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The Clinton administration's determination to stay out of Rwanda left mid-level officials who wanted tougher action out in the cold.

Prudence Bushnell was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs. She led a State Department task force on Rwanda. She still recalls her rage at being straightjacketed by the administration's policy of non-intervention.

"That was the source of anger, the frustration, the irritation, the horror - that policy - and I don't think that there's a person involved in it who doesn't have that horror still resident in some corner of self. You couldn't do it, couldn't do it, never wanted to do it. I'll never work in the policy machinery, not in something like that. Once was enough."

By early June, administration lawyers had loosened their guidelines. The term genocide could be used, but cautiously.

A State Department spokesperson said, "We have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda."

When asked by a reporter "How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?" the spokesperson replied, "That's just not a question I'm in a position to answer."

It was too little, too late. Three days after this exchange, NPR's Michael Skoler, traveling with the advancing Tutsi rebel army, came across the scene of a massacre. It was one of many that occurred in public places where Tutsis had fled for safety. This one was in a church.

"There are bodies scattered all over the church. Some lie in mattresses, some on the floor. Some are covered with blankets. By the altar there are about 30 bodies clustered around. One is the body of an infant with the parents, it seems, on either side. There's a suitcase that is open and kind of torn apart in front of the altar. On the floor of the church, you can see baskets, plastic water cans, combs, brushes, sandals, sneakers, tins of food, a bottle of talcum powder. Above the whole scene, above the altar, is a small wooden statue of Christ with one hand raised."

By early July, Tutsi rebel forces captured Kigali and the genocide was over. 800,000 people had been slaughtered in 100 days. Both the United States and United Nations have said they failed Rwanda. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says he will soon appoint a U.N. Special Advisor on the prevention of genocide, but Annan says he can't rule out the possibility of another genocide, sometime, someplace.

back to The Few Who Stayed: Defying Genocide in Rwanda

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