Genocide Denial and Genocide Facilitation: Gerald Caplan and The Politics of Genocide

In his June 17 “review” of our book The Politics of Genocide, for Pambazuka News,1 Gerald Caplan, a Canadian writer who Kigali’s New Times described as a “leading authority on Genocide and its prevention,”2 focuses almost exclusively on the section we devote to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.3  Caplan says virtually nothing about the rest of the book: nothing about the analytic framework that we apply throughout, nothing about the wealth of data that we report about usage of the term ‘genocide’ for different theaters where atrocities have been committed, nothing about our criticisms of “responsibility to protect” doctrine and the International Criminal Court, and almost nothing about the many other conflicts that also serve to corroborate our thesis.4  Instead, Caplan uses his “review” to falsely identify the main locus of responsibility for the mass killings known as the “Rwanda genocide,” falsely deny the central and ongoing U.S. role in the catastrophic events in Rwanda and the DRC from 1990 to the present, and maliciously label anyone who disagrees with him a “genocide denier” and member of the “lunatic fringe.”  Caplan even defends Paul Kagame’s dictatorship, including Kagame’s suppression of free elections and free speech.  All of this, we believe, makes Caplan not only a genocide denier, but as he helps divert attention from Kagame’s mass killings and pillage in the DRC, a genocide facilitator as well.

Caplan as Book Reviewer

Caplan is a careless reviewer.  He accuses us of neglecting to cite a lengthy list of 45 authors (“Except for [Alison] Des Forges, plus Linda Melvern, . . . not a single one of the following authors is cited by Herman and Peterson”), at least seven of whom we actually do cite, four positively: Gérard Prunier on the Gersony affair in Rwanda, Fergal Keane on the Bruguière report, and Alex de Waal and Mahmood Mamdani on the conflicts in the Darfur states of the western Sudan.  The fifth and sixth are William Schabas and Philip Gourevitch, both on Rwanda, neither positively.  The seventh, Ingvar Carlsson, we mention in passing.

(One scholar on Caplan’s list whom we didn’t cite in our book but are more than happy to cite here is René Lemarchand.  In a recent letter to Pambazuka News raising doubts about Caplan’s “credentials in commenting on the merits of the Mutsinzi report” [for our treatment of this, see below], Lemarchand writes that “the misinformation conveyed by [Caplan] is enough to cast the strongest doubts on [the Mutsinzi report’s] veracity.”5

Indeed, Caplan does not even maintain consistency with his own previous writings, including one work about which he seems especially proud: the 2000 report on behalf of the Organization of African Unity, titled Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide.6

Caplan criticizes us for contending that the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s “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’.”7  He adds that “There is no source given for this assertion, which contradicts almost all other histories of the invasion.”  But in reality there are many sources for this assertion — and one of them is Caplan himself.  Thus in his  OAU report, Caplan wrote that on “October 1, 1990, . . . the RPF struck with a large, well-organised force led by former senior officers of Museveni’s [National Resistance Army],” with the RPF’s leadership to be assumed shortly thereafter by “Paul Kagame, Museveni’s former deputy head of military intelligence. . . .”  “Museveni’s Uganda had been the birthplace of the RPF,” Caplan pointed out in the same report, “and his government had continued to support [the RPF] as they fought their way to victory. . . .”8   Taken together, Caplan’s assertions go well-beyond ours in claiming RPF-origins within the Ugandan army.  Yet when we assert this, Caplan accuses us of an “extraordinary re-writing of history.”

In a similar vein, Caplan mocks us for asserting that the Rwandan fieldwork by the U.S. investigator Robert Gersony in1994 belongs to a “whole body of important but suppressed research”9 — “in fact,” Caplan counters, “the so-called suppressed research by Gersony has been well-known for years.”  But looking once again at Caplan’s 2000 report for the OAU, we find Caplan writing that Gersony’s team “apparently gathered the first convincing evidence of widespread, systematic killings by the RPF; the UN, however, for reasons never announced, decided to suppress the information. . . .  Gersony was told to write no report and he and his team were instructed to speak with no one about their mission. . . .”10 

Why Caplan would assail us over what we write about the origins of the RPF as “a wing of the Ugandan army,” as well as the “suppression” of Gersony’s research into RPF killings, when eleven years ago, this was what Caplan himself was writing, is an intriguing question.

Caplan’s versus the Alternative View of the Rwanda Genocide

The answer, we believe, is that Caplan’s real purpose in writing about The Politics of Genocide is simply to discredit it for rejecting the party-line on which Caplan has staked so much of his reputation.  In Caplan’s words, this party-line claims that “The signing of the Arusha agreement in 1993 proved the last straw for the Hutu Power extremists. . . .  Just before 8:30 p.m. on April 6, 1994, a private jet carrying President Habyarimana . . . was blown out of the sky.  Logic says the deed was organized by Hutu extremists, afraid the president was selling them out. . . .  Over the next 100 days, in a carefully coordinated assault organized from the very top of the Rwandan Hutu hierarchy, at least 600,000 and perhaps closer to a million Tutsi were slaughtered. . . .”11

The counter-theme of the relevant section of our book contends that “all major sectors of the Western establishment swallowed a propaganda line on Rwanda that turned perpetrator and victim upside-down,”12 with the Tutsi Paul Kagame and his Tutsi military force, the RPF, acting as both the initiators and the main perpetrators of 1994’s mass bloodletting, and subordinating all else to its seizure of state power in Rwanda.  The consequences of this plan include one million or more deaths in Rwanda, several million more in the DRC, perhaps the worst protracted human crisis on the planet over the past two decades — and a supremely well-entrenched dictatorship that now celebrates its 16th year in power, preparing yet again to stage a fake election in August 2010 to rival the one it put on seven years ago, with opposition Hutu parties and candidates prohibited from running against the incumbent, and Kagame’s victory by a landslide guaranteed.  (Kagame was awarded 95 percent of the reported vote in 2003.)  But as our account of these real and still ongoing genocides in Central Africa’s Great Lakes region is unacceptable to a Kagame apologist, Caplan attacks us with no holds barred.

Caplan’s versus the Alternative Analysis of the Genocide’s “Triggering Event”

One central problem for Caplan and the faction that advocates the Kagame-as-savior party-line13 is the evidence on the responsibility for the April 6, 1994 shoot-down of the Falcon-50 jet carrying the Hutu President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, the Hutu president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and ten others.  Most observers — including Caplan — agree that this was a “triggering event” or “immediate cause” of the sequence of mass killings that followed.  For Caplan et al., the Habyarimana assassination was carried out by “Hutu extremists,” but not only is there no serious evidence for this claim, there is very substantial evidence that the shoot-down was organized by Kagame.

As far back as 1996, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) investigated the assassination, and its chief investigator at the time, the Australian lawyer Michael Hourigan, presented then-ICTR Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour with evidence that Kagame and his RPF were responsible for it.14  Arbour, apparently after consultation with U.S. officials, quickly terminated the investigation, alleging that responsibility for the assassination was outside the jurisdiction of the ICTR.  This was false, as the ICTR’s mandate covers events taking place in Rwanda from January 1 through December 31, 1994;15 but Arbour’s quashing of the investigation was consistent with her long-standing service to U.S. power, both in its war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and its support and protection of the Kagame regime.16  As Hourigan told the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende in 2006, “The only time the prosecutor [Arbour] said it was not within the [ICTR’s] mandate was when I implicated Kagame.”17

Caplan explains away the Arbour-Hourigan episode on the ground that Hourigan’s witnesses were merely “disaffected RPF soldiers,” who later recanted their testimonies.  But Hourigan was an experienced investigator capable of evaluating witness evidence.  Furthermore, this does not explain why Chief Prosecutor Arbour dropped the subject in early 1997, long before any witness-recantation had occurred.  Nor does it explain why the ICTR never again took up investigation of this “triggering event” in the 13 years since — unless it was because credible evidence points to Kagame and the RPF.

The French anti-terrorism Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière’s inquiry into these events concluded that Kagame needed the “physical elimination” of Habyarimana in order to seize state power within Rwanda before the national elections called for by the Arusha Accords,18 elections that Kagame most certainly would have lost, given that his minority Tutsi were greatly outnumbered by the majority Hutu.  Bruguière also noted that the RPF alone in Rwanda in 1994 were a well-organized military force, and ready to strike.  And the politically weak but militarily strong Kagame-led RPF did strike, resuming their assault on the government of Rwanda immediately following the Habyarimana assassination.  In less than 100 days, the Kagame-RPF controlled Rwanda.  On the assumption that the shoot-down was central to the larger plan of Hutu Power and genocide, this would have required a miracle of Hutu incompetence; but it would be entirely understandable if it was carried out by Kagame’s force as part of their planned program to seize state power.

There is also the fact that the RPF launched its final assault on the government of Rwanda within two hours of the shoot-down,19 which suggests prior knowledge as well as plans and an organization ready for action, whereas the Hutu planners in Caplan’s mythical construction seem to have been disorganized, overmatched, and quickly overpowered.  Allan Stam, a Rwanda scholar and former U.S. Special Forces officer, has called attention to the extent to which the military maneuvers by Kagame’s RPF after April 6, 1994 were “staggeringly like the United States invasion of Iraq in 1991,” which he implies Kagame might well have learned in his stay at Fort Leavenworth.20  Caplan of course sneers at Stam’s credentials and pretends that he has “no idea what this means.”  But Caplan never explains how the alleged Hutu planners of the 1994 genocide were routed so quickly, while the U.S.-supported and trained Kagame-RPF drove them from power.

Although Kagame runs a violent totalitarian state, and his regime has jailed, driven into exile, and killed dissidents at home and abroad, Caplan does not question the credibility of the witness recantations that he believes undermine the Hourigan case or the regular production of fresh witnesses that support the official Kagame (and Caplan) line.  Caplan also finds the 2009 results of the so-called Independent Committee of Experts (i.e., the Mutsinzi Report21) that Kagame appointed to investigate the assassination to be “largely persuasive,” as they (needless to say) “pin the blame directly and fully on a group of Hutu extremists who were simply not prepared to accept the power-sharing provisions of the Arusha Accords.”  Typical for Caplan, he adds that only “genocide deniers, Hutu extremists and Kagame-haters” would reject the findings of investigators appointed by Kagame.22  But these, again, are the words of a Kagame apologist, and they allow us to understand why a disciplined Kigali newspaper such as The New Times would refer to Caplan as a “leading authority on Genocide and its prevention.”

Among the “genocide deniers” and “Kagame haters” who find the Mutsinzi report completely unpersuasive are René Lemarchand, the distinguished scholar on Rwanda, and Luc Marchal, the former chief of the Kigali Sector of UNAMIR (who was working in Kigali in April 1994).  Lemarchand finds Caplan’s understanding of the distribution of benefits of the Arusha Agreement badly off the mark — Arusha was not a “huge victory” for the RPF, he writes, as it gave the Hutu parties “an overwhelming majority,” and how the shoot-down of Habyarimana’s jet was “extremely functional” to Hutu extremists is a logic that “escapes my grasp.”23  Luc Marchal’s co-authored “Analysis of the Mutzinzi Report” is devastating, showing convincingly and in detail the lack of independence and limited expertise of the so-called “Independent Committee of Experts,” and the fact that the Committee “postulates that the authorities in post-genocide Rwanda had nothing to do with the attack of 6 April 1994,” which begs the most important question and shows the Committee to be “motivated by ideology.” And Marchal’s analysis describes in detail the Committee’s carefully biased selection of witnesses and crude management of “evidence.”  It was “a parody of an investigation, the script of which had been written in advance,” the “sole intention of which was to demonstrate the total innocence of the RPF and the Machiavellian guilt of the Extremist Hutus.”24  No scholar or honest journalist could have taken the Mutsinzi Report seriously, but Gerald Caplan does.

Caplan’s Minimizing of the U.S. Role in Central Africa

Caplan objects to our attempts to show the very important role of U.S. policy in Kagame’s ascent to power, his takeover of the Rwandan state, and the mass killings that ensued.  Caplan does this partly by flamboyant language (“elaborate American conspiracy,” “obsessive anti-Americanism”) and foolish sarcasm (“since thousands of officers from nations around the world have passed through Fort Leavenworth [as did Kagame], 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”).  But mainly he does it by suppressing evidence and failing to tie things together.  As noted, we mention that Kagame took instruction at the U.S. military base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Caplan counters that Kagame’s stay there was “very brief” and that “it was no secret.”  Would Caplan find it politically meaningless if it were “no secret” that a Canadian youth stayed at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan for even a very brief period?

More important, Caplan does not tie Kagame’s Fort Leavenworth stay to a large spectrum of other supportive acts and relationships.  The United States was a long-time arms supplier to Uganda and the RPF, and it did nothing in the Security Council or otherwise to interfere with the Uganda-RPF invasion of Rwanda in October 1990.  (We even cite former Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen, who naively wondered why the first Bush administration didn’t “[inform] Ugandan President Museveni that the invasion of Rwanda by uniformed members of the Ugandan army was totally unacceptable. . . .”25)  Caplan ignores the fact that the Arusha Accords26 of August 1993 forced the government of Rwanda to allow the RPF invading forces to further penetrate Rwanda and participate in (and subvert) the government, and he fails to see that the U.S. support for a reduction in UNAMIR troop levels in April 1994 was not an unfortunate or even reckless error, but consistent with the U.S. policy of facilitating Kagame’s conquest.  The government of Rwanda wanted more UN troops, and we cite Rwanda’s UN Ambassador Jean-Damascène Bizimana, who on April 21, 1994 told the Security Council that “in view of the security situation now prevailing in Rwanda, UNAMIR’s members should be increased to enable it to contribute to the re-establishment of the cease-fire and to assist in the establishment of security conditions that could bring an end to the violence.”27  But Paul Kagame didn’t want more UN troops.  Hence, the United States didn’t either.  In consequence, the Security Council greatly reduced UNAMIR’s troops — a bit hard to reconcile with the standard account that the locus of primary responsibility for the 100 days of killings resides with “Hutu Power” (and killers) and their genocidal plan.

Caplan makes much of the highly publicized expressions of remorse by high-ranking members of the Clinton administration, who “shamefacedly admitted abandoning the Tutsi,” he writes, and “consider it perhaps the greatest regret of his/her time in office.” But expressions of regret are cheap and can cover over policies of seeming neglect that are quite purposeful.  (Clinton was noted for his sympathetic “pain” over suffering he inflicted.28)  Caplan fails to mention that Kagame and his RPF did not want any military intervention that might derail their plans to overthrow the government of Rwanda, so that what he calls “abandoning the Tutsi” never really happened — four successive U.S. administrations have supported Kagame and the Tutsi, and therefore the monumental mass killings under him, from the RPF’s invasion of Rwanda in 1990 through its 100 day conquest in 1994, all the way to the present.  In fact, “abandoning the Tutsis” is a form of apologetics for the actual U.S. policy of supporting Kagame and his shoot-down and conquest — he was stopping “genocide” and the United States should have intervened more aggressively to support this leader who was “saving” Rwanda from Hutu genocidaires!

In short, the Clinton administration viewed the monumental losses of life from April through July 1994 and beyond in both Rwanda and neighboring countries to be “worth it,” in the words Madeleine Albright once used when responding to a question about “half a million” dead Iraqi children from the U.S.-imposed “sanctions of mass destruction.”29  As then-Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Susan Rice reportedly told her colleagues after visiting Central Africa late in Clinton’s second term: “Museveni and Kagame agree that the basic problem in the Great Lakes is the danger of a resurgence of genocide and they know how to deal with that.  The only thing we have to do is look the other way.”30  Look the other way — the long-standing U.S. response to what in The Politics of Genocide we call “benign” bloodbaths, benign because perpetrated by U.S. allies and clients, and serving U.S. interests.  Unmentioned in Caplan’s “review” of our book, but worth emphasizing here, we found that a greater disparity exists between the number of deaths (5.4 million) and the attributions of “genocide” (17) to the killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo than in any other theater of atrocity we surveyed.  Along with the monumental losses of life suffered by the Iraqi population first during the U.S.-U.K. sanctions regime (1990-2003) and then the U.S.-U.K. war of aggression and military occupation (2003-), and the few times the establishment media and intellectuals used the term ‘genocide’ to describe them, we doubt that three finer examples of the politics of genocide can be found in the contemporary world.31

Caplan Manages the Rwanda Numbers

Caplan derides 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.”  The “methodology employed to arrive at such an Orwellian assertion has been totally discredited,” Caplan adds.  But although the Davenport-Stam methodology has never been discredited, and The Politics of Genocide makes important use of their work,32 Caplan’s preferred numbers and assignment of victims, based on no discernible methodology, have long been institutionalized, and Caplan can routinely regurgitate them without fear of rebuttal.

In their 2009 article for Miller-McCune, Davenport and Stam reported the “most shocking result” of their research: “The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR [i.e., the Armed Forces of Rwanda] seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory.  When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated.  When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased.”33  When we keep in mind the counter-theme of our treatment of Rwanda, that all of the “widely-accepted facts” defended by Caplan and the rest of “serious” scholarship turns perpetrator and victim upside-down, the shock dissipates immediately.  As the “only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994,” whenever the RPF advanced, a lot of Rwandans died; and whenever the RPF halted its advances, fewer Rwandans died.

For Caplan, however, as one of his section-headings states, we are merely taking the “Hutu genocidaires” and turning them into “dead Hutu victims.”  This is hardly the case.  But as Caplan himself reports that the “lowest estimate by serious scholars of Tutsi killed during the 100 days is 500,000-600,000,” with some (Caplan included) who “believe it could be closer to a million,” skepticism towards the standard model of the “Rwanda genocide” is unavoidable.  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 neighboring countries, and the alleged Tutsi victims in complete control.

Caplan does acknowledge Tutsi killings of Hutus, but he fails to mention our citation of a memorandum to the U.S. Secretary State from September 1994 that “10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month” were being killed by Tutsi cadres.  That is a lot of civilians per month — and these killings continued into 1995 and well beyond, as both Rwandan Hutu refugees and the Congolese Hutu already living in eastern Zaire became targets of cross-border RPF attacks.  But this State Department memorandum was never made public (except as part of the defense exhibits at the ICTR), and its content did not in the least affect Clinton administration support of the RPF killers, who were busy at work in the eastern DRC at the very time President Bill Clinton delivered his fraudulent but no less celebrated apology in Rwanda.  Also striking, the ICTR has never indicted a single Tutsi for any crime that falls within its mandate.  This tells us a great deal about the real role played by the ICTR in securing impunity for the RPF — including its treatment of the Hourigan evidence and the “triggering event” — while relentlessly pursuing its targets.  For Caplan, this role is taken as a given and presumably just.

Caplan on the Role of the 1993 Human Rights Commission

Caplan objects to our comments about the 1993 International Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda.  But he neither quotes nor summarizes the case we make: that this commission participated in a destabilization and regime-change campaign in which the spotlight and accusation-propaganda of the United States and the many NGOs that flock to its side were directed at the Habyarimana government.  Despite its name, the commission’s actual inquiry was not into human rights abuses inside Rwanda, but rather into human rights abuses allegedly committed by the government of Rwanda, whose national territory had been under assault by the invading RPF for close to two-and-one-half-years.  As commission co-chair Alison Des Forges observed (and we quote), the March 8, 1993 release of the commission’s report “put Rwandan [sic] human rights abuses squarely before the international community”34 — that is, it put the Habyarimana government’s alleged abuses squarely before the “international community,” the invading RPF’s human rights abuses barely mentioned.

We also point out that William Schabas, the Canadian member of the commission, issued a press release in conjunction with the commission’s report that bore the title, “Genocide and War Crimes in Rwanda.”  (“[G]enocide is,” Caplan writes elsewhere, “the crime of crimes.”)  To quote The Politics of Genocide: “[W]ith the brunt of its findings coming down against the Habyarimana government, the commission’s work served to delegitimize the government of Rwanda and enhance the legitimacy of the armed forces of the RPF.  As the RPF quickly used the commission’s claims to justify a new killing spree, we believe the case can be made that the overall impact of this report . . . was to underwrite the mass killings to follow. . . .”35  True, Caplan may not understand our point or, understanding it perfectly well, may reject it and therefore prefer to muddy the waters around it.  But the general point we make about the foreign-policy tool of focusing on the alleged human rights abuses committed by a target of U.S. destabilization and regime-change, while ignoring the abuses of the armed forces attacking it, is unmistakable, and cannot be dismissed as claiming a “great American conspiracy in Rwanda.”

Caplan’s Accommodation of Violations of Freedom of Speech

Caplan finds no serious problem with Kagame’s laws criminalizing “genocide denial” and a litany of similar thought crimes, 36 laws which allow someone who defends political targets accused by Kagame of promoting “genocide ideology” to be charged with exactly the same crimes.  U.S. attorney Peter Erlinder was arrested on the basis of these laws in late May, after he flew to Kigali to take up the defense of Victoire Ingabire Umhoza, the leader of the United Democratic Forces-Inkingi party, who herself had been arrested on “genocidal denial” charges in April.37  Caplan justified Erlinder’s arrest on the ground that Erlinder entered Rwanda with the full knowledge that he was guilty of “questioning the Kagame version of events,” in Erlinder’s words.38  Caplan ignores the fact that Kagame’s “genocide denial” laws and the arrests of his critics and opponents are the work of a totalitarian regime, but Caplan contends that Ingabire and Erlinder had it coming — Ingabire because “she [told] reporters she doesn’t know whether more Tutsi or more Hutu were killed” in 1994, and Erlinder because “[his] presence is like a sharp slap in the face to all survivors of the genocide.”39  Caplan shows himself to be completely committed to the version of history embedded in Rwanda’s “genocide denial” laws, and he is willing to see them enforced by state power.

Erlinder has never denied that mass-atrocities and genocide were committed in Rwanda and that a large number of Tutsi as well as Hutu were slaughtered there.  However, Erlinder finds these terrible events centered in Kagame’s RPF invasion and takeover programs and efforts — as we do.  Yet as Caplan cannot even allow the possibility of a debate on this subject, Erlinder is simply a “genocide denier.”

Caplan also takes issue with what he calls Erlinder’s “intellectual dishonesty.”  According to Caplan, Erlinder, a lead defense counsel for the Hutu former Major Aloys Ntabakuze in the Military 1 trial, is guilty of falsifying the trial chamber’s December 2008 Judgment in this case.  As Caplan describes it:

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.’

Both of the sentences to which Caplan gives the numbers 1 and 2 occur in paragraph 2110 of the December 2008 Judgment.  In-between these two sentences, however, there appear two other sentences that Caplan himself omits.  These sentences read: “However, [these preparations] are also consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle.  The Chamber recalls that, when confronted with circumstantial evidence, it may only convict where it is the only reasonable inference.”40

Caplan thus omits the reason given by the trial chamber for acquitting the four Hutu defendants in Military 1 of the most serious charge that can be brought against them at the ICTR: Conspiracy to Commit Genocide.  As the government of Rwanda’s response to the assassination of Habyarimana and the renewed military offensive by the RPF was consistent with both a “plan to commit genocide” and a “political or military power struggle” (the defense arguing the latter), the “conspiracy to commit genocide” charge was rejected by the trial chamber.  As we showed at the outset with respect to his carelessness as a reviewer, here Caplan recklessly accuses Erlinder of “intellectual dishonesty,” when it is Caplan who clearly is guilty of the charge.

Caplan, Rwanda, and Media Access

Caplan wants readers to believe that challenges to the “Rwanda genocide” model that he guards so zealously are few and far between, that none of them are intellectually serious, and that it is only the “vast power of the internet [which] makes them seem ubiquitous and forceful.”  The 45 authors he says “agree there was a genocide planned and executed by a cabal of leading Hutu extremists against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority” may seem large in number, but Caplan worries that the internet greatly extends the reach of the “genocide deniers,” and fringe crazies such as Erlinder, Robin Philpot, Christopher Black, Christian Davenport, Allan Stam, and Michael Hourigan (not to mention the two of us) enjoy a “vastly disproportionate pride of place.”

To test Caplan’s claim about the disproportionate coverage of the alleged “genocide deniers,” we used the Factiva database to assemble a modest media universe, and found that whereas Caplan has had at least 22 bylined articles related to Rwanda within this media universe, not a single article by any of these six critics turned up.

Not only does Caplan himself thus enjoy a disproportionate access to the establishment media, but he has used his access to attack the so-called “deniers” by name: Robin Philpot in three of his articles, Christian Davenport in two, and Michael Hourigan in two as well.41  “Google Rwanda and you’re quite likely get a deniers’ rant featuring the tiny band of usual suspects,” Caplan wrote in 2009, disguising himself as a lonely voice in the wilderness, “French Judge Bruguiere, former UN Rwanda chief Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, Robin Philpot, former Australian investigator Michael Hourigan, American academic Christian Davenport — each enthusiastically citing the others as their proof that the entire so-called genocide was really an American imperial plot.”42  The data show once again that Gerald Caplan misrepresents reality.

It is also of interest that that the poor victimized Caplan not only dominates the “deniers” in the establishment Western media, he has access to and is appreciated in The New Times, the Kigali-based English-language newspaper that is friendly with and possibly sponsored by the Kagame dictatorship.  As we noted earlier, that paper profiled Caplan as a “leading authority on Genocide and its prevention.”  This all fits our framework of analysis: the United States steadfastly supports Kagame, establishment U.S. and Western media support also flows to Kagame, and Caplan enjoys media access while the “deniers” are marginalized — and of course Kagame’s media appreciate Caplan too.  Whether in the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, or Kigali’s New Times, it is the man who repeats the institutionalized truths about Rwanda whose voice is privileged.

Caplan makes another serious error of fact, claiming that the Rwanda genocide has been given scant attention in the West.  Readers of The Politics of Genocide will see the use of the word “genocide” in the establishment media has been far greater for the Rwanda case than any other arena of mass killing in recent decades — 3,199, as compared with only 17 for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 80 for the “sanctions of mass destruction” era in Iraq, and 13 for the period of the U.S.-U.K. invasion and occupation of Iraq, both of which caused Iraqi deaths in numbers comparable to that in Rwanda 1994.43

Caplan, Kagame, and the DRC

From the very first UN report in 2001 on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo,44 the invading Rwanda Patriotic Army as well as Ugandan military commanders and civilians have been identified as leading the mass-scale looting of the DRC and the bloodshed that accompanied it.  As the two major foreign state actors at work inside the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda long had established what the UN calls “elite networks,” structures parallel to and working in conjunction with Rwandan and Ugandan authorities, and organized to manage the “mechanisms for revenue generation, . . . once their troops have departed.”45  At their core, these “elite networks” are comprised of political, military, business, and even false militia and “rebel” fronts, and maintain their control of territory through intimidation, threats, and violence.  By the late 1990s, they had already “built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation,” with the “looting that was previously conducted by the armies themselves . . . replaced with organized systems of embezzlement, tax fraud, extortion, the use of stock options as kickbacks and diversion of State funds. . . .”46

The UN rejected the RPF’s rationale that its armed forces’ continued presence in the Rwanda-controlled area of the eastern DRC was needed to defend Rwanda against hostile Hutu forces terrorizing the border region and threatening to invade it.  “[T]o use the term employed by the Congo Desk of the Rwandan Patriotic Army,” the UN’s 2002 report countered, the “real long-term purpose is . . . to ‘secure property’.”47  By September 2002, the UN was estimating that 3.5 million more people had died in the five eastern provinces of the DRC than would have died, had the wars launched by Rwanda and Uganda for the DRC’s mineral wealth never occurred.  “These deaths are a direct result of the occupation [of the DRC] by Rwanda and Uganda,” the UN’s 2002 report concluded.  “Extensive mortality, especially mortality among children, is the consequence of a cycle of aggression, the multiplication of armed forces, a high frequency of conflict and its consequences, especially displacement.”48  In The Politics of Genocide, we cite a later mortality survey that estimated 5.4 million deaths in the eastern DRC through April 2007, but even this estimate is more than three years old.49  Moreover, as we point out, the DRC’s “foreign exploiters are the United States, Britain, France, and other African states allied with the West — most notably Rwanda and Uganda.  Hence, it is the Congo’s vastly greater death toll over ten years that has been truly ignored. . . .”50

Gerald Caplan has long downplayed the catastrophe in the DRC and especially the Kagame regime’s role in causing this catastrophe.  In his 2004 essay, “The Genocide Problem: ‘Never Again’ All Over Again,”51 Caplan refers to genocide in Rwanda and genocide in Darfur — but never once to genocide in the DRC.  Instead, Caplan refers merely to the “ongoing calamity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo;” and in a passage that made him no enemies in the Kagame regime, he laments how “Not a single French politician has been held accountable for allowing the [Hutu] genocidaires to escape from Rwanda to Zaire/Congo, thereby setting in motion the catastrophic wars that have since plagued the African Great Lakes region.”

Of course, in his references to the genocide in Rwanda, Caplan means only the killings attributable to Hutus, not the vast numbers slaughtered by Kagame.  (Recall the “10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month” referred to in an internal State Department report.)  This stress on Hutu villainy repeats the Kagame regime’s rationale for its military presence in the DRC, allegedly chasing down the fugitive genocidaires.  But if the UN and other reports are correct, and deaths in the Kagame- (and Museveni-) controlled areas of the eastern DRC have run into the several millions, then Caplan’s evasions about their source, and the intellectual cover he provides for whatever Kagame does, make Caplan not merely a genocide denier — they make Caplan a genocide facilitator.



1  Gerald Caplan, “The Politics of denialism: The Strange Case of Rwanda.  Review of ‘The Politics of Genocide’,” Pambazuka News (No. 486), June 17, 2010.

2  We take this description of Caplan from Edmund Kagire, “Author Calls for Upholding ‘Never Again’ Principle,” The New Times (Kigali), January 8, 2010.  Caplan was visiting Rwanda to deliver a lecture before the country’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide.

3  See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide(New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), pp. 51-68.  For an electronic copy of this section of our book, see “Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Propaganda System,” Monthly Review 62, no. 1, May 2010.

4  On the analytic framework that we use to explain (largely) U.S. media coverage of different mass atrocities around the world, see Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 15-17; and for three tables that represent attributions of ‘genocide’ to different theaters of atrocities, see p. 35, p. 38, and p. 72.  In focusing on our treatment of Rwanda and the DRC, Caplan ignores the fact that we apply the same analytic framework to Iraq, Darfur, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Croatia, Afghanistan, Turkey, East Timor, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  In the three paragraphs that Caplan devotes to our book’s thesis, he writes that he is “not at all sure that it’s helpful to explore these issues against a frame of genocide.”  In fact, we study the actual usage of the term by others, as they apply it (or not) to different theaters of atrocities.  But as readers of our book ought to recognize, its content is irrelevant to Caplan’s “review.”

5  René Lemarchand, “Doubts on the Veracity of Mutsinzi Report,” Pambazuka News (No. 467), January 28, 2010.

6  See Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, International Panel of Eminent Personalities, Organization of African Unity, 2000.

7  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 53.

8  Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, para. 6.17, para. 6.12, and para. 20.23.

9  See Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 57-59, where we assess the work not only of Robert Gersony (including its synopsis by a September 1994 memorandum for U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher that reported the RPF was “[killing] 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month”), but also the valuable work of the U.S. academics Christian Davenport and Allan Stam.

10  Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, para. 22.9, para. 22.12, emphasis added.

11  Gerald Caplan, “The Rwandan Genocide,” in The Betrayal of Africa (Toronto: Groundwork Books, 2008), pp. 78-80; here p. 79.

12  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 51.

13  For one example of what we mean by the Kagame-as-savior party-line, see Philip Gourevitch, “The Life After,” New Yorker, May 4, 2009.  To this day, Kagame is feted in the Western metropolitan centers, but nowhere near as obsequiously as in the United States and Canada.

14  See Affidavit of Michael Andrew Hourigan, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, November 27, 2006.  For other sources that discuss the suppression of the Hourigan memorandum, see Robin Philpot, Rwanda 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard (E-Text as posted to the Taylor Report Website, 2004), esp. Chap. 6, “It shall be called a plan crash”; Mark Colvin, “Questions Unanswered 10 Years after Rwandan Genocide,” PM, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 30, 2004; Mark Doyle, “Rwanda ‘Plane Crash Probe Halted’,” BBC News, February 9, 2007; Nick McKenzie, “UN ‘Shut Down’ Rwanda Probe,” The Age, February 10, 2007; and Tiphaine Dickson, “Rwanda’s Deadliest Secret: Who Shot Down President Habyarimana’s Plane?” Global, November 24, 2008.

15  See Statute of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, Annex, UN Security Council Resolution 955 (S/RES/955), November 8, 1994.  Article 1 of the Statute states: “The International Tribunal for Rwanda shall have the power to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and Rwandan citizens responsible for such violations committed in the territory of neighbouring States, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994, . . .”  The qualification “in the territory of neighbouring States” ought to be especially troubling for the Kagame-RPF, as many of the Hutu it killed were refugees who had fled Rwanda for what was then eastern Zaire (now the DRC).

16  In 1996, the Canadian Louise Arbour was vetted for the job of Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and in this role, Arbour did everything that could be asked of her to expedite the U.S.-led NATO bloc’s war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  See Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity (Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2004), pp 131-132, citing Carol Off, The Lion, the Fox, and the Eagle (Random House, Canada, 2000), p. 289. 

17  Bjørn Willum, “Terrorattentatet FN ikke vil høre om,” Berlingske Tidende (Denmark), December 10, 2006.  (»Det eneste tidspunkt chefanklageren sagde, det ikke var indenfor mandatet var, da jeg implicerede Kagame.«)

18  Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, Request for the Issuance of International Arrest Warrants, Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, November 17, 2006, p. 12 (as archived by the Taylor Report website).

19  See Allan C. Stam, “Coming to a New Understanding of the Rwanda Genocide,” a lecture before the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, February 18, 2009, shortly after the 22:30 mark.

20  Ibid, shortly after the 22:30 mark.

21  See Dr. Jean Mutsinzi et al., Report into the Investigation of the Causes and Circumstances of and Responsibility for the Attack of 06/04/1994 Against the Falcon 50 Rwandan Presidential Aeroplane, Registration Number 9XR-NN (a.k.a. The Mutsinzi Report), Independent Committee of Experts, Republic of Rwanda, 2009.

22  Gerald Caplan, “Who Killed the President of Rwanda?” Pambazuka News (No. 466), January 21, 2010.

23  Lemarchand, “Doubts on the Veracity of Mutsinzi Report.”

24  Luc Marchal et al., “Analysis of the Mutsinzi Report,” CirqueMinime, February 8, 2010.

25  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 53.

26  See the Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and the Rwandese Patriotic Front, signed at Arusha on 4 August 1993 (A/48/824-S/26915), U.N. General Assembly, December 23, 1993.  A total of seven documents were gathered together as the “Arusha Peace Accords,” the earliest the N’Sele Cease-fire Agreement dating from 1991.

27  “The Situation concerning Rwanda,” UN Security Council (S/PV.3368), April 21, 1994, 6.

28  “The international community,” President Bill Clinton said in Kigali, “together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe haven for the killers.  We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide” (“Clinton’s Painful Words of Sorrow and Chagrin,” New York Times, March 26, 1998).  But from the point of view of genuine contrition, admitting to which ethical and legal lapse is more serious: crimes of omission or crimes of commission?  The speaker of these words admitted the former, not the latter.  As we note above, Kagame and his RPF did not want any military intervention that might derail their plans to overthrow the government of Rwanda, so that what Caplan calls “abandoning the Tutsi” never really happened.

29  Lesley Stahl, “Punishing Saddam,” 60 Minutes, CBS TV, May 12, 1996.

30  In Gérard Prunier, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 339.  Note that Prunier himself attributes this quote to an anonymous “member of [Susan Rice’s] staff” (p. 339).  The claim that the “gist of Prunier’s anecdote is correct, except that participants have confirmed to me that it was Rice herself who spoke these words,” we take from Howard W. French, “Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo,” New York Review of Books, September 24, 2009.

31  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 68, and pp. 29-38.  Also see esp. Table 1, “Differential attributions of ‘genocide’ to different theaters of atrocities,” p. 35.

32  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 58-59.

33  Christian Davenport and Allan C. Stam, “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Miller-McCune, October 6, 2009.

34  Alison Des Forges, “Leave None to Tell the Story”: Genocide in Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), p. 93; in Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 65.

35  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 66.

36  See Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, June 4, 2003, and its Amendments (as posted to the website of the Rwandan Ministry of Defense), specifically Article 13, “Revisionism, negationism and trivialization of genocide are punishable by the law,” and Article 9, which commits the Rwandan government to “fighting the ideology of genocide and all its manifestations.”  Also see Law Relating to the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Ideology (No. 18/2008), Codes and Laws of Rwanda, Ministry of Justice, Republic of Rwanda, July 23, 2008.

37  See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Peter Erlinder Jailed by One of the Major Genocidaires of Our Era — Update,” MRZine, June 17, 2010.

38  See Peter Erlinder, “The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: International Justice or Juridically-Constructed ‘Victor’s Impunity’?” May 2008.  As Erlinder also pointed out in the same article: “The Rwandan Government, with U.S. and U.K. support, is actively campaigning to have ALL of the ICTR cases transferred to Rwanda.  No one at the ICTY is suggesting transferring Croats to Serbia when the ICTY shuts down.  The Kagame Regime also wants at ICTR records to be transferred to Kigali and has issued 40,000 warrants for ‘genocidaires’ in the Rwandan diaspora, both Hutu’s and Tutsi’s, who are making common cause to bring down a regime that the Economist called the ‘most repressive in Africa’ in April 2004.”

39  Gerald Caplan, “The Law Society of Upper Canada and Genocide Denial In Rwanda,” Toronto Globe and Mail (Web exclusive), June 11, 2010.  Also see Caplan, “The Politics of Denialism,” para. 8-12.  Caplan’s Globe and Mail defense of Kagame’s totalitarian laws received a sharp rebuttal by the University of Texas at Austin Professor Alan J. Kuperman, “Interpreting Genocide,” Letter, Toronto Globe and Mail, June 14, 2010. 

40  Judge Eric Mose et al., Judgment, The Prosecutor v. Theoneste Bagosora et al. (ICTR-98-41-T), International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, December 18, 2008, Sect. 2.1, “The Conspiracy to Commit Genocide,” para. 2084-2112; here para. 2110.

41  Factiva database searches carried out for five sources on July 1, 2010, for all available dates.  The five sources were All Africa, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Globe and Mail, and Toronto Star.   The basic search parameters were rst=(afnws or mtlg or otct or glob or tor) and Rwanda and [name].  The results were then checked for items appearing under the individual’s byline.  Of the seven individuals whose names we used Factiva to check (Gerald Caplan, Christopher Black, Christian Davenport, Peter Erlinder, Michael Hourigan, Robin Philpot, and Allan Stam), the only bylines that we found belonged to Gerald Caplan. 

42  Gerald Caplan, “Memory And Denial — the Genocide Fifteen Years On,” All Africa, April 8, 2009.  This same article first appeared in Pambazuka News (“Memory And Denial — the Genocide Fifteen Years On,” No. 426, April 2, 2009), and then The New Times (Kigali), from which All Africa re-circulated it. 

43  See Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, Table 1, “Differential attributions of ‘genocide’ to different theaters of atrocities,” p. 35.  

44  See Safiatou Ba-N’Daw et al., Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (S/2001/357), UN Security Council, April, 2001; Mahmoud Kassem et al., Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (S/2002/1146), UN Security Council, October 2002; Mahmoud Kassem et al., Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (S/2003/1027), UN Security Council, October, 2003; and Jason Stearns et al., Final Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo (S/2008/773), UN Security Council, November 2008.

45  Kassem et al., Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo (S/2002/1146), UN Security Council, October 2002, para. 13.

46  Ibid, para. 12 – 21; here para. 21, para. 12, and para. 19.

47  Ibid, para. 65 – 96; here para. 65.  As this 2002 report also states: “The elite network’s operations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are managed centrally from the [Rwanda Patriotic Army] Congo Desk, which serves to link the commercial and military activities of the RPA” (para. 70).

48  Ibid, para. 96.

49  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, p. 43, citing Benjamin Coghlan et al., Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Ongoing Crisis, International Rescue Committee – Burnet Institute, January 2008.

50  Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 43-44.

51  Gerald Caplan, “The Genocide Problem: ‘Never Again’ All Over Again,” The Walrus, October 2004.

Edward S. Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and has written extensively on economics, political economy, and the media.  Among his books are Corporate Control, Corporate Power (Cambridge University Press, 1981), The Real Terror Network (South End Press, 1982), and, with Noam Chomsky, The Political Economy of Human Rights (South End Press, 1979), and Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon, 2002).  David Peterson is an independent journalist and researcher based in Chicago.  Together they are the co-authors of The Politics of Genocide, recently published by Monthly Review Press.

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