Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Article that Fooled the Left

The Article that Fooled the Left

While an old topic, the issue of the death camps in Bosnia in 1992 continually arises as one of the big issues raised by various revisionists and apologists for Serbian nationalism. Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, Ed Herman have all played the game of pretending these camps were “fake”. One of their co-thinkers, Michael Collon, summarised the argument in a ridiculous ‘Milosevic media quiz’ he penned. Collon writes:

“YES. Fabricated by Bernard Kouchner and Médecins du Monde, this image showed some 'prisoners' held, seemingly, behind barbed wire. One of them had terribly protruding ribs … But the whole thing was faked and taken from a report by British TV channel ITN. The trickery became obvious when one viewed the footage shot at the same time by a local TV news crew. In reality, the British camera had been deliberately placed behind the two lonely strands of barbed wire that formed a fence surrounding an old enclosure for farming equipment. The 'prisoners' were on the 'outside' of the barbed wire. Free because they were refugees in this camp to escape the war and the militias who would force them to fight. In the complete film, the only prisoner who speaks English declares to the ITN journalist three times that they are being well treated and are safe. The man with the protruding ribs (gravely ill) was called to the foreground when all his mates looked to be in too good a shape. Kouchner's montage was a gross falsehood.”

These confident assertions derive ultimately from the “research” conducted by a bizarre left-right, “red”-brown British cult called ‘Living Marxism’ (LM, about who, more below) which had appointed itself chief attorney for the far-right Serbian chauvinist regimes of Milosevic/Seselj and Karadzic. This “research” had come to a head with the publication of a famous article by one of their members, a guy called Thomas Deuchmann, titled ‘The picture that fooled the world’. This article alleged that the ITN journalists had “faked” the stories about the death camps. For the naïve among the left, and those who wanted to be convinced, this article was all that was needed.

In reality, the article is a pack of lies, based on the “evidence” of a bloke who first went to Bosnia in 1997, that is, two years after the end of the war, and five years after the events in question, by which time all the remnants of the death camps were gone. He picked up his views by talking to a couple of local Serbs, and from footage shot at the same time by a local TV news crew, that is, the footage shot by the Serbian state media, allegedly “at the time,” which however Deutchman did not see until 5 years later. I suppose, that is, after plenty of time to doctor it, or even invent it.

A great deal has been made about whether the fence was around the prisoners or an enclosure around the journalists, that the prisoners were looking into, based on which side of the fence the barbed wire was on and other such trivia. The answer appears inconclusive, but it is largely irrelevant. More relevant are the assertions deriving from this, like those Collon makes above: that the prisoners were “treated well” according to one prisoner, that the prisoners were “free because they were refugees in this camp to escape the war and the militias who would force them to fight,” and that it was only one “gravely ill” prisoner who was very thin, who they zeroed in on, while his mates were “in good shape.”

This primitive Goebbelesque stuff is an eyesore coming from anywhere on the left, and as Goebbelesque as any of the exaggerated use of the ITN material by tabloids. Anyone who wants to know about the kinds of hideous tortures and daily horrific murders that went on in these death camps only has to look at the very extensive documentation at the Hague, or Red Cross, or Amnesty, or the UN, based on the testimony of thousands of witnesses. And what this testimony shows is that Serbian-run death camps such as Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Sanski Most, Brcko, Foca etc represented some of the ugliest events of modern history. “Free” indeed. Whether they were surrounded by barbed wire or not was thus irrelevant; even if they weren’t, if they had tried to escape, they would have been target practice for the sadistic guards. As for the photos, if you look at enough of them you will see loads of people as skinny as Alic; the suggestion that other prisoners were “in good shape” is abominable. Perhaps just looking at the three photos on this page might already show up the lie of the “single” allegedly “gravely ill” man.

Anyone who wants to read about these monstrous crimes, these concentration camps, can try these pages from the report of the UN Commission of Experts: includes Omarska includes Keraterm and Trnopolje includes Sanski Most includes Foca (also a rape camp) includes Brcko

Anyone reading these reports will soon become aware of the level of complete moral corruption of the genocide-denying wing of the left represented by the LM cult and their followers.

I think Ed Vulliamy himself puts it most eloquently himself when describing the irrelevance of LM’s obsession with the wire being on which side of the fence, when compared to the stark reality of these death camps. Referring to the trial at which Deutchman’s bizarre LM group lost the case against ITN, he says (,2763,184815,00.html):

“Of course Living Marxism was unable to offer a single witness who had been at Trnopolje, the camp they claimed to be a fake, on that putrid afternoon of August 5, 1992. Indeed, they were unable to produce any witnesses at all. Unlike any member of Living Marxism or their sympathisers, I was there with ITN's cameras that day. We went to two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje.
“Living Marxism does not like to mention Omarska: there, we saw little, but enough: skeletal men drilled across a yard and devouring watery stew like famished dogs before being bundled out. One man said: "I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth."
“The truth emerged with time. Omarska turned out to be the kind of place where one prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off another, who had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle the screams as he died in agony. The yard at Omarska was a killing field, prisoners obliged to load the mutilated corpses of their friends on to trucks by bulldozer.
“Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes. Unknown to us when we pulled up on the road, in disbelief at the sight before us, it was the former group that was held captive behind the now celebrated barbed wire fence.
“At the time I paid little attention to what would become Living Marxism's myopic obsessions: such as which side of which pole the old barbed wire or fresh barbed wire was fixed. There were more important matters, such as the emaciated Fikret Alic's (accurate and vindicated) recollections of the night he had been assigned to load the bodies of 250 men killed in one night at yet another camp.
“If it is still of any remote interest, I will say this: I now know the compound in which these terrified men were held captive to have been surrounded on one side by recently reinforced barbed wire, on two sides by a chain-link fence patrolled by menacing armed thugs and on a fourth side by a wall. But so what? This was a camp - I would say a concentration camp - and they were its inmates.
“What does it take to convince people? The war ground on, the British foreign office and Living Marxism in perfect synergy over their appeasement of the Serbs while other, worse camps were revealed. The bench in The Hague issued its judgment on Trnopolje in 1997: a verdict that described the camp as infinitely worse than anything we reported - an infernal place of rape, murder and torture. Witness after witness confirmed this. The Financial Times enthusiastically re-iterated Living Marxism's claims of a fabrication, but published a hasty and grovelling retraction when it looked at LM's non-evidence.”

Deutchman’s cult, the so-called ‘Living Marxism’, was a grotesque outfit, of which, at a certain point after then end of the 1990s, the entire leadership turned completely counterrevolutionary overnight. Since this would seem impossible based on the laws of probability, the only logical explanation is that they already were, and their bizarre tactics, of turning themselves into spokespeople for Serbian ethnic cleansing, were designed to make the left look ridiculous. George Monbiot does an excellent job on this group of right-wing extremists:

The Invasion of the Entryists,3604,1102753,00.html

Bear in mind that it was the fake propaganda of this cult that was behind much of the “information” that is now used by many of the genocide-denying wing of the “left” and right, who continually retail the same points and continually reference each other, with silly stories often going back to LM.

For the most complete description of the entire issue of the camps and the ITN story and the LM idiocy about it, people must read:

‘Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia - the case of ITN versus Living Marxism’

Anyone who hasn’t read that has simply done no justice to the story. It is superbly well-documented and argued stuff: nothing like Deuchmann’s chaff.

Now, that sections of the media may have engaged in ‘demonisation’ in the way they presented news is not in dispute: this commonly occurs. However, reporting on actual death camps is not ‘demonisation’; it is the perpetrators ‘demonising’ themselves. This goes for any conflict. The one thing that can be criticized is some of the sensationalist British media, which blew up the stories of the ITN journalists with screaming headlines about “the new Holocaust” featuring in particular the emaciated figures. The journalists themselves criticized this usage of their material. For example, Vulliamy states:

“Let no one for one minute compare Omarska to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Such a course is useless and dangerous. No one was more angry than I at headlines such as “Belsen 1992”. They merely played into the hands of those seeking to downplay and even deny what had happened in the Serbian camps.” Including, that is, the LM idiots.

But what was LM really concerned about? Was it that the exaggerated way the tabloids used it was cover for some imperialist plot to intervene in the war and launch a war against Serbia?

Some leftists mistakenly took this tabloid sensationalism for the policy of the UK ruling class. In reality, it had nothing to do with UK Tory government policy, which was cravenly pro-Serbian throughout the Bosnia war, just as much as its cheerleaders in LM, indeed the Tories and LM had the same policy; rather it was just that wing of the media which specialize in this kind of hyper sensationalist “journalism” as a rule.

Was the US preparing a war against Serbia, or even to intervene in Bosnia? Since we are talking about 1992, and US intervention in Bosnia did not occur until 1995 (and that essentially to save Milosevic’s arse and give him half of Bosnia on a plate), why would they be making propaganda back in 1992? The answer: they weren’t. And moreover: if the US had wanted to bomb in 1992, using the concentration camp images, it could have easily, with significant support, without even having to resort to much propaganda beyond the reality.

So what was actually happening at the time regarding the US and these death camps? In fact, the US government actively tried to deny their existence until the last moment, until the journalist Roy Gutman thrust them into the international media and into their faces in August 1992. They were clearly aware of these camps: a May 29 report by the International Society for Human Rights had already listed many with graphic details (International Society for Human Rights, British section, Human Rights and Serbia, 1992) and in July the Bosnian government issued a list of 105 such camps and of 9300 deaths in them (Bosnian Government Information Office, ‘List of Concentration Camps and Prisons on the Territory of the Republic of BH,’ July 28, 1992). The US government was clearly aware of this (United States, House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Developments in Yugoslavia and Europe - August 1992, 102nd Congress, Second Session, Washington, GPO, August 4, 1992, p6). US intelligence had also been aware of these camps before this, and the US embassy in Belgrade had sent regular wires to the State Department based on Red Cross and other information (Vulliamy, E, “Bosnia: The Crime of Appeasement,” International Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 1, 1998, p79). The Red Cross had already visited 4000 people in 10 death camps from July 9 and had reported it all to the UN (Developments in Yugoslavia and Europe - August 1992, op cit, p50-51). Even after Gutman’s revelations, the first reaction of US leaders was to deny their existence. Only once they became undeniable did western leaders demand Red Cross examination of these camps; even then they did not demand their closure.

In the US Congress on August 4, efforts by opposition members to bring up the evidence that had been amassed about the camps for months were met with the continual response by government spokesman Thomas Niles, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, that the US government “cannot confirm” such reports as “we do not have thus far substantiated information.” When asked “Do you have confirmation that some killing and some torture has taken place?” he replied “No, I cannot confirm that.” “You cannot even confirm a single case?” “I cannot” (ibid, p7, and then continually throughout the report. The questioner was Lee Hamilton, chair of the subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East). Amazing – Niles sounds just like Parenti, Ramsey Clarke etc.

Every question throughout the session about what the US would do to ensure delivery of humanitarian relief was met with legalistic arguments about needing to get a consensus through the UN Security Council, even though the Security Council had already passed resolutions authorising the use of force, and the US has never worried about legalisms. As one congressman pointed out, “The President wasn’t worried about legalisms when it came to Saddam Hussein. President Reagan wasn’t worried about legalisms when it came to a number of countries, including Grenada. So don’t put up the shield of legalisms,” (p52). Asked about the continuing arms embargo against Bosnia, Niles replied that the delivery of food aid to Sarajevo was “the best guarantee that the Serbs will not succeed in conquering the city” (p34).

Finally, the revisionist set often claims that “all sides” had camps in which they committed atrocities. For example, Collon claims “There certainly were camps in Bosnia. Not for extermination, but rather for the preparation of prisoner exchanges. Violations of Human Rights were committed here. But why were the UN reports on this subject hidden from us? They accounted for six Croat camps, two Serb camps and one Muslim camp.”

It is difficult to know whether Collon is lying or just stupid. Only two Serb-run camps in Bosnia were there?

According to the Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Expertsestablished pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992), “The reports reviewed alleged a total of 677 camps within BiH. Among those camps, 333 (49.2 per cent) were alleged to have been controlled by Bosnian Serbs; 83 (12.2 per cent) by Bosnian Muslims; 51 (7.5 per cent), by Croats; 31 (4.6 per cent) by both Croats and Muslims; 5 (.7 per cent), by private parties; and 174 (25.7 per cent) by unidentified forces ( Thus if we leave out the “unidentified,” then Serb forces ran two thirds of all the camps.

Of course, not all these were necessarily death camps. Some may have even been the kind of holding camps that Collon describes. Referring to the 960 camps in all of former Yugoslavia (in which the breakdown of ‘ownership’ is basically similar to that of Bosnia), the report states regarding the numbers held and the severity of the crimes recorded:

“As the above statistics and following discussion indicate, the number of camps and reported violations in camps controlled by the Government of BiH and its army are the fewest among the warring factions, irrespective of the ethnic or religious background of the detainees held. The number of reported violations by the Croatian Government, the Croatian Army, and the Croatian Defence Council is larger, particularly against Serbs in Krajina and in eastern and western Slavonia and against Muslims from BiH in Herzegovina. The period of time during which those camps were operated in each of these contexts is relatively limited. The two warring factions identified above are, however, reported to have committed far fewer numbers of violations than those committed by the Serb forces and those working on their behalf, whether in Croatia or BiH. Camps operated by Serbs in BiH are by far where the largest numbers of detainees have been held and where the harshest and largest number of violations occurred.”

No-one has ever denied that Croats and Muslims also had camps, and that massive human rights violations also occurred there. The most important issue, apart from the huge difference in extent of these camps and the abuses, is that the Bosnian government immediately sent Muslim officers to the Hague when they were first accused of running a terrible camp outside Sarajevo where many Serbs and Croats were killed. In fact, for all the alleged “anti-Serb bias” of the Hague, these Muslims were the very first from former Yugoslavia to be convicted by the Hague, while Serb and Croat butchers of a dramatically higher level were – and are - still running around.

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