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Notes on "death camp" defense fund launch

Posted by Lissa on March 07, 1997 at 11:08:53:

These have come my way:

[All comments in square brackets are mine. These are from notes taken quickly and in poor handwriting. Any errors are mine.]


Thomas Deichmann, freelance journalist, author of "The pictures which fooled the world"
George Kenney, formally of the Yugoslav desk at the US State Department, efore resigning in August 1992
Mick Hume, editor of LM and named in ITN's libel action for printing Thomas Deichmann's story

Thomas Deichmann

In a short introduction, Thomas set out the heart of the story. The pictures are misleading; Penny Marshall and Ian Williams never called Trnopolje a "concentration camp", but pictures tell their own story, so they were interpreted as a "Nazi-style camp"; None of the journalists involved corrected that false impression.

Some journalists are very excited about who Thomas is. He has written articles in 25-30 papers throughout Europe. He was an "expert witness" to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, called by Dusko Tadic's defence team. For the last few years he has specialised on the wars in Yugoslavia. He has no political or personal links to any Serb institution, he has never taken sides in the wars in Yugoslavia and is not "pro-Serb". He stands for the idea of professional standards of journalism - that journalists should not manipulate the facts.

At Trnopolje camp, people weren't happy and they wanted food. No-one would want to be there if they could have been somewhere else outside the war zone. There is no such thing as a "good" camp. Trnopolje was not a nice place.

Then the video presentation:

Starting with a transparency showing a diagramme of a US overhead spy photo of Trnopolje from 7 August (diagram appears in the February LM article). The barbed wire compound to the south of the camp is described as having been a place where agricultural and technical equipment had been stored. The compound included an electricity transformer, a garage and a barn. The wire had been put around the compound years before the war, and was nothing to do with the war or the camp. The camp itself consisted of the local school building, the local community centre, and the local sportsfield. The school is surrounded by a metre-high fence (not barbed wire). There is more fencing on two sides running from the area of the community centre to the barbed wire compound. [On the diagram, the fourth side of this area where the men without shirts were standing appears to be open, but nothing in the film clips shown later either confirmed or denied this]

The film report presented the image as if the men were behind the barbed wire.

Film clips

[there seem to be three sources for this series of clips: What was broadcast, taken from a German TV documentary; from the unbroadcast ITN tapes; from a visit towards the end of 1996]

Thomas occasionally called for the film to be stopped to allow him to make some comments.

Film (broadcast): Penny Marshall shakes hands with Fikret Alic, who has to reach over chicken wire and through the barbed wire.

TD: The first point here is that the wire is attached to the same side of the pole that Fikret Alic is standing on. Normally wire fences are attached to the outside of fence poles. [Thinking back on my non-Yugoslav rural background, this is the case in my experience. The line of the fence itself, not the poles, marks the legal boundary. Attaching the fence to the outside of poles also makes the structure considerably more robust. If attached to the inside, the fence could be pushed down (just think of cattle for why this is relevant) quite easily, whereas if attached to the outside, it is not simply the fixing which determines the strength of the fence, but the presence of the poles and the fact that the wire is contiguous and passes off some of the strain laterally. Even if pushing from the inside (cattle fenced in) the wire cannot be easily displaced because there is no "slack", the pushing is against continguous wire attached to multiple poles and to push the fence down requires that each strand of wire shears or the whole fence collapses. Obviously people can check this for themselves, and perhaps prior to the war Yugoslavs were stupid and had their fences pushed down all the time, I can't say]. The wire is old, it is not a new fence.

Film (broadcast): Marshall about to enter something, a white building is on the left, fence poles with barbed wire strands on the top on the right. People [look like women] sitting down on the ground facing inwards.

TD: Marshall entered through a break in the fence, not the gate. The people sitting down are sitting in the shade of a tree to avoid the sun.

Film (unbroadcast?): Igor, a Bosnian Serb soldier.

Why are the people here?

They stay because Army gives them food, water and milk. Are you sorry?

Yes. Very. I have many friends inside. Schoolfriends, my old teacher.
Ask these people, please.

Can you live together again?

I want [to]. But now is a very big problem because Muslim extremists don't want [us to live together]. I don't hate these people. I [lived] with these people before and want [to] help [them].

[to a man behind one of the short fences]

How long have you known each other?

Long time.

How do they know each other? School?

From the street. From playing together.

Is he your guard?


Are you his prisoner?

[the interviewee is initially confused by the question, it seems an unexpected question]

I'm not in jail.

What are you doing here? What is this place?

[general confusion, including those standing around the guy being questioned]

Igor [on recognising a friend, calls to him in Serbo-Croat, his friend makes his way to the front, having to push other people out of the way. Serbo-Croat speakers in the audience laughed as Igor was calling him over. I later got a translation "Hey, come over here. I'm going to make you famous. You're going to be on the BBC!"] This guy is a footballer. I watched him when he played. My big friend.

[to Igor] Why are you here? To stop them escaping?

I have commander said I must stay here and protect first me [unknown whether "me" is Igor or commander] then these people.

Film (unbroadcast?): Interview with a man [with others around him] arrived that day from Keraterm. [In what seemed a pointless question he was asked whether he'd been mistreated "in this camp" - the answer of "no" is hardly definitive, since he'd only arrived that day.]

Inside the school, blankets on the floor, piles of belongings. A kid eating or drinking with a man, probably his father. Buckets of water. One bucket, perhaps soup, maybe slops. Interview with local Red Cross personell. Camp established 26 May. "Do you have enough for these people"? No, we do our best. Pictures of other shirtless men, including the goateed and very skinny guy who appeared in Newsweek magazine. One other very skinny guy [making a total of three, including Alic, out of all the people who appeared on the film]. Shots of men, then refocusing to show barbed wire or chicken wire in close-up, as the cameraman practices getting the images he wants.

Pictures of tents on the playing field.

TD: This shows that the press reports that people were only allowed to build shelters after the ITN visit are false. Also you'll see a car in the background which drives through without stopping. [It was not completely clear in itself how this showed there was no wire, but looking at Dragan Opacic's diagram the car passed along a road which should have been bisected by barbed wire, against the camp diagram from the spy photo, the car is driving from inside the camp to outside the camp.]

Film (unbroadcast) "panning shot" taken from road next to the compound, starting from the left (showing a couple of journalists inside the compound, talking), showing the garage, transformer, passing along the barn, then on the right showing the building and metal pole which can be seen in the background of the Alic picture [it is fuzzy when projected onto a large screen, but you can also see the men without shirts standing in the background between the camera position and the building behind them].

Film (late '96) from approximately the same position, repeating the panning shot. Fence poles are still present, with wire still attached, having been clipped off on either side.

TD: to the east, the wire is still intact.

Film (unbroadcast): From about where Penny Marshall enters the compound, shows other journalists walking along the side of the barn [including a second TV camera. It is very difficult to tell, but without the distortion of the enlargement, the men may be visible in the distance in this shot]

Film (broadcast): Penny Marshall walking in through the same place [again, this shot - anyone who has some video copy of this shot - might show the shirtless men in the distance]. Marshall walking towards the wire. A line of wheelbarrows "outside" the wire [on the same side as Marshall]

George Kenney He thinks it is an extraordinary subject. He's tried to be as objective and careful as he can be and his interest centres always on what has been American interests. He wants to explain the detail of the press and the State Department at a time which was a critical turning point for policy during the war.

He helped to coordinate a lot of what the US government did, holding a mid-level position in the State Department. He prepared press material. Margaret Tutweiler [the main State Department spokeswoman at press briefings in Washington] was the only senior official interested in Yugoslavia and who was concerned that not enough was being done to stop the problems. Her instinct that the US could not stay out was correct. She was James Baker's chief aid, formally mid-senior level but very close to Baker. When Laurence Eagleburger wanted to see Baker, he'd go to Tutweiler first. She ruled the State Department.

Her approach was to talk about the conflict to excite press attention and then the following day show the stories written in the press to James Baker. The Bush administration was very sensitive to press criticism at the time, in the 1992 presidential election season.

For instance, Kenney would try to find as many vivid images as possible. On 14 or 15 May he put forward the phrase "ethnic cleansing" in a package of material to Tutweiler. Then the term stuck and was used extensively and uncritically after that time.

The press were becoming more and more interested in Bosnia. One very important reporter, Roy Gutman, began writing a series of stories; by early August he was writing about death camps. Kenney knew about the stories earlier, because Gutman had asked the US consul in Zagreb if he could obtain spy photos of the areas. The requests were not taken seriously. Kenney kept Baker informed on the story as it was building.

In routine testimony before a congressional committee [headed by Tom Lantos] [?] Boucher [Kenney originally confused Boucher and Niles, correcting himself later] of the State Department walked into a "lion's pit" of hostile questioning about Bosnia. He stonewalled, saying the State Department did not have information. Congress did not like this, especially Lantos who had been imprisoned in Hungary during WWII by a pro-Nazi regime. It was very heated.

The following day [?] Niles was asked about the story: "We have the same reports from the same kind of sources as you have". The press interpreted this as the US government having confirmation and started to believe there was a conspiracy to hide inconvenient information. According to Kenney, they really didn't know much. The information was third- or fourth-hand, about 6-12 reports in May, a few dozen in June and more in July. These reports were not as extreme as in Gutman's stories. If the stories could be corroborated, the pressure would be on for action. Eagleburger started to say they should do more, starting to talk of war crimes.

Then, Thursday, the ITN pictures were shown. A shock. Kenney saw them the following afternoon with the European Bureau spokesman. Skeletal figures behind barbed wire. They felt great shock and knew it would have a heavy impact on the public. It was a defining image. If you ask what they remember, people of his generation (he was a young child in the Belgian Congo at the time) everyone will mention the assasination of JFK. No-one who has followed the war in Yugoslavia won't remember the picture.

In the two weeks following that, things built up rapidly: Clinton calls for bombing; Bush makes strong statements; the UN passes resolutions 770 and 771 authorising force to deliver humanitarian aid, the start of UNPROFOR/IFOR/SFOR in a new role through to today, and requesting information on human rights violations, leading to the war crimes tribunal; The UN Human Rights Commission appointed a specail rapporteur, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who was ferocious in pursuing "Serb violations" but easy in ignoring violations by other groupss; 18 August Britain announced a troop deployment, a U-turn on previous policy.

At the start of the week the pictures were shown, things had been very fluid. By the end of the week, things had gelled and were headed on a new course.

Mick Hume

ITN does not seek to stifle free and fair discussion. He knows, because they have told him so. In fact, he knows because their lawyers have told him so. The same lawyers, Biddle & Co, who represented John Major [UK Prime Minister] in his libel case against Scallywag and the New Statesman. The lawyers sent him a letter. On page one they demanded the withdrawal of the article from the magazine and the pulping of any magazines so far printed. On page two they demanded the destruction of any magazines printed. Whether there is some legal distinction between "pulping" and "destroying" is not made clear in the letter. Perhaps after pulping, the magazine has to be eaten? Their lawyers also demanded and apology in court from the news organisation unlucky enough to distribute an LM press release about the story. Their lawyers also wrote to the magazine's printers, demanding that they cease to print the magazine in the future - not for reprints of the original, not for "repeating the libel", but in any circumstances. It is now unlikely that any printer in the UK will print the magazine. But ITN is not trying to stifle free and fair discussion. They have used all their influence to block the story. The law and the "old pals act". The story is debated across Europe, but in the country where it should cause a national scandal it is suppressed.

The libel case is a got-up excuse for a gagging order. Censorship for hire. You can buy immunity through the courts. The action is nothing to do with defamation.

Private Eye [a fortnightly UK satirical paper who have suffered many libel threats and actions in the past] now supports a libel action - they called Thomas a "Serbomaniac".

The aim is to shut LM for good and scare others off the story. If they get away with it, the issue has severe implications for the free press and free expression in the UK. If you "offend" someone you can face a conspiracy of silence. The "offended" can close down the media. At times when he's talked to people at the BBC or in major newspapers who have been about to run the story, suddenly they are in a meeting and unavailable to talk to him. The attempt is to bankrupt the magazine before the case reaches the courts, simply for something they find offensive.

This is an unprecedented action by a media organisation, so requires an unprecedented response. A lot of journalists have been very supportive and wanted to run the story, many have been outraged by ITN's attacks.

But, particularly those in senior positions, publicly there will be excuses. The BBC "Alright, there may be some evidence, but it must be set aside because of the 'greater truth' of Bosnia". Yet there was or was not barbed wire at the camp. It was or wasn't a concentration camp. There was or wasn't a "holocaust". There can be no gradation of facts.

The "greater truth" is "evil Serbs", or Hutus, or Somalis, and the need to punish them. The ends justify the means. The "greater truth" wins out.

There is now a factor which has a greater quality than "the truth". Everything is reduced to "Good" and "Evil". There is no space for nuance or doubt. There is moral censure of the "evil" and anything which goes against the grain will be excisde. Forget the facts that just don't fit.

BBC reporter Kate Adie was publicly criticised by her bosses for a report on the killings at Dunblane [a shooting tragedy in Scotland, 16 children and their teacher killed]. The criticism was that she didn't show any emotion in doing the report. This has now been called "the Adie Factor". There are things which cannot be reported under the new codes.

In the case of AIDS, revelations last summer that the risk of AIDS from heterosexual sex in the UK was very slight was welcomed. The "good lie" had scared young people off casual sex. A government campaign to scare people into doing what they want, instead of being treated as a manifestation of George Orwell's 1984, is applauded.

If lies are becoming better than the truth, where does it stop? If a fence can be lied about, why not just plant a few dead bodies? Where do you draw the line?

Perhaps everyone should be Damion from Drop the Dead Donkey [a UK sitcom about a TV news show]. In a war zone, Damion found a boy refugee - but he wasn't crying. Damion got the camera to turn away, and you hear a "smack", and when the camera turns back, the boys is suitably distressed about his refugee status. But what is going on is worse than Damion. Damion knew he was doing wrong, and got the camera to turn away. People now publicly justify the "good lie", which is an even worse betrayal of journalistic standards.

Journalists should stand up for the truth about everything, tell the truth, report the facts, be offensive.

This case is not just about LM. It is about the right to tell it like it is. The right to offend, to go against the grain. That is why it is going all the way. That is why it is going on to the end. Mick has no attachment to anyone from the former Yugoslavia, but he does have an attachment to the truth, open discussion and open debate. He stands by the story and stands by those principles.

[standing ovation]


Q: How did you get hold of the film?

Q: If ITN got an award, it should be for the worst film ever, after seeing that. George Kenney, when and what was the reason for your resignation?

Q: For George Kenney. You gave the impression that the US was trailing public opinion. Jaques Merlino, of French TV, writes about a representative of PR firm Ruder & Finn travelling with the ambassador to Zagreb. What do you say about that?

Q: For George Kenney. Nik Gowing wrote a report on the impact of the media on diplomacy and foreign policy, his conclusion being that it is rare that foreign policy is dictated by the press. To what extent do you question that?

Q: Why do people in the American government hate the Serbs so much?

Q: Mr Hume, I'm known for my views and not pro-Muslim, at the trial, will you exclude Srebrenica?

Q: People are very cynical of the media, so not surprised to hear about the story. What do you think about this. Are the journalists principalled but their bosses able to overrule them?

Q: Is the media stifling the role of debate altogether? How much responsibility do the media have afterwards?

TD: On the question of where he got the tape, he won't say. In Germany call it is called "witness protection". There are all sorts of conspiracy theories about where it came from. On the cynicism, he was shocked and surprised by the story. For two weeks he couldn't really believe it himself. Then his wife noticed how the barbed wire was fixed, and he began to think there may be something worth looking at. Responsible journalists can defend the statements made, yet still condemn his story. One response, by a very respectable German journalist, said "What Deichmann says is 100% correct" but then she goes on to the attack. In the name of the "greater truth" journalists have accepted the manipulation of the facts.

GK: Gowing showed me some of his drafts. It is still a very controversial thesis, there are many in government who disagree with him. Probably major changes are rare, this this isn't one of those cases. Western responses were geared to a humanitarian view by these images, rather than to individual Western interests in the area. With an excessive emphasis on the humanitarian side, most journalists and commentators "crossed the line" of the truth. An op-ed he wrote [after he had resigned] was pointed to as one of the most influential pieces on policy. Later, in the New York Times magazine he looked at another element which is treated uncritically. How many were killed? 250,000 if you believe the news wire reports. HE checked these figures and very quickly they came back to Bosnian government officials and then were simply repeated. When challenged, senior Reuters and AP officials couldn't explain. Probably by the end of the war about 70-100,000 people died, tending towards the 70,000. The casualties on the different sides were probably not grossly disproportionate, yet it was routinely described as a "holocaust". On the question of Srebrenica, there is a book by a couple of Dutch authors which relies largely on UN sources. They could have gone to Serb military sources to find out what was going on before. When 200,000 Serbs were being kicked out of the Krajina, Madelaine Albright distracted attention by showing spy photos of "mass graves" to the UN Security Council. People were killed at Srebrenica. Probably several thousand. The ICRC estimate 4-6,000. Some people in the US government think the figure may be as low as 1,500. The media treat all 8,000 missing as killed. He is confident this is not the case. The founder of the SDA in Srebrenica does not believe there were 8,000 killed. He has tried to identify those killed, so he can arrange aid for the families, and he has pushed for a government investigation into what happened. Twice he has survived assasination attempts. I believe there is a story like Thomas's on Srebrenica.

In the US government after he left there was a very one-sided mentality. Some people who still work there go as far as to call it "the Spanish Inquisition" - that may be extreme, but there is a kind of group psychosis which is difficult to understand.

MH: The film should certainly not get an award for "truth and verity". If ITN showed the uncut footage the issue would be solved easily. There is a dodgy story in every war. On Srebrenica, the Sunday Times carried a story on how few bodies had been found when an alleged mass grave was opened. They reported that locals said so few bodies were found because fewer people had been killed. The Sunday Times suggested a "more plausible" story was that the people had been killed, then later dug up, taken away and dissolved in vats of acid. There are more stories to dig up, if he can use that expression. He's not in court to defend anything that happened in the Bosnian civil war. He'll exclude neither Srebrenica nor anything else. No facts or words will be excluded.

Q: To George Kenney. Has he been subjected to intimidation?

Q: On cynicism again. Many people don't trust what appears in print. How do you tackle that problem?

Q: Did you speak to Penny Marshal during or after the preparation of the article?

Q: To George Kenney. If US policy can be affected by the press, how does that leave the credibility of US information-gathering services? Why were they so reserved about the use of spy-planes [for Gutman's story]?

Q: I think that what ITN has done is wrong and completely outrageous, but I take issue with Thomas Deichmann never having taken sides. Given the evidence against the Serb side, and I don't mean all Serbs by this, massive amounts of evidence, why can't you take that on board? There was Vukovar, completely destroyed for no reason at all. 10,000 murdered in Sarajevo. Mass rape, genocide in eastern Bosnia. Have you read the books by Mark Almond, Branka Magas, Norman Cigar, Noel Malcolm [etc]

Q: On the issue of mass rape, I took part in a major study for the Serbian Information Centre, talking to everyone we could, and we could only find eight documented case of rape.

Q: To Mick Hume. How comfortable do you feel about the trial?

TD: He has never taken sides with anyone in former Yugoslavia. He has read quite a lot of the books the question alludes to, there is a trend where a lot of the "experts" don't have a clue about anything in Bosnia. Nowadays it doesn't require anything to be a journalist. There seems to be a "crash course" and, judging from the introductions to the various books, he wouldn't want to be on it. He's had no contact with Penny Marshall. I'm surprised the journalists are playing the game. It is not possible to get comment from them, you are directed to speak to their lawyers. This cynicism is just a passive attitude - instead, don't be cynical, but try to change it. It is not about LM, but freedom of the press. If there are problems, is it not worth changing them?

GK: There is a dearth of good material on Bosnia. He knows Norman Cigar personally. In the Gulf war, when Colin Powell was asking for "Norman" it was not "Stormin' Norman" he wanted, but Cigar. Norman just got it wrong on Bosnia. How many people point out how many Serbs were killed in their parts of Sarajevo? The media focused on Sniper Alley, but not in Serb areas under sniper fire. Water and gas were short or absent in Sarajevo, who reported these same things in Serb areas, particularly those close to the centre of Sarajevo? He left the State Department as an advocate for intervention. He was described as a "shaper" of the intervention movement, a Godfather. An editor of Foreign Policy, in an New York Times op-ed, described one article of his as the most influential article for intervention. So, he caused shock amongst people when he started to question some of the premises. He has been attacked, receiving a hatchet-job from the New Republic and a critical piece in the Washington Post last Fall. It is not comfortable for anyone who turns around and asks questions about what they were doing. How much was politically motivated? How much was reporting? On the satellites. Today there is a "disconnect" between Intelligence and policy makers. On joining the Yugoslav desk early in 1992, he talked to his Intelligence counterparts, and they were all warning that the recognition of Bosnia, which was US policy, would lead to a violent civil war. Everyone thought it would lead to war, so he thought policy makers should at least be prepared, if only as a contingency. But the policymakers rejected the advice, and didn't want to hear contradictions of their views. Later they did review what satellite evidence they had, and could find no evidence of systematic killing at that camp.

MH: It is scary when a corporation is pursuing you to bankruptcy. My wife will tell you it makes me a little touchy at times. All the evidence supports the case. ITN's response supports the case. Before the article came out there was no trouble getting a copy of the photograph, the impression from the woman at ITN's library was that she had a pile of photographs sitting next to her just waiting to go out, that it was their biggest seller. LM even paid them for the photo. Now, you need executive clearence to get hold of a copy of the photo. There is now a lock on the ITN noticeboard, so that no "mole" can take a copy of the notice which accuses LM of supporting war crimes in Bosnia. Anyone at ITN who might have had access to the tape is interrogated to see if they passed on a copy. He has nothing to hide, he wants all the evidence to come out. To fight the case, resources are needed. With the resources, all the information will come out. Ian Williams will be asked what he meant when he said the image was so poweful it was like going two steps ahead of the proof. Ed Vulliamy will be asked about the barbed wire, which in his first story he doesn't mention, but which later surrounds the camp, then becomes multiple fences, then becomes a fence on one side of a compound, patched up with chicken-wire.

Whether the case will be successful for LM is another story. There are no illusions about British justice. There are no solutions in giving in. 100,000 is needed to get their day in court.

See the rest of reports on "ITN, Vulliamy vs Truth" expose
Placed on this site on: March 20, 1997