The current issue of the Nation Magazine has an extraordinarily long article titled “Western Promises” that accuses the Western imperialists being soft on the late Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbs. It was written by Marc Perelman, the diplomatic correspondent of the Forward, a Jewish-American weekly in NY with historic ties to the social democratic leadership of the ILGWU.
Perelman uses nearly 6000 words to make the case that the U.S. and Britain “sabotaged” the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and allowed Serb criminals to go scot-free. It relies heavily on the word of one Florence Hartmann, a Serbophobe reporter for Le Monde in the early 1990s who became an assistant to Carla Le Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the ICTY. Hartmann is the author of one of those typically one-sided biographies of Slobodan Milosevic that makes him out to be Satan’s Spawn. Perelman’s article, however, relies heavily on her latest book titled “Paix et châtiment: Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice internationales” (Peace and Punishment: The Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice) that is not yet available in English.
Hartmann is even too much for Marcus Tanner, who covered Yugoslavia for the Independent and hewed to their Serbophobe editorial position. In a review of a collection of articles on Yugoslavia co-edited by fellow Serbophobes Roy Gutman and David Rieff, Tanner dismissed Hartmann as an untrustworthy crank:
Some of the articles are sermons and rants. Florence Hartmann’s piece on Bosnia is just a series of accusations that have been bundled together. That “Milosevic made it his mission to set Yugoslavia’s ethnic and national groups against one another” is one of a great many “facts” that are baldly asserted without any supporting evidence.
–The Independent (London), August 3, 1999
Why the Nation Magazine would waste 9 pages circulating ideas that stemmed from Ms. Hartmann is somewhat beyond me, but then again they had the “wisdom” to publish the awful Joaquin Villalobos’s attack on Hugo Chavez.
The gist of Hartmann’s complaint is that a deal struck between the West and the Serb Republic to divide up Bosnia resulted in the slaughter at Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde since they fell within territory that was to be ceded to the Serbs. Hartmann’s argument is not new as Perelman reports:
The story of how the city was overrun and several thousand inhabitants were executed as UN peacekeepers watched helplessly has been recounted many times, most grippingly by David Rohde, an American reporter who first uncovered evidence of the massacre and whose Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica (1997) describes the event through the eyes of seven witnesses. Rohde concluded that the litany of mistakes that led to the massacre was a “passive conspiracy” rather than a cynical backroom deal.
Missing entirely from these accounts of the Srebrenica killings that most assuredly did take place (although to describe them as “genocide” is positively Orwellian) is the ratcheting up of tensions at the hands of Muslim militias. You never find the name Naser Oric in the reporting of a David Rohde or a Roy Gutman, but Bill Schiller (by no means pro-Serb) wrote in the July 16, 1995 Toronto Star:
On a cold and snowy night, I sat in his living room watching a shocking video version of what might have been called Nasir Oric’s Greatest Hits. There were burning houses, dead bodies, severed heads, and people fleeing. Oric grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork.
“We ambushed them,” he said when a number of dead Serbs appeared on the screen.
The next sequence of dead bodies had been done in by explosives: “We launched those guys to the moon,” he boasted.
When footage of a bullet-marked ghost town appeared without any visible bodies, Oric hastened to announce: “We killed 114 Serbs there.”
Later there were celebrations, with singers with wobbly voices chanting his praises. These video reminiscences, apparently, were from what Muslims regard as Oric’s glory days. That was before most of eastern Bosnia fell and Srebrenica became a “safe zone” with U.N. peacekeepers inside – and Serbs on the outside.
Despite Oric’s taste for Serb blood, his forces were inexplicably withdrawn from Srebrenica just before the Serb counter-attack. A small UN force proved incapable of withstanding the Serb militias and the net result was a bloodbath.
Where Hartmann sees UN and Western inaction as proof that they were willing to cast the Muslims to the wolves as part of a process of carving up Bosnia ethnically along the lines of the India-Pakistan division, Diana Johnstone views it as a necessary first step in drawing NATO into the fray. If the UN was incapable of stopping the Serb Stalinist-Fascist-Satanist onslaught, then more powerful forces had to be mobilized. Waving the “bloody shirt” in this fashion has become more and more instrumental to the war aims of imperialism. Only a few years after Srebrenica became a rallying cry of the cruise missile left, Racak would play the same role in precipitating NATO intervention in Kosovo. And then more recently the attack on the WTC served similar purposes. One imagines that if there is ever an all-out nuclear war, it will be some other incident of “genocide” that will necessitate B-52′s being sent on their way to teach the miscreants a radioactive lesson.
If the goal of Perelman’s article is to convince readers of Serb guilt that the ICTY overlooked, it does not do a very good job. For example, there is much ado about the “Kula Tapes” that link Milosevic with the “Red Berets,” a highly trained detachment of the Serb army that operated in Croatia and Bosnia. Supposedly the U.S. sent a copy of the tape to ICTY that concealed key information about Milosevic’s culpability.
Perhaps people like Florence Hartmann and Marc Perelman are still stung by the ICTY’s decision that Milosevic was not directly involved with what they called “genocide” in Bosnia, so somebody has to be blamed for that failure. You have to stop and ask yourself why the U.S. would withhold such evidence when there is nothing in the tapes that has anything to do with Western failure to come to the aid of the Bosnian Muslims.
Contrary to Perelman and Florence Hartmann, there is substantial evidence that Milosevic was absolutely innocent of the charges against him as this report by Chris Stephen in the habitually anti-Milosevic London Observer (October 10, 2004) would indicate:
FRESH controversy has hit the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic with a claim from a senior intelligence analyst that the Yugoslav leader is innocent of genocide.
Dr Cees Wiebes, a professor at Amsterdam University, now says there is no evidence linking Milosevic to the worst atrocity of the Bosnian war, the massacre of 7,000 Muslims at the town of Srebrenica.
Srebrenica, which was overrun by Serb forces in July 1995, forms the basis of the genocide charge against Milosevic, but Wiebes, a member of a Dutch government inquiry into the atrocity, said there is nothing to link Milosevic to the crime.
‘In our report, which is about 7,000 pages long, we come to the conclusion that Milosevic had no foreknowledge of the subsequent massacres,’ he says in a radio programme, The Real Slobodan Milosevic, to be broadcast by BBC Five Live tonight. ‘What we did find, however, was evidence to the contrary. Milosevic was very upset when he learnt about the massacres.’
The prospect of the former Balkan strongman being cleared of the most serious charge he faces is a fresh blow to an already troubled case, which begins hearing defence evidence this week after several months of delays.
Any failure to prove genocide will cast a shadow not only over this case but over the whole practicality of holding tyrants to account in war crimes trials, most obviously in the case against Saddam Hussein.
Wiebes headed a team of intelligence specialists commissioned by the Dutch government to look into the massacre because its own forces were present in the town under the UN flag.
He had access to secret files, key diplomats and hundreds of witnesses to a massacre in which Muslim men and boys as young as 12 were butchered by Bosnian Serb forces. But while clearly implicating senior Serb field commanders, including General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian army chief still on the run, Wiebes says Milosevic played no part.
He said it was understandable that Milosevic was upset ‘because in this phase of the war he was looking for a political settlement and this was not very good for him’.
Furthermore, if Western complicity with an alleged war criminal like Slobodan Milosevic would get in the way of a successful prosecution, then why in the world did the U.S. agree to allow Saddam Hussein to stand trial? Surely, he would have been able to “expose” American collaboration in his war with the Kurds as some leftist commentators predicted. Unfortunately, kangaroo courts like the ones that took place in the Hague and Baghdad are not set up for an evenhanded examination of all the facts. Neither Milosevic nor Saddam Hussein received adequate legal representation. And even if they had been able to bring to light American complicity, nothing of consequence would have come out of it since the propaganda machine of the West had already condemned such men to become “unpersons” in the Orwellian sense.
In keeping with the overall credulousness of the article, Perelman calls on a witness even more doubtful than Florence Hartmann:
In Srebrenica: Un génocide annoncé (Srebrenica: A Genocide Foretold), a book published in France on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, French writer Sylvie Matton offers some fresh acknowledgments by senior European political and military officials–mostly French–that the tragic fate of the enclave was no mystery. The most vivid acknowledgment is provided by Alain Juppé, who was prime minister of France at the time of the Srebrenica massacre. “It was widely known that the Serbs wanted to take the enclaves and annihilate the men,” Juppé told Matton, who then asked Juppé what he meant by “annihilate.” “Let’s say we knew they would take no prisoners,” he answered.
After reading this, I paused for a moment with my mouth agape. Who in their right mind would take Juppé’s word about anything? Alain Juppé was probably the most hated politician in recent French history, although Sarkozy seems poised to surpass him before long. The two of them came into office with a mandate from the French ruling class to break the powerful trade union movement and both ended up with bloody noses in the process. In 2004, he was found guilty of stealing money from his party, the Rally for the Republic, for which he got an 18-month suspended jail sentence and was banned from holding office for 10 years.
Fortunately, the Nation Magazine does occasionally allow the truth to filter through on the Balkans wars. In George Kenney’s review of Noam Chomsky’s “The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo” that appeared nearly 8 years ago to the day, the notion of a Serb master plan to subjugate its neighbors gets thoroughly debunked. Kenney writes:
On March 18, the day the Rambouillet talks broke down, David Scheffer, the State Department’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues, proclaimed that “we have upwards to about 100,000 men that we cannot account for” in Kosovo. Depending upon the sophistication of the press organ involved, this statement was variously construed as a warning or, as the New York Daily News put it in a headline the next day, 100,000 Kosovar Men Feared Dead. The specter of mass murder critically supported public acceptance of NATO airstrikes, which began less than a week later, on March 24. After two months of bombing, the Yugoslav regime was still, to the Administration’s deepening chagrin, in the fight. By this time there were increasing murmurs of discontent in the press regarding the effect of NATO airstrikes on unmistakably civilian targets. Ambassador Scheffer stepped to the plate again in mid-May, calling for “speedy investigations” of war crimes (by Serbs) while now noting that “as many as 225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59 remain unaccounted for.” Several wire services quoted him on different days as saying that “with the exception of Rwanda in 1994 and Cambodia in 1975, you would be hard-pressed to find a crime scene anywhere in the world since World War II where a defenseless civilian population has been assaulted with such ferocity and criminal intent, and suffered so many multiple violations of humanitarian law in such a short period of time as in Kosovo since mid-March 1999.” It was a profoundly ignorant remark, of course, but what’s important is that the Administration’s laserlike focus on allegations and innuendoes of genocidal acts securely established the legitimacy of continued bombing for an at-that-time unknown, perhaps lengthy period.
Helpfully sensing that Washington–Scheffer and a battalion of like-minded flacks–had gone too far out on a limb, in June and July the British started publicizing their reduced estimate that 10,000 Albanian Kosovars had been killed. For whatever reason that number stuck in establishment circles. In fact, however, it appears to be still too many. The actual number is probably somewhere in the low thousands.
In mid-July sources from the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, known as KFOR, were telling the press that of 2,150 bodies found by peacekeepers only 850 were victims of massacres. Nevertheless, still eager to bolster the Serb=devil argument, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations on July 26, poignantly mentioned “the village of Ljubenic, the largest mass-grave site discovered so far from this conflict, with as many as 350 bodies.” Berger may not have been aware that the Italian in charge of the site, Brig. Gen. Mauro Del Vecchio, had told the press several days earlier that the exhumation had been completed at the site and that seven bodies had been found. All press mention of Ljubenic ceases after that point.
That’s the kind of writing that the Nation needs, not the drivel offered up by Marc Perelman.