In their recent article on “How Britain and the US Decided to Abandon Srebrenica to Its Fate” (Observer, July 5, 20151), Ed Vulliamy, a veteran reporter for the Guardian and Observer newspapers, and Florence Hartmann, a reporter and former spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), do a remarkable job of standing history on its head. They do this by the selective use of evidence, including major suppressions of relevant facts; by taking as established truths matters about which there is serious dispute; by a racist underpinning that is clearly hostile to ethnic Serbs; by literal fabrication; and by kitchen-sinking their readers, with quotes from many officials and other sources that fail to prove anything, but that help them to build up the desired atmosphere of an appeased evil.
Vulliamy and Hartmann’s (hereafter V-H) main themes are that the Srebrenica killings of July 1995 were a result of murderous Serb expansionism combined with U.S., British, French, Dutch, and UN appeasement. As regards this appeasement policy, V-H state: “[A] survey of the mass of evidence reveals that the fall of Srebrenica formed part of a policy by the three ‘great powers’ — Britain, France and the U.S. — and by the UN leadership, in pursuit of peace at any price; peace at the terrible expense of Srebrenica, which gathered critical mass from 1994 onwards, and reached its bloody denouement in July 1995.” They go on to add: “Bosnia’s carnage had confounded the world’s most experienced diplomats: ineffective talks and plans had played out and failed for three bloody years.” And along the same line: “diplomats also courted the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic . . . as they ineffectively sought his cooperation.”2
The authors never mention that there were ongoing civil wars in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 till the Dayton Agreement of November 1995,3 primarily within Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Croatia, and Srebrenica was one of several Bosnian Muslim enclaves within Bosnian Serb-controlled territory — hardly a sustainable situation in a state of civil war. But this allows V-H to pretend that preserving Srebrenica’s autonomy was urgently important, when in fact it was widely recognized to be unsustainable and exchanging it for Bosnian Serb-held territory in mainly Muslim areas of Bosnia had been actively discussed by all parties, including among Srebrenica and Sarajevo Muslims. But V-H go to great pains to make those discussions involving the great Western powers sound like a straightforward selling out of Srebrenica’s Muslim population. In fact, it was nothing of the kind.
V-H refer repeatedly to the victimization of the Muslims in eastern Bosnia, with Srebrenica’s population “swelled by displaced deportees, cowering, bombarded relentlessly and largely cut off from supplies of food and medicine.”4 Only Bosnian Muslims are mentioned as victims. And nowhere do V-H even mention, let alone discuss, the fact that Bosnian Muslim troops operating from their base in Srebrenica regularly carried out deadly raids on nearby Serbian towns. Instead, they repeatedly mention that Srebrenica had been designated a “safe area” by Security Council resolution,5 decrying the failure of the “international community” to supply sufficient troops to protect it, but never once mentioning that by two separate agreements between the Bosnian Serbs and the Sarajevo Muslims, Srebrenica was also supposed to be demilitarized, but never was.6
Naser Oric, the commander of Bosnian Muslim troops in Srebrenica, openly bragged to two Western journalists of his exploits in killing Serbs in the vicinity of the enclave, reportedly grinning as he showed one of them his videos of beheaded corpses.7 V-H never mention Naser Oric, though they do mention his brother, Mevludin, whom they describe as “[o]ne of the very few men to survive the killing fields,” and who has long served as a witness for the prosecution at the ICTY; it is a striking fact that in his numerous contributions on Bosnia to the Guardian and Observer since August 1992, Vulliamy has never once mentioned, let alone discussed, Naser Oric’s role.8 But this is understandable and has been explained by Vulliamy himself — he is not a journalist but a propagandist, declaring in 1993 that “with Omarska and Trnopolje objective coverage of the war became a rather silly notion,” that he had instead to “declare a partiality,” and that he was now “on the side of the Bosnian Muslim people against an historical and military program to obliterate them for daring to suggest that three closely related Balkan ‘peoples’ could try to live together in the same country as they had done for centuries.”9 Omarska and Trnopolje were Serb-run prison camps, and Vulliamy has written about and mentioned them many times for the Guardian and Observer beginning on August 7, 1992.10 Celebici, on the other hand, was a Bosnian Muslim-run prison camp, and a brutal one at that,11 but Vulliamy has never written about or even mentioned it for the Guardian and Observer, as doing so might have disturbed his commitment to the Bosnian Muslims, who also happened to be the side supported by the British government. V-H also never mention that Yugoslavia was a state in which the Balkan peoples had lived together in relative harmony since the end of the Second World War, prior to the breakup supported by the NATO powers, the Bosnian Muslims, and V-H.
One scholarly study documents 3,262 Bosnian Serb victims, of whom 2,383 were civilians, all killed in the Srebrenica and Bratunac municipalities in the years 1992 to July 1995.12 Alluding to Naser Oric’s handiwork, Colonel Thom Karremans, a Dutch military officer and the eventual leader of Dutchbat III in the Srebrenica enclave in 1995, stated during a press conference in Zagreb on July 27, 1995: “We know that in the area surrounding the Srebrenica enclave alone, 192 villages were razed to the ground and all the inhabitants killed. That’s what I mean when I say ‘no good guys, no bad guys’.”13 UN Sarajevo commander Lieut. General Philippe Morillon testified before the ICTY that “Naser Oric was a warlord who reigned by terror in this area and over the [Srebrenica] population itself.” Morillon was also asked directly by Judge Patrick Robinson of the ICTY: “Are you then saying, general, that what happened in 1995 was a direct reaction to what Naser Oric did to the Serbs two years before?” Morillon replied: “Yes. Yes, Your Honour. I am convinced of that.”14 Although they do quote both Karremans and Morillon, V-H somehow missed these statements by them, which do not support their hugely biased analysis.
Quoting Morillon and discussing Naser Oric and his role would also have disturbed the V-H program of demonizing Serbs and making Bosnian Muslims all innocent victims. V-H mention Serb “savagery” and bloodthirsty “pursuit of a racially pure ‘statelet’,” and feature their threats of violence at Srebrenica; elsewhere, Vulliamy has spoken of “Serb barbarism” and that Serbia was a “pale but unmistakable reflection of the Third Reich.”15 On the other hand, the Bosnian Muslims are never cast in a bad light. Morillon told the ICTY that Naser Oric “could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollection, he didn’t even look for an excuse.”16 But for V-H the Bosnian Muslim leaders were solid democrats. V-H write that in the spring of 1992, “after multi-ethnic Bosnia voted for independence,” Serb savagery began. They fail to mention that the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution empowered the constituent “nations” to decide on such matters, which they were not allowed to do. But V-H also fail to note that the president of this newly independent state, Alija Izetbegovic, was a dedicated politically reactionary Muslim who greatly admired Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, and openly asserted in his Islamic Declaration the “incompatability of Islam with non-Islamic systems” and rejected both peace and coexistence “between the Islamic religion and non-Islamic social and political institutions.”17
The V-H claim that the “betrayal” of the Srebrenica “safe area” population by the U.S., Britain, and France was in pursuit of “peace at any price” is laughable. A much better case can be made that these dominant Western powers tried to avoid peace at any price. From 1992 up to the Dayton Agreement of November 1995, a series of peace plans, starting with the Cutileiro (Lisbon) Plan in early 1992 and including the Vance-Owen, Stoltenberg, and Contact Group Plans, were tried but failed. According to mediator David Owen in an interview in early February 1993, a settlement was doable, “But we have a problem. We can’t get the Muslims on board. And that’s largely the fault of the Americans, because the Muslims won’t budge while they think Washington may come into it on their side any day now. . . . It’s the best settlement you can get, and it is a bitter irony to see the Clinton people block it.”18
But while the United States successfully blocked these peace plans, it did fight hard for the right to bomb the Bosnian Serbs, which it obtained through Security Council resolutions in March and June 1993,19 thereby allowing it to bomb the Bosnian Serbs in May and August-September 1995. This escalating violence may have been a factor in producing the Dayton Agreement, but that agreement was at this juncture sought by the United States, which in the process imposed a protectorate on Bosnia and Herzegovina under a High Representative, and as John Laughland observes, to this day, the powers of the High Representative are the “only thing that holds together an entirely bogus state.”20 It should be noted that each of the failed peace plans was supported by Milosevic, contrary to V-H’s claim that the Great Powers sought Milosevic’s help “ineffectively.” If the United States had wanted peace from 1992 onward, there would have been peace.
After having stoked the civil wars and violent dismantling of Yugoslavia of 1991-1995, the United States — with the help of the ICTY — stoked a crisis in Kosovo which it used to force a war against Serbia, a war which enabled the U.S.-led NATO bloc to occupy Kosovo and later separate it from Serbia, and left Serbia a crushed and subservient state.21 The construction and use of the ICTY to demonize Serbs was part of the war-making plan, as the ICTY called for refusing to negotiate a settlement with, and pursuing as criminals, Serb targets.22 This hardly fits the V-H portrait of Western peaceniks and appeasers. Rather it fits a war model, with the serial non-peaceful developments in Yugoslavia from 1991 onward rooted in U.S., British, French, and German geopolitical aims.
Not surprisingly, the Srebrenica massacre also fits well a framework that features U.S. war sponsorship and direct action leading to the bombing and virtual surrender and deformation of Serbia, and U.S. and NATO hegemony over the entire map of the dismantled Yugoslavia. The result of the massacre was to deal a huge propaganda blow to Bosnian Serbs and Serb interests more generally, thereby justifying a further demonization of all Serb leaders — and the eventual 1999 military assault on Serbia. So the massacre was useful, and its death — and especially its execution — toll was almost surely inflated to heighten its utility.
V-H make the fall of Srebrenica a matter of U.S.-U.K.-French-and-UN (Dutchbat III) failure to protect the Bosnian Muslim “safe area” population against a Bosnian Serb plan that all of them had allegedly known about for “six weeks before [the] massacre.” V-H quote what they explicitly refer to as the ICTY’s “ruling that the killings were premeditated well in advance.” And they add that in the “conviction of the Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic for aiding and abetting genocide at Srebrenica, the court ruled: ‘Without detailed planning, it would have been impossible to kill so many people in such a systematic manner in such a short time, between 13 July and 17 July’.”23
V-H attributed the final sentence (“Without detailed planning, . . .”) to either the judgment or the judgment on appeal in the case of Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic, decided on August 2, 2001, and April 19, 2004, respectively.24 However, a careful search of each of these judgments in the Krstic case fails to find this quote, or any meaningful part of it, anywhere within these documents. Clearly, V-H’s attribution of this quote to the Krstic case is at best a serious error on their part, and at worst a dishonest fabrication. The Observer should correct the error, and investigate this matter further.
As regards V-H’s claim that in the Krstic case, the ICTY ruled that the Srebrenica “killings were premeditated well in advance,” in at least two separate paragraphs in the August 2, 2001 judgment, the trial chamber ruled that, “following the take over of Srebrenica in July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces devised and implemented a plan to execute as many as possible of the military aged Bosnian Muslim men present in the enclave.”25 Following the take-over of Srebrenica manifestly does not mean “premeditated well in advance” and with “detailed planning,” much less “six weeks before,” contrary to VH’s false claim. Thus, whereas V-H quote an apocryphal statement that conforms to their biases, they failed to quote actual statements that run contrary to these same biases. The Observer should correct this error as well, and investigate this matter further.
V-H also quote ferocious-sounding statements attributed to Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, supposedly showing the nature of their own and Bosnian Serb savagery yet to come. They quote Mladic as saying to a Serb assembly regarding Srebrenica’s Bosnian Muslim population, “My concern is to have them vanish completely,” with Karadzic pledging “blood up to the knees” if and when Srebrenica fell.26 But such statements are of little value in a fair accounting of processes at work here. Neither Mladic nor Karadzic was giving instructions to their subordinates, and the context is unclear. V-H didn’t quote here (and Vulliamy never does in his writings for the Guardian and Observer, either) wartime Croatian President Franjo Tudjman’s instruction to his military leaders just before Operation Storm, that the “purpose of this discussion today [is] to inflict such a blow on the [Krajina] Serbs that they should virtually disappear.”27 Unlike the quotes attributed to Mladic and Karadzic, however, this was a direct instruction by Tudjman to his subordinates, not general, inchoate expressions. And in fact, within days of his statement, most of the Serbs were ethnically cleansed from the Krajina region of Croatia and Bosnia during “Operation Storm.” But this instruction was given by a regional leader hostile to the Serbs and supported by the United States, Britain, and France, and to quote it would cast a Western favorite and Serb opponent in an unfavorable light, and reveal the Serbs also as victims, not simply genocidal criminals. So V-H managed to miss it on July 5, just as Vulliamy himself has missed it throughout his entire career.
In keeping with their political and ideological biases, V-H take it as a given that the Serbs executed some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica — they even claim the “murder [of] more than 8,000. . . .” They cite a general in the Dutch defense ministry who claims (in their paraphrase) that the “UN then provided 30,000 litres of petrol which proved necessary for the genocide,” so that this petrol was used “to fuel transport of men and boys to the killing fields, and bulldozers to plough the 8,000 corpses into mass graves.”28
But, by the time of the Krstic decision in August 2001, only 2,028 corpses had been unearthed at these “Srebrenica-related” mass graves,29 and these bodies included an unknown but large number of combat fatalities, as is evident by the nature of their wounds.30 So after a six-year search, where were all of the 8,000 Bosnian “men and boys” ploughed into these mass graves? Why has there still been no imagery intelligence released by the United States into the public realm of alleged Bosnian Serb executions, burials, exhumations from “primary” graves, and reburials in “secondary” graves?31 Why didn’t the same Bosnian Serb forces of the Drina Corps and related paramilitaries kill the Muslim prisoners that they captured at the Zepa “safe area” in late July? And why did the Bosnian Serb forces medically treat a fair number of wounded Bosnian Muslims, and send them on to Tuzla?
It is true that in the days prior to the July 11, 2015, 20th anniversary commemoration of the “Srebrenica massacre” at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Center and Cemetery, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) released its most current data on the number of persons identified through DNA analysis from the “Srebrenica-related” graves. As of June 18, 2015, the ICMP reported that a total of 6,930 persons had been identified, of which it claimed it had identified 6,827 using DNA matching techniques, while the remaining 103 had been identified using conventional methods.32 But DNA profiling is powerless to determine either the manner of death (death in combat versus death in a criminally meaningful sense, such as by execution) of the persons whom it helps to identify, the date on which someone died, or the place where someone died. Moreover, the ICMP’s work remains inscrutable. In refusing to make the records of the ICMP’s lab work available to the Karadzic defense for independent testing and verification, the ICTY’s prosecutor argued that “The ICMP is not obliged to provide 300 [or any number] of sample case files to the Accused under any procedure or subject to any preconditions. . . .”33 Were this Tribunal a U.S. court of law, the ICMP’s reported results would have been in violation of American Bar Association Standards for the use of DNA evidence, and ruled inadmissible.34 But when introduced in the context of the 20th anniversary of the “Srebrenica massacre,” they were accepted as gospel truth, revealed from on high and redoubtable.
V-H have no answer to serious questions such as these — in fact, they never even raise them. The institutionalized truth about the 8,000 Srebrenica “men and boys” has become unchallengeable — based not on evidence, but global political muscle.
A Cowardly Betrayal of a “Safe Area” Population or a Sacrificial Justification for “Humanitarian Intervention”?
Ed Vulliamy and Florence Hartmann make their accusations against the Great Western Powers for the “betrayal” of Srebrenica’s “safe area” population, but they never address the question of why the Sarajevo Muslims themselves betrayed the enclave. Why didn’t the 28th Division’s 5,000-6,000 men, for so long led by their commander Naser Oric in this “demilitarized” zone, stay and fight to defend these people? The Bosnian Serb Army had failed to dislodge them for the previous three years, and if it had attacked in force while they were still present, there is every reason to believe that on this occasion NATO airpower would have been mobilized on their behalf. The critical literature repeatedly points out that a contingent of Srebrenica leaders had met with the Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic in Sarajevo in September 1993, and that Izetbegovic informed them that he had been told by the U.S. President Bill Clinton that a “NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina was possible, but could only occur if the Serbs were to break into Srebrenica, killing at least 5,000 of its people.”35 Whether or not this story is true, it turned out that the 8,000 number did the trick nicely and played an important role in the escalated U.S.-NATO interventions that followed.
In sum, V-H have everything upside down. It was the war parties in the U.S. and Sarajevo that profited from and brought about the Srebrenica massacre. As Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and E.U. envoy to the former Yugoslavia, once remarked, “there would be no peace in Washington until there was war in the Balkans.”36 The Bosnian Serbs killed many Bosnian Muslim soldiers and executed an unknown number, but they had fallen into a trap that eventually cost them and their Belgrade allies dearly. V-H criticize the Great Western Powers for their alleged sellout of Srebrenica, but beneath their feeble intellectual façade they are once again trashing the Serb enemy and putting in a good light not only the Bosnian Muslims, but even the bumbling U.S., British, and French who supposedly failed Srebrenica but did right matters eventually and did successfully dismantle Yugoslavia, and put ethnic Serbs into pariah status and their political leadership in prison.
1 Ed Vulliamy and Florence Hartmann, “How Britain and the US Decided to Abandon Srebrenica to Its Fate,” Observer, July 5, 2015, <tinyurl.com/pe348te>. Also see Ed Vulliamy, “Revealed: The Role of the West in the Runup to Srebrenica’s Fall,” Observer, July 4, 2014, <tinyurl.com/q7a7lfb>; and Tom Blanton and Emily Willard, “Srebrenica Conference Documents Detail Path to Genocide from 1993 to 1995,” The National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 519, July 1, 2015, <tinyurl.com/njd7pmk>.
3 For the text of the Dayton Agreement, see Madeleine J. Albright, Letter dated 95/11/29 from the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (S/1995/999), November 30, 1995, <tinyurl.com/pyxpnad>.
6 For copies of the April 18 and May 8, 1993 demilitarization agreements, see Stephen Karganovic and Ljubisa Simic, Rethinking Srebrenica (New York: Unwritten History, Inc., 2013), Annex 3, pp. 288-289; and Annex 4, pp. 290-293.
7 See Bill Schiller, “Muslims’ Hero Vows He’ll Fight to the Last Man,” Toronto Star, January 31, 1994; and John Pomfret, “Weapons, Cash and Chaos Lend Clout to Srebrenica’s Tough Guy,” Washington Post, February 16, 1994.
8 We base this finding on a Nexis database search carried out on July 19 of both The Guardian and The Observer of the form: Byline(Ed w/2 Vulliamy) and Naser w/2 Oric. According to Nexis, the results of the search were: “No Documents Found.”
9 Ed Vulliamy, “This War Has Changed My Life,” British Journalism Review, Vo. 4, No. 2, June, 1993, pp. 5-11; here p. 7; and p. 10. As a testament to his newfound commitments, Vulliamy added that his coverage of the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina had changed him: “at least it has had an effect sufficient to change some of my most fundamental views. I was a serious pacifist who believed that all war was wrong; now I believe that war is necessary to end things that are even worse than war. And what is happening to the Bosnians is worse than war. . .” (p. 10).
13 Quoted in J.C.H. Blom et al., Srebrenica: A “Safe” Area — Reconstruction, Background, Consequences and Analyses of the Fall of a Safe Area, Trans. Taalcentrum – VU (Amsterdam: Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, 2002), p. 2259, <tinyurl.com/m6gy7ag>.
14 Quoted in George Bogdanich, “Prelude to the Capture of Srebrenica,” in Edward S. Herman, Ed., The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics (Evergreen Park, IL: Alphabet Soup, 2011), pp. 46-47, <tinyurl.com/kyrfw2b>.
15 Vulliamy, “This War Has Changed My Life,” p. 10.
19 See UN Security Council Resolution 816 (S/RES/816), March 31, 1993, para. 4, <tinyurl.com/qhh8mkj>; and UN Security Council Resolution 836 (S/RES/836), June 4, 1993, para. 9, <tinyurl.com/qh7hnv8>.
20 John Laughland, Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice (Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2007), p. 45.
22 This theme is pursued convincingly in Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity (Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2004), “The ICTY at War,” pp. 132-146.
24 See Judge Almiro Rodrigues et al., Judgment, Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-T, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, August 2, 2001, <tinyurl.com/lohd5hy>. And see Judge Theodor Meron et al., Judgment on Appeal, Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-A, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, April 19, 2004, <tinyurl.com/lm7mpv2>.
25 Ibid., para. 87, emphasis added. Also see para. 427, which states: “Following the take-over of Srebrenica, in July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces devised and implemented a plan to execute as many as possible of the military aged Bosnian Muslim men present in the enclave. . . .”
27 Franjo Tudjman’s remark derives from the so-called Brioni Transcript of July 31, 1995; our source for it here is the Trial Transcript, The Prosecutor Against Slobodan Milosevic, Case No. IT-02-54-T, June 26, 2003, p. 23200, lines 8-10, after the transcript had been shared with the Milosevic defense as part of the trial’s discovery process (apparently). On this particular date, Slobodan Milosevic was cross-examining the former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, and in this part of the cross-examination, Milosevic was trying to learn what Galbraith knew about the purpose of the Croatian leadership’s July 31 meeting on the Brioni islands (see <tinyurl.com/p6r9f5a>).
30 See Ljubisa Simic, “An Analysis of the Srebrenica Forensic Reports Prepared by ICTY Prosecution Experts,” in Stephen Karganovic and Ljubisa Simic, Rethinking Srebrenica (New York: Unwritten History, Inc., 2013), pp. 130-167.
31 See Cees Wiebes, “What Photos Were Taken and on Which Dates?” and “Conclusions,” in Blom et al., Srebrenica: A “Safe” Area, Appendix II, “Intelligence and the War in Bosnia 1992-1995: The Role of the Intelligence and Security Services,” pp. 2608-3008; here pp. 2906-2918, <tinyurl.com/m6gy7ag>.
35 See, e.g., David Harland et al., The Fall of Srebrenica (A/54/549), Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/35, November 15, 1999, para. 115, <tinyurl.com/kkmr6b4>.
36 In Tim Ripley, Operation Deliberate Force: The UN and NATO Campaign in Bosnia 1995 (Lancaster: Centre for Defense and International Security, 1999), p. 147.
Edward S. Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and has written extensively on economics, political economy, and the media. Among his books are Corporate Control, Corporate Power (Cambridge University Press, 1981), The Real Terror Network (South End Press, 1982), and, with Noam Chomsky, the two volume The Political Economy of Human Rights (Haymarket Books, 2nd. Ed., 2014), and Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon, 2nd. Ed., 2002). David Peterson is an independent journalist and researcher based in Chicago. Together, they are the co-authors of The Politics of Genocide (Monthly Review Press, 2nd. Ed., 2011), and Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (The Real News Books, 2014).