TV Preview: Amanpour Looks at Genocide on CNN's 'Scream Bloody Murder'

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Offered perhaps as a grim antidote to all the chirpy, cheery holiday specials glutting the airwaves this time of year, "CNN Presents: Scream Bloody Murder," a definitely unflinching history of genocide, premieres tonight on CNN. The network's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, conducts the class, calling genocide "the world's most feared crime."

Genocide might also be called the unthinkable inevitable, since it is always condemned when discovered and yet continues to recur, wiping out entire populations, entire generations, entire cultures. The word was not invented until 1944, Amanpour says, but of course, there were examples of genocide long before it was identified.

The vilest, most infamous and most organized commission of this ultimate crime was, inarguably, Adolf Hitler's attempt to eliminate all Jews from Europe during World War II. Amanpour says the United States and its allies were aware of the slaughter but "refused" to bomb the death camps or, as many people advocated, destroy the railroad tracks leading to them. A Holocaust survivor says Hitler's anti-Semitic rampage "wasn't a priority" for the Allies -- although after the war, the crime and some of the criminals were dealt with at Nuremberg.

Elie Wiesel is the world's best-known authority on the Holocaust, but he is also an advocate for other cultures wracked by genocide. He is seen early in the program during a segment on the genocide in Cambodia at the end of the Vietnam War. "Nobody believed us," an anguished priest laments, and Wiesel understands. "Better not to believe," Wiesel says, "because if you believe, you don't sleep nights." The nightmare that the Turks visited upon the Armenians is also covered, though briefly.

Later, Amanpour takes George Herbert Walker Bush and his administration to task for failing to intercede when Saddam Hussein rained terror down on Iraq's own citizens, the Kurds, in the late 1980s. Bush later turned the proverbial blind eye to mass murder in Bosnia, Amanpour says, with the president growling at a news conference that "we are not going to get bogged down in some guerrilla warfare."

Although Bush ignored the slaughter of the Kurds, he grabbed a saber and began rattling it when Saddam invaded Kuwait -- and thus threatened the flow of oil and wealth out of the Mideast. Now that was going too far! Oil-rich Kuwait plucked at Bush's heartstrings as the dying Kurds had not: "We're dealing with Hitler revisited," he declared, adding one of his trademark threats, "This will not stand."

But Amanpour is just as hard on Bill Clinton for his response to Rwanda when the military was found to have murdered "hundreds of thousands" of men, women and children there. The Clinton administration's policy was "a failure," Amanpour says, and she includes a scene from a Clinton news conference in which he treats one of her accusations snidely: "There have been no 'constant flip-flops,' Madame," he huffs. His indignation seems false and hollow now.

CNN is celebrating 25 years of reports by star reporter Amanpour, although to attach a documentary on genocide to anything resembling a "celebration" is not very good form. Nor is it encouraging to hear Amanpour implicitly praising herself and her own courage when dealing with genocide of recent years: "Day after day, I reported the story," she says of one crisis -- and later, she notes of the shelling of Sarajevo, "I was there, reporting on the scene."

The use of a dramatic musical score, though restrained, comes across as another unnecessary intrusion; pictures as dramatic as those showing the victims of genocide don't need any underscoring or audio hype.

Amanpour ends the program with a look at the United Nations and its role in preventing and condemning genocide throughout the world, a role she contends the organization has seldom embraced with zeal. In fact, Amanpour says, "the United Nations is powerless to force its members to act even in the face of mass murder." The special is timed to the upcoming 60th anniversary of the U.N. convention on genocide.

Some may find the program tough to take at holiday time, but in fact it seems especially powerful during a season in which "peace on Earth" and "good will toward men" are being extolled from street corners.

"Scream Bloody Murder" isn't subtle, but then the subject rather precludes subtlety -- and instead demands the kind of doggedly powerful approach that Amanpour brings to it.

CNN Presents: Scream Bloody Murder (two hours) airs tonight at 9 on CNN.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company