Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Where is the White House Atrocities Prevention Board?

    As the debate rages about chemical weapons use in Syria and the 1,400 victims the August 21 attack alone apparently claimed, where is President Obama's Atrocities Prevention Board (APB)?  A Study Directive issued by the president on August 4, 2011, said that an interagency review should be carried out so that "the Atrocities Prevention Board can commence its work within 120 days," which would have been early December 2011.
    In reality, the president announced the first meeting of the board on April 23, 2012, after more than double the 120 days had passed.  President Obama spoke at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and even devoted three paragraphs of the speech specifically to the situation in Syria.  In part, he said:
Now we’re doing something more.  We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities.  So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task.  It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.  This is not an afterthought.  This is not a sideline in our foreign policy.  The board will convene for the first time today, at the White House.  And I’m pleased that one of its first acts will be to meet with some of your organizations -- citizens and activists who are partners in this work, who have been carrying this torch... 
I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence.  These technologies should not empower -- these technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them.  And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come -- the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people -- and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.
    The meeting the president referenced in his speech was held the same day at the White House and largely consisted of three panel discussions with various government officials and human rights organization figures.  Prior to those discussions, the following appears on the agenda for the meeting:
Discussion with the Atrocities Prevention Board 
Moderator: Samantha Power, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council
    However, it is unclear who is actually on the board.  The APB does not appear to have its own website, office, or contact information, either on the White House website or elsewhere.  Very little has been heard from the board since its creation, and barely a month after its launch, the following exchange took place at a White House press briefing:

Q    Jay, thanks.  Two questions.  Starting with Syria, has the President’s new Atrocities Prevention Board met to consider a response to the Syrian crisis, particularly since the Houla massacre?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry, has the --

Q    The President’s new Atrocities Prevention Board, which he actually announced at the Holocaust visit, has it met?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take the question.  I don’t know the answer to that.

    The White House press secretary did not even seem to have been aware of the initially meeting, and certainly not about any subsequent meeting.   The last reference to the APB by the White House came nearly a year after the April 2012 launch in a May 1, 2013, blog post on the White House website with an accompanying Fact Sheet.  The blog entry said:
At the President’s direction, we have stood up an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board, which monitors emerging threats, focuses U.S. Government efforts, and develops new tools and capabilities.
    The Fact Sheet provided some more details about the APB, but mostly in broad terms.  Individual board members are not named, and the times and places of its meetings are not revealed:
o The Board includes senior representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice (DOJ), and Homeland Security (DHS), the Joint Staff, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Staff.
o The Board identifies and addresses emerging atrocity threats, by scanning the horizon for critical developments, assessing the risk of mass atrocities in particular situations, and supplementing existing efforts, or catalyzing new efforts, to ensure that atrocity threats receive adequate and timely attention.
o The Board also coordinates the development of new policies and tools, including many listed below, to enhance the capacity of the United States to effectively prevent and respond to atrocities. 
    The only individual whose name has been linked directly with the board is Samantha Power, who served on the National Security Council until President Obama nominated her to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.  Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) noted during her confirmation hearings Ms. Power's "role as the head of President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board."
    Now that Ms. Power has moved to her new position, it is unclear who chairs the APB if indeed the board still meets.  The ongoing crisis in Syria would seem to be an ideal time for the public to hear from the board or for the president to announce new leadership to deal with the crisis.  Perhaps, given the current state of affairs, he's more than willing to simply allow the board's existence to fade into the background.

No comments:

Post a Comment