The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre
” has become the symbol of evil, and specifically Serb evil. It is commonly described as “a horror without parallel in the history of Europe since the Second World War” in which there was a cold-blooded execution “of at least 8,000 Muslim men and boys.” The events in question took place in or near the Bosnian town of Srebrenica between July 10 and 19, 1995, as the Bosnian Serb army (BSA) occupied that town and fought with and killed many Bosnian Muslims, unknown numbers dying in the fighting and by executions. There is no question but that there were executions, and that many Bosnian Muslim men died during the evacuation of Srebrenica and its aftermath. But even though only rarely discussed there is a major issue of how many were executed, as numerous bodies found in local grave sites were victims of fighting, and many Bosnian Muslim men who fled Srebrenica reached Bosnian Muslim territory safely. Some bodies were also those of the many Serbs killed in the forays by the Bosnian Muslims out of Srebrenica in the years before July 1995.
The Srebrenica massacre has played a special role in the politics of Western treatment of the restructuring of the former-Yugoslavia and in Western interventionism more broadly, and it is receiving renewed attention and memorialization at its tenth anniversary in July 2005. It is regularly cited as proof of Serb evil and genocidal intent and helped justify a focus on punishing the Serbs and Milosevic and NATO’s 1999 war on Serbia. It has also provided important moral support for the further Western wars of vengeance, power projection, and “liberation,” having shown that there is evil that the West can and must deal with forcibly.
However, there are three matters that should have raised serious questions about the massacre at the time and since, but didn’t and haven’t. One was that the massacre was extremely convenient to the political needs of the Clinton administration, the Bosnian Muslims, and the Croats (see Section 1 below). A second was that there had been (and were after Srebrenica) a series of claimed Serb atrocities, that were regularly brought forth at strategic moments when forcible intervention by the United States and NATO bloc was in the offing but needed some solid public relations support, but which were later shown to be fraudulent (Section 2). A third is that the evidence for a massacre, certainly of one in which 8,000 men and boys were executed, has always been problematic, to say the least (Sections 3 and 4).
1. Political Convenience
The events of Srebrenica and claims of a major massacre were extremely helpful to the Clinton administration, the Bosnian Muslim leadership, and Croatian authorities. Clinton was under political pressure in 1995 both from the media and from Bob Dole to take more forceful action in favor of the Bosnian Muslims, and his administration was eager to find a justification for more aggressive policies. Clinton officials rushed to the Srebrenica scene to confirm and publicize the claims of a massacre, just as William Walker did later at Racak in January 1999. Walker’s immediate report to Madeleine Albright caused her to exult that “spring has come early this year.” Srebrenica allowed the “fall to come early” for the Clinton administration in the summer of 1995.
Bosnian Muslim leaders had been struggling for several years to persuade the NATO powers to intervene more forcibly on their behalf, and there is strong evidence that they were prepared not only to lie but also to sacrifice their own citizens and soldiers to serve the end of inducing intervention (matters discussed further in Section 2). Bosnian Muslim officials have claimed that their leader, Alija Izetbegovic, told them that Clinton had advised him that U.S. intervention would only occur if the Serbs killed at least 5,000 at Srebrenica. The abandonment of Srebrenica by a military force much larger than that of the attackers, and a retreat that made that larger force vulnerable and caused it to suffer heavy casualties in fighting and vengeance executions, helped produce numbers that would meet the Clinton criterion, by hook or by crook. There is other evidence that the retreat from Srebrenica was not based on any military necessity but was strategic, with the personnel losses incurred considered a necessary sacrifice for a larger purpose.
Croatian authorities were also delighted with the claims of a Srebrenica massacre, as this deflected attention from their prior devastating ethnic cleansing of Serbs and Bosnian Muslims in Western Bosnia (almost entirely ignored by the Western media), and it provided a cover for their already planned removal of several hundred thousand Serbs from the Krajina area in Croatia. This massive ethnic cleansing operation was carried out with U.S. approval and logistical support within a month of the Srebrenica events, and it may well have involved the killing of more Serb civilians than Bosnian Muslim civilians killed in the Srebrenica area in July: most of the Bosnian Muslim victims were fighters, not civilians, as the Bosnian Serbs bused the Srebrenica women and children to safety; the Croatians made no such provision and many women, children and old people were slaughtered in Krajina. The ruthlessness of the Croats was impressive: “UN troops watched horrified as Croat soldiers dragged the bodies of dead Serbs along the road outside the UN compound and then pumped them full of rounds from the AK-47s. They then crushed the bullet-ridden bodies under the tracks of a tank.” But this was hardly noticed in the wake of the indignation and propaganda generated around Srebrenica with the aid of the mainstream media, whose co-belligerency role in the Balkan wars was already well-entrenched.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and UN also had an important role to play in the consolidation of the standard Srebrenica massacre narrative. From its inception the ICTY served as an arm of the NATO powers, who created it, funded it, served as its police arm and main information source, and expected and got responsive service from the organization. The ICTY focused intensively on Srebrenica and provided important and nominally independent corroboration of the massacre claims along with citable “judicial” claims of planned “genocide.” The UN is less thoroughly integrated into NATO-power demands, but it is highly responsive and in the Srebrenica case it came through just as the United States and its main allies desired.
This political interest in the Srebrenica massacre hardly proves that the establishment narrative is wrong. It does, however, suggest the need for caution and an awareness of the possibility of falsification and inflated claims. That awareness has been entirely absent from mainstream treatment of Srebrenica.
2. The Serial Lying Before and After Srebrenica
At each stage in the dismantlement of Yugoslavia, its ethnic cleansing, and before and during the NATO war over the Kosovo province of Serbia in 1999, propaganda lies played a very important role in forwarding conflict and anti-Serb actions. There were lies of omission and lies that directly conveyed false impressions and information. An important form of lie of omission was the regular presentation of Serb misbehavior as unique to the Serbs, not also characteristic of the behavior of the Muslims and Croatians or of the conflict overall. In case after case the media would report on Serb attacks and atrocities, having neglected to report the prior assaults on Serbs in those same towns and making the Serb behavior seem like unprovoked acts of aggression and barbarity.
This was evident from the very start of the serious fighting in 1991 in the republic of Croatia. In their treatment of the Eastern Croatian city of Vukovar, for example, the media (and ICTY) focused exclusively on the federal Yugoslav army’s capture of the town in the fall of 1991, completely ignoring the prior spring and summer’s slaughter by Croatian National Guard troops and paramilitaries of hundreds of ethnic Serbs who had lived in the Vukovar area. According to Raymond K. Kent, “a substantial Serb population in the major Slavonian city of Vukovar disappeared without having fled, leaving traces of torture in the old Austrian the spring catacombs under the city along with evidence of murder and rape. The Western media, whose demonization of the Serbs was well underway, chose to overlook these events…” This selective and misleading focus was standard media and ICTY practice.
Lies of omission were also clear in the attention given Bosnian Serb prison camps like Omarska, which the media focused on intensively and with indignation, when in fact the Muslims and Croats had very similar prison camps—at Celebici, Tarcin, Livno, Bradina, Odzak, and in the Zetra camp in Sarajevo, among other sites— with roughly comparable numbers, facilities, and certainly no worse treatment of prisoners; but in contrast with the Serbs, the Muslims and Croats hired competent PR firms and refused permission to inspect their facilities—and the already well-developed structure of bias made the media little interested in any but Serb camps.
Wild allegations of Auschwitz-like conditions in Serb “concentration camps” were spread by “journalists of attachment” who lapped up propaganda handouts by Muslim and Croat officials and PR hirlings. Roy Gutman, who won a Pulitzer prize jointly with John Burns for Bosnia reporting in 1993, depended heavily on Croat and Muslim officials and witnesses with suspect credentials and implausible claims, and he was a major source of inflated, one-sided, and false “concentration camp” propaganda. John Burns’ Pulitzer award was based on an extended interview with Boris Herak, a captured Bosnian Serb supplied to him and a Soros-funded film-maker by the Bosnian Muslims. Several years later Herak admitted that his extremely implausible confession had been coerced and that he had been forced to memorize many pages of lies. Two of his alleged victims also turned up alive in later years. In reporting on Herak, John Burns and the New York Times (and the Soros-funded film) suppressed the credibility-damaging fact that Herak had also accused former UNPROFOR commandant, Canadian General Lewis Mackenzie, of having raped young Muslim women at a Serb-run bordello. These scandalous awards are symptomatic of the media bias that was already overwhelming in 1992 and 1993.
In a recent development of interest, on a visit to the dying Alija Izetbegovic, Bernard Kouchner asked him about the Bosnian Serb concentration camps, whereupon Izetbegovic, surprisingly, admitted that these claims had been inflated with the aim of getting NATO to bomb the Serbs. This important confession has not been mentioned in the U.S. or British mainstream media.
One of the most important propaganda lies of the 1990s featured the Serb-run Trnopolje camp, visited by Britain’s ITN reporters in August 1992. These reporters photographed the resident Fikret Alic, showing him emaciated and seemingly inside a concentration camp fence. In fact, Fikret Alic was in a transit camp, was a sick man (and was sick with tuberculosis long before reaching the camp), was not in any way representative of others in the camp, and was soon able to move to Sweden. Furthermore, the fence was around the photographers, not the man photographed. But this hugely dishonest photo was featured everywhere in the West as proving a Serb-organized Auschwitz, was denounced by NATO high officials, and helped provide the moral basis for the creation of the ICTY and its clear focus on Serb evil.
In the case of the siege of Sarajevo, as with conflict around many “safe haven” towns, the Bosnian Muslim government engaged in a steady program of provoking the Serbs, blaming them for the ensuing response, lying about casualties, and trying—usually successfully—to place the blame on the Serbs. As Tim Fenton has said, “Massacre allegations by the Bosnian Muslims followed any reported conflict as night followed day: most notoriously Muslim Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic claimed the UN was responsible for the deaths of 70,000 in Bihac in early 1995, when in fact there had barely been any fighting and casualties were small.”
A remarkable feature of the Bosnian Muslim struggle to demonize the Serbs, in order to get NATO to come to Bosnian Muslim aid with bombs, was their willingness to kill their own people. This was most notable in the case of the ruthless bombing of Sarajevo civilians in three massacres: in 1992 (the “Breadline Massacre”), 1994 (the Markale “Market Massacre”) and a “Second Market Massacre” in 1995. In the standard narrative the Serbs were responsible for these massacres, and it is admittedly not easy to believe that the Muslim leadership would kill their own for political advantage even if the evidence points strongly in that direction. But these massacres were all extremely well timed to influence imminent NATO and UN decisions to intervene more forcibly on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims. More important, numerous UN officials and senior Western military officials have claimed that the evidence is strong in all three cases that the actions were planned and executed by Bosnian Muslims. U.S. Army officer John E. Sray, who was on the scene in Bosnia during these and other massacres and was head of the U.S. intelligence section in Sarajevo, even suggested that the incidents, and probable Bosnian Muslim official connivance in these atrocities, “deserve a thorough scrutiny by the International War Crimes Tribunal.” Needless to say no such scrutiny was forthcoming. In short, this view of the three massacres is not conspiracy theory, it is a conclusion based on serious and substantial evidence, but not even debated in the party-line dominated accounts of recent Balkan history.
Both before and after Srebrenica lying about numbers killed was also standard practice, helpful in sustaining the dominant narrative. For Bosnia, in December 1992 the Bosnian Muslim government claimed 128,444 deaths of their forces and people, a number which grew to 200,000 by June 1993, rising to 250,000 in 1994. These figures were swallowed without a qualm by Western politicians, media, and intellectual war-campaigners (e.g., David Rieff), with Clinton himself using the 250,000 figure in a speech in November 1995. Former State Department official George Kenney has long questioned these figures and marveled at media gullibility in accepting these claims without the least interest in verification. His own estimate ran between 25,000 and 60,000. More recently, a study sponsored by the Norwegian government estimated the Bosnian war dead as 80,000, and one sponsored by the Hague Tribunal itself came up with a figure of 102,000 dead. Neither of these studies has been reported on in the U.S. media, which had regularly offered its readers/listeners the inflated numbers.
A similar inflation process took place during the 78-day NATO bombing war in 1999, with high U.S. officials at various moments claiming 100,000, 250,000 and 500,000 Serb killings of Kosovo Albanians, along with the lavish use of the word “genocide” to describe Serb actions in Kosovo. This figure gradually shrank to 11,000, and has remained there despite the fact that only some 4,000 bodies were found in one of the most intense forensic searches in history, and with unknown numbers of those bodies combatants, Serbs, and civilian victims of U.S. bombing. But the 11,000 must be valid because the NATO governments and ICTY say it is, and Michael Ignatieff assured readers of the New York Times that “whether those 11,334 bodies will be found depends on whether the Serb military and the police removed them.”
This record of systematic disinformation certainly does not disprove the truth of the standard narrative on the Srebrenica massacre. It does, however, suggest the need for a close look at the claims, which have proved so convenient, a close look that the mainstream has steadily refused to provide.
3. The Problematic Massacre Claims
By the time of the Srebrenica events of July 1995 the stage had been well set for making massacre claims effective. The serial lying had been largely unchallenged in the mainstream, the demonization process and good-versus-evil dichotomy had been well established, the ICTY and UN leadership were closely following the agenda of the United States and its NATO allies, and the media were on board as co-belligerents.
In this environment, context-stripping was easy. One element of context was the fact that the “safe area” concept was a fraud, as the safe areas were supposed to have been disarmed, but weren’t, and with UN connivance. They were therefore used by the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and other safe havens as launching pads for attacks on nearby Serb villages. In the three years prior to the massacre well over a thousand Serb civilians were killed by Muslim forces in scores of devastated nearby villages; and well before July 1995 the Srebrenica Muslim commander Nasir Oric proudly showed Western reporters videos of some of his beheaded Serb victims and bragged about his killings. Testifying before the Tribunal on February 12, 2004, UN military commander in Bosnia in 1992 and 1993, General Philippe Morillon, stated his conviction that the attack on Srebrenica was a “direct reaction” to the massacres of Serbs by Nasir Oric and his forces in 1992 and 1993, massacres with which Morillon was closely familiar. Morillon’s testimony was of no interest to the Western media, and when the ICTY finally got around to indicting Nasir Oric on March 28, 2003, very possibly to create the image of judicial balance, he was charged with killing only seven Serbs who were tortured and beaten to death after capture, and with the “wanton destruction” of nearby villages. Although he openly bragged to Western reporters of slaughtering Serb civilians, the ICTY reportedly “found no evidence that there were civilian casualties in the attacks on Serb villages in his theater of operations.”
When the Bosnian Serbs captured Srebrenica in July 1995, it was reported that the 28th regiment of the Bosnian Muslim Army (BMA), comprising several thousand men, had just fled the town. The media failed to ask how such a large force could have been present in a disarmed “safe area.” Having also succeeded in ignoring the prior abuses emanating from the safe area, this allowed them to follow a quickly established party line of a planned “genocide” and inexplicable brutality rather than the vengeance which the media allow as semi-exoneration of violence by “worthy” victims (e.g., Kosovo Albanians driving out and killing Serbs and Roma after the NATO takeover of Kosovo).
A second element of context was the possible political basis for the surrender of Srebrenica by a force in a good defensive position, outnumbering the attacking BSA by a 6-1 or 8-1 ratio, but retreating in advance of the assault, their leaders having been withdrawn previously by order of the Bosnian Muslim leadership. This left the population unprotected, and made the BMA cadres vulnerable as they retreated in disarray toward Bosnian Muslim lines. Could this have been another self-sacrificing maneuver by the leadership to produce victims, perhaps designed to help meet the Clinton 5,000 target and induce more forcible NATO intervention? These questions never arose in the mainstream media.
The Srebrenica events had a number of features that made it possible to claim 8,000 “men and boys” executed. One was the confusion and uncertainty about the fate of the fleeing Bosnian Muslim forces, some reaching Tuzla safely, some killed in the fighting, and some captured. The 8,000 figure was first provided by the Red Cross, based on their crude estimate that the BSA had captured 3,000 men and that 5,000 were reported “missing.” It is well established that thousands of those “missing” had reached Tuzla or were killed in the fighting, but in an amazing transformation displaying the eagerness to find the Bosnian Serbs evil and the Muslims victims, the “reaching safety/killed-in-action” basis of being missing was ignored and the missing were taken as executed! This misleading conclusion was helped along by the Red Cross’s reference to the 5,000 as having “simply disappeared,” and its failure to correct this politically biased usage and claim despite its own recognition that “several thousand” refugees had reached Central Bosnia.
It was also helped along by the Bosnian Muslim leadership’s refusal to disclose the names and numbers of those reaching safety, but there was a remarkable readiness in the Western establishment not only to ignore those reaching safety, but also to disregard deaths in fighting and to take dead bodies as proving executions. The will to believe here was limitless: reporter David Rohde saw a bone sticking up in a grave site near Srebrenica, which he just knew by instinct was a remnant of an execution and serious evidence of a “massacre.” It was standard media practice to move from an asserted and unproven claim of thousands missing, or a report of the uncovering of bodies in a grave site, to the conclusion that the claim of 8,000 executed was thereby demonstrated.
With 8,000 executed and thousands killed in the fighting there should have been huge grave sites and satellite evidence of both executions, burials, and any body removals. But the body searches in the Srebrenica vicinity were painfully disappointing, with only some two thousand bodies found in searches through 1999, including bodies killed in action and possibly Serb bodies, some pre-dating July 1995. The sparseness of these findings led to claims of body removal and reburial, but this was singularly unconvincing as the Bosnian Serbs were under intense military pressure after July 1995. This was the period when NATO was bombing Serb positions and Croat/Muslim armies were driving towards Banja Luka. The BSA was on the defensive and was extremely short of equipment and resources, including gasoline. To have mounted an operation of the magnitude required to exhume, transport and rebury thousands of corpses would have been far beyond the BSA’s capacity at that time. Furthermore, in carrying out such a program they could hardly hope to escape observation from OSCE personnel, local civilians, and satellite observations.
On August 10, 1995, Madeleine Albright showed some satellite photos at a closed session of the Security Council, as part of a denunciation of the Bosnian Serbs, including one photo showing people--allegedly Bosnian Muslims near Srebrenica--assembled in a stadium, and one allegedly taken shortly thereafter showing a nearby field with “disturbed” soil. These photos have never been publicly released, but even if they are genuine they don’t prove either executions or burials. Furthermore, although the ICTY speaks of “an organized and comprehensive effort” to hide bodies, and David Rohde claimed a “huge Serb effort to hide bodies,” either Albright nor anyone else has ever shown a satellite photo of people actually being executed, buried, or dug up for reburial, or of trucks conveying thousands of bodies elsewhere. This evidence blank occurred despite Albright’s warning the Serbs that “We will be watching,” and with satellites at that time making at least eight passes per day and geostationary drones able to hover and take finely detailed pictures in position over Bosnia during the summer of 1995. The mainstream media have found this failure to confirm of no interest.
There have been a great many bodies gathered at Tuzla, some 7,500 or more, many in poor condition or parts only, their collection and handling incompatible with professional forensic standards, their provenance unclear and link to the July 1995 events in Srebrenica unproven and often unlikely, and the manner of their death usually uncertain. Interestingly, although the Serbs were regularly accused of trying to hide bodies, there has never been any suggestion that the Bosnian Muslims, long in charge of the body search, might shift bodies around and otherwise manipulate evidence, despite their substantial record of dissembling. A systematic attempt to use DNA to trace connections to Srebrenica is underway, but entails many problems, apart from that of the integrity of the material studied and process of investigation, and will not resolve the question of differentiating executions from deaths in combat. There are also lists of missing, but these lists are badly flawed, with duplications, individuals listed who had died before July 1995, who fled to avoid BSA service, or who registered to vote in 1997, and they include individuals who died in battle or reached safety or were captured and assumed a new existence elsewhere.
The 8,000 figure is also incompatible with the basic arithmetic of Srebrenica numbers before and after July 1995. Displaced persons from Srebrenica—that is, massacre survivors-- registered with the World Health Organization and Bosnian government in early August 1995, totalled 35,632. Muslim men who reached Muslim lines “without their families being informed” totaled at least 2,000, and some 2,000 were killed in the fighting. That gives us 37,632 survivors plus the 2,000 combat deaths, which would require the prewar population of Srebrenica to have been 47,000 if 8,000 were executed, whereas the population before July was more like 37-40,000 (Tribunal judge Patricia Wald gave 37,000 as her estimate). The numbers don’t add up.
There were witnesses to killings at Srebrenica, or those who claimed to be witnesses. There were not many of these, and some had a political axe to grind or were otherwise not credible, but several were believable and were probably telling of real and ugly events. But we are talking here of evidence of hundreds of executions, not 8,000 or anything close to it. The only direct participant witness claim that ran to a thousand was that of Drazen Erdemovic, an ethnic Croat associated with a mercenary group of killers whose members were paid 12 kilos of gold for their Bosnian service (according to Erdemovic himself) and ended up working in the Congo on behalf of French intelligence. His testimony was accepted despite its vagueness and inconsistencies, lack of corroboration, and his suffering from mental problems sufficient to disqualify him from trial--but not from testifying before the Tribunal, free of cross-examination. within two weeks of this disqualification from trial. This and other witness evidence suffered from serious abuse of the plea-bargaining process whereby witnesses could receive mitigating sentences if they cooperated sufficiently with the prosecution.
It is also noteworthy how many relatively impartial observers in or near Srebrenica in July 1995 didn’t see any evidence of massacres, including the members of the Dutch forces present in the “safe area” and people like Henry Wieland, the chief UN investigator into alleged human rights abuses, who could find no eyewitnesses to atrocities after five days of interviewing among the 20,000 Srebrenica survivors gathered at the Tuzla airport refugee camp.
One anomaly connected with Srebrenica has been the stability of the figure of Bosnian Muslim victims—8,000 in July 1995 and 8,000 today, despite the crudity of the initial estimate, the evidence that many or most of the 5,000 “missing” reached Bosnian Muslim territory or were killed in the fighting, and the clear failure to produce supportive physical evidence despite a massive effort. In other cases, like the 9/11 fatality estimate, and even the Bosnian killings and Kosovo bombing war estimates, the original figures were radically scaled down as evidence of body counts made the earlier inflated numbers unsustainable. But because of its key political role for the United States, Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and an almost religious ardour of belief in this claim, Sebrenica has been immune to evidence. From the beginning until today the number has been taken as a given, a higher truth, the questioning of which would show a lack of faith and very likely “apologetics” for the demon.
Another anomaly also showing the sacred, untouchable, and politicized character of the massacre in Western ideology has been the ready designation of the killings as a case of “genocide.” The Tribunal played an important role here, with hard-to-match gullibility, unrestrained psychologizing, and incompetent legal reasoning, which the judges have applied to Serb-related cases only. On gullibility, one Tribunal judge accepted as fact the witness claim that Serb soldiers had forced an old Muslim man to eat the liver of his grandson; and the judges repeatedly stated as an established fact that 7-8,000 Muslim men had been executed, while simultaneously acknowledging that the evidence only “suggested” that “a majority” of the 7-8,000 missing had not been killed in combat, which yields a number substantially lower than 7-8,000.
The Tribunal dealt with the awkward problem of the genocide-intent Serbs bussing Bosnian Muslim women and children to safety by arguing that they did this for public relations reasons, but as Michael Mandel points out, failing to do some criminal act despite your desire is called “not committing a crime.” The Tribunal never asked why the genocidal Serbs failed to surround the town before its capture to prevent thousands of males from escaping to safety, or why the Bosnian Muslim soldiers were willing to leave their women and children as well as many wounded comrades to the mercies of the Serbs; and they failed to confront the fact that 10,000 mainly Muslim residents of Zvornik sought refugee from the civil war in Serbia itself, as prosecution witness Borislav Jovic testified.
Among the other idiocies in the Tribunal judges’ argument, it was genocide if you killed many males in a group in order to reduce the future population of that group, thereby making it unviable in that area. Of course, you might want to kill them to prevent their killing you in the future, but the court knows Serb psychology better—that couldn’t be the sole reason, there must have been a more sinister aim. The Tribunal reasoning holds forth the possibility that with only a little prosecution-friendly judicial psychologizing any case of killing enemy soldiers can be designated genocide.
There is also the problem of definition of the group. Were the Serbs trying to eliminate all the Muslims in Bosnia, or Muslims globally? Or just in Srebrenica? The judges suggested that pushing them out of the Srebrenica area was itself genocide, and they essentially equated genocide with ethnic cleansing. It is notable that the ICTY has never called the Croat ethnic cleansing of 250,000 Krajina Serbs “genocide” although in that case many women and children were killed and the ethnic cleansing applied to a larger area and larger victim population than in Srebrenica. (On August 10, 1995, Madeleine Albright cried out to the Security Council that “as many as 13,000 men, women and children were driven from their homes” in Srebrenica.) Perhaps the ICTY had accepted Richard Holbrooke’s comic designation of Krajina as a case of “involuntary expulsions.” The bias is blatant; the politicization of a purported judicial enterprise is extreme.
Media treatment of the Srebrenica and Krajina cases followed the same pattern and illustrates well how the media make some victims worthy and others unworthy in accord with a political agenda. With the Serbs their government’s target, and their government actively aiding the massive Croat ethnic cleansing program in Krajina, the media gave huge and indignant treatment to the first, with invidious language, calls for action, and little context. With Krajina, attention was slight and passing, indignation was absent, detailed reporting on the condition of the victims was minimal, descriptive language was neutral, and there was context offered that made the events understandable. The contrast is so gross as to be droll: the attack on Srebrenica “chilling,” “murderous,” “savagery,” “cold-blooded killing,” “genocidal,” “aggression,”and of course “ethnic cleansing.” With Krajina, the media used no such strong language—even ethnic cleansing was too much for them. The Croat assault was merely a big “upheaval” that is “softening up the enemy,” “a lightning offensive,” explained away as a “response to Srebrenica” and a result of Serb leaders “overplaying their hand.” The Washington Post even cited U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith saying the “the Serb exodus was not ‘ethnic cleansing’.” The paper does not allow a challenge to that judgment. In fact, however, the Croat operations in Krajina left Croatia as the most ethnically purified of all the former components of the former Yugoslavia, although the NATO occupation of Kosovo has allowed an Albanian ethnic cleansing that is rivalling that of Croatia in ethnic purification.
Another anomaly in the Srebrenica case is the insistence on bringing all the criminals (Serb) to trial and getting the willing executioners (Serb) to admit guilt as necessary for justice and essential for reconciliation. A problem is that justice cannot be one-sided or it ceases to be justice, and shows its true face as vengeance and a cover for other political ends. Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia was by no means one-sided, and deaths by nationality were not far off from population proportionality; the Serbs claim and have documented thousands of deaths at the hands of the Bosnian Muslims and their imported Mujahedin cadres, and by the Croatians, and they have their own group examining and trying to identify bodies at an estimated 73 mass graves. This victimization has hardly been noticed by the Western media or ICTY—the distinguished Yugoslav forensic expert Dr. Zoran Stankovic observed back in 1996 that “the fact that his team had previously identified the bodies of 1,000 Bosnian Serbs in the [Srebrenica] region had not interested prosecutor Richard Goldstone.“ Instead, there is a steady refrain about the Serbs tendency to whine, whereas Bosnian Muslim complaints are taken as those of true victims and are never designated whining.
Rather than producing reconciliation the steady focus on Srebrenica victims and killers makes for more intense hatred and nationalism, just as the Kosovo war and its violence exacerbated hatred and tensions there and showed that Clinton’s claimed objective of a tolerant multi-ethnic Kosovo was a fraud. In Kosovo, this one-sided propaganda and NATO control has unleashed serious and unremitting anti-Serb—along with anti-Roma, anti-Turk, anti-dissident-Albanian-- violence, helped along by the willingness of the NATO authorities to look the other way as their allies—the purported victims—take their revenge and pursue their long-standing aim of ethnic purification. In Bosnia and Serbia the Serbs have been under steady attack, humiliated, and their leaders and military personnel punished, while the criminals among the Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and NATO powers (e.g., Clinton, Blair, Albright, Holbrooke) suffer no penalties and may even be portrayed as dispensers of justice (Clinton et al.).
It is clear that the objectives of the retribution-pushers are not justice and reconciliation—they are to unify and strengthen the position of the Bosnian Muslims, to crush the Republica Srpska, and possibly even eliminate it as an independent entity in Bosnia, to keep Serbia disorganized, weak and dependent on the West, and to continue to put the U.S. and NATO attack and dismantlement of Yugoslavia in a favorable light. The last objective requires diverting attention from the Clinton/Bosnian Muslim role in giving Al Qaeda a foothold in the Balkans, Izetbegovic’s close alliance with Osama bin Laden, his Islamic Declaration declaring hostility to a multi-ethnic state, the importation of 4,000 Mujahaden to fight a holy war in Bosnia, with active Clinton administration aid, and the KLA-Al Qaeda connection.
These aspects of the siding with the Bosnian Muslims have always been awkward for the war propagandists, and they became more so after 9/11—the U.S. 9/11 Commission Report claims that two of the 19 hijackers, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, and a “mastermind” of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “fought” in Bosnia, and that bin Laden had “service” offices in Zagreb and Sarajevo. Despite the huge focus on 9/11 and Al Qaeda these links have not been featured in the mainstream media and have not influenced Bosnian proconsul Paddy Ashdown, who attended Izetbegovic’s funeral and continues to push Bosnian Muslim interests. The Serbs, of course, were complaining about the brutality (and beheadings) of the Mujahaden in 1993, but the media and ICTY were not interested then and remain uninterested. Let’s just talk about Srebrenica, the Bosnian Muslims as unique victims, and Clinton’s and the West’s generous if belated service to those victimized underdogs.
But didn’t the Bosnian Serbs “confess” that they had murdered 8,000 civilians? This has been the take of the Western media, but again demonstrating their subservience to their leaders’ political agenda. The Bosnian Serbs actually did put out a report on Srebrenica in September 2002, but this report was rejected by Paddy Ashdown for failing to come up with the proper conclusions. He therefore forced a further report by firing a stream of Republica Srpska politicians and analysts, threatening the RS government, and eventually extracting a report prepared by people who would come to the officially approved conclusions. This report, issued on June 11, 2004, was then greeted in the Western media as a meaningful validation of the official line—the refrain was, the Bosnian Serbs “admit” the massacre, which should finally settle any questions. Amusingly, even this coerced and imposed report didn’t come near acknowledging 8,000 executions (it speaks of “several thousand” executions). What this episode “proves” is that the Western campaign to make the defeated Serbia grovel is not yet terminated, and the media’s continuing gullibility and propaganda service.
The “Srebrenica massacre” is the greatest triumph of propaganda to emerge from the Balkan wars. Other claims and outright lies have played their role in the Balkan conflicts, but while some have retained a modest place in the propaganda repertoire despite challenge (Racak, the Markale massacre, the Serb refusal to negotiate at Rambouillet, 250,000 Bosnian dead, the aim of a Greater Serbia as the driving force in the Balkan wars), the Srebrenica massacre reigns supreme for symbolic power. It is the symbol of Serb evil and Bosnian Muslim victimhood, and the justice of the Western dismantling of Yugoslavia and intervention there at many levels, including a bombing war and colonial occupations of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
But the link of this propaganda triumph to truth and justice is non-existent. The disconnection with truth is epitomized by the fact that the original estimate of 8,000, including 5,000 “missing”--who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines—was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find the executed bodies and despite the absence of a single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial. The media have carefully refrained from asking questions on this point, despite Albright’s August 1995 promise that “We will be watching.”
That Albright statement, and the photos she did display at the time, helped divert attention from the ongoing “Krajina massacre” of Serbs in Croatian Krajina, an ethnic cleansing process of great brutality and wider scope than that at Srebrenica, in which there was less real fighting than at Srebrenica, mainly attacks on and the killing and removal of defenseless civilians. At Srebrenica the Bosnian Serbs moved women and children to safety, and there is no evidence of any of them being murdered; whereas in Krajina there was no such separation and an estimated 368 women and children were killed, along with many too old and infirm to flee. One measure of the propaganda success of the “Srebrenica massacre” is that the possibility that the intense focus on the Srebrenica massacre was serving as a cover for the immediately following “Krajina massacre,” supported by the United States, was outside the orbit of thought of the media. For the media, Srebrenica helped bring about Krajina, and the Serbs had it coming.
The media have played an important role in making the Srebrenica massacre a propaganda triumph. As noted earlier, the media had become a co-belligerent by 1991, and all standards of objectivity disappeared in their subservience to the pro-Bosnian Muslim and anti-Serb agenda. Describing the reporting of Christine Amanpour and others on a battle around Goradze, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Sray wrote back in October 1995 that these news reports “were devoid of any semblance of truth,” that Americans were suffering from “a cornucopia of disinformation,” that “America has not been so pathetically deceived” since the Vietnam War, and that popular perceptions of Bosnia “have been forged by a prolific propaganda machine..[that has] managed to manipulate illusions to further Muslim goals.”
That propaganda machine also conquered the liberals and much of the left in the United States, who swallowed the dominant narrative of the evil Serbs seeking hegemony, employing uniquely brutal and genocidal strategies, and upsetting a previous multi-cultural haven in Bosnia—run by Osama bin Laden’s friend and ally Alija Izetbegovic, and with rectification brought belatedly by Clinton, Holbrooke and Albright working closely with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia! The liberal/left war coalition needed to find the Serbs demons in order to justify imperial warfare, and they did so by accepting and internalizing a set of lies and myths that make up the dominant narrative. This liberal/”cruise missile left” (CML) combo was important in helping develop the “humanitarian intervention” rationale for attacking Serbia on behalf of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and in fact preparing the ground for Bush’s eventual basing of his own wars on the quest for “liberation.” The Srebrenica massacre helped make the liberals and CML true believers in the crusade in the Balkans and gave moral backup to their servicing the expanding imperial role of their country and its allies.
Former UN official Cedric Thornberry, writing in 1996, noted that “prominently in parts of the international liberal media” the position is “that the Serbs were the only villains,” and back at UN headquarters in the spring of 1993 he was warned: “Take cover—the fix is on.” The fix was on, even if only tacit and built-in to the government-media-Tribunal relationship. It helped make the Srebrenica massacre the symbol of evil and, with the help of Tribunal “justice,” and support of liberals and CML, provided a cover for the U.S.-NATO attack on and dismantling of Yugoslavia, colonial occupations in Bosnia and Kosovo, and justification for “humanitarian intervention” more broadly. What more could be asked of a propaganda system?
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