Mass Graves - Truth or Lies?

written by Jared Israel

Dear people,

A woman named Biljana circulated a critique of the media's avalanche of Serbian atrocity stories to her mailing list, including me. One recipient of the critique, Diane, rejected Biljana's critique and asked everyone on the list to refrain from sending out more such examples of "denial." I then wrote a reply to Diane.

What follows is first Biljana's post, then Diane's, and finally mine.

FIRST: Biljana wrote:

Kosovan "Mass Graves" Agitation: US Media Seeks to Justify NATO War
By the Editorial Board

(Jared's Note: I'm not sure what editorial board is meant; but the argument is well made)

18 June 1999

As NATO forces extend their reach throughout Kosovo, the American and British media are seeking to bludgeon public opinion and justify the war against Yugoslavia after the fact. At the center of this propaganda effort is a series of reports on alleged mass grave sites found by NATO soldiers and Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.

The two most important American daily newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, each published lengthy and lurid reports Wednesday about the extent of the carnage wrought in Kosovo during the ten weeks between the onset of the NATO bombing and the Yugoslav capitulation.

Similar reports appeared on the American television networks.

In addition to reinforcing the Clinton administration's claims that American warplanes dropped tens of thousands of tons of bombs on Yugoslavia for "humanitarian" reasons, the press campaign over alleged Serb atrocities provides a pretext to justify the expulsion of the 200,000 Kosovan Serbs from the province. This process has already begun, with tens of thousands of Serb civilians fleeing as KLA forces take over towns in the South and east of Kosovo.

There has been little coverage of the flight of the Serbs, which will escalate as NATO and KLA forces enter the more heavily Serb-populated areas in northeastern Kosovo and along the northern border with Montenegro and Serbia proper.

Equally significant is the abandonment of any media reporting from within Serbia on the casualties of the US-NATO bombing campaign. For every heart-rending article about the deaths of Albanian civilians in the ethnic civil war in Kosovo, an equally moving account could be provided of the deaths of Serbian civilians under NATO bombing.

Moreover, the suffering and death in Serbia will continue, as the long-term impact of the destruction of electricity, water supplies, roads, bridges, hospitals and the basic infrastructure of modern life is felt. It is all but impossible to estimate the ultimate effect of environmental contamination caused by the destruction of oil refineries and storage depots and the radiation released by US missiles containing depleted uranium.

The current US-NATO propaganda campaign makes no attempt to square today's atrocity stories with yesterday's. A case in point is Thursday's release by the British foreign office of an estimate that 10,000 Albanian Kosovars had been killed in 130 separate massacres, a figure that was given enormous international publicity.

David Gowan, a British government spokesman on the investigation into war crimes charges in Kosovo, said, "It's very difficult to give an overall number but what's clear is that the picture is far worse than we thought." This comment is inexplicable except as an attempt to extract the maximum propaganda value from the pictures now coming out of Kosovo. The British estimate actually represents a lowering, by at least a factor of ten, of the most farfetched claims made during the war, when US and NATO officials declared that between 100,000 and 225,000 Albanian men were missing and potentially murdered.

Nor is there any reason to believe that the figure of 10,000 is accurate. The press accounts of the British claim conceal the fact that Whitehall prepared this estimate several weeks ago, based on "military and media reports as well as interviews with refugees in Albania and Macedonia." In other words, the figure of 10,000 is not based on any tabulation of graves or bodies actually found in Kosovo, although media reports give that impression.

Official US statements on the alleged death toll in Kosovo are equally suspect. Pentagon spokesman Mike Doubleday said NATO soldiers had "come upon or heard about 90 suspected mass grave sites since entering Kosovo on Saturday." There are a sufficient number of qualifiers in that sentence to send up many warning flags. What initially appears to be significant evidence of several thousand deaths turns out to be more rumor and speculation than fact: these are "suspected" sites, some only "heard about," which troops have "come upon"-i.e., not investigated.

What becomes a "suspected" mass grave site, more often than not, is a claim or suspicion voiced by someone from the KLA-officer, soldier, interpreter-to a NATO military commander, who in turn communicates it to an American or British reporter. No one in this chain is an objective observer. All have a vested interest in depicting the conditions in Kosovo in as dark and incriminating a fashion as possible, to justify the US-NATO war.

The method of distortion

It is worthwhile to analyze one of the major reports on the mass graves, which appeared on the front page of the New York Times Wednesday, written by John Kifner and Ian Fisher. The report focuses on the town of Djakovica, in southwestern Kosovo near the border with Albania, and cites claims that as many as 1,000 Albanian men were seized there by the Serbs, taken away and presumably murdered.

While the impression is given throughout the article that the events in Kosovo were the outcome of a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing, driven by the genocidal hatred of Serbs for Albanians, a number of facts are acknowledged which suggest a different explanation.

Kifner and Fisher write: "Djakovica has long been a center of Albanian nationalism. The whole region, known as Has on both sides of the border, is regarded by the interrelated Albanian clans as one entity."

And later: "The Kosovo Liberation Army bases are on the side of the craggy mountains, in lawless northern Albania, and their supply routes run down the mountain passes into the valleys here. Thus the town has enormous strategic importance.

"Tactically, the area lies on the main highway close to the border."

These circumstances suggest that Djakovica was a particularly brutal focus of military conflict between the Yugoslav Army and armed KLA secessionists, the kind of civil war which in country after country produces atrocities, especially among civilians linked to the guerrilla fighters.

But instead of this conclusion, the Times writers add, without any substantiation: "In the Serbs' well-planned campaign, mass killings in the first days spread terror, emptying villages near the borders, encouraging others to follow on the routes now cleared."

Then come four or five examples of alleged mass graves, with a total number of victims approaching 200, but with little proof that those buried are civilians, rather than KLA fighters, or even that any bodies are buried at all. One example is a "patch of churned earth" pointed out by KLA soldiers who said up to 100 people were buried there.

The choice of words throughout the article is quite conscious. Albanian deaths are the result of "massacres." The possibility that Albanians-and Serbs-might have been killed as the result of fighting between the KLA and Serb forces, especially in this town of admittedly "enormous strategic importance," is nowhere raised.

The article is written as though atrocities in Kosovo come as a shock. There is a tone of moral indignation, not found, for instance, when the New York Times writes about the deaths of Palestinians on the West Bank, or Kurds in Turkey, or Tamils in Sri Lanka, let alone the victims of American military violence in Iraq, Somalia or Panama.

The reports in the Times, and reports and editorial commentary throughout the American media, routinely assert that the Milosevic regime in Belgrade executed a deliberate plan to expel the Albanian population of Kosovo in order to ensure Serbian control of the territory. These claims, made without any evidence, run up against one central obstacle-the fact that the mass flight of Albanian Kosovars did not begin until after the NATO bombing commenced on March 24.

The US-NATO version of events is that the bombing itself played no role in the flight of the Kosovars. Given that the bombing of Serbia itself resulted in the displacement of an estimated one million Serb civilians-a fact virtually unreported in the American media-that is difficult to believe.

But if one concedes, for the sake of argument, that NATO shares no responsibility for the exodus of the Kosovo Albanians, then another conclusion must follow. Since the mass expulsions did not get under way until after the NATO bombing started and the 2,000 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had been withdrawn, it follows that Milosevic's plan for "ethnic cleansing" was predicated on the onset of an air war against his country. Indeed, to be consistent one would have to conclude that Milosevic positively desired devastation at the hands of the US and NATO and deliberately provoked the air war, so as to carry out his plan for ethnic cleansing under its cover. The more one examines the claim of a Serb master plan to purge Kosovo of Albanians, the less it holds together. Another explanation is more persuasive. The Milosevic regime had plans for a military offensive against the KLA, which included the forced removal of Albanian civilians in areas, especially near the Albanian border, which were key KLA supply routes. Similar methods have been employed in virtually all "counter-insurgency" wars of the 20th century, nowhere more brutally than by the US in Vietnam. The combination of this intensified civil war and the NATO bombing touched off a killing spree in which the most fanatical and brutal Serb nationalist elements, especially paramilitary groups like the "White Eagles," played a major role. This would explain why in some regions terrible atrocities were carried out, while in many areas, especially those where the Serb population was larger and more secure and the KLA had less influence, the Albanian population suffered considerably less.

One significant account published in the New York Times Wednesday, but buried on its inside pages, supports this analysis. The article is by Steven Erlanger, who was the Times correspondent in Belgrade during the bombing and one of a handful of Western journalists who have at times written with a degree of objectivity.

Erlanger visited the Pec in western Kosovo, the province's second largest city, and interviewed an Albanian woman who had worked for the OSCE monitors. She said: "When NATO started bombing, the police and the paramilitaries started destroying everything that was Albanian." The reporter detailed the destruction in the city "by Serb forces and paramilitaries in their rampage of revenge when NATO began bombing Yugoslavia in March." This characterization suggests that the NATO bombing played an indispensable role in touching off the wave of atrocities against Albanians.

The next Kosovo

The political motivation for the barrage of atrocity stories in the American media is spelled out in an editorial published in the Times on Thursday. Under the headline, "Lessons of the Balkan War," the editors state ominously, "This was the first military conflict since the end of the cold war fought primarily for humanitarian purposes. It will probably not be the last."

The Times declares that the intervention into Yugoslavia "is a powerful signal to other tyrants that the instigation of ethnic violence, even within their own borders, can reach a point that the world will not tolerate." This is the language of colonialism, in which a handful of the most powerful imperialist countries trample on the sovereignty and national rights of lesser powers, even as they presume to speak for "the world." In the 19th century, military intervention and occupation by Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy of large parts of Africa and Asia were given a moral gloss with phrases like "the white man's burden." Going into the 21st century the rhetoric has changed, but the content remains essentially the same.

The Times does not name the countries that could become the next Kosovos, but the manipulation of ethnic antagonisms would provide similar pretexts for US intervention across a broad swathe of southeastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, all territories formerly incorporated into or dominated by the Soviet Union.

According to the Times, "the immediate hazard in Kosovo was a demonic assault on the principles of a civilized society. NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to combat lethal ethnic cleansing, to reverse the expulsion of more than a million ethnic Albanians from their homes and to prevent Slobodan Milosevic from terrorizing the Balkans."

At another point the editorial states: "The mass graves, gutted buildings and torched farmhouses of Kosovo are not the inevitable product of military conflict. They are the result of a premeditated assault by Mr. Milosevic against ethnic Albanians."

We have examined elsewhere the complex historical background to the war in Yugoslavia, which bears no relation to the simplistic version of the Times. It should simply be pointed out that when NATO began bombing, neither "lethal ethnic cleansing" nor the flight of the Kosovars had yet taken place. As for Milosevic and the Balkans, the Serbian ruler has never intervened beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia. It was the US and NATO which, in the course of the war, bombed Bulgaria, blocked shipping in Romania, turned Albania, Macedonia, Hungary and Greece into military staging areas and converted the Balkans as a whole into a war zone. There was a premeditated assault in the Balkan War of 1999. It was the deliberate attack on a small nation of 11 million people by a coalition of 19 of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, spearheaded by the world's bully, the United States of America.

End of Biljana's post

In reply, Diane wrote:

Please stop sending these messages, one of which is below [Diane is referring to the message above] for reference.

I know that the Serbian people have been mightily aggressed against in the past, by the Croatian Ustasha in WWII, and for centuries by the muslims in Bosnia and the Ottoman empire that only ended early this century, and other events I don't know as much about. I'm sure there are many Serbs still alive that lived through these terrible events, or grew up with family members that did. The lack of justice for them is inexcusable. That is probably why so many Serbian individuals were willing to follow the lead of the current Serbian government and commit such horrors in Kosovo and Bosnia. But vengeance of this sort is also inexcusable. Atrocities committed by Serbs as payback are still atrocities, and still inexcusable. Stop saying they didn't happen.

Fight for justice, not vengeance and denial.

Respectfully, Diane Kupelian

And last, I wrote:

Hi Diane et al,

I don't know you, but I (and apparently about 50 other people) just got a note from you urging us to stop sending you emails like the one reprinted lower down, which deny Western media claims of Serbian atrocities.

Soooooooooo, I read the email to which you objected and I want to thank you for sending it to me. It is a compelling rebuttal to the unsubstantiated charges that the U.S. media has been making against the Serbs.

By way of contrast, consider how delicately the press handles KLA actions, even when the KLA is caught, literally, chain saw in hand.

Today I was looking at the front page from last Saturday'sNY Times, and I noticed the caption under the picture of the prisoners who'd been released by German troops from that KLA torture chamber in Prizen. One man's back was red with blood and the many cuts were obviously from being lashed, and hard.

Instead of stating the obvious - that the man had been viciously whipped - the Times said, rather apologetically, that the picture of welts "made it seem as if the men, described by the Kosovars as criminals, had been whipped." It is as if, by avoiding the language of accusation, the Times hoped to leave its readers' belief in the U.S.'s vicious little proxy army unimpaired: it only "seemed" as if they had been whipped, and anyway, the men were quite possibly "criminals." As if that would somehow justify torture and despite the fact that though nowhere did the article site evidence of this crazy claim. And in any case, how and why would the KLA march into Prizen and start beating criminals? The article did mention, in passing, that one man was dead, but by refusing to describe his physical condition, left the impression the death might have been natural. Moreover this mention was not made until the seventh paragraph, just before the page break, by which time the vast majority of readers would have dropped away.

Another paper described the rape of a young Serbian nun without in fact ever using the term rape. To such pains does the media go not to wake us, the American people, from our restless sleep.

By way of contrast, when, after the KLA had been in control of the Pristina police station for several days, the KFOR reported finding baseball bats (who in Serbia plays baseball? sounds like surplus goods from the US Army or CIA to me...) a chain saw and chains in a cell the press trumpeted stories of Serbian atrocities. "Serbian Torture Chamber" etc. Despite the absence of either victims or, for that matter, of Serbs.

Again, when this report was made, the KLA had been in control of the police station in Pristina for SEVERAL DAYS. Wouldn't it be an obvious possibility that the KLA had set up the so-called torture room? But nobody in the media asked this elementary question.

Interestingly, the same "torture implements" were found in BOTH locations, suggesting that in fact the KLA has been setting up Serbian-torture-photo-ops, and that the Germany KFOR troops had interrupted the one being created in Prizen. (Shows the problem with having non-fascist troops participate in a fascistic war...)

I can understand why you resist rejecting the media's attack on the Serbs - after all there is SO MUCH of it - one tends to ask: doesn't some of it have to be true. No, some of it does not have to be true. It can all be a lie, just as the recent statement by a Spanish pilot, that he was FORCED to bomb civilian targets is evidence that NATO's most important justification for its actions - that the war had humanitarian motives - was itself a lie.

I notice you have an Armenian name. I don't know how closely you follow events, but by my reading of things, Armenia is next on the list for demonization and destruction by NATO. There are very big stakes in this game, and that is why the powers that be are resorting to very big lies.

Best regards,
Jared Israel

(By the way, I'm NOT a Serb, so you can't say I'm in denial. Until this business started last October, I didn't know a Serb from a grapefruit. The only Albanian I've ever known was a dear friend. I'm just one of millions of Americans who have learned they cannot trust this country's mass media.)

Below is a report from Jela Jovanovic, Secretary General of the Committee for National Solidarity in Belgrade, Yugoslavia

KLA Is Increasingly Active

UNHCR said on June 22 that a total of 69,300 Serbs fled Kosovo.

The Pristina-based Media Center reported on June 22 that at least 140 Serbs and Montenegrins were abducted in Kosovo and Metohija in the past 12 days.

The security situation around the Patriarchate of Pec aggravates on an hourly bases, along with the safety of the remaining Serbs in Pec and the monastery, because the Albanians are coming from the Rugovska Klisura gorge in huge numbers and keep grouping near the monastery. In Pristina, Albanians are moving into abandoned Serbian apartments, and if their owners are still in, they are forcing them The Serbs employed with different companies and hospitals are forced out in the same manner, said the Serbian Orthodox Church.

On June 23, A group of Kosovo Albanians first looted and then burned the village of Novake, near Prizren, in which 50 Serbian families had lived before the Yugoslav military withdrawal from Kosovo. German soldiers, deployed within KFOR, decided to intervene only after they noticed a plume of smoke over the village. However, when they reached Novake, the village was razed to the ground.

The Serbs, Montenegrins, Gorans and Muslims employed as physicians with the Clinical Centre of Pristina, said on June 23, that armed, uniformed KLA members had prevented them from doing their job and harassed them. The KLA members stand at the main entrance to the clinical centre and hospitals, and the KFOR has done nothing to prevent them, which questions the publicly declared and binding goals of their mission and raises doubts about their impartiality.

A larger group of Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo Polje asked KFOR representatives on June 23 to "act more energetically in order to protect the citizens and their property" in Kosovo. Addressing the Serbs and Montenegrins, the KFOR commander in charge of Pristina said, "some time will be needed for our promises to be fulfilled." "Incidents that took place were reported to the KFOR soldiers, and the cases are under investigation," he added.

In the building of Pristina-based Faculty of Economy, the bodies of the faculty's senior lecturer Milenko Lekovic, porter Miodrag Mladenovic and the owner of the faculty restaurant, Jovica Stamenkovic, were found on June 24.

Witnesses say that they found the contorted bodies of Lekovic and Mladenovic, with their hands tied with a wire and plasters stuck on their mouth. There were several gunshot wounds on their bodies, as well as marks from blows inflicted by a blunt object.

The Spanish police arrested eight Kosovo Albanians on June 22, and accused them of having committed several armed robberies, the plunder of which was meant for the KLA's funding. "The organisation has a military structure, and it covered the entire territory of Spain," said a high-ranking police official. State Department Spokesman James Rubin said on June 23 that the United States received no "convincing" evidence that the KLA used the income from drug trafficking in its fight against the Serbs.

STATEMENT of the Serbian Orthodox Church

Belgrade, June 22, 1999

The situation concerning the safety of the Patriarchate of Pec monastery, and of the Serbs remaining in Pec and in the monastery, has been worsening continually and progressively. The armed Albanians have been coming in great numbers from the gorge of Rugova, and they have been crowding in the vicininty of the monastery. The Albanians have been barging into the apartments of the Serbs, and forcing those who have stayed, who are very few in number, to move out. It is known for sure now that 21 Serbs have been kidnapped, 14 of which are known by the name, and that 2 female Serbs were raped. Rt. Rev. Amfilohije, the Archbishop of Crna Gora and Primorje, who has been experiencing this new golgotha from the very beginning with Metohian Serbs, has informed today Rt. Rev. Artemije, the Bishop of Raska and Prizren, that the Serbian Metohia may disappear completely, unless the international military forces intervene urgently against the Albanian criminals. Bishop Artemije and Archbishop Amfilohije have turned to KFOR commanders asking for help. No help has been provided up to midday.

The position of the Serbs in Pristina has also been worsening day by day. In this city too, the Albanians have been moving into empty Serbian apartments; at the same time they have been forcing the Serbian owners from those apartments which are inhabited to move out. The expelling of the Serbs from the firms and from the hospitals has been done in the same manner. Four male Serbs from the village Slivovo, and six male Serbs from Milosevo, killed by the Albanians, have been buried today. When attacking the Orthodox church in Urosevac and its clergymen, the Albanians have also destroyed the monument dedicated to Uros, the Saint King. Fifty Serbs, who were kept in prison and beaten by the Albanians, together with three Albanian families which incurred disfavour of their countrymen due to their good relations with the Serbs, have moved in the seminary in Prizren. Fleeing from the Albanians, 21 Serbs from the vicinity and 35 Muslim Gipsies have found refuge, in this difficult period, in Decani monastery, together with the monastics living there.

Secretary General
Mrs. Jela Jovanovic
Art historian

kosovo | jared israel | |