STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The actor Don Cheadle once took part in a conversation that could be seen as a commentary on today's news. It was in the movie, "Hotel Rwanda." He plays a Rwandan during that country's genocide. He thanks a Western TV cameraman for sending footage of the killing to the West.
(Soundbite of movie "Hotel Rwanda")
Mr. DON CHEADLE (Actor): (As Paul Rusesabagina) I am glad that you have showed this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Mr. JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Actor): (As Jack Daglish) Then, if no one who intervenes, so they (unintelligible).
Mr. CHEADLE: (As Paul Rusesabagina) How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Mr. PHOENIX: (As Jack Daglish) I think if people see this footage, they'll say oh my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their dinners.
INSKEEP: That's what the cameraman told Don Cheadle's character in the movie, "Hotel Rwanda." Now Cheadle is trying to prevent a similar reaction to what's been labeled genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. He is co-author of a new book called "Not On Our Watch." Welcome to the program, Mr. Cheadle.
Mr. CHEADLE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: You decided, we should mention, to go visit Darfur yourself in 2005. Why did you want to go?
Mr. CHEADLE: Well, I had learned about this tragedy during the filming of "Hotel Rwanda." And after the film was released, we had a screening at MGM. And Congressman Ed Royce from Orange County saw the film and he contacted me and said that he believed that the film had certain echoes to what was happening in Darfur, and he wanted to know if I would accompany him and a congressional delegation to the region and see for myself what was happening. And I had met John Prendergast at the screening of the film at the Holocaust Museum.
INSKEEP: That's your co-author in this book, a former Clinton administration official.
Mr. CHEADLE: Yes. I reached out to him and said, you know, we've got to go and make something more of this trip.
INSKEEP: And John Prendergast is on the line with us. We'll talk to him in a moment. But first, do you remember one particular story that you heard when you were in refugee camps in Darfur?
Mr. CHEADLE: There are a lot of stories about people having to traverse great distances with what family members they had left after having witnessed other family members being massacred and children thrown on pyres. And one of the most memorable things that happened was, I remember John and I had been playing some rock game, just kind of interacting with the kids. And from behind a hut came an older woman and she was carrying the charred remains of this box spring, this bed, and she sort of threw it at our feet and just went into this rant. And I didn't know what her language was but we felt her outrage and I believed that she was, you know, saying you better do something about this.
INSKEEP: Let's bring in your companion on that trip, and now your co-author, John Prendergast, who is now a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group. Welcome to the program, sir.
Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Senior Adviser, International Crisis Group): Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: After you witnessed scenes like that, what's it like to come back to the United States?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: I've been doing this now for a quarter century so I built up some pretty significant walls. You anesthetize yourself because it's just so overwhelming, the stories of loss and pain and suffering.
It also, I think, just fills you with outrage that we as a nation, as the most powerful nation in the world here in the United States, could stand by. It's certainly troubling to me as a citizen of this country.
INSKEEP: Why would nothing have happened by now?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. The first one is obvious, the great diversion of energy, resources and time away from any other foreign policy issue and towards Iraq. Then, the second reason is an interesting sort of twist on the terrorism issue.
Washington and Khartoum have established a fairly significant relationship on the counterterrorism cooperation questions. My view is that although the United States will not acknowledge this publicly, part of the reason why we have not acted robustly and we have not imposed measures on the regime is because we still want to maintain that access to the counterterrorism information that we find valuable.
Mr. CHEADLE: And I think the third factor in that is that there is no cost for inaction that makes our leadership feel that they have to do anything necessarily to answer that.
INSKEEP: You mean if the clip from the movie turns out to be factual, the people will say that's horrible and go on.
Mr. CHEADLE: Exactly. If we just go idly by and eat our dinners and say, wow, that's unbelievable, I can't believe people can do that to one another. And I hope our leaders do something, but I'm not going to pick up the phone. I'm not going to necessarily march. I'm not going to write a letter. Then our administration will take that as their cue to continue with business as usual.
INSKEEP: It seems to be a fair number of celebrities have now taken on this issue.
Mr. CHEADLE: A lot of us have seen it with our own eyes and have traveled there, and we have the ability to do something that's, I think, that's the highest use of this, quote, unquote, "celebrity."
INSKEEP: Can somebody really, somebody that's not a celebrity, really do as you suggest, write a letter, stop a genocide.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Yeah, I mean I have worked in the White House. I've worked in the State Department, I've worked in Congress. I know how policy questions can become political. And if these kinds of issues halfway around the world that don't have an apparent strategic interest to the United States don't become political issues, it's highly unlikely that the United States will go beyond its normal, you know, diplomatic channels and occasional press statements.
INSKEEP: Mr. Prendergast, you write: Darfur represents the first genocide of the 21st Century. The word first implies that you will assume there will be more.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, we hope that this movement, this nascent movement can translate into a larger movement of people who are willing to work on issues related to crimes against humanity and mass atrocities wherever and whenever they occur. But the likelihood is, if history is any guide, that there will be other attempts to utilize genocidal tools to maintain power by any means necessary.
INSKEEP: If you take that realistic view that it's going to happen, what persuades you that it could be stopped?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: The one constant is that when the international community gets serious, when they apply the kind of diplomatic pressure, when they allow peacekeeping forces to be deployed, these wars come to an end. We have such great examples across the continent - Liberia and Sierra Leone and Burundi, Rwanda itself - places which at one time were Darfurian and now they are major turnaround cases.
INSKEEP: Some of those examples you mentioned, you could say that the troops and the help arrived rather late, that a lot of the killing had already been done.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: That's exactly right, Steve. And that's really the urgency of the American citizens involvement, is when will they end, how many more people will die. If U.S. citizens can make enough noise to press their government to do what's right, then we will have saved literally tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives in Darfur.
INSKEEP: John Prendergast and Don Cheadle are co-authors of the book "Not On Our Watch: The Mission to end Genocide in Darfur and Beyond." You can read an excerpt to that book at npr.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Renee Montagne, I'm Steve Inskeep.