Anti-Genocide Fighter Seeks Office Space

by Rafael Medoff

Samantha Power wants Ambassador Susan Rice’s job, the Washington Post reports.

But could it be that what Dr. Power really wants is not Rice’s office, but her office space?

The question arises because eight months after President Obama appointed Power to be director of the new “Atrocities Prevention Board,” the Board still has no web site, no phone number, and no email address. Unless they are well hidden, it does not have an office or a staff, either. Despite the fanfare and high-sounding pronouncements accompanying its creation –and despite all the fresh atrocities in Syria, Sudan, and elsewhere crying out for its attention– the Atrocities Prevention Board still does not exist.

Perhaps, then, it is Dr. Power’s frustration at the administration’s abandonment of her Atrocities Prevention Board that has led her to covet Ambassador Rice’s desk. (Literally.)

“Samantha Power, a special assistant to the president, is said to be looking to get Rice’s current job as U.N. ambassador, so she has thrown her support behind the Rice nomination [for secretary of state],” the Washington Post reported on December 7. “This, despite Power having written an article in Atlantic Monthly in 2001 that claimed Rice had tried to stop Clinton administration officials from describing events in Rwanda as a ‘genocide’.”

It’s interesting that the Post reporter referred to Dr. Power as the president’s “special assistant” without mentioning Power’s appointment by the president as director of the Atrocities Prevention Board. But the reporter can be forgiven; probably not too many people in Washington realize what Dr. Power is doing these days as director of an apparently non-existent government agency.

Yet it all began so auspiciously. Last April –shortly after Holocaust Remembrance Day– President Obama, speaking at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, inaugurated the Atrocities Prevention Board, and named Power to lead it.

It was the first time the United States officially took upon itself the responsibility for protecting civilians in other countries. And as a Penn Schoen Berland poll at the time demonstrated, it is a policy that more than two-thirds of Americans support.

But that was April. Now it’s December. And still no office.

How many civilians in Darfur or Sudan’s Nuba Mountains have been murdered during the long months that White House aides have been trying to figure out how to secure a domain name for the Atrocities Prevention Board?  

The outgoing prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said at his farewell dinner, in June, that “There’s ongoing genocide [in Darfur]…the new weapons of the genocide–starvation and rape–are working very well.” And New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported from Sudan this past summer that the regime of Omar al-Bashir is carrying out “mass atrocities that echo Darfur” against non-Arab tribes in the Nuba Mountains.

This is not to say that the Atrocities Prevention Board could have prevented every one of those atrocities from occurring. But there are steps the Board could have taken, or pressed the White House to take, that might have made a difference:

*  Demanding a no-fly zone over parts of Sudan where atrocities have taken place.

*  Penalizing regimes that host visits by Sudanese president Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for organizing the Darfur genocide.

*  Pressing the Arab League and African Union –Sudan is a member of both– to seek Bashir’s arrest.

*  Turning Sudanese public opinion against Bashir, by exposing the secret $9-billion slush fund that the International Criminal Court says he has accumulated.

And, of course, it’s not just Sudan. In Syria, the government slaughters its own citizens. In Gaza, Hamas fires rockets at Israeli schoolchildren.

No one can know in advance how much the Atrocities Prevention Board might achieve. But at least there would have been a glimmer of hope that some lives would have been saved. So long as the Obama administration continues to only pay lip service to the fight against atrocities, there is not even that.

December 2012