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Pulitzer Prize Fighter

by Andrew K. Woods, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

February 16, 2007

Samantha Power takes on the worst the world has to offer.

Last summer, hundreds of college students descended on a youth politics conference in Washington, D.C. They came to hear from speakers like rapper Fat Joe and the Illinois Senator Barack Obama, but a 36-year-old human rights star named Samantha Power stole the show.Power, who graduated from Yale, covered war in the Balkans, and then attended law school at Harvard, gained renown after writing A Problem From Hell, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book about America's failures to stop genocide. The book launched her into the national spotlight-a good place to be if your mission, like hers, is to change American foreign policy.Power, who moved from Ireland to Pittsburgh at age 9, did not set out to be the guardian of America's moral conscience. Instead, she planned to write about sports. But during a 1989 internship covering the Atlanta Braves, she happened to see live footage of the Tiananmen Square protests. "People were getting crushed on television. It was a ‘what am I doing with my life?' moment." Her plans changed.
Quote:
People were getting crushed on television. It was a ‘what am I doing with my life?' moment.
After college, she left for war-torn Bosnia, spending the next three years writing regularly for publications like The Economist and U.S. News & World Report. "In an elaborate game of smoke and mirrors," says Power, "I managed to convince my mother I was living in relatively peaceful Croatia-and not Bosnia-until I had arrived home safely." Upon returning, she attended law school, but quickly realized that being a lawyer would not provide a platform to stop genocide. Instead, she established Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, which aims to make human rights an integral part of public policy.She put that academic training to use as Obama's foreign-policy adviser, though frustration at Washington infighting led her back to her most effective tool-the power of narrative. Her new focus is Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. envoy to Iraq who was killed in the 2003 bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad. De Mello has a handsome face and compelling story, so Power is making sure the world knows about it: She's writing a book, producing a documentary, and working with Terry George, the director of Hotel Rwanda, to develop a feature film. Says Power, "I've been thinking about this as Sergio, Inc."Power takes every opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of an American foreign policy that promised "never again" after the Holocaust, only to turn a blind eye to genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and now in Darfur. She hopes that her uncanny ability to get people to examine the truth about what is happening around the world will affect individuals and compel change on a global level. As she says, "Anybody who gets close to the issue of genocide gets stuck. Once you know [the truth], then you have lost your alibi."LEARN MORE ksg.harvard.edu/cchrp
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Pulitzer Prize Fighter