A Saturday earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, left thousands dead and leveled many homes and buildings. Government aid workers and non-governmental organizations have swooped in to assist survivors and clear wreckage as aftershocks subside.
Charlie Sennott, head of the GroundTruth Project, joined Boston Public Radio to talk about the Kathmandu quake, as well as the CIA's drone program, the 1915 Armenian genocide, and the Clinton Global Initiative.
All answers edited where noted [...], and questions are paraphrased.
How do reporters cover the Kathmandu earthquake, given the tough terrain and adverse circumstances?
It's not easy, particularly there. You're dealing with some of the most remote terrain in the world. People are doing a good job covering this story. [The] skillset you need to go do that reporting and to do it on the ground is difficult. You have to be not only trained in technology — so you can get your SAT phone working, you can actually get communications going because communications systems are largely broken down — you have to know how to do things like operate a generator, because there's no energy.
Nepal is a particularly poor nation — we hear about destitute sherpas accompanying Mt. Everest expeditions.
Nepal is struggling to get from the global category of least-developed nation to a developing nation. They're not even there as a developing nation. [...] The country itself is so poor, so remote. [...] There's this vast income inequality. I'd argue though that that is probably part of the tradition of mountaineering and climbing and expeditions, [...] and it has been for a very long time, for generations.
We've seen this in other parts of the world during natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina disproportionately affecting New Orleans' poor.
Right now the thing to question is other vulnerabilities. Where else are we not paying attention? [We see] vulnerabilities in a scattering of islands throughout Asia and through the Pacific that need great attention to what is going to happen if — God forbid — another tsunami [hits].
What did you make of Pres. Obama's admission that US drone strikes killed an American and an Italian citizen in Pakistan?
I was very surprised. [We're dealing with] the morality of using drones to target people as extra-judicial killing when a long time ago [Pres. Carter said,] 'no more assassination or extra-judicial killing.' We're back 100 percent. We just call it a drone strike instead of an assassination or a coup. [...]
I've spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, I've spent a lot of time in Iraq. We've seen the darkness we face. [...] I think that we are in a war that requires enormous thought, and it requires great challenges. It's going to absolutely challenge every fiber of the way we think about who we are.
Jimmy Carter said, 'no more assassination or extra-judicial killing.' We're back 100 percent. We just call it a drone strike instead of an assassination or a coup.
Pres. Obama has on board with the drone program since his first day of the presidency.
President Obama has gone full-bore into the darkness, like straight out of some Homeland episode.
Obama is hardly the only one in favor of this program — a lot of lawmakers support it.
We'll have fewer people killed in action, but the potential to kill innocent people is there as well. All of us do this circular math. [...] The reason you're seeing a near-consensus in Washington [...] is because we're on uncharted territory. And I think there is a trust in the President to go forward. The thing I worry about is, we may not have a president we consider 'trustworthy' on this. [...] The transparency needs to be there. The lack of transparency [and] the lack of judicial review [is troubling].
Speaking of the President, why has Pres. Obama been so hesitant to call the 1915 massacre of Armenians a 'genocide?'
There were 1.5 million Armenians killed. [...] It is a somber piece of history. [...] There are accounts of people driving on trains through land just scattered with bodies. This is a genocide. I mean, let's face it, this was an attempt to take out a people. And it was a very large Muslim empire that was killing a lot of people that were Christians. [...] President Obama himself in 2008 on the campaign trail said he was going to use the word genocide!
Why would he hold back now?
Turkey is the only Muslim country in NATO. We need Turkey. [...] The government of Israel is very opposed to the word genocide. [...] They feel that it minimizes the Holocaust, that there has been one Holocaust on this earth. [...]
The enormity of the historical facts are so hard to wrap your arms around, and I certainly understand how laden with emotion this is. [...] We owe it to them to go back and look at the events of World War I. [...]
It makes Obama look hypocritical.
[That is] the seductive nature of power that blinds you to promises you have made, whether that is with drones [or other things]. What happens when you have power and you can actually decide that what you said before doesn't matter, because now you know all the inside facts. [...] Facts changed on the ground.
Pres. Clinton has admitted he should've done more prior to and during the Rwandan genocide. Will the same thing happen to Obama after he leaves office?
It was [US Ambassador to the UN] Samantha Power in no small measure here at the Kennedy School [that brought that admission about], saying to the Clinton administration, 'You blew it in Rwanda.' She was very tough. [...] I think those words ring right through this debate.
The Clintons have come under fire recently for their global non-profit and whether donations bought influence within the State Department while Sec. Clinton presided over it. What do you make of the political implications of that?
[A New York Times piece identified] four separate donations, over $2 million. [...] The question to put on the table — the new Attorney General should take it up — how in God's name do you not see that as a troubling [...] intersection of money, power and influence?
>> Charles Sennott joins Boston Public Radio every Monday at 11 AM. Sennot is head of the GroundTruth Project, and a joint WGBH-GroundTruth effort called Foreverstan.