For eight years, David Scheffer had the incredibly enviable job of working closely with trailblazer and, to women of a certain age in foreign policy (like myself), idol Madeleine Albright. Trained as a lawyer, Scheffer did a brief stint as a foreign policy staffer in Congress before going to work for Albright, first at the U.N. and then at the State Department—and then becoming a pioneer in his own right. As the Clinton administration dealt with the genocides unfolding in Bosnia and Rwanda, Scheffer became the point man in helping the U.S.—and the world—create a global legal framework for how to manage and prosecute war crimes.
Scheffer was a founding father of the International Criminal Court: he helped create the Rome Statute, which established the court and four core legal ideas, including genocide and war crimes. Schaffer signed the statute on behalf of the United States. He was also the inaugural U.S. Ambassador at Large for war crimes and helped set up the I.C.C.’s war crimes tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia. He is now a law professor and a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.
When I met David the other day and learned about his professional past, I had the same question that I’m sure everyone does, given the allegations in the news: Has Israel committed war crimes in Gaza? His response surprised me, so I asked him if I could interview him for TBTB. We ended up speaking for almost two hours, so this conversation is condensed for clarity and length—though it was really hard to find what to cut. In any case, I hope you find it as riveting and informative as I did.