Task Force Believes Genocide Is Preventable The Genocide Prevention Task Force — co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Secretary William Cohen — has released a new report with recommendations for the Obama administration.
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Task Force Believes Genocide Is Preventable

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Task Force Believes Genocide Is Preventable

Task Force Believes Genocide Is Preventable

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. The Justice Department announced the indictment of five former guards from security contractor Blackwater USA. The five were involved in a controversial shooting in Iraq last fall. Prosecutors charged the security guards used machine guns and grenade launchers to attack unarmed Iraqi civilians. And Pakistani security forces raided a militant camp in Pakistani Kashmir today. They captured an alleged mastermind of the attacks on India's financial capital last month. He was among a dozen people arrested in the raid. Details on those stories and of course, much more later today on All Things Considered. Tomorrow on Talk of the Nation, for 15 seasons, you've watched him as a prosecutor and now as district attorney, Jack McCoym "Law & Order," Sam Waterston joins us to take your calls. That's tomorrow on Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

A report released this morning concludes that genocide is a threat to U.S. national interests and that prevention is an achievable goal. It comes from the Genocide Prevention Task Force set up last year, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen who will join us in just a moment. Their recommendations include a new high level agency inside the new Obama administration to quickly identify and respond to early warning signs of potential atrocities, additional resources, $250 million per year ear-marked for crisis prevention and response and most critically, for the leadership and political will to treat genocide as a national and international priority. If you'd like to talk with secretaries Albright and Cohen about the practical application of these ideas in Darfur, maybe, or Eastern Congo, give us a call, 800-989-8255, email, talk@npr.org. Madeleine Albright and William Cohen join us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in today. Appreciate it.

Mr. WILLIAM COHEN (Former U.S. Secretary of Defense): Pleasure to be here.

Ms. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT (Former U.S. Secretary of State): Great to be with you.

CONAN: This is a very serious problem. You chair a very serious group of people on this task force. But forgive me, Secretary Albright, do you truly believe this report is going to result in meaningful change?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I do think that it provides the mechanism to help the new administration get their arms around what I think is one of the worse problems that we've seen. And I think it provides a set of recommendations that will help to create a warning system and a trigger system and at least a blueprint for trying to make sure when we say never again that really, we've done everything we can to try to prevent genocide.

CONAN: And Secretary Cohen, we've heard talk form this administration, Susan Rice, the proposed Ambassador to the United Nations among many others and President-elect Obama himself talking about the importance of this issue. Nevertheless, when people get into office, they often find other issues pressing on their tables and somehow, this always get shuffled backwards.

Mr. COHEN: There's no question about it that every time you try to address an issue, you have to take into account all the other things on the agenda. We've seen most recently that President-elect Obama may have a set of priorities and suddenly, along comes India and Pakistan and the focus shifts immediately from Iraq to that potential tender box. So, what Secretary Albright and I have tried to do with a terrific group of people, 13 all of us in total. To say that we can't simply sit on the sidelines and we can't ignore what has been taking place and still have any claim to moral leadership in this world. And it has become a national security interest and both of us feel very strongly about this because we've seen the spread of terrorism. We know that terror groups go to areas where there is extreme poverty, discontent, mass casualties, just horrific infliction of pain and suffering and we think that that's not only a moral issue for us to deal with but also a national security issue.

CONAN: Secretary Albright, during your time in office, of course, you were among those leading the move towards intervention to solve the terrible situation in the states of former Yugoslavia where terrible, terrible things happened, war crimes trials are still under way, criminals are still at large from those days and remain to be brought to book. But nevertheless, you had a situation where even with the engagement and the leadership of the United States to some degree and people can argue about that. But in any case, the European countries were extremely reluctant to take action on this step and things were allowed to continue past the point of massacre.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, this is exactly one of the reasons that I was so eager to co-chair this task force with Secretary Cohen because we had dealt with these issues in a variety of ways, saw the difficulties in terms of getting international action, trying to decide how in fact you get to do something to prevent these kinds of killings under auspice of the United Nations and then that doesn't happen so how do you take action, we did with NATO? It also, and Bill can testify to this is not easy within our own government, because he and I are great friends but we represented different agencies in the government, just trying to figure out how we operate together. And I think that it's our common experience in watching the interagency process that made us have some recommendations in terms of a way for the American system through an atrocities prevention committee that would be really tasked with looking at this. So to avoid some of those issues and then we do talk in this report about the importance of international action. And having the United States take a lead in terms of setting some of the international norms and getting people to agree on it ahead of time, but I would like to say on behalf of all of us, none of us think this is easy. It's just that we believe that we have created at least set of recommendations in a blueprint for ways to avoid the kinds of things that have happened in the past.

CONAN: Secretary Cohen I saw you nodding as she was making the point about different constituents, different agencies and having different priorities - Not just in the situation in Yugoslavia but…

Mr. COHEN: But sure lets looks - the Defense department, Bob Gates or me or anyone else saying wait a minute. We're involved in Iraq. We've got Afghanistan. We've got all of these commitments. We're still involved in peacekeeping in Bosnia etcetera, and now you want us to do more. And that would be something that we have to contend with. That's why it takes the president of the United States to say yes. This is something that I put up at the top of my agenda. And we are going to make it happen. And yes you're going to train and have this as one of your major programs to be ready for. The military side of it as we both would say it's the last resort. You want to have early warning, early prevention, diplomacy, economic activities and then and only then if all else fails. There is a military component to it, but you've got to be prepared. And frankly we're not trained and prepared for genocide prevention. We're prepared for peacekeeping missions. But there's supposed to be a peace. You're prepared for warfare but how do you deal with an issue where you've got civilians caught in this crossfire whether it's ethnic conflict or whether its state sponsored ethnic cleansing. How do you operate under those circumstances? What are the rules? What are the guidelines? And that's something that we both feel strongly about. We have to have a mechanism. It may never be invoked, because you may have opposition to it. But at least you say we've got the planning. We've got the leadership. We have, we hope the money. And now its a question about political will.

CONAN: And political will, we've heard for example during this last election campaign, people proposing things like no fly zone over the eastern part of Sudan, over Darfur. Where do you put the planes? This is an enormously logistical problem. This is an enormous political problem. Do you base them in the wonderful example of Chad?

Mr. COHEN: Well that's precisely why you'll - if you look through the report you'll see these are the kinds of things that must be taken to account. Why you have to start planning for it now and say we have to have an interagency mechanism that looks at this, looks at the early warning signs, looks at what the complications would be rather than say let's throw up out hands. It's too hard.

CONAN: Uhmm.

Mr. COHEN: You know.

CONAN: Now let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest of course, you know their voices. That's former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Hugh is on the line. Hugh calling us from Oakland in California.

HUGH (Caller): Hi. First, appreciate you all having this program and such guests on it. Wanted to find out what the secretaries propose for the new administration on how they might deal with some of the enablers of genocide such as China without whom the Sudanese government could not continue this in a time when we don't have much leverage over China and when other talks in other countries where we have put responsibility on China such as in North Korea have not yielded much result?

CONAN: Oh that's in - on your tennis court, Secretary Albright.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think that Hugh has mentioned some very important problems here. But one of the reasons, one of the task forces that we had - we had these expert groups looked at a lot at the international context for all of this. Did in fact talk about the importance of getting agreements on a whole set of issues ahead of time. One idea, I don't know how argument is the Democratic administration will feel about this, but actually to not allow a veto by any of the permanent members on issues to do with…

Mr. COHEN: In the United Nations Security Council.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: In the United Nations Security Council on issues to do with mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing and genocide. I think that is an important suggestion. The other is generally to begin to develop some of these international norms and to put pressure on those countries that do seem like enablers on this.

Mr. COHEN: You know, there's always a conflict in terms of a sovereign country saying wait a minute. You're trying to intervene into my internal affairs. And what we are saying is that's no longer a valid argument - not when there is a systematic killing of - or mass casualties and…

Mr. CONAN: But who gets to decide? The Sudanese say this is a civil conflict. You're intervening here. The United States calls it genocide. The United Nations doesn't call it genocide. The Arab world doesn't call it genocide.

Mr. COHEN: Well this is where the United States comes in a form of leadership. We can sit back and say well the U.N. is not going to take any action. And Secretary Albright mentioned it before the Europeans were not going to take any action in Kosovo. They were going to allow the purging, ethnic cleansing of a million of people.

CONAN: And Russians would have vetoed anything to…

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Which is why it took to - we decided to do it with NATO action.

Mr. COHEN: And we spent months trying to persuade our friends in NATO. This was something - and frankly I must tell you, I was a skeptic in the beginning. I said this is not our problem. This is in the backyard of the Europeans. Why aren't they dealing with it? And the answer was they weren't going to deal with it. It took American leadership. It'll take American leadership on each of these issues, because nobody else is going to do it. And if we don't raise a standard, then you're going to let 300,000, 400,000 people be hacked to death and say not our problem.

CONAN: And they also point out in the report that a new administration is the best time to start - somebody with a clean slate and then some moral authority around the world. We're talking with former Secretaries Madeleine Albright who served in the State Department under President Clinton. And a former senator for Maine and Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, William Cohen, and you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's talk with Grace. Grace with us from Cleveland in Ohio.

GRACE (Caller): Hi. I'm sitting in my car hoping my battery doesn't run low. I'm so relieved to hear this conversation and these two guests, because they're answering questions I was actually going to raise. Thank you, Hugh who called before. I was in South Africa as an observer in 94 to the election. As one country bloomed, Rwanda was dying, and the world just watched it happened. The U.N. peacekeepers were withdrawn. I am so glad that this administration is being swept away, that we can take a firmer stance in the United Nations. And actually pay our dues, make our voices heard, and convince even to the Chinese that it's in their best interest to stop this.

CONAN: I need to point out Grace so that Rwanda of course did happen but not during this administration or at least didn't start.

GRACE: Oh no. It doesn't matter whose administration. It was - it's a legacy we've given the world. First, we were the good guys and went around and moved in to your country and had a cold war, enmity going on, and it didn't help anybody as what's said in Africa, when the elephants make love, the grass still gets trampled. But, the whole point is, this administration may give us the rights to do the things that Secretary Albright, for instance, was suggesting.

CONAN: Well, let me ask…

GRACE (Caller): Maybe we can put pressure on some of our allies who don't want to get involved.

CONAN: Well, let me ask Secretary Albright, as Secretary of State, during Rwanda, President Clinton said this is the thing he feels worst about during his presidency, but I'm sure people were coming up to you and saying, we've got a major problem over here. And I'm sure there were a lot of other things on your plate.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, actually, I was UN ambassador at the time and not Secretary of State. But I have to say, that the experience of that and I'm not doing enough is exactly what led me to feel that we needed to do this kind of a task force. Part of the problem there was without making any excuses, is we did not have the right information coming in, in a timely manner. We also were preoccupied with other problems. If you remember it was right after Black Hawk Down in Somalia. We were in Bosnia, we were dealing with problems in Haiti and the system was not such in our own government where we were able to have had early warning on anything, or actually had an inner agency system in place in order to deal with it. Now, the argument I make is that Rwanda was what I call volcanic genocide. It happened after the shoot down of the airplane of the president of Rwanda, and because we weren't able to focus on it, we couldn't get anybody there on time. I wish we'd tried but that's - even if we had, I think we couldn't have stopped it. In Darfur, we are watching rolling genocide. And it is ironic, frankly, that as people were commemorating the 10th anniversary of Rwanda and Hotel Rwanda and General Dallaire, who had been involved in it were all over everything. We, at the same time, we're doing nothing about Darfur. And that's why I think this report is so important, because it doesn't say it's easy, but it does say there are ways to avoid the kind of things, such as Rwanda, and that there is this blue print.

CONAN: And Secretary Cohen, as we see it…

Mr. COHEN: And in fact we're going up to the UN tomorrow…

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Yes. We are.

Mr. COHEN: To try and raise a level of concern about this problem.

CONAN: Nevertheless, Rwanda spawned all these years later, some of the situations that we're seeing in Eastern Congo and these are something - the death toll is unbelievable, tenths of thousands of refugees are going into Uganda, crossing the border, and again, the world does not seem to care.

Mr. COHEN: That is the problem that we're facing. And whether they see this as something that is unique to Africa which I think is totally wrong headed whether there's no oil involved. There's no national interest involved. This is something that's been going on we can't do anything about it. I think we've got to stop that. I think we have to say, these are human beings who are being slaughtered. And we can't simply be silent witnesses to atrocity, and we have an obligation to raise the standard. We may not be successful. We may not even have a consensus in this country. It maybe that the political system won't accept it, but we have to at least try to make a difference, and I think that's what we're hoping for.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I think on the issue in Congo it's exactly an example that people didn't look at what was happening later. And there are parts of the UN that in fact, the refugee camps were set up in Congo, and in fact, a lot of the problems that have been in Rwanda were transferred to those refugee camps without thinking through the unintended consequences of that. So, what we're saying is you need to look at the full picture and understand what creates the environment for genocidal acts.

CONAN: And we also have UN troops under UN hospices in Eastern Congo who - the statements are seem reminiscent of statements coming out of Bosnia in the old days. We're not authorized to do this. We don't have the resources to do this. What are we supposed to do?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Exactly, which is why we're going up to the UN, and the whole new concept of responsibility to protect that if the state system doesn't protect its own citizens, that then the international community does have some responsibility.

CONAN: We wish you the best of luck at the United Nations tomorrow. Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who you just heard, the former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, they just joined us to talk about a new report on genocide, the product of a task force of extremely distinguished Americans that worked for a year to produce it, and it's being proposed to - well, not just to the United Nations tomorrow, but it's directed as you heard a lot to the new Obama administration. Thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much.

CONAN: The report released earlier today. I'm Neal Conan. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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