On substantive matters, Gourevitch definitively lost me on Central Africa way back in October 1997, with a piece he wrote in The New Yorker titled “Stonewall Kabila.” In it, he seemed to argue against holding the new, Rwanda-backed government of Laurent Kabila in Congo to account for recent large-scale massacres of Hutus in that country. “It’s hard to imagine that anybody in the Congo stands to benefit from this test of wills,” he wrote, speaking of the UN’s efforts to pursue a doomed investigation into mass graves.
Tellingly, Gourevitch’s bile in this piece is reserved for the UN and, by inference, for sticklers for human rights. One detects very little energy and no outrage whatsoever on the subject of the atrocities themselves. Congo’s history, however, provides an eloquent and deeply tragic answer to Gourevitch’s question of whether anyone stands to benefit from a test of wills over what might best be called impunity. With Gourevitch often providing rationales like those he marshaled in “Stonewall Kabila,” the international community sided with continued impunity in the region, helping usher in a reign of bloodshed and mayhem in the Congo that by some estimates has cost that country over five million lives. As we know from recent reports from the United Nations and might well have known, or even prevented at the time, these included several tens of thousands of Hutus, including Congolese (not Rwandan) Hutu women, children, and the elderly, who were systematically exterminated by Rwandan forces or their surrogates simply because they were Hutu.
The editors respond: We agree that when an article is to focus on somebody’s work, as this one was from the start, that person should be told that fact up front. We are sorry that our writer didn’t make his focus clear in this case. Beyond that, we understand that Gourevitch may not like the judgments and conclusions in “One Man’s Rwanda,” but it was thoroughly reported and meticulously fact-checked. As for Gourevitch’s assertion that Howard French’s “work reads like a template for CJR’s piece about me,” and his suggestion that French, a member of our Board of Overseers, steered the piece: not true. The board did not exist when this piece was assigned and reported, nor did the editors know who would be on the board until the bulk of the editing was complete, nor did French have any bearing whatsoever on the direction of the piece beyond McConnell’s interview with him, one of many interviews. Finally, Gourevitch’s assertion that we invited him to respond because CJR is “on the defensive” is false. Any subject of any story in CJR is invited to respond anytime.
David Glenn’s otherwise fine portrait of Carol Rosenberg (“The Record Keeper,” CJR, November/December 2010) is marred by its peripheral smearing of my Harper’s article on the June 2006 deaths of three Guantánamo prisoners. Glenn quotes Charles Swift, a former military detainee defense lawyer, speaking of “all kinds of crazy rumors” and then flags my article, which rests not on “crazy rumors,” but on on-the-record statements by four guards on duty that evening, a prominent forensic pathologist’s review, and research by a team at Seton Hall Law School, which meticulously reviewed FOIAed records of the government’s inquiry. My article does not purport to solve the question of the deaths; rather, it shows that the government’s claims don’t hold up. Specifically, eyewitness testimony by the sergeant of the guard puts the site of the deaths not in the cellblock of Swift’s client, but in another installation. What happened remains unclear. The suggestion of death associated with interrogation is only conjecture designed to show that hypotheses other than suicide can be sustained on the same facts, and not a conclusion.
Contributing editor, Harper’s Magazine
New York, N.Y.
The editors respond: The phrase “crazy rumors” was Swift’s assessment of the theory the prisoners had not committed suicide, not our author’s. Our article originally said Horton’s piece suggested the prisoners had been killed by their guards. It did not say that. The text has been corrected online.