BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Samantha Power, where did you get the title for your book, "A Problem From Hell"?
SAMANTHA POWER, AUTHOR, "A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE": I took it from Warren Christopher's statement during the war in Bosnia, when he described the hatred between the groups in the former Yugoslavia as "almost unbelievable, almost terrifying. It was a problem from hell," which implied that there was nothing much we on the outside could do about it.
LAMB: Your subtitle on the book is "America and the Age of Genocide." Where did the word "genocide" come from?
POWER: Genocide is -- one of my great discoveries in the course of writing this book was that it's a recent invention and innovation. You would have thought that the word had been with us as long as the crime, you know, back from the Bible forward. But in fact, it was a Polish Jew named Raphael Lemkin, who'd lost 49 members of his family, who decided he was going to devote the rest of his life after the Holocaust to banning a crime that was then called "barbarity." And he said to himself, you know, I need a word that somehow connotes the evil that we're describing. And he, you know, went through his notebooks, and so on.
He tested out a bunch of other different expressions before. And finally, in 1944, he settled upon the word "genocide." And he had fled Poland, which was his homeland, and gone via Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden, and ended up in the United States. So he was actually working for the State Department here, the War Department, in 1944, when he coined this term. And he then spent the rest of his life, first of all, trying to get it into Webster's and the OED and Larousse and all the dictionaries, but then recognized -- he was a lawyer, and he recognized that a word, a free-floating word that connoted evil but that didn't commit anybody to doing anything about it wasn't enough. So what he did four years after coining the word is draft the first-ever UN human rights treaty, which was the genocide convention. And then he spent the rest of his life -- he died in 1959 -- trying to get the genocide convention through the United Nations General Assembly and then, most fundamentally and most crucially, through the U.S. Senate, which he actually failed to do.
LAMB: What does "genocide" mean?
POWER: Very controversial, obviously, to this day, Raphael Lemkin notwithstanding. The definition settled upon in the UN treaty is "a systematic attempt to destroy in whole or in substantial part a national, ethnic or religious group as such." So the idea here is that you don't have to exterminate every last member of a group to commit genocide. If you just intend to wipe out the group as a meaningful entity on a territory, that's enough. So it's more expansive than our associations, which are with the Holocaust.
LAMB: When did genocide start in the world?
POWER: The practice? Again, Genesis, I think. It's been with us forever. There's a tendency of groups who feel themselves under siege, who feel like they're risking losing something, either because a minority group is claiming their rights and -- and usually, there's some kind of economic dislocation and some kind of catalyst, in terms of, you know, a plane crash or the outbreak of war. Genocide often happens under the cover of war. But where one group sets out to systematically destroy another group, either by murdering everybody, as Hitler did and as the Rwandan Hutus set out to do, or as in Bosnia, by ethnically deporting an entire populace, namely, the Bosnian Muslims, killing a huge number of them because the only way to get rid of a populace is to convince them that returning would mean a death sentence, and degrading the women by setting up rape camps and other things. There are lots of sort of forms that genocide has taken over time.
And I think one of the problems that Lemkin has encountered, or that his legacy has encountered, is that people do associate the word "genocide" with the Holocaust. And there's a tendency to sort of say, you know, we can't use the word until it's 6 million, or until we have full proof that the perpetrator group is setting out to exterminate every last member. And it just would make Lemkin turn over in his grave because he was so adamant that the Holocaust not be the standard because, obviously, then preventive action, if it were to come, would necessarily come too late.
LAMB: There's a picture of a person that we've seen a lot here in this town, but it's an earlier in his life picture, a senator by the name of William Proxmire. Why is he in your book?
POWER: Well, after Lemkin died in 1959, the genocide convention, which had been ratified by just about every Western democracy, languished in the United States. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee wanted no part of it. A number of Southern senators were actually afraid that they would be hauled up on genocide charges because of Jim Crow and lynchings, and segregation more generally. And they thought the language in the convention was too expansive. So they basically torpedoed the convention. And Lemkin died, as I mentioned, in 1959. Eight years later, William Proxmire took up Lemkin's cause, became a kind of Lemkinian crusader. My main goal in this book is for the word "Lemkinian" to become an adjective to describe single-minded, monomaniac, obsessive-compulsive humanitarian. And Proxmire became that. He stood up on the Senate floor in 1967 and he said, "I'm going to give a speech a day for as long as it takes to get this convention through. I can't believe that the U.S. Senate could not have ratified this law. It's a genocide convention, for crying out loud."
And he said each speech is going to be different. And he thought in his mind it would take six months, a year. He thought it was a legislative quirk. Well, 19 years, 3,211 original speeches later, Proxmire, a little creakier at the joints, was still standing, still giving his ritual speech a day with a -- you know, in the hopes of getting this convention through.
LAMB: You said that by the time the United States approved the Geneva -- I mean, the Genocide Convention, it was the 98th country, or something like that?
POWER: Absolutely. Yes. And you know, what's very interesting is how the ratification actually came about because, unfortunately -- I wish I could say it was Lemkin and Proxmire teaming up and these two kind of zany, you know, kind of Cassandra figures had succeeded in bringing enough people around, but it actually was -- and it's very important -- the reason that the ratification came about was for very, very political reasons.
Ronald Reagan, you might remember, visited the SS graves in Bitburg, or he visited the cemetery of Bitburg in West Germany, and there were SS soldiers who were buried there. There was a firestorm of protest in the United States -- I mean, protests in 15 American cities, with tens of thousands of people coming out, Jewish groups, veterans' groups, labor groups, church groups, people really unhappy with Reagan.
And even though he knew that this outrage was brewing, he went ahead and proceeded with the trip because he wasn't one to back down under public pressure. And people said, "Oh, you know, your reputation has really suffered. There is this public outrage."
And as soon as he got back, he summoned to his Oval Office a lieutenant colonel on the National Security Council staff -- incidentally, named Oliver North -- and he said, Wasn't there a genocide convention lying around somewhere? And North said, "Yes, sir. There was and there is, and it's in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and no president has really invested any political capital in getting it through the committee. There's this crazy guy, Proxmire, who's been standing up and yammering for the last 19 years." And Reagan said, "Well, let's do it."
And within the year, it had cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and come up for a full vote in the Senate. And there it did very, very well. We attached a number of reservations to it that kind of protected American soldiers and -- and political leaders. So it sort of undermined the ratification, but at least it came about.
And what we would see, of course, in the 1990s, when genocide would happen, is that even though we'd attached these reservations, U.S. officials within the government and advocates outside used the convention and used America's signature -- finally, belated signature -- to try to generate a response on the grounds that we had committed ourselves to doing so.
LAMB: You have over 600 pages, 14 chapters. I'm going to quickly read some of the chapters. Six -- "Cambodia: Helpless Giant." Eight -- "Iraq: Human Rights and Chemical Weapons Use Aside." Nine -- "Bosnia: No More Than Witnesses at a Funeral." Ten -- "Rwanda: Mostly in a Listing Mode." Eleven -- "Srebrenica: Getting Creamed" is the subtitle. Twelve -- "Kosovo: A Dog and a Fight."
What are the -- why are these the names of chapters? What is the purpose?
POWER: Well, most of the chapter titles -- they're all a little bit different, in terms of where the quotations come from, but they tend to be from U.S. government documents. One of the things I had the great privilege of doing was working with the National Security Archive, a non-governmental group based here in Washington, to use the Freedom of Information Act to get these documents declassified. And so I just took advantage of the collection that they had amassed, worked with them and sort of -- when I had conducted an interview and learned about a document, would tell them about it, but they really do the heavy lifting.
And these documents you would just see in very, very sterile, cold, bureaucratic language, phrases like "Human rights and chemical weapons use aside" -- comma -- "Saddam Hussein really looks like he can be a reliable partner in the Middle East." You know, the Kosovo title that you mentioned, "A Dog and a Fight," was my sort of play on words because James Baker had said in relationship to the war on Bosnia -- very much like Warren Christopher's characterization of it as "a problem from hell," Baker had said, "We don't have a dog in that fight." And in Kosovo, we had a dog, or perceived ourselves to have a dog, and consequently, we had a fight.
LAMB: How'd you get into this, in the first place?
POWER: I was a reporter, a young reporter, pretty idealistic, in Bosnia during the war there. I went over in 1993 for the first time and left, finally, in 1996.
LAMB: Writing for?
POWER: Writing for, stringing for "U.S. News & World Report" and "The Economist," and then my last year for "The Washington Post." And I was -- it was hard to do. There was an incredible community of journalists there that were very embracing for somebody who didn't know what she was doing and -- but it was very hard because the NATO planes were flying overhead every day, and they're -- and they're monitoring what is going on, but they're not intervening. They're not stopping it.
And I felt, especially once I was able to write for the "Post" and cover some -- some big stories for them, that I was at the height of my potential
POWER: as a journalist. You know, even if I were a staff correspondent, the best I could do, as a foreign correspondent, would be to be writing on the front page of "The Washington Post" during a big foreign news story. And it seemed to be doing no good whatsoever.
So I left Bosnia, actually, initially, in September, '95, and decided to go to law school, thinking that I would try to prosecute the bad guys and -- who really were bad and who had just committed the largest single massacre in Europe in 50 years, the massacre you mentioned in Srebrenica. And I came back very sort of dispirited about the power of the pen, very dispirited about the United States and foreign policy.
Clinton had made a whole series of commitments in the campaign about what he was going to do and had won my love, as a result, and my vote. And you know, when he got into office, he just decided that the costs of engagement were much greater than the non-costs of staying uninvolved. And when I returned to the United States, ironically, literally the day I got to Boston to go to law school, NATO intervened.
And it was only through reporting for this book and doing the other side of the story -- so not what was going on in Bosnia, but the policy story -- that I realized why that intervention had come about, which is really very much about American domestic politics, which is the thesis of the book, which is that the battle to stop genocide is lost in the realm of domestic politics, and that is where it can be won, if it's to be won.
But we did bomb, and I -- and I just -- while I was in law school, I just spent my early months there just trying to figure out why the Bosnian Muslims had been so excluded from the universe of moral obligation and why it was that everywhere I went, even in Boston, the remembrance of the Holocaust, which was so important and which was kind of building to a crescendo -- there were more Holocaust-related news stories in the first five years of the 1990s than in the previous 45 years combined. The Holocaust Museum, of course, had opened up on the Mall in Washington. And this seemed a very appropriate, you know, boom in remembrance and commemoration, but it didn't seem to translate into any kind of cognitive or moral dissonance, even though we had just allowed these people -- in my judgment, anyway -- to die for 3 1/2 years.
So what the book was an effort to do was to sort of figure out what made the Bosnian Muslims different. You know, if we said never again and we meant it, why didn't we mean it for them? Well, it didn't take me long to realize that, actually, we'd done more for the Bosnian Muslims than any victim of genocide in the 20th century, in fact.
And that was sort of jarring for me, to realize that as frustrating as it had been to see the NATO planes flying overhead and these little boys and girls getting picked off their bicycles and men herded into concentration camps and to feel that we could have done something, to later realize that even the mere act of having planes fly overhead, to the extent that it deterred, it was the greatest deterrence and greatest investment in preventing or deterring genocide that this country had made.
LAMB: Your law school was Harvard?
POWER: It was, yes.
LAMB: What year did you get your law degree?
POWER: Well, I took a year off in the middle of it to work on the book, so '99.
LAMB: Where'd you get your undergraduate degree?
POWER: At Yale College.
LAMB: Your home town is where?
POWER: Complicated! I immigrated to this country with my -- my family came in 1979, when I was 9, and...
LAMB: Where from?
POWER: From Ireland, from Dublin. And I went to high school in Atlanta, Georgia, and then began moving around, once I went to college.
LAMB: Why from Ireland? Why'd they come here?
POWER: There was no divorce in Ireland back then. Actually, it's a very recent innovation. And my parents were splitting up, so my mother came over with my stepfather, and this was the land of the free, and you could freely disengage from past commitments. So -- and we stayed -- you had to stay here, I think, five years to get a divorce, but we ended up just staying forever.
LAMB: And where do you hang your hat now?
POWER: Winthrop, Massachusetts.
LAMB: Doing what?
POWER: Watching a lot of Red Sox baseball games, now that I'm finished with this beast of a book. And I run something called the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. It's something that I founded with a tremendous entrepreneur named Greg Carr, who invented voicemail and who decided that what the world needed was not necessarily more human rights groups and more advocacy and more documentation of abuses, what it needed was a kind of human rights policy think thank, where you could actually reflect on what works and what doesn't, both in terms of governmental policy and in terms of NGO advocacy.
And this book, in many ways, is a real outgrowth of that kind of thinking. I mean, it's an effort to not just lament U.S. policy for the last hundred years but really try to understand what is it that makes it tick and what is it that makes each of the individual actors tick within it in the face of these enormities.
But anyway, this Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, I hope, will be with us for a very long time. I'm actually leaving the position of executive director, but Michael Ignatieff, who I'm sure has been on your program in the past, is the faculty director. And this will shepherd it into the -- the next generation of human rights crises.
LAMB: What are you doing then?
POWER: I'm going to take some time off and begin working on new projects and will teach at the Kennedy School beginning in 2003.
LAMB: Philosophically -- you mentioned being a journalist, writing for "The Washington Post." What should a journalist do in their job as a reporter? Should they advocate?
POWER: I don't -- I don't think it's our job to advocate, but I certainly -- I don't think neutrality in the face of genocide is appropriate -- an appropriate stance, either. And I think one of the things you see -- and it was very interesting to go back through other cases -- again, not my own, but Rwanda and Cambodia and some of the other major cases of genocide -- is to see journalists bending over backwards -- upon being greeted with the unthinkable -- that is, atrocities of this scale just sort of do not compute.
But upon being greeted with that, immediately, because of this bias toward neutrality and because we're all trained in that way, bending over backwards to try to find atrocities committed by the victim people against those sort of alleged perpetrator people, so as to do a kind of two-sided account.
Well, the thing about genocide is that it's not two-sided. I mean, you may have isolated abuses committed by people who happen to have arms in the victim group, but for the most part, as in the case in Bosnia, it was -- 90 percent of the atrocities were committed by the Serbs against non-Serbs, especially in the early part of that crisis. And yet our tendency was to say, OK, well, if we -- if we've reported a massacre against Muslims, let's go find a massacre against Serbs. And I think that was a huge mistake.
And you saw journalists over time growing out of it, as they came to realize that neutrality and objectivity are two different things, that you don't actually have to be neutral, you do have to be objective. But often, objectivity will take you to a place where you are telling the story with the proportions that it -- that it warrants.
LAMB: You have a cover here of a cemetery. Where is this?
POWER: This is the Line (ph) Cemetery in Sarajevo, so I thought it was an appropriate juxtaposition with Warren Christopher's account of the violence in the former Yugoslavia, that it was insoluble. And I think one of the lessons that one gathers over the course of the century, in addition to the lesson that lots of bodies will pile up and there will be lots of cemeteries, whose numbers are, you know, expanded dramatically -- but one of the lessons is that usually, these crimes are committed by a discrete, namable set of perpetrators, many of whom these days carry cell phones, can be contacted, you know, are known.
We had a U.S. diplomat in the Rwanda -- during the Rwanda genocide, where 800,000 people were killed in 100 days -- our deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, Prudence Bushnell, had the cell phone numbers of the perpetrators and would call them up. She would set her alarm for 2:00 in the morning and call them up and say, Col. Bagosora, I want you to know that if you don't stop the genocide, the president will hold you personally responsible. She was all smoke and mirrors. The president hadn't given her any such instructions.
But they are nameable. They are -- they are findable, and they are stoppable. But it's not something we've chosen to make a priority just yet.
LAMB: You often tell the stories in here with a person. And one of those is Henry Morgenthau Sr. Who was he? And what's the story around him?
POWER: Henry Morgenthau Sr. is my first -- what I've come to call "upstander." This is a book very much about bystanding, as you know. But it's told through the incredible struggles of upstanders, of people who stand up within or outside the system. And Morgenthau was the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman empire, back in 1915, when the Turks began to systematically deport and murder and destroy its -- their Armenian minority.
And what's interesting about Morgenthau, number one, is that it took him a while to move along a kind of continuum of knowledge. I mean I've now come to see knowledge as almost indeterminate, that you can have sort of abstract information, and then you sort of -- sometimes it takes you a series of personal encounters either with refugees, with cables, with something that makes that information kind of become almost knee-buckling knowledge. And Morgenthau didn't believe the reports that he was receiving initially about what was being done to the Armenians. Who could? Who would think that that kind of thing would happen?
And he had this "do not compute" problem that so many of us have had. And then there was a moment where these missionaries came into his office with literally tears streaming down their faces. And Morgenthau said, My God, it's true, isn't it. And...
LAMB: What had happened?
POWER: He had been told that all of the Armenian intellectuals in each of the major towns were being executed in public squares and that the entire Armenian populace was being deported out into the desert, where no provision was being made to care of them and where as many as half would die of disease and starvation, and many were actually killed, also, along the way by their alleged escorts.
So I think Morgenthau, as a sort of foundational character in the book, is so important because it just shows you the limits of all of our imaginations, also the privilege he had, in a way, of being able to have sort of face-to-face encounters with people who actually -- you know, with Armenians, with Turkish officials and with missionaries who were regaling these stories to him. But the other thing you see through Morgenthau is how limited our conception then of American power -- because of course, we're firmly isolated. It's World War I. We've no intention of foregoing our neutrality, certainly not in the interest of humanitarian intervention of any kind.
But you also see the limits of the kind of conception of what any government has a right to ask of another government, meaning Morgenthau was just asking the Wilson administration, "Can I have permission to denounce these crimes?" And he was told, "No, you can't interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state." He said, "What do you mean, I can't interfere in the internal affairs? They're killing the Armenians!" "No, you know, diplomatic protocol dictates that you retain your neutrality in the face of whatever the host government is doing."
And so Morgenthau sort of muzzled himself. And finally, he just went off the reservation and began just issuing basically private demarches, you know, again, sort of speaking out of school. I'm not sure what good they did. But one of the things you see over the course of the century is how our conception of what is possible, in terms of intervention -- if you view interventions with a small "I" instead of big, military intervention -- that back then, all Morgenthau could even deign to hope for was to be able to denounce, whereas in 1999, you know, in the -- with Kosovo, we had the air intervention.
And one of the complaints on this side in Washington was, Hey, why no ground troops? You know, in Bosnia, we were arguing for -- for air strikes, in Rwanda for radio jamming and for other things. You see the kind of toolkit that people have on offer that they can dip into in the face of genocide, that the upstanders are arguing that we do open and that we start to experiment with, that it gets much more expansive and we start to be much more creative about what it is the U.S. government can do. However, the U.S. government tends not to take...
LAMB: Is Henry Morgenthau Sr. the father of Henry Morgenthau, the -- FDR's secretary of the treasury?
POWER: He is, indeed. And his son was greatly influenced, I think, by his father's experience, and that sense of impotence. And I think one of the reasons Morgenthau, Junior, was as punitive as he would become -- of course, he was the author of the famous, you know, pastoralization plan, where it was -- you know, a plan to wipe out German industry yet again after World War II, very much against the sort of Marshall plan vision for recuperation.
But I think, you know, he had grown up with these stories of these crimes and sort of had a sense, like, My God, if we don't punish these, if we don't actually send a signal not only to the perpetrators in hand but to any would-be perpetrator out there in the world who might be contemplating these kinds of crimes, then it'll come back to haunt us.
LAMB: Who's this fellow in this picture?
POWER: Oh, that is Tilerian (ph). Tilerian is an Armenian survivor, somebody who lost his entire family in the Armenian genocide and who decides he's so shattered and he's lost literally everything, he joins a terrorist group, one of the century's first terrorist groups -- Boston-based, actually -- which was devoted to simply tracking down the leading perpetrators of what was then called "race murder" -- because, of course Lemkin only invented his word in 1944. Morgenthau referred to what the Turks were doing as "race murder."
And Tilerian was basically contracted to track down Talot (ph), who had been the minister of the interior, the Turkish minister. And the opening scene of the book -- not to ruin it for people, but -- is Tilerian tracking down Talot in the streets of Berlin, of all places, in 1921, and coming up to him, pointing a revolver at the back of his head and saying, This is to avenge the death of my family and killing him.
LAMB: How many Armenians were killed?
POWER: Numbers, body counts, notoriously difficult to pin down, even 87 years later, but somewhere between 800,000 and 1.5 million. The number of Armenians that I've encountered over the course of speaking about this book and -- and really just traveling around the country listening to people who have lost, you know, grandparents, parents -- it's -- I can't believe the toll that this has taken.
And you see it -- you see on Armenian Remembrance Day, April 24th, you know, Armenians gathering en masse so devastated by the absence of recognition. Unfortunately, a denial of the crime that was committed against their people that I fear will persist at an official level. Certainly, the Turkish government is showing no signs of engaging to have a conversation about what they will admit was done in their name. But also in Washington, of course, because of our reliance on the relationship with Turkey, I think there's very little likelihood that either the White House or even the Congress will issue the kind of resolution that the Armenians are longing for.
It's amazing to me. Lemkin invented this word, actually, having read about what the Turks had done to the Armenians. I mean, it was literally -- this was the thing that made him think, I have to devote my life to banning this crime. I'm a Polish Jew. There are pogroms committed in my neighborhood all the time. I used to think it was only against Jews that these crimes were committed. Now I see it's even against Christians.
It's -- this crime -- it happens through history. "Biological regularity," he would say. And it was really that that got him on his path toward naming and then banning the crime.
LAMB: The word "genocide" again -- it means "race murder" in what language?
POWER: Well, it's a Greek and Latin hybrid, so it actually means the killing of a people. So killing of a group -- you know, "genos" and then "cide," "cidere." And you know, we had homicide. We had regicide. We had fratricide. And Lemkin said, Hey, you know, why not genocide?
But he was -- he -- in addition to sort of being sort of set down this garden path by what he -- by reading about Tilerian, actually, reading about this assassination -- because Lemkin said to himself, If victims are always stuck taking justice into their own hands, we're going to live in a lawless world. We have to have some kind of court of public opinion or actually court that will weigh in on atrocities committed by states against their own people because there's a structural problem. If states are committing the crimes, they're not going to be punishing themselves for them.
LAMB: You say that Raphael Lemkin, who you write a lot about in the book, ended up penniless in a one-room apartment in the Upper West Side of New York -- died what year?
POWER: In '59.
LAMB: And he was 59?
LAMB: But along the way, you say that this man could be a real pest. And a lot of people used to say here he comes, and they'd go out the other door.
POWER: Absolutely. That's what I was saying, "Lemkinian." He was a Lemkinian pest. He was so monomaniacal. You see this with a lot of my upstanders, the people that one encounters throughout the century, but people who take a stand tend to not be the most politically savvy. They are so single-minded, complete tunnel vision.
I mean, there's a letter that I have in there that is just, I think, the best indicator of Lemkin's absence -- the absence of social graces. He writes to a woman named Thelma Stevens (ph), who has volunteered her time, as everyone did to work for Lemkin.
I mean, he had no money. He couldn't pay anybody. And he went through law students and, you know, church volunteers like they were going out of style. And there's a letter there that he writes to Thelma Stevens (ph), this Methodist Council volunteer, where she's devoting her summer to aiding his cause. And he writes her a letter.
She opens up this letter, and it says, "Dear Miss Stevens: I know it must be hot there in Washington, as you're writing this letter campaign. But needless to say, it's not nearly as hot as the ovens of Auschwitz or the deserts of Aleppo, and I urge you," in a sense, "to get your butt in gear."
Here's this woman, she's minding her own business. She's doing everything she can for this man, who is impossible! Brilliant, in his way, and prophetic.
POWER: ... you know, really just relying -- and he hated, I mean, the indignity of it all. You know, he -- he was a very cultured man. He wrote -- apart from his books on mass slaughter, he wrote on rose cultivation, on gardening, on, you know, travel in Japan. Wherever he was as a refugee en route here, he would just gobble up the local culture. And he'd been home schooled. He spoke 13 languages.
LAMB: Did he marry?
POWER: Never married -- never even dated, as far as I can tell.
LAMB: And what happened when people asked him about that? What would he say?
POWER: About his ...
POWER: "Oh, oh, I don't have time." You know, "I'm married to securing the banning of the crime of genocide." I mean, "I don't have time for love."
LAMB: The genocide convention -- today if something happens and it can be proved, who has to prove, by the way, that it's genocide?
POWER: This is the -- one of the many structural problems with Lemkin's Law. There is no body that is the arbiter or the necessary arbiter of whether or not a genocide is happening.
Lemkin had proposed that a body be created at the United Nations and be comprised of independent representatives, though, of member states, who themselves would weigh in on the evidence. That never came into being. No state party of any prominence -- namely the United States or any of its allies -- wanted to put in place a body that might in turn judge it or one of its allies.
So really, the way it happens in practice is what you get is groups like Human Rights Watch, who become increasingly professional. Their lawyers are ever more trained to go into a crime scene, to debrief refugees, to try to gauge (UNINTELLIGIBLE) intent, because, again, this is an intent-based crime. It's not a numbers count. It's not a body count. It's what is the intent of the perpetrator? Do they intend to destroy in whole or in substantial part a group as such?
And so you get non-governmental groups, and the best ones, again, are very good at this -- going in quickly. And then they themselves try to get one or more of the member states to admit that what's going on is genocide. I mean, unfortunately, while Lemkin -- I mean, what an achievement that he's turned this word into this incredible stigma, that there is this convention, that we now have courts prosecuting it.
But the bittersweet part of his legacy, or the bitter part of the otherwise sweet legacy, I suppose, is that all that this sort of stigma has succeeded in doing is making states much more reluctant to admit that genocide is what is under way.
So no state wants to be accused of committing it, but as interesting, no state wants to be seen to be allowing it. So what they do is they call it "a problem from hell." What statesmen do is they say it's a problem from hell. It's ethnic violence. It's civil war. These people have been killing one another for a zillion years. Nobody uses the word "genocide."
No sitting president has ever used the word "genocide" to describe a genocide under way. Only when it's passed and the political implications have died down for the American leader is the word employed.
LAMB: Without Lemkin, would you have the Milosevic trial going on right now in The Hague?
POWER: Excellent question. Excellent question. I'm not sure. I mean, you know, presumably there would have been a push for some kind of international criminal justice mechanism over time.
Presumably, you know, Lemkin didn't have much to do with the creation of human rights groups. In fact, Lemkin -- again, so impossible -- he hated human rights people. He thought -- in fact, he petitioned Eleanor Roosevelt and the assistant secretary of state for international organizations to exclude from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right to life, because Lemkin said, "That's my right. It's in my convention." And he got this very funny letter back from the assistant secretary saying, "I'm sure you'd agree, Mr. Lemkin, that the right to life is one of the more fundamental human rights."
So I think what you would have seen is a human rights movement anyway. Both on the heels of Eleanor Roosevelt's Universal Declaration and all the international law that has grown out of it, you would have seen human rights groups having to get into the business of documenting atrocities as well as trying to free prisoners and doing the things that they used to do in their early days.
It helped, though, that the genocide convention was the one piece of international law that had in it a reference to a future international -- permanent international criminal court. And, of course, it was just in March of 2002 that that -- or actually April of 2002 that that criminal court came into existence. And now we're just in the process of waiting to see whether it will have any legs and life of its own, especially with American opposition.
LAMB: Let me ask you about people as a way of getting you to tell some of the stories -- Michael Twining (sic).
POWER: Charles Twining.
LAMB: Charles Twining -- excuse me.
POWER: No, that's no problem. I thought maybe there was another one that I -- that I hadn't ...
LAMB: No, no, it's Charles. I just didn't -- I didn't -- ...
POWER: Charlie Twining was -- again, like Morgenthau -- it's interesting you mention him -- but he was -- worked at the U.S. embassy in Thailand during the period where Pol Pot ran Cambodia and during the period where Pol Pot was wiping out anybody who had hands that looked like they had been in school and not in the field, anybody who wore eyeglasses, anybody who had a seventh grade education or above. This was that was that time between 1975 and 1979.
LAMB: What's this picture, by the way?
POWER: That is the Khmer Rouge soldier who's taking -- who's entering Phnom Penh in 1975 and who's very, very angry. Of course, the United States has just been involved in bombing Cambodia, and there's great resentment toward the regime that was deemed to be a puppet regime of the United States that had run Cambodia prior to that -- Sihanouk and Lon Nol at the helm.
And what Twining did is he began -- he went, he was dispatched, he spoke Khmer, which was unusual for a U.S. official, and he was dispatched to the Thai-Cambodian border, as a very slow but steady trickle of refugees emerged from Cambodia, telling these stories that were simply unbelievable.
LAMB: And you say he spoke the language?
POWER: He spoke -- yes, he had earned the sort of laughter and ridicule of his colleagues at the State Department. While they were learning Thai and Chinese, he was studying Khmer, and they thought, Why on earth would you be studying Khmer? Well, it came in handy as he was able to mine these refugees of their stories. And -- but, very much like Morgenthau at the beginning of the century, he couldn't wrap his mind around it.
And for Twining, it was interesting, because Morgenthau was hearing these stories before he learned about the Holocaust. There was no Holocaust. There was no precedent for the systematic destruction of a people. For Twining, the very fact that he had learned and been groomed on the Holocaust -- I mean, having really learned to be attentive that these kinds of crimes could happen, for him, he just couldn't believe that he himself could be living in a time where history was repeating itself.
LAMB: Did you talk to him?
POWER: I did. Yes -- no, I talked to -- any U.S. official I could -- who would talk to me, I basically tried to track down over the course of the last six years. And Twining was very gracious, and described that process. He said, Look -- here I had these reports from these refugees saying that anyone over seventh grade education -- who had more than a seventh grade education was being murdered. I wasn't going to file that to Washington. I was going to look like I was crazy.
LAMB: Now, this is 1970 ...
POWER: '75 -- '76, he was at the border.
LAMB: Who was the bad guy in charge of Cambodia?
POWER: Pol Pot.
LAMB: And he came from where?
POWER: He came from, you know, a sort of Maoist radical revolutionary past. He'd gone into rebellion against the Lon Nol government into the countryside and had been waging a guerrilla war. And in April of 1975, he and the Khmer Rouge succeeded in taking Phnom Penh just after the United States left Saigon, of course.
LAMB: Who were the Khmer Rouge?
POWER: Khmer Rouge were these radical agrarian revolutionaries who paid very little attention to the welfare of their people and who in the end were responsible for the deaths of about 2 million over the course of four years.
LAMB: How do we know there were 2 million?
POWER: Again, I'm using that number as shorthand. There's been -- there've been a significant number of exhumations and sort of extrapolative research done. There's been some census compilation that's been done, but unfortunately, as in many of the places where genocide happens, the census were pretty incomplete beforehand, so it's hard to do a kind of before-and-after check. But it's -- you know, having reviewed all of the statistical surveys that I could, that seems the number that is most agreed upon by the most respected historians.
LAMB: Pol Pot closed that country up for what -- how long?
POWER: For three and -- just over three years -- from April of 1975 until January of 1979.
LAMB: And what was our approach to all this as a country?
POWER: Complete shutdown. I mean, just, you know, we've come home at last from Vietnam. The idea of focusing this country's attention on Cambodia, when we clearly had no intention of sending military troops to alter the situation on the ground, and when protests -- denunciations of these crimes would -- felt like they would be ineffectual, because it was such an isolated regime. I mean, as you say, he cut off the country almost entirely. The temptation was to just go again into a complete sort of cocoon.
And, again, the egregious thing, when one looks back, is not that the United States didn't send its troops back to Southeast Asia having just come home, but I think it's that when a relationship was developed with China in the middle part of Pol Pot's reign, with the opening, to not even think about mentioning to China that its ally was committing the abuses -- the Khmer Rouge, the only partner it had was China, really, and many arms and economic support was coming from Beijing.
But again, you know, genocide doesn't factor into the thinking of many American administrations in and of itself. It's not on the list of things to do.
LAMB: How do you know that they didn't talk to the Chinese back then?
POWER: Well, I have done all the reporting that I was able to do. And, I mean, one of the things that we did -- that the United States did after the Vietnamese, of course, dislodged Pol Pot, invaded the country eventually in -- and succeeded in ousting the KR and rescuing people. But of course, it was a puppet Vietnamese regime and it was kind of a regime of occupation and because of our not-so-nice relationship with Vietnam, our policy afterward was actually to continue to recognize the Khmer Rouge well into -- for the next decade.
So, even though we had documentation of the killing of around 2 million people, the Khmer Rouge continued to occupy the seat at the United Nations. And Brzezinski and others in the Carter administration were, you know, quite straight about it. They just said, Look, the enemy of our enemy. It may not be our friend, but it can be our diplomatic partner. It is the lesser of evils.
And the question, I think, years later that we have to ask is could there actually have been an evil greater than that of Pol Pot at that time?
LAMB: What about Romeo Dallaire?
LAMB: Did you talk to him?
POWER: I did at great length, and I ...
LAMB: Where did you find him?
POWER: He's in Canada.
Romeo Dallaire was the Canadian commander in charge of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda. And he, in some ways, a Lincolnian figure in a couple ways. One, a prophecy -- in January of 1994, four months before the genocide in Rwanda would begin, Romeo sent a now famous cable to Kofi Annan, who was then the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, saying two things -- one, the militia in Rwanda -- the Hutu militia -- have the capacity to exterminate at a rate of 1,000 every 20 minutes. He said this; it's in writing.
Second thing he said was that the militias, quote, "knew from Somalia that it would only take the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers to secure the complete unraveling of the UN mission." And Dallaire informs his superiors. He says, Well, needless to say, I'm going to be disarming the militia. I mean, we can't have this -- 1,000 -- the language of extermination, 1,000 every 20 minutes. Whoa.
And the response from New York was very adamant. Don't confront. Don't forfeit neutrality. Washington will never stand for it. And I think it was probably an accurate account of what Washington had an appetite for at that time.
So Dallaire was left in this untenable position of watching the machetes come in, the grenades come in, the importation of these arms, the radicalization of these militia. He'd hear on hate radio -- there was a Rwandan radio station that just propagated exterminatory propaganda about the Tutsi "cockroaches," they called them. Sanitize the cockroaches, kill or be killed. But also propaganda about the Belgians, and about how the Belgian peacekeepers were the accomplices of the Tutsi government and how they needed to be targeted and so on.
So he's in this position watching this escalation with no
POWER: to stop it. And ...
LAMB: What year?
POWER: This is April of 1994. January '94 is the cable that he sends. April '94, the killings start.
LAMB: You say the Hutus brought in -- I mean, in one figure, you had about 550,000 machetes.
POWER: Yes, I mean, it was -- and they said it was just garden implements. But, again, the radio was transmitting, you know, evidence that ethnic polarization was being done in a fashion, and demonization of the Tutsi that in Dallaire's mind, and it was clearly a recipe for the outbreak of massive fighting.
LAMB: Go back. You mentioned Kofi Annan was not the head of the UN at that point. He was ...
POWER: He wasn't. He was the head of the Peacekeeping Office, which was, you know, just beneath Boutros-Ghali.
LAMB: And he didn't interfere in this situation.
POWER: He didn't. The tendency at the United Nations in the 1990s -- throughout the 1990s was to -- was a mistaken tendency, but it was to internalize the constraints that the member states imposed.
So instead of saying, Oh, my God, let's try to shame the member states into doing something about this, let's say, my God, you know, 1,000 every 20 minutes -- they're going to target the Belgians -- help -- the tendency was to say, We don't want to alienate the member states. We know what Washington will give us -- very little. Somalia's just happened. There's a fatigue in Washington -- Congress especially -- with peacekeeping and a tendency that -- you know, that the UN was going overboard with Cambodia and Mozambique and Guatemala and Bosnia. And there were peacekeeping missions breaking out left and right, and none of them were terribly effective. So we know what Washington's response is going to be. So, in a sense, why bother?
And I think what they've learned and I think the new administration of Kofi Annan now as secretary general, I think the good news is that one lesson was learned, which is externalize those constraints. Shine the spotlight where it belongs, which isn't on the United Nations and isn't on poor Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda, it is in the capitals who control the purse strings.
LAMB: Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian general -- you tell the story about him. He -- things didn't go well for him once
POWER: No. And because what happened -- he was like Lemkin in that he was a prophet ahead of time, and he was like Lemkin in that he was in a situation where nobody would heed his pleas as the genocide unfolded.
And this is a killing spree, Brian, that was faster than that of the Nazis. I mean, if you can believe it. With these primitive implements, they were able to kill an average of 8,000 people a day for 100 days.
The cables from the U.S. embassy in Kigali and the journalism that was done -- limited number of journalists were there, but they did a terrific job bringing the story out. Dallaire himself was on the phone with people in the capital saying, Please would you send me help? They're systematically destroying the Tutsi populace. He didn't use the word "genocide" initially, because he was afraid he would be accused of crying wolf. And, again, even though Lemkin's intent was to associate genocide with the intent of the perpetrator, all of our tendencies is to wait until you have a huge number of bodies before you use the word. We just immediately go for numbers rather than intent.
But Dallaire and the U.S. officials who were present in Rwanda -- don't forget that when the -- when the genocide started, were very adamant that if you had Tutsi on your ethnic identity card, it was a death sentence. It was enough. If you had money and were a Tutsi, you could buy a bullet.
And Dallaire reported this, and you can imagine the kind of frustration. You're sitting there. There are Tutsi at your UN posts. You have 2,500 troops under your command when the genocide starts. And then unit by unit gets pulled out from under you, because the United States' position -- it did have a policy throughout the genocide. It wasn't just a -- it wasn't omission. It was a serious act of commission, which was the United States' insistence that the peacekeepers be pulled out from under Dallaire.
So Dallaire himself is sitting there and he's saying, I need more. And he's expecting he's going to get reinforcements. They're systematically killing all of the Tutsi. Of course they're going to send him reinforcements. And he's informed on April 21, two weeks into the genocide, that 90 percent of the peacekeepers under his command on U.S. insistence are going to be taken from him.
And what that means is Tutsi who'd gathered at UN posts under the UN, the baby blue and white UN flag, the peacekeepers would leave through one gate, and the militia would enter through the other. And they were so much worse off than if they hadn't relied on the promise of UN protection in the first place.
LAMB: Now, were any of the UN peacekeepers killed?
POWER: They were, in accordance with the prediction that Dallaire had made, that his informant had told him. Guess how many? Ten -- exactly what he had warned on the first day of the genocide, on April 7.
LAMB: Were they macheted?
POWER: They were initially killed with gunfire and then badly brutalized -- badly disfigured with machetes.
LAMB: What's your own position on this? Should Americans expect to have their people sent into a situation like this? Soldiers ...
POWER: I don't think they have any reason to expect that so far.
I think that it's very important not to make the response to genocide an all-or-nothing response, meaning I think the tendency of U.S. policy makers has been to say, you know, we don't want to send our troops into those icky places. Therefore, let's not call it genocide. Let's call it a problem from hell, and let's just look away entirely.
And one of the things that I've come to see over time, and I mention this in the context of contrasting the land of the possible now with that that Morgenthau operated under back in 1915, is that policy -- we do have this tool kit. We can do everything from high-level denunciation to threatening prosecution to freezing foreign assets. Perpetrators are very greedy. They like their money, and they usually are squirreling it away in various places.
You could impose an arms embargo if you saw those machetes coming in, lift an arms embargo in the case of the Bosnian Muslims, and take sides with the victim people, and try to arm them if you don't want to go there.
In Rwanda, one of the things Dallaire proposed was that the United States use its technology to jam this hate radio, which was being used not only to propagate hate but to broadcast the names and the addresses of the potential victims. You could rally troops from other countries. You could create safe areas that are actually safe -- you know, putting a meaningful number of peacekeepers on the ground and using these NATO planes overhead.
And indeed -- and I certainly think for Rwanda it was a case that was with a, you know, 10,000 people a day -- 8,000 people a day dying -- sending U.S. troops as part of a multinational force, absolutely part of what "never again" implies.
LAMB: Who's this fellow?
POWER: This is Peter Galbraith, who was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in 1987, '88, when Saddam Hussein was gassing the Kurds in northern Iraq. This is a crime that one is hearing a lot about these days in that, you know, as enthusiasm for confronting Saddam increases, there's a tendency to go back to his track record and say, This is a man who gasses -- gassed his own people.
LAMB: Peter Galbraith, son of John Kenneth Galbraith ...
POWER: He is the son of the economist.
LAMB: ... say he was a bit of a ...
POWER: A Lemkin.
LAMB: ... a Lemkin -- a bit of an unguided missile.
POWER: Yes. Peter was mad, and, again, maybe not the best spokesman for his cause, but a true humanitarian. He went to northern Iraq and noticed in 1987 that all of the Kurdish villages he had visited or seen from afar, actually, three years before no longer existed -- that they'd been systematically bulldozed. And as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but rubble.
LAMB: Where are the Kurdish -- where were the Kurdish villages?
POWER: This would have been in northern Iraq. There are Kurds, of course, in Turkey and in Syria and in Iran.
LAMB: Inside the country's boundaries?
POWER: But this is -- yes, well inside northern Iraq.
And Saddam -- there was a Kurdish rebellion and insurgency. This was the time of the Iran/Iraq War. Some of these Kurdish rebels had partnered with Iran. And Saddam's decision was to deal with the security threat that he faced with genocide.
So he made no discrimination between soldiers and non-soldiers -- rounded people up en masse. A number of villages were targeted with these terrible poisons, which literally made the sort of skin peel and singe -- I mean, the most ghastly form of death that you can imagine.
LAMB: But Peter Galbraith, you say, did something that not very many people have ever done who work for a Senate committee.
POWER: Well, he did a couple things -- one, he decided that it was one -- we weren't going to intervene militarily against Saddam. That was not an option. We were aligned with him -- Iran, of course, was the main enemy in the neighborhood. But Peter understandably came to the conclusion that giving a man who was gassing his own people American farm credits and manufacturing credits was probably not a desirable way to send a signal that gassing your own people is a bad thing to do.
So what he did, working for Claiborne Pell, who was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is drafted economic sanctions. Again, quite a mild sanction when you think about the toll that Saddam's brutality is taking on these people. But his feeling was, again, we're giving him $500 million -- we, the United States, are giving Saddam $500 million a year in these credits. Let's not, if this is how he's behaving.
And initially, Peter succeeded in getting this piece of legislation through the Senate on a voice vote. But it was not long before the combination of the foreign lobby and the Reagan White House teamed up, along with some members of Congress who themselves really didn't think it was a good idea to be making foreign policy on Capitol Hill -- there was a tendency to defer to the White House, of course, when it comes to these matters.
But they teamed up to kill this sanctions package. And, in fact, the year after this genocide -- Saddam's genocide against the Kurds, the United States doubles its credits to Saddam.
LAMB: The only politician -- maybe not the only one, but one of the few politicians you give a gold star to is Bob Dole.
POWER: Yes, it's a -- I give him a gold star on Bosnia. He actually doesn't come off terribly well on Rwanda or on Iraq, for that matter. In Rwanda, as Dellaire is struggling there on the ground to, you know, get some rescue and respite from outside, Dole just says, Americans are out. As far as I'm concerned, that should be the end of it. And that's his attitude.
Iraq -- he's very friendly with Saddam's Kansas farm state; the credit program was good for his workers.
LAMB: Met with Saddam Hussein?
POWER: Met with Saddam along with ...
LAMB: Alan Simpson?
LAMB: Frank Murkowski?
POWER: Yes, exactly.
LAMB: There was a Democrat in there, too.
POWER: Perhaps -- I'm not remembering. But not a -- yes, not a -- not a golden moment for any of those senators, who had golden moments in their days. And Dole's golden moment -- and he is -- he's in some ways the central protagonist in the book, apart from Lemkin, in that he owns Bosnia on the Senate. He becomes the conscience of the Senate on Bosnia.
LAMB: Why? What motivated him to get involved in Bosnia?
POWER: Well, as is so often the case, and I wish it didn't have to be this way, but some combination of serendipity and personal encounter. And like Morgenthau with those missionaries and like Lemkin with himself having to take flight and 49 members of Lemkin's family getting murdered, Dole, of course, had that terrible war injury in World War II, was brought -- shipped back to the United States in a full body cast, and a recuperative plastic surgeon in Chicago offered to operate him if he could get his train fare to Chicago taken care of. Famously in Kansas, they all chipped in, got him his train fare, goes up to Chicago.
This doctor, named Hampar Kelikian, operates on Dole. Kelikian is himself an Armenian survivor, and he regales Dole with these stories of what had been done to his family. And he'd lost, you know, his parents, his sisters. And he tells Dole about -- one, about the Balkans, two, about the concept of genocide that, you know, he says, there's this guy Lemkin and he's invented this word and there's this convention. And keep your eye out for genocide. Don't make the Holocaust the standard. You know, it has happened through history and it's happened through time. And so that's one thing I think that really motivated Dole.
The second is that as a result of this sort of seed having been planted, as a congressman he made a number of trips to the Balkans. And on one of those trips, in 1989, he happened to -- he visited Kosovo, of all places, before anybody had heard of Kosovo -- a full 10 years before the NATO intervention there. And these Kosovars came out to cheer him. They'd never had a visit by such a high-level American politician.
And the next thing, coming down out of the hills, he saw these covered trucks filled with Serb police and paramilitary units. And these guys came out with their truncheons and their tear gas, and they just started whacking all of these Albanians in sight. And Dole has got his face pressed up against the glass, he's thinking, My God, the brutality of this regime.
So from that point on, while the rest of us were sort of reading, myself included, atrocity reports with a kind of glazed eye effect, Dole has in his mind these truncheons, this tear gas, and these helpless Albanians.
So beginning under the Bush administration, when Baker didn't have a dog in the fight, Dole had a dog in the fight. He called for confronting the Serbs, using air strikes, lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims, and then was very consistent under Clinton.
But the thing that makes Dole different, unlike all the other up-standers, is that he succeeds in turning genocide into an issue for American domestic politics. No other up-stander had every succeeded in doing that.
And he does it by taking advantage of, number one, the fact that the genocide lasted 3 1/2 years, that you had a steady, you know, consistent coverage in the major newspapers -- in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," consistent editorial support for intervention -- William Safire and Anthony Lewis actually agreeing on something for 3 1/2 years. You had Jewish groups teaming up with human rights groups, grass tops and grassroots advocacy.
And in July of 1995, when the massacre in Srebrenica took place, and 7,000 Muslim men and boys are murdered in cold blood in a 10-day period, effectively on television -- I mean, we sort of covered it all, right down to the -- to the residue of the killing and the refugees describing the killing.
Dole uses that to secure on Capitol Hill a lift of the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims. And the climactic scene of the book is Clinton on the putting green realizing that Dole, a presidential challenger, Senate majority leader, has succeeded in making foreign policy on Capitol Hill, has humiliated the president, and has ensured that American troops are going to have to get involved, withdrawing European peacekeepers. And Clinton's screaming, and he says, "I'm getting creamed. We've got to stop the killing. I'm getting creamed."
Bob Dole -- and others, but with him at the lead as an American influential decision-maker, turned the occurrence of genocide into something that was actually politically costly for an American president. And that had never happened before.
LAMB: In the minute that we've got left, let me ask you a couple of tiny quick questions, you said - how many interviews did you do for the book?
POWER: S: I don't know…
LAMB: I think somewhere you said three hundred…
POWER: S: Oh, interviews for this book, sorry, I thought you meant promoting the book, yeah, more than three hundred with U.S., with Americans and then thousands with (INAUDIBLE)
LAMB: Correct me if I'm wrong, in your footnotes though, there's hardly a reference to an interview in the back
POWER: S: Yes
POWER: S: Well, really no good reason, I had all the footnotes to all the interviews, but I ended up deciding just a short hand to introduce the quotes with a present tense as a way of signaling that it came from an interview because I was already getting such complaints about the number of footnotes that I had (LAUGHTER).
LAMB: You say that you got a grant from George Soros' Open Society Institute, for what?
POWER: S: To travel to these countries. This is a book about America more than it is about the specific genocides, but the only way to understand what the human stakes are, are to in fact interview victims, bystanders and perpetrators in these countries in question and Soros, and (INAUDIBLE) are the head of The Open Society Institute enabled me to travel to these far off places.
LAMB: We have not a second left. Thank you very much. Samantha
POWER: is our guest and this is the book, its called "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide." Thank you very much.
POWER: S: Thank you.
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