by Ann Garrison
Nowhere is The Big Lie more powerful than in the corporate and official Western version of events in Rwanda and the Congo, where Tutsi dictator and U.S. hit-man Paul Kagame is responsible for the worst genocides since World War Two. Scholar Edward Herman and a few others have struggled for two decades to reveal the truth about the events in Rwanda. Ann Garrison’s lonely journalistic mission is to defictionalize the blood-soaked history of the region.
Rwanda, the Enduring Lies: A Project Censored Interview with Professor Ed Herman
by Ann Garrison
This article previously appeared in the San Francisco Bay View.
“Kagame started the genocide and, in fact, it never ended.”
This following is the transcript of an interview broadcast on the Pacifica Radio Network’s Project Censored Show on KPFA Jan. 1, 2016, and on other Pacifica stations during the following week, with guest host Ann Garrison.
Project Censored/Ann Garrison: Happy New Year, and welcome to the Project Censored show. Thanks to Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff for inviting me, Ann Garrison, to guest host.
Today we’re going to talk about regime change engineered by the U.S. government and its allies in East and Central Africa. We’re going to talk about Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s and Burundi today, where we’re still hoping for a better outcome.
Aerial bombing campaigns make U.S. wars for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria highly visible and absolutely undeniable, but the corporate and state press don’t describe U.S. sponsored wars in Africa as such if they talk about them at all. Millions of African people have nevertheless lost their lives or seen their lives destroyed in U.S. sponsored wars for regime change and natural resources in Africa.
For more than a year now, Western policymakers and press have warned of a genocide in Burundi like that in Rwanda in 1994, and called for a so-called humanitarian intervention to override Burundi’s national sovereignty and replace President Pierre Nkurunziza with a president more to their liking. They tell us that they’re campaigning to stop genocide and mass atrocities, or often, for short, “to stop the next Rwanda,” which is what they told us when they took us to war in Libya and Syria.
One of the founding documents of humanitarian interventionist ideology is our U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power’s “Bystanders to Genocide,” an essay decrying America’s failure to stop the Rwandan Genocide, which she expanded into her book, The Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.
“They tell us that they’re campaigning to stop genocide and mass atrocities, or often, for short, ‘to stop the next Rwanda,’ which is what they told us when they took us to war in Libya and Syria.”
Here with me to talk about this is University of Pennsylvania Emeritus Professor of Finance Edward S. Herman, co-author, with Noam Chomsky, of the classic “Manufacturing Consent.” Herman is also the co-author of “The Politics of Genocide” and “Enduring Lies: Rwanda in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later,” with researcher and writer David Peterson.
We’re going to talk about the enduring lies about Rwanda, which “humanitarian” interventionists now repeat as they pursue regime change in Burundi.
Welcome, Professor Ed Herman.
Ed Herman: I’m happy to be with you.
AG: Professor Herman, could you start by telling us why you and David Peterson describe the enduring lies about what really happened in Rwanda as the greatest success of the propaganda system in the past two decades?
EH: In this book, Ann, we describe the fact that Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda, has killed more than five times as many people as Idi Amin. He invaded Rwanda in 1990 and carried out a war of conquest there that ended sometime in 1994. He invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and went in and out of that country for years, killing what the U.N. itself admitted was probably more than 4 million people.
He runs a dictatorship in Rwanda, where he gets 93 percent of the vote in a country where 90 percent of the people are Hutu who consider him to be a conqueror, a terrorist leader. And yet he’s considered, in the West, to be a hero, a savior.
In The New Yorker, he was described as the Abraham Lincoln of Africa. For a man who has outdone Idi Amin, I think this is miraculous.
The only way we can explain it is that he serves the ends of the United States, but it’s still a miracle that a man with that record can, in the free press of the United States, be considered a noble spirit.
“Kagame runs a dictatorship in Rwanda, where he gets 93 percent of the vote in a country where 90 percent of the people are Hutu who consider him to be a conqueror, a terrorist leader.”
AG: In other words, everything we’ve been told is wrong. And I can add that the enduring lies are so successful that that includes much of what’s been broadcast here on Pacifica Radio and published in any number of left liberal outlets. Any attempt to edit the Wikipedia entry on the Rwandan Genocide triggers so many edit alerts that it starts a Wiki editing war until the Wikipedia authorities declare a ceasefire with no changes made. That Wikipedia entry is all but written in stone.
Now, can we just go through the chapter headings in your book, each of which addresses one of the enduring lies?
EH: Yes, let’s do that.
AG: Since you’ve already given us some background and context, let’s start with Chapter Two: “The RPF invasion and low-level aggressive war that never was a ‘civil war.’” People who know the story of the Rwandan Genocide only through the movie “Hotel Rwanda” are likely to think that it was an explosion of tribal bloodletting that began and ended in 100 days’ time in 1994.
Those who know that it was actually the final 100 days of a four-year war are likely to believe that it was the end of the Rwandan Civil War. There is an entry in the Wikipedia on the Rwandan Civil War. Why is this an enduring lie?
EH: Well, there was no major ethnic conflict in Rwanda back in late 1990. What happened in October 1990 was an invasion of armed forces from Uganda. This was a group of Tutsi, several thousand Tutsi soldiers, who were part of the Ugandan army.
They entered, they pushed several hundred thousand Hutu farmers out of their homes in northern Rwanda, and they were pushed back, but they kept coming. And the United States and its allies gave them assistance.
They pressed the Rwandan government to sign an Arusha agreement in 1993, which gave Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and its army a lot of power in Rwanda. But it also provided for an election to be held about 22 months after the agreement was signed, and the RPF could not have won that election. So they made sure they didn’t have to win that election, Instead, they resumed the war on April 6, 1994, and by July 1994, they had conquered Rwanda.
So the whole period from October 1990 to, say, July 1994 was a period in which the RPF was engaged in subversion and readying itself for a final war of conquest. So it was a war. I would say this was a war.
“Kagame had planned the assassination and carried it out.”
AG: OK, now let’s consider Chapter Three: “‘Hutu Power extremists’ did not shoot down Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 jet.” Juvenal Habyarimana was the president of Rwanda from 1973 until he was assassinated in 1994, a little more than a year before these elections were supposed to happen.
He was a Hutu, a member of Rwanda’s Hutu majority who had overcome centuries of Tutsi subjugation with independence in 1960. He died while returning home, along with Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, also a Hutu, when his plane was shot out of the sky above Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
After four years of war and massacres, which had driven a million Rwandans to the outskirts of Kigali, where they were camped as internal refugees, this convinced the Hutu population that the Tutsi army was coming to kill or subjugate them all again, and some Hutu began to kill Tutsi. Now, the Rwandan government narrative is that Hutu extremists assassinated Habyarimana because he might have blocked their genocidal plans. What’s the truth?
EH: There’s no evidence of these genocidal plans, and the Hutu would have won the upcoming election. The election was foreclosed by the assassination and conquest by Kagame.
But we don’t have to speculate about this. The Rwanda tribunal actually carried out an investigation of who shot the plane down back in 1996 and 1997. They appointed a 20-man group to carry out this study. These investigators hired by the tribunal came up with a report in 1996, based on what they thought to be credible witness testimony by members of the RPF, that Kagame had planned the assassination and carried it out.
When this report was presented to the prosecutor of the tribunal, she consulted the United States and then canceled the investigation. And, from 1996 to the present, although the shoot-down of this plane is widely thought to be the event that triggered the genocide, the tribunal hasn’t looked into it and the U.N. hasn’t looked into it beyond that.
There’s lots of other evidence that the shoot down was carried out by Kagame, and it was logical too because he couldn’t win an election. So, to attain power by conquest, he shot the plane down.
And another point that shows that he was the villain in the case is that when the plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, his forces were ready and were in action within two hours of the shoot down, whereas the alleged plotters were completely bamboozled and confused and put up almost no resistance. So anyway, the evidence is compelling that the shoot-down was carried out by Kagame, and it’s logical. But most critically, it’s a proven fact.
AG: And even, whether you believe the evidence or not, Paul Kagame and his forces were the only ones who stood to gain by Habyarimana’s assassination and what happened afterwards, right? Otherwise they would have lost to Habyarimana and his party in the next year’s election.
EH: Yes, he’s the only gainer from it.
AG: OK, let’s move on to Chapter Four: “Rwandan genocide by the numbers.” When Professor Allan Stam wrote to a U.N. official to ask how he estimated that the dead in Rwanda were 500,000, the U.N. official responded that he couldn’t quite remember, but they knew they needed a really big number.
The numbers that eventually came to be most widely accepted were that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi and a few Hutu moderates who tried to protect them died at the hands of Hutu extremists. Why is this impossible?
“Many more Hutu were killed than Tutsi.”
EH: It’s impossible because the number of Tutsi in Rwanda, back in 1994, was way under 800,000. In fact, the best figure one could come up with in those early years was based on the census, the Rwandan census of 1991, which gave the Tutsi numbers at about 590,000.
So if all of them were wiped out, it wouldn’t come anywhere near 800,000. But all of them weren’t wiped out. After the war, the best estimate, which was by a Tutsi survivors’ group, was that there were 400,000 Tutsi still there.
So let’s say there were 600,000 beforehand and afterwards there were 400,000, that means 200,000 dead Tutsi. If there were 800,000 killed and 200,000 of them were Tutsi, 600,000 of them must have been Hutu.
If it was a million, 800,000 of them must have been Hutu. And it’s completely logical that the Hutu were the greatest victims by number, because this was an invasion by a Tutsi army.
I conclude, as do Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, who did a very careful study of the killings in 1994, that many more Hutu were killed than Tutsi. And my estimate would be that it was between a 2 to 1 and 5 to 1 ratio, probably more like 4 to 1. That’s my best point estimate.
AG: OK, and because this is a very sensitive subject, I want to add that this was a tragedy for everyone in Rwanda. Hutus and Tutsis died.
Now let’s move on to Chapter Five, “The West’s alleged ‘failure to intervene.’” The story of the West’s failure to intervene to stop the Rwandan genocide has become the starting point of all the campaigns to go to war to “stop the next Rwanda.” What’s wrong with this story?
EH: What’s wrong with it is that the West was intervening from the very beginning. The West supported Kagame’s invasion in 1990. He was trained at Fort Leavenworth. And the United States and Britain pressed the Rwandan government to allow the RPF to penetrate and bring armed forces into Rwanda.
Just before the shoot down of the plane on April 6, 1994, the United States caused the U.N. to withdraw some of its troops. That was an intervention.
After the shoot down and the mass killings really started, the government of Rwanda called repeatedly for a ceasefire repeatedly, but Kagame did not want it because he knew he could win. And therefore the United States did not support any ceasefire and it recognized Kagame’s government after three more months of war.
It’s absolutely untrue that the West failed to intervene. They did intervene, but they intervened to support the man who was engaging in this war of conquest in Rwanda.
“The aim of the United States was to support Kagame’s takeover, and if vast numbers of people were killed, it was a cost that we were prepared to accept.”
AG: I think that really needs emphasis. People have been led to believe that the massacres began and Paul Kagame and his army moved to stop them. What actually happened was that the massacres began and Paul Kagame resumed the war to win, at all costs.
EH: Yes, that’s true. In fact one could say that all the dead people were collateral damage. The aim of the United States was to support Kagame’s takeover, and if vast numbers of people were killed, it was a cost that we were prepared to accept.
But it doesn’t look good, so we have to say that we failed to intervene; we failed to stop it. Well, in fact, we not only failed to stop it, we actually supported the mass killing.
AG: Yes, Professor Allan Stam has reported that the Pentagon estimated collateral damage of 250,000 people, a quarter of a million. It turned out to be closer to a million.
EH: I can believe it.
AG: Those are some pretty grim numbers. The Pentagon, according to Professor Allan Stam, estimated that the collateral damage for putting our guy Kagame in power in Rwanda would be 250,000 Rwandan lives and it turned out to be closer to a million. Let’s take a breath and a musical break and we’ll be back shortly.
Musical interlude: Rwandan gospel music
AG: And that was Rwandan gospel singer Kizito Muhigo, a Rwandan Tutsi who is now serving 10 years in a Rwandan prison for singing those lyrics for both Hutu and Tutsi who died in the Rwandan massacres. The lyrics are:
Even though genocide orphaned me
Let it not make me lose empathy for others
Their lives too were brutally taken
But not qualified as genocide
Those brothers and sisters
They too are humans, I pray for them
They too are humans, I comfort them
They too are humans, I remember them
“The International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda served as a virtual arm of Kagame and the Rwandan state.”
AG: Now we return to our conversation with Professor Ed Herman, co-author, with David Peterson, of “Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later.” Chapter Six: “The ICTR delivers victor’s justice.” The International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda is hailed as a great triumph of international justice, mostly in the corporate and state press. What was it in fact?
EH: It did deliver victor’s justice. The first part of that statement is therefore correct. That it was a great triumph of international justice is a complete fallacy because victor’s justice is not international justice. Victor’s justice is a kind of revenge and, in fact, the ICTR served as a virtual arm of Kagame and the Rwandan state.
It went after only Hutu, although, as I pointed out a while ago, the majority of killings were killings of Hutu in Rwanda. But of course the RPF could not be brought to trial.
And of course the shoot-down of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane. When the tribunal found that Kagame’s forces were the ones who had shot down Habyarimana’s plane, it canceled any further investigation. That’s victor’s justice and a triumph of international injustice.
AG: They actually fired the prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, who had said that she was going to indict President Kagame for assassinating President Habyarimana.
EH: The prosecutor who dropped the case was Louise Arbour, but Carla Del Ponte actually did try, as you say, to go after some RPF people. She was not allowed to do it. She was fired shortly thereafter. Again, this is true victor’s justice.
AG: OK, Chapter Seven: “The alleged Hutu conspiracy to commit genocide that never was.” The idea that Rwanda’s majority Hutu conspired to wipe out the Tutsi minority is central to the Rwandan government’s official narrative. What’s the truth?
EH: Actually, the belief that there was a conspiracy to commit genocide is swallowed by the ICTR, by Human Rights Watch and many, many commentators. But the tribunal itself, when it had to come to grips with this, couldn’t find any such conspiracy.
They did believe that there was a genocide, and certainly there was mass killing, but a conspiracy to commit genocide would have had to take place before the shoot-down of the plane on April 6, 1994.
And so when high level people in the Hutu government were brought to trial and there was an attempt to find that they actually had a plan, the tribunal couldn’t find it. In this book, we studied 15 top trials where the prosecution attempted to prove a conspiracy to commit genocide, and in all 15 the tribunal found that there was no evidence for a conspiracy.
There was killing, which they called genocide, but they could not find any pre-April 6, 1994, plan to commit genocide. So they rejected this argument, but the defenders and apologists for Kagame continue to talk about this conspiracy to commit genocide.
“The tribunal itself couldn’t find any such conspiracy to commit genocide.”
AG: Yes, I have noticed this, that the press doesn’t hesitate to repeat this, that there was a conspiracy before April 6, even though no court at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda convicted anyone of that crime.
EH: Yes, it’s a remarkable fact that wipes out many of the claims about what happened in Rwanda.
AG: OK, let’s move on to Chapter Eight, “Did Paul Kagame’s RPF really ‘stop the genocide’?” This is the story that’s made him a celebrity in Western capitals. What’s the truth?
EH: Well, as I’ve been saying, Kagame actually started the genocide. He carried out the war. He refused to accept any ceasefires during the killing period. And I have made the case that more people were killed by Kagame’s RPF than were killed by any Hutus.
I think this idea that he stopped the genocide is the inverse of the truth. He started the genocide and in fact it never ended, because after he conquered the country, he didn’t stop killing Hutu. And within a short time, he went in to start killing Hutu and do other things in the Congo, where vast numbers of Hutu were killed.
I would argue that, insofar as there was a genocide in Rwanda in 1994, it can be credited to Paul Kagame. And there was a second, bigger genocide in the Congo that was also Paul Kagame’s doing.
So he’s a double genocidist, and one could argue too that Bill Clinton was a partner in this. Bill Clinton is arguably a genocidist.
AG: Yes, and one would hope that people might consider that in this upcoming election year. I know that people from this part of the world are very concerned about the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s election.
Now, Chapter Nine: “Africa’s World War: Kagame’s alleged pursuit of ‘genocidaires’ in Zaire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the death of millions.” What’s wrong with Kagame’s claim that his troops and proxy militias were in DR Congo for nearly 20 years to hunt down the Hutu genocidaires guilty of killing Rwanda’s Tutsi in 1994?
“There was a second, bigger genocide in the Congo that was also Paul Kagame’s doing.”
EH: Well, one problem is there were no “genocidaires.” There were members of the Rwandan army that had been beaten and dispersed, but they were not genocidaires. That’s baloney.
And he knows who did the killing, that he himself with his forces did most of the killing. But also, the army that was in the Congo, the old Hutu army, was no longer a real force. It had been defeated and these people had been dispersed in the Congo. They did not constitute a real threat to Rwanda.
So this claim was really, essentially, a big lie that Kagame was using with the support of the United States to continue attacking in the Congo. I mean you couldn’t say, “I’m going into the Congo to exploit their rich resources.”
No, you had to have a better excuse, and so the excuse was that there were these people who had committed planned genocide in Rwanda out there in the Congo and he was going in after them. For 20 years. This is baloney but it’s been very effective.
It’s one reason why the ICTR, the tribunal, and the continuous prosecution of Hutu in Rwanda played into Kagame’s hands. He could argue, look, these people are being tried and convicted.
These are people who’ve committed genocide and there are some of them out there in the Congo, so I must hunt down these evil criminals. It’s a wonderful propaganda gambit. And it was swallowed in the West and he was not stopped.
So we’re dealing here with really mass killing. And yet there’s no tribunal that’s ever been established to try anybody for these crimes that tower over even what happened in Rwanda. Why is that? It’s because he’s a U.S. client and he’s serving U.S. and British interests in this resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo.
AG: OK, now finally Chapter 12: “The role of the U.N., human rights groups, media, and intellectuals in promulgating the standard model, otherwise known as the official narrative of the Rwandan Genocide.”
EH: Well, the United States has been the superpower that has dominated what has happened in this area in the Congo and in Rwanda. The American people know almost nothing about the area, and since the United States has had a strong position of support for Kagame and for the invasion of the Congo, that dominated all the institutions that were associated with it.
The U.N. – most of its reports – were really supportive of the invasion. They swallowed the conspiracy to commit genocide line. They provided the tribunal.
“Human Rights Watch was an outrage from the beginning, following the standard line.”
It’s true that they did have some reports, like these reports I mentioned, that talked about mass killing in the Congo, but they couldn’t avoid that because this was such an enormous volume of killing, and there were millions of refugees. So the U.N. had to confront it, and they had to speak a certain amount of truth.
But essentially, the U.N. supported the U.S. position. And even during the Rwanda crisis in 1994, the U.N. did nothing when Kagame put a lot of military people right in Kigali. They let him get away with it.
The human rights groups also did poorly. Human Rights Watch was an outrage from the beginning, following the standard line.
And the media, moving forward to April 2014, and the 20th anniversary of the 1994 massacres, have supported the Western propaganda line. When that anniversary made headlines, the bias of the mainstream media was dramatic. Thus 20 advocates for the standard model were given ten times as many bylined articles ad distinguished dissenters from that model; most of the dissenting experts couldn’t get into the mainstream media at all. And particularly terrible were the U.S. and British media.
Of the 20 dissenters from the standard model, there were a grand total of 17 articles, and most of them were in France. And most of these experts that were dissenters could never get into the mainstream media at all. And particularly terrible were the U.S. and British media.
AG: OK, now that we’ve gone through most of the enduring lies, what similarities do you see between Rwanda 1990 to 1994 and what’s happening in Burundi now?
EH: Well, one very important similarity is that the United States and its allies are trying for regime change in Burundi, just as they did in Rwanda. They wanted to get rid of the Habyarimana government, a social democratic government in Rwanda. They don’t like the social democratic government in Burundi and they’re trying to get rid of it.
Another thing is that they’re talking of intervention here based on the fact that the head of state of Burundi has taken a third term, which is contested on a constitutional basis. And it’s ridiculous that the great powers should be upset about a third term, when they’re supporting Kagame, who is a dictator and who has his chief contestant, Victoire Ingabire, in jail and claims to get 93 percent of the vote.
They swallow that and don’t bother him at all, but here they’re going after the Burundian state, which is by comparison with Rwanda a wonderful democracy, and it is a social democracy.
“The United States and its allies are trying for regime change in Burundi, just as they did in Rwanda.”
AG: They have objected to Kagame’s plan to run for another term, but that’s their only objection.
EH: Yes, after all these years of atrocities.
And there’s also intervention more directly in Burundi now. There’s strong evidence that the Kagame government has been intervening in Burundi and that it’s trying to stir up agitation and killings that will cause more tension and upheaval in Burundi. This is all in preparation for further intervention to “save the people from genocide.” It has a familiar ring to it.
AG: Yes, it does. On page 20 in your book, you write, “At the time, meaning in the 1990s, and in contrast to the crises in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq today, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia was a non-factor in the U.N. Security Council and a rubber stamp for the United States.” Since you wrote that, Russia and China have used their veto power to keep the Security Council’s Western powers from passing resolutions to censure Burundi’s President Nkurunziza for seeking a third term in office or to approve humanitarian intervention “to stop genocide.”
Nothing has yet come to a formal vote and veto, but the U.S. and E.U. keep failing to get the language they want into resolutions that are passed. Most recently, they asked the Security Council to approve an intervention by 5,000 African Union troops. It responded instead that it welcomed contingency planning in case an intervention was needed, but without giving its approval. How do you think this might play out?
EH: That’s a tough one. I’m just hoping that the Russians and the Chinese will stand firm and that the situation in Burundi will not deteriorate. If it does, if the destabilization efforts of Kagame and probably the United States are successful and it becomes increasingly violent, then it’s going to be tougher to stop the approval of that intervention from the African Union troops.
I just hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s very hard to predict. It’s an ominous situation.
AG: Is there anything else you’d like to say in closing?
EH: Well, what I’d like to say is that this issue on Rwanda and the struggles there and the work of the ICTR, it’s a very complicated issue, so I would urge people to get this book that we put out, which has a lot of detail.
But there are also some other really excellent books on the work of the ICTR and other international courts. There’s a very good book called Justice Belied: The Unbalanced Scales of International Criminal Justice, and it’s an anthology edited by Sébastien Chartrand and John Philpot. “Justice Belied” – it’s a critical work on the workings of the international justice system.
And many of the writers are very familiar with Rwanda and the issues in Africa and it’s even argued by some of the writers that the international justice system, as it’s now working, is really an arm of U.S. foreign policy.
AG: And here I think we have to mention Robin Philpot’s book as well, “Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, from Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction,” and the CIUT-Toronto Taylor Report, which has kept the truth about this story alive for nearly two decades. The Taylor Report airs at 5 pm Eastern time every Monday on CIUT-89.5fm-Toronto.
Professor Ed Herman, thank you for speaking to the Project Censored show.
EH: It was a pleasure, Ann.