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Secretaries Albright and Cohen Should be Removed from Genocide Task Force

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How hypocritical of Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, former Secretaries of State and Defense, to announce the formation of a task force on prevention of genocide, when two months ago they wrote a letter to the U.S. Congress against a resolution on the Armenian Genocide!

One would have thought that genocide denialists would not be the most qualified people to lead an effort on averting future genocides. Yet, this is exactly what happened last week.

Albright and Cohen shamelessly stood in front of TV cameras at the National Press Club in Washington on November 13 to declare that they are co-chairing a new "Genocide Prevention Task Force." The other members of the task force are Sen. John Danforth, Sen. Tom Daschle, Amb. Stuart Eizenstat, Michael Gerson, Secretary Dan Glickman, Secretary Jack Kemp, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, Amb. Tom Pickering, Julia Taft, Vin Weber and General Anthony Zinni. This effort is jointly sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the United States Institute of Peace. The task force has five working groups dealing with early warning, pre-crisis engagement, preventive diplomacy, military intervention, and international institutions. It is expected to issue its report in December 2008.

Cohen told members of the media with a straight face that the task force is going "to look certainly to the past for lessons" in order to prepare a set of recommendations to the U.S. government on how best to respond to future threats of genocide. He stated that mass violence is "inimical to human behavior, to human decency, [and] to our sense of humanity....We can no longer live in a state of denial or willful indifference." These bold words are from a man whose company, The Cohen Group, is affiliated with DLA Piper, one of the major lobbying firms hired by the Turkish government, at a cost of $100,000 per month, to deny the facts of the Armenian Genocide.

As soon as the two former high-ranking officials finished delivering their opening remarks at last week's press conference, they were confronted by skeptical members of the press and Armenian activists who questioned their sincerity and pointed out their hypocrisy. This accusatory exchange was covered extensively by CNN, AFP, AP, and The Jerusalem Post.

Albright and Cohen were asked by a reporter: "How do you reconcile your work in trying to build a moral American sentiment, an unconditional consensus against genocide, when just very recently both of you signed letters urging America not to recognize the Armenian Genocide?" Albright, forgetting her earlier words about learning from the past, quickly shifted the mission of the group to the future. Carefully avoiding the term "Armenian Genocide," she acknowledged that "terrible things happened to the Armenians -- a tragedy.... While we were Secretaries, we recognized that mass killings and forced exile had taken place, and we also said that the U.S. policy has been all along for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia on this particular issue." She also said that her earlier letter to Congress against the genocide resolution merely questioned whether "this was an appropriate time to raise the issue." Secretary Cohen, in his turn, referred to the Armenian Genocide as "the human suffering that took place between 1915 and 1923." He said he was concerned that the Armenian resolution "might result in reactions on the part of the Turkish government that could place our sons and daughters in greater jeopardy [in Iraq]." The two officials gave evasive answers when another reporter asked whether they were advocating that "for political expediency purposes we shouldn't be taking action on future genocides because of what it could mean to U.S. interests."

A third reporter then pointedly asked if Albright and Cohen were in fact saying: "If our friends do it, it's not genocide; if our enemies do it, it is genocide.... If you are going to define genocide by who does it, not by what it is, your task force is in trouble."

Exposing his ignorance on the issue of the Armenian Genocide, Secretary Cohen said: "I don't know that the UN has declared that genocide occurred in the Armenian situation." He must not be aware that back in 1985 the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, by a vote of 15-1, adopted a report which included a section acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. "The experience of the Armenians does indeed conform with the UN Convention," a fourth reporter shot back at Cohen and added: "The two of you have personally worked toward ensuring that the United States government does not take a stand recognizing the Armenian Genocide. However, taking on this new role, how can you reconcile your positions and the U.S. foreign policy?"

Given their repeated attempts to block the reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide resolution, both during and after their tenure in government, Secretaries Albright and Cohen should be removed from the leadership of the Genocide Prevention Task Force. They have undermined their own credibility and lost the moral standing to speak on the topic of genocide. One cannot deny a genocide and then turn around and act as a defender of its victims. Furthermore, Secretary Cohen has a personal conflict of interest due to his firm's affiliation with a company that lobbies for Turkey against the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide. This fact alone should disqualify him from membership, let alone leadership, of the genocide prevention group.