(photo credit: AP [file])
The newly formed Genocide Prevention Task Force indicated Tuesday night that it will not be examining whether Israel has committed genocide in the West Bank and Gaza despite earlier statements that it would be addressing the subject.
The task force of prominent former US officials was announced at a press conference earlier Tuesday and will be working over the next year to help the American government best respond to and prevent genocide.
Though one of the co-chairs, former US Defense Secretary William Cohen, originally said that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza would be considered, the task force later clarified that such an inquiry would be beyond the scope of the panel.
"Its task is not to determine which situations, past or present, including the West Bank and Gaza, constitute genocide, but to develop policy recommendations that enable the United States to prevent future genocides from occurring," Cohen, along with co-chair Madeleine Albright, said in a statement issued Tuesday night.
Cohen and Albright, a former US secretary of state who served with Cohen under former US president Bill Clinton, are joining with other top former US policy-makers and politicians, including one-time Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and former US Middle East envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni, for the yearlong project.
The task force will look at specific areas of action, including early warnings, preventative diplomacy, work with international institutions, and military intervention, and make recommendations in December 2008.
"The world has said that genocide is unacceptable, and yet genocide continues and mass killings continue," Albright said. "We have to find an answer before the vow of 'Never again!' is once again betrayed."
But many of those attending the press conference were focused on present and past atrocities rather than future ones.
Several Armenian journalists questioned Cohen and Albright for chairing the task force when they had recently argued against a proposed Congressional resolution calling the Turkish slaughter of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire genocide.
"We're trying to look forward rather than backward," Cohen said, calling the decision a "practical" one aimed at protecting US troops who rely on Turkey - which would be angered by such a resolution - in their efforts in the Iraq war.
Another member of the audience then challenged them for supporting friendly countries such as Israel despite allegations of genocide against the Palestinians.
Cohen had responded, "The issue of whether genocide has taken place in the West Bank or Gaza certainly will be part of [what] the task force [is] looking into."
He then told The Jerusalem Post that the task force had yet to establish criteria for which cases and histories would be examined.
"We're going to take a broad look across the global spectrum," he said. "There's nothing that's off the table."
Arthur Berger, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's senior adviser for external affairs, said that he did not expect Israel to be singled out or dwelled on by the task force; instead, he thought the panel would focus on places like Rwanda and Darfur, where there was a large consensus that genocide had taken place.
"They're really going to look in the broadest possible way at genocide and mass atrocities, and how the US can lead in a moral way to actually save lives in the future," Berger said.
In her presentation, Albright said that the "frustration" of situations like that of Darfur had contributed to the creation of the task force.
"Things haven't worked, and watching Darfur is one of the things that has led us all to say, okay, let's give this another try," she said. "Let's see if there is some way to organize ourselves better to deal with it."
The US Holocaust Museum is helping to convene the task force, along with the US Institute of Peace and the American Academy of Diplomacy.
"The whole concept of this thing was to look at issues of the Holocaust," Berger said, "and give teeth to 'Never again!'"
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