Why were the Yugoslav journalists murdered?
PHONY MASSACRE STARTED A WAR
Accuracy in Media Monitors, April 22, 1999
By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincard
WASHINGON: On April 18th, both the Washington Post and the New York Times ran long stories about how the Clinton Administration got involved in the no-win war in Yugoslavia. Both papers said that the key incident which sparked U.S. military involvement was the alleged Serb massacre of Albanians in the village of Racak in Kosovo. We say "alleged" because its not at all clear that what happened was a massacre. In fact, some evidence suggests that Kosovo Liberation Army terrorists attacked the Serbs and then dressed up some of the victims to make them look like civilians. But "massacre" is how the Post and Times described it.
The point is that this incident is what started the U.S. on the road to deeper and deeper military involvement. In other words, the Clinton Administration may have gotten the U.S. involved through an incident that was manipulated and staged for propaganda value.
The Times said that NATO commander General Wesley Clark was so outraged about this alleged massacre that he met with Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic and presented him with photographs of the victims. The Times reported that Milosevic said the killings had resulted from a firefight between Serb security forces and the KLA. Heres how the Times reported how Milosevic described what happened then: "The rebels, he continued, rearranged the bodies and dressed them to make them look like peasants and farmers, shooting the bodies through the heads and necks to make the incident look like a massacre."
The Times didnt report how Clark responded to this, and the paper didnt explain what was wrong with Milosevics explanation. But the fact is that his explanation of what happened is consistent with how some foreign newspapers reported the incident.
Unfortunately, this isnt the only dubious report or claim that has come out of the White House, NATO or the American media during this war. Some other phony reports include NATOs claim that two Albanian Kosovo leaders had been executed by the Serbs, the alleged transformation of a soccer stadium in Kosovo into a death camp, and blaming the Serbs for the bombing of a refugee convoy. One of those Kosovo Albanian leaders was the subject of a recent article in the Washington Post. The Post said he was sitting in a friends living room when he heard the news of his death broadcast live from NATO headquarters. NATO apparently based the report of his death on the fact that his offices had been ransacked and his security guard killed. Obviously, however, NATO released the "news"of his death publicly without having a shred of hard evidence to justify the claim.
It is quickly becoming apparent that NATO, at least in some cases, has been less than forthcoming in reporting the truth. In a related matter, a Bosnian Serb TV station in the NATO-occupied state of Bosnia has been ordered to stop broadcasting because its coverage of the war was deemed inflammatory and inaccurate. The order could be enforced by a NATO-led Stabilization Force, whose troops could literally take over the station at the point of a barrel of a gun.
PUTTING KOSOVO IN PERSPECTIVE
The question period at the annual shareholders meeting of the New York Times this year began with a strong statement by a Marine Vietnam veteran urging that the Times quit supporting the NATO war on Yugoslavia. He said most of the reserve units are now on alert and that "we are obviously preparing to make a major invasion." He feared that this could lead to a third world war. He was totally opposed to the bombing, which was now hitting civilian targets. He concluded, "I think this is terrible, and I look to The New York Times to take the lead in opposing this."
Representing Accuracy in Media at the meeting, I momentarily surprised the chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, saying that the Times had published some excellent stories on Kosovostories by David Binder, Alan Cowell, and Henry Kamm. But they were all written in 1987. That year was a turning point for Kosovo according to those stories. One by David Binder, published on Nov. 1, 1987, said, "Ethnic Albanians already control almost every phase of life in the autonomous province of Kosovo, including the police, judiciary, civil service, schools and factories. In the last seven years, 20,000 (Serbs and Montenegrins) have fled the province, often leaving behind farmsteads and houses, for the safety of the Slavic north."
That year the Kosovo Serbs began demonstrating to protest their persecution by the ethnic Albanians, who outnumbered them 9 to 1. Binder said, "Slavic Orthodox churches have been attacked and flags have been torn down. Wells have been poisoned and crops burned."
The Kosovo Serbs wanted protection from Belgrade, but some Communist Party leaders were reluctant to alienate the Albanian head of the Kosovo Communist Party. Binder reported that the goal of the radical ethnic Albanians was "an ethnic Albania that includes western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, part of southern Serbia, Kosovo and Albania itself." Kosovo, Binder said, was the principal battleground.
Slobodan Milosevic, who was then the Serbian Communist Party secretary, went to Kosovo and assured the Serbs that their persecution at the hands of the Albanians would be halted. Binder concluded his article saying, "The hope is that something will be done to exert the rule of law in Kosovo while drawing ethnic Albanians back into Yugoslavias mainstream." The autonomy Tito had given Kosovo in 1974 was withdrawn in 1989, setting off violent Albanian protests.
This 1987 article by David Binder casts the present conflict in a different light. David Binder was recently on C-SPAN, displaying his impressive knowledge of the Balkans, acquired during his 35 years as a European correspondent for the Times. He warned against the reckless use of words like genocide and massacre in describing what has happened in Kosovo. Only 2,000 on both sides were killed in the fighting in Kosovo last year. More Kosovo Albanians were killed by our bombs in four weeks than were killed in the Racak "massacre," the incident used to justify the bombing.
NATO AIR CAMPAIGN IS FAILING
Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst for ABC News, has blown the whistle on NATOs bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Cordesman, who has worked for NATO, has stated publicly what many people suspect -- that the bombing has contributed to the worsening plight of the refugees. When Cordesman appeared on ABCs World News Tonight on April 16th, to give his bleak assessment of the NATO campaign, anchor Peter Jennings knew what was coming because he had already read his report, made available in advance to ABC News. Jennings knew that Cordesman was going to present bad news for NATO.
Although NATO and White House officials have made much of the thousands of sorties, or bombing raids, undertaken against Yugoslavia in the first three weeks, Cordesman said only 102 fixed targets had been hit and very little damage had been inflicted on Yugoslav troops. His report stated, "The net impact of NATO operations may be to worsen the plight of ethnic Albanians rather than paralyze the Serbian operations." Jennings called that "strong stuff."...
Cordesman also took aim at Pentagon terminology about what targets are being hit and what damage, if any, is being inflicted. He compared the so-called "damage assessment" to the body count terminology of the Vietnam War, in which it was assumed that progress in the war was being made because certain numbers of the enemy were being killed. One problem, he said, is that targets are being reported to have undergone "severe damage" when no one seems to know what that means. Another category of damage is called "destroyed," which seems fairly obvious, but still another category is "moderate damage." Cordesman says this apparently means that a target has been hit in some vague and undefined way.
At the same time, executives of seven major U.S. news organizations have written a letter of protest to Defense Secretary William Cohen, saying that "on many days, the state-controlled Yugoslav media has been more specific about NATO targets than the United States or NATO." The editors said that "Detailed information about the allied operation is vital to an informed public discussion of this matter of national interest." They said journalists are not being given basic information about how many war planes are being sent on bombing runs on any particular day and how many are actually dropping bombs.
In response, President Clinton, who spoke to the newspaper editors and executives at a meeting in San Francisco, agreed that more details needed to be provided. He blamed the lack of information on a lack of coordination by NATO allies, as well as cloudy weather over Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, NATO was preparing to bomb Serbian TV, which has been more accurate and quicker with information about the war than NATO itself.
NATO LIES ABOUT BOMBING OF REFUGEES
The new chorus among politicians and the media has been that NATO ought to bomb Serbian TV and shut it down. In fact, however, some of the top editors and executives of major U.S. newspapers have written to Defense Secretary Cohen, saying that Serb TV has been giving out more accurate information than NATO. "On many days," they said in a letter to Cohen, "the state-controlled Yugoslav media has been more specific about NATO targets than the United States or NATO."
But Serb TV has also been more accurate on other matters. Serb TV was the first medium to report that an American stealth aircraft had been shot down over Yugoslavia. And Serb TV was the first medium to report that NATO had attacked a civilian refugee convoy in Kosovo.
In that case, NATO was actively spreading disinformation -- some would call it lies -- about what had happened. A CNN report posted on its Internet site the afternoon of the tragedy disclosed that NATO General Wesley Clark "said he had received verbal reports that after the military convoy was struck, Serb troops got out and attacked civilians." In other words, NATO had attacked a military rather than civilian convoy and, in retaliation, the Serbs murdered the refugees. A variation of this claim was reported in the Washington Post, which said that Clark "first suggested that the attacks on the refugees may have been perpetrated as a retaliatory action by Yugoslav forces...." The Post said that Clark later "retracted that theory."
That "theory," according to CNN, was based on "verbal reports" that Clark received from someone, somewhere. But who were these people? We still dont know. But Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon also attempted to blame the Serbs. At a briefing, in the words of the Post, he "raised the possibility that air strikes on refugees in Kosovo may have been perpetrated by Serbian aircraft."
In response to all of this, Yugoslavian authorities called these claims "monstrous lies." They were right. So why did NATO eventually admit the truth? Was it because they were full of integrity and wanted to set the record straight? We would hope that NATO wanted to admit a mistake and apologize for killing dozens of refugees. But the fact is that the Yugoslavian authorities had access to bomb fragments that were manufactured in NATO countries. They could prove to the media and the world that NATO was guilty of this atrocity.
The incident also
demonstrated the unreliability of testimony from refugees. Asked who had bombed them, one
refugee was quoted in the Post as saying about the aircraft, "probably it was Serb
because NATO would not attack us." Well, NATO did attack them, although it was
clearly an accident. And the irony is that the Serb media, which may soon be attacked,
gave the American people the truth that they did not immediately get from their own
government and media. Once the Serb media are off the air, we may
not have any independent way to check the claims coming out of NATO headquarters or
We have to add here the opinion about the general state of the Western media. It is Western media's JOB DESCRIPTION to lie and manipulate. This is the "state of the art" in the Western journalism for at least a half a century.
Here is what we mean: John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff for the New York Times, was one of New York's best loved newspapermen. Called by his peers "The Dean of his Profession", John was asked in 1953 to give a toast before the New York Press Club, and in so doing, made a monumentally important and revealing statement. He is quoted as follows:
Particularly in war situation: It is the Western philosophy that propaganda war is part of the real war.
BELGRADE, April 23 (Reuters) - NATO air strikes blasted Serbian state television off
the air on Friday, just hours after Belgrade offered apeace proposal to allow an
"international presence" in war-torn Kosovo under U.N. auspices. Belgrade
residents reported hearing a "huge explosion" at 2:04 a.m. (0004 GMT) and said
NATO had hit the RTS television building, taking all channels off the air.
The War on TV
BROADCAST Weekly Magazine (Britain), May 14, 1999
By Philip Hammond
In its war against Yugoslavia, Nato has tried to silence all debate, criticism and dissent. The most grotesque instance of this was the bombing of the Serbian television building, killing an estimated 10 civilians and injuring dozens more. Prime Minister Tony Blair described this as 'entirely justified'. The attack was allegedly carried out in the name of Truth, since the station produces propaganda. The image-conscious Blair explained that television is part of the 'apparatus' which keeps a political leader in power, so camera operators, make-up ladies and janitors are therefore legitimate targets.
Perhaps Nato also hoped reports by Western journalists in Belgrade - filed from the TV building until it was hit - would become collateral damage. Certainly in Britain politicians have sought to stifle opinions and facts they do not like, most conspicuously by portraying John Simpson's reports as Serbian propaganda. What are they scared of?
First, they are worried by suggestions that the Serbian people are united against Nato. Defence Secretary George Robertson argued unconvincingly that if an opinion poll were conducted in Serbia it would not show the united opposition Simpson had reported. Second, they are uncomfortable about interviewers questioning the success of Nato strategy. Development Secretary Claire Short, for example, did a bad impersonation of the 'clever dick' questions asked by the likes of John Humphries. Third, politicians have been rattled by reports of civilian damage and death caused by Nato, which began to come out within the first 24 hours of the bombing campaign and have continued steadily since.
'I only, as Nato spokesman, give out information when it is totally accurate and confirmed', Jamie Shea told Channel Four News. In fact Nato information has been about as accurate as its bombs - several of which have landed outside Yugoslavia's borders. In this interview, Shea was giving out the 'totally accurate and confirmed' information that two Yugoslav pilots had been captured after their planes were shot down over Bosnia while they were attempting to attack Nato peacekeepers there. Nato later admitted no pilots had been captured and the MiG fighters did not have ground attack capability. We have since been fed a string of stories - that 20 schoolteachers were killed in front of their pupils, that Pristina stadium was being used as a concentration camp, that the paramilitary leader Arkan was in Kosovo, that President Slobodan Milosevic's family had fled the country, that Kosovo Albanian leaders had been executed - all of which turned out to be false.
Nato even lied about its intention to bomb Serbian television. We were told people in Yugoslavia do not have access to the Western side of the story - though in fact they do - and that airstrikes would follow unless Serbian TV carried six hours a day of Western news programming. When Belgrade offered to accept the six hours in exchange for six minutes of Yugoslav news on Western networks, Nato backtracked, saying it had only meant it would bomb transmitters also used for military communications. Nato also explicitly assured the International Federation of Journalists it would not target media workers. What are we to make of an organisation which kills others because it says they are lying, but consistently lies itself?
Hitting civilian targets has been the most sensitive issue for Nato. The technique for stage-managing the release of such information is to begin with a bare-faced lie, in the hope that the first headlines will leave a lasting impression. This is followed by an admission of limited culpability, designed to indicate Nato's honesty and openness whilst continuing to imply the enemy is at least partly to blame. This procedure was established over the damage caused to civilian areas of Pristina, which Nato initially tried to pin on the Serbs. They then admitted 'one bomb' may have been 'seduced off the target' - as if the Serbs were willing reluctant Nato bombs to hit them. The same strategy was adopted to explain the attack on the refugee convoy: the Serbs were blamed, then Nato admitted to hitting one tractor.
British broadcasters have drawn some self-flattering comparisons, suggesting that whilst Serbian TV is a propaganda machine, our news is impartial and balanced. It is true that some has been, particularly reporting by correspondents in Serbia able to see the results of Nato bombardment. But back in the studio there is a tendency to stick slavishly to the Nato line. When Simpson reported from the site of the downed US Stealth aircraft, his colleagues in London insisted Nato had not yet confirmed a plane had been shot down. Similarly, Sky's presenter tried to question the credibility of a report by their Belgrade correspondent Tim Marshall on the bombing of the refugee convoy, even though Marshall maintained his sources were reliable.
Of course, even in London newsrooms there are honourable exceptions. Channel Four's Alex Thompson introduced some Nato cockpit video footage by remarking pointedly that it was 'impossible to verify independently'. Yet his self-consciously even-handed use of this phrase was striking precisely because it was a departure from the norm. Most of the time, official briefings are faithfully reproduced complete with pictures supplied by Nato and the Ministry of Defence, and the prepared soundbites of politicians and military spokesmen are parroted by journalists. For example, when it became clear that airstrikes were precipitating a humanitarian crisis rather than achieving the stated purpose of preventing one, Nato covered its embarrassment by saying it needed to 'catch up'. This euphemistic description of intensified bombing was dutifully repeated by Mark Laity, the BBC's man in Brussels, on both the evening's bulletins.
The problems with the coverage run deeper than an insufficiently questioning attitude toward official sources, however. Some journalists have actively taken the part of Nato. When Robert Fisk's article in the Independent contradicted the outlandish claim that the Serbs had bombed Pristina themselves, one British television correspondent stood up at the briefing in Brussels and urged his fellow reporters not to ask Nato any awkward questions. Allegiances have been signalled in more subtle ways too. Reports which take us on board planes flying missions over Yugoslavia invite viewers to identify with Nato just as much as the 'bomb's eye view' cockpit video. Coming under fire with the Kosovo Liberation Army inside Kosovo, Jonathan Charles spoke romantically of 'the men who dream of liberating Kosovo' as 'a symbol of hope for ethnic Albanians', while Channel Five News offered a human-interest story about the family of a Kosovo Albanian who had left Britain to join the KLA.
Many seem to have bought into the simplistic 'Good versus Evil' morality with which politicians have framed the conflict, and have joined in with Nato's demonisation of Milosevic and the Serbs. A Panorama special exhorted Nato leaders to prosecute Milosevic for war crimes. Brian Barron went to Montenegro in search of the 'grizzly details' of the 'troubled history' of the Milosevic 'clan'. Jeremy Paxman suggested a programme of 'thoroughgoing imposed de-Nazification' for post-war Serbia, echoing the view voiced by everyone from government ministers to the Sun newspaper that the Serbs are the new Nazis.
The heavy-handed moralism has made it difficult to ask questions, especially about the plight of refugees. Yet questions demand to be asked: about the reasons for their flight, and the tales of atrocities they bring with them. Judging from British news reports, these must be the first airstrikes in history no-one has fled. Even when told they had been bombed by Nato, survivors of the attack on the convoy blamed the Serbs. This gives some indication of the reliability of refugees' statements. From the viewpoint of ethnic Albanians who welcome Nato action, such statements are understandable. But this does not explain why Western reporters should accept them, nor why the hundreds of thousands of Serbs displaced by Nato attacks are routinely ignored.
Rather than admitting they don't know what is happening inside Kosovo, correspondents on the border repeat every horror story. The fact such accounts are uncorroborated is countered by the mantra that refugees' claims are 'consistent and credible', despite sometimes flimsy evidence. The experience of Bosnia is cited as support for the tales of 'systematic mass rape', for example. Yet despite claims that more than 50,000 Muslim women were raped by Serbs in Bosnia, a 1993 United Nations commission scaled down to 2,400 victims - including Serbs and Croats - based on 119 documented cases.
No doubt civilians are being killed and terrorised from their homes by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, just as Serbian civilians are being killed and terrorised by Nato bombing across Yugoslavia as a whole. That's war. But the focus on atrocity stories obscures what little we do know of what is happening: a military campaign against armed separatists. Occasionally, this hidden story leaks through. Panorama repeatedly mentioned attacks on 'KLA strongholds'. A Newsnight report on 'video evidence of the killings of civilians' let slip that at least one of the six 'civilians' was a KLA member and another a strong KLA supporter. But it generally appears no KLA members are ever killed, and no-one is killed by them.
Every war produces atrocity stories, and it is difficult to chart a course through propaganda and rumour. A useful start would be to discount the obviously ludicrous claims, such as the story of the 'mass graves'. Nato asked us not only to accept a grainy aerial photograph as evidence of atrocities, but also to believe that the Serbs forced ethnic Albanians to dress up in orange uniforms and bury the dead in 'neat rows of graves facing Mecca', in the words of Nato general Guiseppe Marani. Presumably this too was 'totally accurate and confirmed'?
Philip Hammond is senior lecturer
in media at South Bank University, and worked as a consultant on BBC2's Counterblast:
Against the War (4 May).
IS U.S. COMMITTING WAR CRIMES FROM ON HIGH?
St.Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 1999, Monday
By Bill Ramsey
On April 15, commenting on the U.S. bombing of a civilian convoy in Kosovo that killed 78 refugees, President Bill Clinton said, "That is regrettable; it is also inevitable." Responding to an April 24 report that U.S./NATO destruction of bridges in Belgrade and other Serbian cities had severed pipes carrying the civilian drinking water, NATO's spokesman, Jamie P. Shea, replied, "I acknowledge that, but it's not our intention." These two statements set me thinking about the relationship among intentions, inevitability and responsibility. If one knows that dropping bombs on targets that have both civilian and military functions will inevitably take or harm civilian lives, can one claim that one does not intend to kill and therefore is not responsible for those who die in the attack?
The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Protocols define crimes against humanity as attacks on civilian populations or civilian objects. Civilian objects are defined as those indispensable to the survival of a population; and drinking water installations are designated as a civilian objects. Those water pipes in Belgrade are not legitimate targets under international standards.
The Geneva Conventions and Protocols prohibit indiscriminate attacks. An attack is "indiscriminate" when its effect cannot be limited and thus harms military and civilian targets without distinction. Indiscriminate attacks include those that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life or injury to civilians. Where there is doubt, a potential target must presumed to be civilian.
Does Clinton's decision to use an air-war strategy that he knows will kill civilians amount to a violation of the Geneva Conventions? Is our government committing war crimes in a futile attempt to halt Milosevic...?
Each week we are told that the air war will intensify. Unable to protect Kosovars, the Pentagon sets its sights on punishing Serbs. Precise missile attacks are proudly showcased. "Errant missiles" are reluctantly admitted and minimized. Our own atrocities vie with Milosevic's atrocities for space on the morning news - a train on a bridge, a TV station, a Serbian refugee camp. "Stray missiles" hit a residential area in the Serbian city of Surdulica, destroying homes, killing at least 20 civilians.
The 1945 the Nuremberg Charter declares that the "wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity" is punishable as a war crime. NATO said its target in Surdulica was an army barracks. Surdulica is near Serbia border with Bulgaria, not Kosovo. Can NATO identify a "military necessity" that warranted the risk of destroying homes and killing civilians in Surdulica? If not, did it commit a war crime?
Are "war-related factories" now to include "word factories" like that Serbian television station struck on April 23, killing 15 civilian journalists?
Amnesty International reminded NATO that international humanitarian law not only prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian sites. It also requires stringent safeguards when carrying out attacks against "military objectives," including giving effective advance warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.
International law also sets conditions on decisions to wage war. If they are not met, then another category of war crime called a crime against peace is committed. Under the U.N. Charter, collective military action by member states to prevent crimes against humanity requires Security Council approval. By what authority is NATO making war?
All diplomatic options must be exhausted and negotiations cannot proceed under the threat of force. Does "Sign or we bomb" meet to these conditions?
The recently released text of the Rambouillet agreement requires intrusions on Serbian sovereignty over all of its territory. Was it an ultimatum designed to provide the pretext for war? If so, is NATO's war a "crime against peace"?
The prosecution of this "intensified" and futile air war is only adding to the war crimes committed against the people of the former Yugoslavia.
The mandate of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia is to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed by all parties in the conflict. The U.S. and its NATO partners have chosen to enter the conflict. They, like Milosevic, should be brought to court to account for their actions.
How many mornings will we have to
hear "regrettable but inevitable" from places like Serbia, Iraq, Sudan and Panama before we realize that
modern air war is a blunt and deadly instrument that cannot confine itself within even the
minimum humanitarian standards that arose from the ashes of WW II?
The truth belongs to us all.
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Last revised: May 12, 1999