Even as America was lobbying for the withdrawal of United Nations forces from Rwanda in 1994, US officials knew massacres were being perpetrated and they were in contact with one alleged mastermind of the genocide, evidence in newly declassified archives shows.
Among 16 documents on American actions in the wave of frenzied killing that claimed 800,000 Rwandan lives, one details a conversation on 28 April 1994 between Prudence Bushnell, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Colonel Theoneste Bagosora of the Rwandan army.
"She said that, in the eyes of the world, the Rwandan military was engaged in criminal acts, aiding and abetting civilian massacres," said a summary of the conversation that was later cabled between American embassies.
Col Bagosora, who is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, is said to have told her the mass killings of Tutsis were being committed by the people, without the support of the newly installed extremist Hutu military government.
William Ferroggiaro, a researcher at the National Security Archive, a private US organisation that collects declassified military and diplomatic documents and analyses them, said: "We knew who to call. We knew how to call them, and we did call them."
Rwandan genocide raged for three months while America, which had been humiliated in Somalia the previous year, lobbied for the removal of the small UN contingent in the Great Lakes country. At the same time, France was taking action that has since been proved to have aided the Hutu genocidaires.
Other released documents detail the debates in lower-level US policy circles, especially over whether to term the events in Rwanda a genocide. The documents show some State Department officials feared using the term genocide would compel the United Nations – and therefore America – to comply with the 1948 Genocide Treaty, which demands intervention. In 1998, President Bill Clinton said: "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name – genocide."
A similar debate surrounded proposals to use a $70m (£48m) electronic warfare aircraft called Commando Solo, capable of jamming the inflammatory broadcasts of Radio Milles Collines, which incited Hutus to kill Tutsis throughout the genocide.
On 5 May 1994, Frank G Wisner, who was the American under-secretary of defence for policy, wrote to Sandy Berger, then the deputy national security adviser, advising that jamming would be "an ineffective and expensive mechanism that will not accomplish the objective", given Rwanda's mountainous terrain and concerns for the safety of the slow, prop-driven aircraft.
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