Rwanda during this period was the Tutsi-dominated RPF. The RPF certainly committed major and possibly genocidal atrocities in Rwanda in 1994, claiming tens of thousands of victims. But this was dwarfed by the Hutu holocaust of Tutsis, which exterminated up to a million people. Herman and Peterson completely obfuscate the agents of ‘Hutu Power,’ the killing squads that roamed every corner of Rwanda available to them for week after week, hunting down every last ragged Tutsi survivor they could find, checking in and out of their day’s duties like clockwork. They were organized and mobilized by an apparatus of hate that sprang into immediate action when the Hutu president Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in April 1994. How much detailed pre-planning of the killing there was is a legitimate question. But to baldly deny that systematic and generalized killing of Tutsis occurred in those three apocalyptic months is to deny the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, and to do it in such a casual and malicious way that it leaves me slack-jawed.
“There is also a sense in which, while not racist in themselves, Herman and Peterson’s contentions rely on the racism once described by a central object of their criticism, the late Alison Des Forges. Talking about western inaction during the Tutsi genocide of 1994, she said that ‘Rwanda was simply too remote … too poor, too little, and probably too black to be worthwhile.’ Most people today have trouble telling Hutus from Tutsis in a country so distant from centers of power. And hey, who really cares anyway? That’s the type of widespread ignorance and callousness that Herman and Peterson exploit — the kind they need, if their nonsense is to slide past.”
Statement by Linda Melvern, investigative journalist and author of A People Betrayed and Conspiracy to Murder.
“The work of Herman and Peterson is genocide denial; it is presented under the guise of scholarly debate. It is a part of a number of statements and articles aimed at obfuscating, distorting, minimising or even denying the genocide of the minority Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
“A programme of genocide denial was begun in April 1994 as the massacres spread. It was devised by the génocidaires themselves. Its aim was to prove to the world that the huge number of civilian deaths in Rwanda was due to “fighting” in a resumed civil war. This view was actively promoted by the Rwandan ambassador sitting in the UN Security Council in New York. Later on the campaign shifted focus and the perpetrators began desperately to try to prove that a plan to eliminate the Tutsi had never existed — there had been no Conspiracy to Murder. This one great lie would become the foundation stone of the defence case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). It is a view actively promoted by key defence lawyers from the ICTR who claim that the genocide of the Tutsi is “a myth”. They maintain that “ a standard account” of events — or what has even been called an “idealised history” of events — is deeply flawed. Herman and Peterson have relied on genocidaires and their lawyers for their accounts of what they believe took place.
“There is overwhelming evidence to counter this common denial. The conclusions of the UN Security Council’s Independent Commission of Experts in December 1994 reported to the Council that the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide had been “massively violated” in Rwanda between April 6 and July 15. The experts had found “overwhelming evidence” to show that the extermination of the Tutsi had been premeditated and planned months in advance; a conspiracy to destroy Tutsi is confirmed as fact by judges at the ICTR.
“Over the years the manipulation of the evidence and disinformation has influenced journalists, students and academics. In France, in Belgium, in the USA, in Canada and in the UK the denial of the genocide of the Tutsi has served to detract from continuing efforts to investigate the circumstances of what happened; in my own case have been attempts to try to prevent publication of on-going research.”
Statement by Professor Martin Shaw, Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals / University of Roehampton / University of Sussex
“Edward Herman and David Peterson, in their reply to George Monbiot, do little to respond to the wave of incredulity and revulsion which their denial of genocide and its endorsement by Noam Chomsky are causing.
“They misrepresent Monbiot, a widely respected radical journalist, as a cog in a Guardian-Observer propaganda machine which – in turn – is simply churning out a version of something called the ‘Western party-line’. Such crude, amalgamated constructs not only make serious debate difficult, but are also designed to damage one of the most important arenas for critical information and debate in the mainstream media – in precisely one of the areas in which it has been strongest, reporting on and debating crimes against humanity.
“Herman and Peterson do this because, as I have argued in my full review in the Journal of Genocide Research, their Politics of Genocide ‘does not stop at raising … counter-examples to the Western mainstream. Instead, it engages in what can only be described as extensive genocide denial.’ Deniers need to block out key information and misrepresent opponents to support their perverse world-views. As the sociologist Stanley Cohen puts it in a classic study, ‘One common thread runs through the many different stories of denial: people, organizations, governments or whole societies are presented with information that is too disturbing, threatening or anomalous to be fully absorbed or openly acknowledged. The information is therefore somehow repressed, disavowed, pushed aside or reinterpreted. Or else the information “registers” well enough, but its implications – cognitive, emotional or moral – are evaded, neutralized or rationalized away.’
“What is the information which disturbs Herman and Peterson? They cannot accept what has now been established by extensive and rigorous enquiry, that in 1995 unarmed Bosniak men and boys from the Srebrenica ‘safe area’, who were captured by Bosnian-Serbian forces, were murdered in cold blood. They suggested in their book that the case was ‘extremely thin, resting in good part on the difficulty of separating executions from battle killings’. This is a classic genocide denial mechanism (which can be traced back to the Armenian genocide), representing genocidal killing as really only war, suggesting that the victims were not really civilians (they might have been killed in battle), or if they were, as killed accidentally in the course of fighting.
“Herman and Peterson believe that their trump card against Monbiot is that he ‘fails to mention that … we point out that the Bosnian Serbs “had taken the trouble to bus all the women, children, and the elderly men to safety”.’ What this shows, however, is that they do not understand genocide, which involves not just indiscriminate attacks on entire populations, but narrower, targeted violence – as often against men of military age (as potential resisters) as against women (whose sexual violation completes the humiliation of a community).
“They also cannot accept that an exceptionally large, fast campaign of mass murder was carried out by Rwandan Hutu Power forces in 1994, claiming that the ‘great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million’. Claiming that Monbiot’s objections are ‘laughable’, they ridicule him for running ‘to his readers with the scoop that we are so sloppy in our use of sources’.
“Yet the principal academic reference for Herman and Peterson’s claim is an unpublished paper, ‘Rwandan Political Violence in Space and Time’, which they attribute to Christian Davenport and Allan Stam and source to Davenport’s website, dated to 2004. Yet on page 37 of the same paper (which while citing a database compiled jointly with Stam, is attributed only to Davenport and dated 2008), are printed in black and white the following unequivocal conclusions: ‘we find that the majority of killings take place in the zone under government control (accounting for approximately 990,000 deaths). They are the ones directly responsible for almost all of the political violence.’ (Accessed on 17 October 2011)
“A charitable explanation could be that Davenport’s paper has been updated since 2004, and this conclusion added since then, although 2008 was still well before The Politics of Genocide went to press. But Herman and Peterson can hardly have missed a clear line of argument which, while qualifying previous accounts of the Rwandan genocide, does not undermine the conclusion that the majority of killing in Rwanda in 1994 was committed by Hutu Power forces. The difference is that Davenport and Stam want to raise questions about the narrative of genocide; Herman and Peterson want to fully overturn it.
“So they are sloppy with their sources: it is they, in the nice phrase they use against Monbiot, who are ‘hit-and-run intellectuals’, scooping up quotes and references without due care. As Cohen says, in denial ‘information is … somehow repressed, disavowed, pushed aside or reinterpreted.’ We find bucket-loads of all these tendencies in Herman and Peterson – and their patron, Chomsky. Indeed one suspects that, as Cohen continued, ‘the information “registers” well enough, but its implications – cognitive, emotional or moral – are evaded, neutralized or rationalized away.’
“The remaining question is why do the Chomskyites do it? The obvious answer is political: they have such a huge investment in the idea that the USA and the West are the source of all the world’s evils, that they can only process information to fit this case. More complex answers might include, that like their fellow deniers in the former LM coterie, they are building an intellectual and political niche out of contrarian positions. The danger is that such nonsense, with its pseudo-scholarly apparatus of extensive footnotes and media science, finds a ready audience among the political idealistic.”
Statement by Dr Marko Attila Hoare, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, London.
“The extent of Herman’s and Peterson’s cynicism in their misuse of source material is simply breathtaking. Thus, they make much of the findings of Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre (RDC), that total Bosnian war deaths – narrowly defined – were approximately 100,000. Yet where the RDC’s findings contradict Herman’s and Peterson’s revisionist scribblings, they pass over them in silence. Thus, they continue both to deny the Srebrenica massacre and to parrot the myth that Bosnian Muslim forces themselves massacred thousands of Serbs in the Srebrenica region. Yet the RDC’s findings have comprehensively disproved the latter myth while providing further strong evidence – if any were needed – that Serb forces massacred over eight thousand Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995.