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Ex-Cabinet officials to co-chair task force to prevent genocide

  • Story Highlights
  • Organizers hope U.S. will help shape policies that will help stop atrocities
  • Peace institute, Holocaust Museum, Academy of Diplomacy to convene task force
  • Report, due out next year, to be "blueprint for preventing and responding to" atrocities
  • Albright: Darfur crisis helped propel effort to better deal with genocide
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From Silvio Carrillo
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced Tuesday they will co-chair a task force to develop guidelines to help future U.S. governments deal with genocide.

Madeleine Albright said the idea for the task force came from the failure of genocide prevention worldwide.

"What we know is that the world for a long time has said that genocide is unacceptable," Albright said at a news conference. "And yet, genocide continues and mass killings continue, and our challenge basically is to match the words with deeds and actions to stop these kinds of unacceptable acts."

The Genocide Prevention Task Force will be jointly convened by the U.S. Institute for Peace, the Holocaust Museum and the American Academy of Diplomacy. It will focus on early warning, pre-crisis engagement, preventive diplomacy, military intervention, and international institutions in affected countries or regions.

A report will be issued in December of next year with the first high-level assessment of U.S. policies and practices in the area of genocide prevention. Organizers are calling it an "operational blueprint for preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities."

It is a need that has recently arisen, according to Cohen, because of the speed at which information is disseminated.

"Because we live in this age of information ... we can no longer live in a state of denial or willful indifference," he said. "And so the purpose of this task force is to look to the past, to be sure, but to look forward to say, 'What are the signs, what are the options that will be available to the United States as one of the leading forces to help shape multilateral action, to energize people of conscience, to say that this cannot happen, this is not tolerable?' "

The international community heaped a lot of criticism on the United States for not becoming involved in Rwanda's 1994 internecine war and for again reacting too late to Sudan in 2004, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the situation there a genocide. The Sudanese government has denied that label is accurate.

"Things haven't worked," Albright said. "And watching Darfur [Sudan], I think, is one of the things that has led us all to say, 'OK, let's give this all another try to see if there are some guidelines and if -- speaking of the United States government -- if there is some way to organize ourselves better to deal with it.' "

She said the idea for the task force came from the unfortunate history of failure of efforts to prevent genocide around the world.

"I would frankly say that this is as a result of frustration," she said. "That no matter what we say, there are mass killings and genocide. And we want to see what we can do to make some reality to the words 'never again'."

Albright and Cohen spent much of the news conference's question-and-answer session defending a letter they sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, earlier this year, in which they spoke against a House resolution that would have labeled as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 by what is now Turkey. The letter, signed by eight former Cabinet secretaries, including Albright, Cohen and Powell, stated that discussion of the bill on the floor could "strain our [United States] relations with Turkey, and would endanger our national security interests in the region, including the safety of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Neither backed down, stating that it is a complicated issue, especially with regard to the war.

"There's an element of pragmatism," Cohen said. "If someone else's son or daughter is in harm's way, that is a factor that I, as a citizen and I as a former secretary of defense, have to take into account and would. And I think anyone serving in public office necessarily has to have a set of balancing factors to take into account."

Albright concurred.

"Ultimately, when you're in the government, as we both have been, and you have to make very tough decisions, you have to look at the overall picture. I think we have to admit that." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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