A fascinating debate occurred on CNN's AC360 last night. Christiane Amanpour and Senator John McCain made a strong argument that Syria's use of chemical weapons on its own people crosses a line from human rights violation into international war crime. Amanpour compared the situation to Bosnia, where a blind eye was turned to genocide because of a reluctance to commit military assets. Today there is a piece in the Washington Post, Obama should remember Rwanda as he weighs action in Syria, that compares Syria's atrocities to those in Rwanda, and quotes an exchange between Reuters and a spokes person for the state department...
Elsner: “How would you describe the events taking place in Rwanda?”
Shelly: “Based on the evidence we have seen from observations on the ground, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda.”
Elsner: “What’s the difference between ‘acts of genocide’ and ‘genocide’?”
Shelly: “Well, I think the — as you know, there’s a legal definition of this. . . . Clearly not all of the killings that have taken place in Rwanda are killings to which you might apply that label. . . . But as to the distinctions between the words, we’re trying to call what we have so far as best as we can; and based, again, on the evidence, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.”
Elsner: “How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?”
Shelly: “Alan, that’s just not a question that I’m in a position to answer.”
As President Obama and his advisers look for “more conclusive evidence” that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his people, he would do well to remember this shameful moment. The evidence Obama is reviewing first surfaced in December, when the U.S. consul in Istanbul sent a cable detailing interviews with victims and observers of an attack in Homs just before Christmas and concluding that it was likely that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.