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Responding to Edward Herman and David Peterson's critique of his review of their book, Gerald Caplan continues to challenge the notion that the Rwandan genocide never took place: 'Since the authors and I are never going to agree, the only point of continuing this exchange is not to change each other's minds but to persuade readers whose minds remain open.'

Re: Edward Herman and David Peterson's response to my review of their book for Pambazuka News

In 'The Politics of Genocide', authors Edward Herman and David Peterson turn the entire history of the 1994 genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi on its head. They simply deny that it happened and even argue that the Tutsi were the victimisers, not the victims. What would possess a serious left-winger like Edward Herman to deny one of the terrible tragedies of the late 20th century? (I know nothing of David Peterson.) In my review I documented at length just how dishonest and sleazy their arguments were.

Last week Pambazuka published their reply. Since I labelled Herman and Peterson genocide deniers, it was probably inevitable that they'd reciprocate and even up the ante: not only am I the real denier, I'm a genocide facilitator as well. Since I've spent the past decade immersed in genocide prevention – or so I naively thought – this was the unkindest cut of all, or would have been had it come from a serious and credible source.

Since the authors and I are never going to agree, the only point of continuing this exchange is not to change each other's minds but to persuade readers whose minds remain open. There are many issues I wish I could pursue, where the deceitfulness of Herman and Peterson's approach is flagrant:

- Their insistence that the 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) rebels was really carried out by the Ugandan army and not by Rwandans who had once served in the Ugandan army
- Their claim that the Gersony report documenting RPF atrocities around the time of the genocide remains suppressed, though my report on the genocide un-suppressed it 10 years ago
- Their reliance on the Hourigan report to assert that the RPF shot down President Habyarimana's plane in 1994, triggering the genocide; but there is no Hourigan report that anyone's seen which would allow the world to judge its credibility
- The completely bogus way they try to prove that the RPF actually killed more Hutu in 1994 than Hutu killed Tutsi
- Their mind-boggling assertion that in Rwanda in 1994, 'the RPF alone were a well-organised military force'
- Their view that Rwanda's genocide denial laws are somehow illegitimate, while such laws are commonplace across Europe and of course in Israel.

But I think it's best to leave these issues to others. I have been told, for example, that Adam Jones, a genocide specialist who has written prolifically on the subject, intends to address some of these matters. I hope others will jump in as well. I'd like to restrict myself here to one overriding issue – the critical matter of sources.

What has always most mystified me about the deniers is how they simply ignore or reject the vast amount of evidence related to the genocide that points inescapably, overwhelmingly, to a single conclusion: A small group of Hutu extremists organised and executed a plot to annihilate all Rwanda's Tutsi, and came close to succeeding. Among those who have studied Rwanda there are many differences of opinion on various issues within this overall finding, but on the main issue there is almost none. That's precisely why it's become the conventional wisdom. But this is not a manufactured conclusion slickly imposed on the world by the mainstream corporate-controlled media. The very opposite is true.

Let me remind readers again about some of the sources for the version of the genocide that is so widely accepted. We can begin with every one of the handful of outsiders who remained in Rwanda throughout all or most of the genocide, all of whom, on the basis of first-hand experience, share the conventional view. Are they all just dupes of Yanqui imperialism, as deniers recklessly label General Roméo Dallaire, head of the UN military mission to Rwanda? Are they all wrong about what they personally witnessed? By coincidence, I had a meeting last week with James Orbinski, a Canadian doctor who entered Rwanda in mid-May and ran the MSF (Médecins sans frontières) operation there for the next six weeks. He was absolutely incredulous that anyone could deny what he saw happening before his eyes, and which he's written about in his book 'An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century'. Had Orbinski differed from any of the others who had remained – General Dallaire, Phillippe Gaillard of the Red Cross or Carl Wilkens, an Adventist missionary – that would be significant. But isn't it also significant that they all completely agree on the nature of the events they lived through?

Is it not significant that every reporter without exception who spent time in Rwanda during the genocide as well as those who showed up very soon after all agreed on what had occurred? Is there a single outsider, media or otherwise, who witnessed the event and thinks otherwise? How can this not trouble those who repudiate the shared understanding of these witnesses?

In my original review I emphasised the large list of writers on the genocide, from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom accept the conventional version. I named 45 of them, and could have added more. I didn't include those journalists who were actually in the country for part of the genocide, such as Mark Doyle, Nick Hughes and Lindsey Hilsum. I noted that several of today's most vociferous critics of the RPF still accept the reality of the genocide, mentioning Kuperman, Uvin, Prunier, Lemarchand and the late Alison Des Forges (who is shamelessly smeared by Herman and Peterson in a way old Joe McCarthy would have admired).

I could have mentioned others as well, such as Paul Rusesabagina, of Hotel Rwanda fame, who accepts the reality of the genocide despite his weasel words and his hatred of the RPF, or Filip Reyntjens, a rabid RPF-loathing Belgian academic and member of an experts committee named by the Organisation of the African Union to vet my report on the genocide in 2000. Reyntjens, in academic mode, pronounced my draft to be worth about 90 per cent; I was deeply flattered, even reassured. The key findings of that report, 'Rwanda: the preventable genocide', included the existence of a Hutu extremist plot to exterminate all Tutsi, the betrayal and abandonment of the Tutsi by the international community led by France and the US, and the murder by the victorious RPF of perhaps 25,000 to 40,000 non-combatant Hutu before, during and immediately after the genocide.

Are all of these sources, many of whom were witnesses or did original research, to be dismissed out of hand? Is every single one either misguided, deluded, dishonest or a stooge of the Americans?

Let me acknowledge straight out that I made an error in writing that except for two of the 45 writers that I listed, none was cited by Herman and Peterson in their book. As they rightly note in their rebuttal, they actually mentioned seven of the names on this list:

- Gerard Prunier
- Fergal Keane
- Alex de Waal
- Mahmood Mamdani
- William Schabas
- Phillip Gourevitch
- Ingvar Carlsson.

For this foolish error I apologise.

But the slipperiness that characterises so much of Herman and Peterson's scholarship is still very much at play here. For while the seven names can indeed be found in their text – and I should have found them – all are invoked for secondary purposes or, as with de Waal and Mamdani, on Darfur, not on Rwanda at all. It's remarkably brazen of Herman and Thompson to imply that they took these seven authors seriously. They did not.

Let me rephrase my description with precision, as I should have done originally: Every one of these 45 authors (plus those added above) believes that a genocide of the Tutsi took place in Rwanda in 1994, yet this central finding of every one of them is completely ignored and implicitly repudiated by Herman and Peterson. Instead, they rely for their 'evidence' entirely on a small band of like-minded individuals who, often as not, quote each other to bolster their case for rejecting the major conclusions shared by the vast majority of writers on the subject.

Let me also remind readers of the large number of other sources for the genocide, too many for me to even mention here. There are the very large number of survivor testimonies, recounting their unspeakable ordeals during the genocide. Are they all lying? Are they all part of a gigantic conspiracy? When they tell us, as so many do, that they're the only remaining member of a large family, when they describe the rape and torture in vivid detail, are these mere inventions?

Then there are the confessions of large numbers of killers, supplemented by interviews these killers later voluntarily gave to outsiders such as academic Scot Straus and journalist Jean Hatzfeld, and no, it is simply wrong to claim they were all driven by fear of RFP reprisals. There are hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence accumulated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, describing in great detail how the genocide happened. There is the corroborating testimony of Jean Kambanda, former prime minister of the Hutu extremist government that was orchestrating the genocide. There were the notorious exhortations to hate and murder Tutsi by hate radio RTLM (Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines).

There were the explicit warnings boldly announced by the RTLM and the Kangura newspaper just before the president's plane was shot down that something dramatic was about to happen to him. There were the documented vows of leading Hutu extremists in the Habyarimana government and army that they would never allow the president to implement the Arusha accords; two days before he was murdered he had announced their immediate implementation.

There was the dreaded interahamwe, the ruling Hutu party's wild youth militia who led and carried out so many of the mass slaughters. Were they a figment of everyone's imagination? There are the statements by French soldiers in south-western Rwanda, part of France's Opération Turquoise, expressing their shock that the Hutu they were told were the victims were actually the murderers.

Is every last word of this to be discredited, dismissed, mocked, part of some fantastic American imperialist conspiracy? Are the Rwandan archives that Linda Melvern is mining filled with brilliant forgeries? When Noam Chomsky agreed to write a preface to the Herman–Peterson book, did he know something that allowed him to ignore or disdain all of this evidence?

Fair-minded readers must compare Herman and Peterson's sources with the sources the two men, like all other deniers, choose to ignore. Then you can decide for yourself where credibility lies. This is not a trivial debate. The Rwanda genocide is a landmark of our times. The large majority of scholars who have studied Rwanda have concluded that what happened to the Tutsi in 1994 constituted one of the purest examples of genocide in the 20th century, the 'century of genocide' as it’s often called. To deny the reality of Rwanda is equivalent to denying the Holocaust. Are we all wrong? Have we all been conned by one of the greatest hoaxes of all time? Has American imperialism blinded us all to the hidden truth? Are Herman and Peterson and their small band right and all the rest of us wrong? Follow the evidence and judge for yourself.


* Gerald Caplan has a PhD in African history. He recently published 'The Betrayal of Africa'.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.