January 29, 2001

Lying About Kosovo

The Kosovo war is over – or is it? – yet the battle for the hearts and minds of world opinion on the matter rages anew. As the West begins to confront the monster it created in Kosovo – as well as the rising horror of the "depleted" uranium mass poisoning in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia – the UN's International Criminal Tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) has launched a ferocious campaign to drag Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague, preferably in chains, to be put on trial for war crimes. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, circling the fabled city of Oz on her broomstick shrieking "Surrender Dorothy!," ICTFY chief inquisitor Carla Del Ponte is demanding that the Yugoslav government extradite the former Serbian strongman – and her amen corner in the West, including the US State Department and the American and European media, are baying for old Slobo's scalp. But is it really his scalp they're after?


The real objective of all this caterwauling is the ritual humiliation and political marginalization of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. For the demand to surrender Miloevic is sure to cause fissures in the fragile pro-government coalition, and pose a direct challenge to the authority of the new President, who has always spoken out against the Tribunal as a "political instrument." If the NATO-crats thought Kostunica was going to cave, they were bound to be sorely disappointed: as Antiwar.com columnist Nebojsa Malic pointed out in his last "Balkan Express" column, the occupiers of Kosovo don't seem to realize whom they're up against. Kostunica turned the Spanish harridan out on her ear, to the applause of his own people and the horrified exclamations of the "international community." Retaliation was not long in coming.


After she picked herself up off the floor, the Witch was alternately whining and threatening, averring that President Kostunica was "not properly informed" about her kangaroo court and saying that "dialogue [with him] was not possible. I tried for half-an-hour to explain about the tribunal. I had to sit and listen to his long complaints." The imperious Del Ponte usually does not have to listen to anybody, and she clearly did not like it one bit, quickly reverting to threat mode: "He can and must change his mind," she hissed. "Full cooperation with my office cannot be avoided if Yugoslavia wants full membership in the international community. If there is no cooperation, new sanctions can be imposed." Yes, but not without the cooperation of the United States. Will Dubya, who campaigned on a promise to get us out of the Balkans – and burbled about "humility" as a guiding principle of our foreign policy – go along with the Witch's sanctions?


Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. I'm not surprised, and if you were reading this column during the recent election campaign, you won't be too taken aback by the news either. As I pointed out at the time Bush was flat-out lying to our faces: Dubya's Kosovo deception was a ploy to lull conservative opponents of globalism into believing that, on Election Day 2000, they could safely vote Republican without having to worry about the foreign policy consequences all that much. The Bushies made vague noises about getting out of Kosovo, and even now they are sending signals that Republicans have reason to hope for a less activist foreign policy: the spinners never sleep and the lies never stop. For now that the ICTFY and its media allies are launching a major propaganda blitz designed to re-demonize the Serbs – and, perhaps, set them up for another drubbing – Team Bush is playing right along.


A recent documdrama staged by the US government-owned-and-operated National Public Radio alleges that the Serbs, in order to cover up their alleged war crimes during the Kosovo civil war, had burned thousands of bodies in the Trepca mines. The OSCE immediately denied that this was even a possibility, but that didn't stop a spokesman for Bush's State Department from endorsing NPR's unsourced and highly propagandistic report. The NPR piece had barely hit the airwaves when US government spokesman Richard Boucher told the Associated Press that "information obtained by the US government beginning in 1999 confirms there were massive killings and there were attempts to burn bodies and otherwise cover up evidence at places throughout Kosovo.'"


But OSCE spokeswoman Claire Trevana was quite clear about the unreliability of the NPR story: "Our people have had a report of this, but they found no evidence to substantiate it." Trevena added that a team of French forensic scientists outfitted with sophisticated equipment that was assigned to search for any trace of human remains at Trepca "found nothing there." Boucher said the United States stands by its Clinton era (May and June 1999) briefings of the ICTFY "on the Serb campaign to destroy the evidence. It's a fact that we know of and that we've reported on in the past." Boucher said he was "disappointed" that Kostunica did not defer to the Witch's demands. "These things need to be worked out," Boucher opined, "and the obligation flows from the government to the tribunal." In other words: you guys lost the war, and you had better bend over and grab your ankles – or else.


During the Kosovo war there were several estimates of the scale of Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo: at one point CNN was claiming that as many as 50 to 100 thousand Kosovars had been slaughtered, and US government spokesmen echoed this charge (or was that vice-versa?) But if were mass killings, then where are the bodies? This is a question we at Antiwar.com have been asking ever since the war ended, and a number of journalists in the mainstream media – overseas journalists, naturally, notably John Laughland – have been making similar inquiries. Now, Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith of American RadioWorks think they have an answer: the Trepca "crematorium."


It is an image that evokes the shadow of the Holocaust, one that was used to great effect by the War Party in the period leading up to US intervention in Kosovo, and which they clearly believe hasn't outlived its usefulness. Before and during the war, Western news accounts generally depicted the Serbs as little short of Balkan Nazis, whose centuries-old struggle with the Muslims was the product of their incorrigible "racism." This lurid imagery is carried forward in the Montgomery-Smith piece, buttressed by tabloid-style interviews with anonymous first-name-only sources, and presented in the stereotypical hectoring style of war propaganda at its crudest. The claim is that up to 1,500 bodies were burned in a bizarre wartime crematorium set up the by the Serbs at the Trepca lead mining complex in northern Kosovo. The story focuses in on the alleged massacre at Izbica, where over 150 unarmed noncombatants – men, women, and children – were supposedly slaughtered. A home video smuggled out of Kosovo during the war allegedly showed details of the killings, and was dutifully shown on CNN: this was an important propaganda campaign for the NATO-crats, as the narrator of the NPR report points out:

"Izbica was …important to western governments, but not just for issues of justice and deterrence. Three weeks into NATO's aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia, Serbian forces were refusing to budge from Kosovo and criticism of the campaign was mounting in western countries. If the aim of the massive air campaign was to save Albanian lives, Izbica was an acute example of a failing strategy. Increasingly pressed by a wary public, U.S. and European officials sought to rally public support for the war. They looked to Izbica."

Two years after the conclusion of the war, with the total body count still disappointingly low, and no evidence of mass killings by the Serbs, they are looking to NPR to justify the war in the court of public opinion – and provide a rationale for the continued assault on Serbian sovereignty. But Montgomery and Smith's "The Promise of Justice: Burning the Evidence" is a strangely crude concoction of anonymous quotes and wild suppositions that is not half as convincing as some of the surrealistic propaganda that used to come out of Milosevic's state-controlled Serbian media. Montgomery and Smith sprinkle their report with provocative citations from one "Branko," who claimed to be a member of a super-secret Serbian unit assigned to cover-up Milosevic's "genocide." The NPR piece informs us that "they spoke only after we agreed not to reveal their identities and would only meet in public places like noisy cafes. The men were interviewed separately in Serbia and Montenegro. They served in different units. Their stories provide a detailed picture of how Serbian forces-under orders from Slobodan Milosevic's senior commanders-systematically destroyed the bodies of dead Albanians to obliterate evidence of mass killings."


But why are these men talking now? What could possibly be their motive, if not remorse – especially since they will find themselves in the dock at The Hague and in for a loooong stretch behind bars? Yet none of them expresses the least sign of any remorse as they casually recount the most horrific scenes of a Belsen-like crematorium: bodies sliced up like bologna and dropped into the hellish flames. "Several of the Serbian fighters who took part in burning Albanian bodies – including Dusko – expressed no remorse. In fact, Dusko only wishes he could have done more." This is very odd, and very fishy, for what interest would an unrepentant Serbian ultra-nationalist and self-confessed mass murderer have in implicating himself and providing his avowed enemies with enough rope to hang both him and his country?


Clearly certain elements within Serbia would benefit from the circulation of this story. It is well-known that Zoran Djindic, the newly-installed prime minister of Serbia, advocates a radical purge of the army and the police, but was prevented from making a clean sweep of the old guard by Kostunica – who perhaps believes that the generals of the little army that fought the West to a standstill deserve something better than to be handed over to the enemy. Swept into power on Kostunica's coattails, Djindic has never been elected to anything in a popular election, having not quite lived down his chumminess with Madeleine Albright and other US government officials, as he waited out the bombardment of his country in neighboring Montenegro. No depleted uranium poisoning for him! Djindic has to be very careful, now that he has managed to slither up the ladder to very near the top, not to appear too craven when it comes to pleasing his masters in Washington, and so in public he is somewhat ambiguous on just what ought to happen to Milosevic. But there can be no doubt that if the top Serbian military figures he has targeted for ouster are indicted by the ICTFY this would prove to be a rather large notch in his belt. Montgomery and Smith cite details supposedly provided by unnamed "army and police sources," which could mean officers slated to replace those indicted for alleged war crimes.


Another key to the motivation of these otherwise mysterious confessions is the information, related by Montgomery and Smith, that this grisly work was carried out by "Milosevic's Praetorian guard," an elite unit of loyalists who could be entrusted to keep quiet about their leader's crimes. As "Dusko," a member of this unit supposedly put it:

"You can't expect a regular soldier 18 or 19 years old to do this kind of work," he said. "It's a stressful thing to do. You wouldn't want regular Army guys exposed to this kind of thing. You didn't want them going home after the war and blabbing to their mothers or friends about what they did in Kosovo."


But why would members of the notorious Serbian death squad known as Frenkies' Boys, who did Milosevic's dirty work during the Bosnian civil war and stuck by their leader in the face of NATO bombs, now start blabbing to NPR, Carla Del Ponte, and the world at large about crimes they committed with their own hands? The idea that Milosevic loyalists might be interested in splitting the formerly United Opposition over the issue of The Hague and Milosevic's fate is not altogether incredible. Surrounded by enemies on both the left and the right, President Kostunica is fighting to maintain his country's independence and dignity from within as well as from without. If the remnants of the old regime are now cooperating with American stooges like Djindic to sideline Kostunica over this issue, it won't be the first case of strange bedfellows in the Byzantine history of Serbian political intrigue.


The basic technique of the NPR story is essentially a rerun of the method utilized by the War Party before and during the Kosovo war: retailing Kosovar tall tales as fact. We are treated to a wide-eyed account of villagers from Zahac, who claim their sons were "disappeared" by Serbian paramilitaries and spirited off to parts unknown – perhaps to Trepca. Yet these same villagers also say that, as news of the disappearances spread, Albanians have been turning up at their doors claiming to have seen their lost sons and husbands in prison, or in some distant village, and offering information – for a price. Montgomery and Smith, who haughtily remark that "there is still money to be made from the Kosovo war," seem to dismiss these claims as the work of obvious scam artists, and perhaps some of them are. But who is to say that all or even most of them aren't telling the truth?


Certainly the claims of these Albanian entrepreneurs need to be investigated, especially in view of the way Albanians who were supposed to have died in the war had a habit of turning up, alive and well, as soon as the smoke cleared. Remember that Ibrahim Rugova was widely believed to have been murdered by the Serbs when the war started, along with Fehmi Agani, former chief negotiator for the Kosovars, and Baton Haxhiu, editor of the Pristina daily Koha Ditore, all of whom turned up unharmed, after NATO military spokesman David Wilby claimed they had been executed – a phenomenon that caused me to wonder, at the time, who or what was raising all these Balkan Lazaruses from the dead. Perhaps the 1,500 "missing" Kosovars will follow their example, and turn up bright-eyed and busy-tailed: have they looked in the jails of Europe, where thousands of Kosovars are doing time for drug-dealing, pimping, crimes of violence and racketeering?


The leitmotif of the NPR piece is that we will never know whether the NATO-crats were right when they bandied around the startling numbers that dragged us into the Kosovo war in the first place: 100,000, 50,000, then 10,000 Kosovars supposedly killed by Serbs on the rampage. Who knows but that any one of those numbers could be correct – because the "evidence" has been "incinerated" at Trepca and lost forever. Now they don't have to produce any bodies. The methods of the Montgomery and Smith school of journalism – sources wrapped in a shroud of anonymity – reflect the legal methods of the ICTFY, which issues secret indictments on the basis of testimony taken from anonymous witnesses. Now that they are relieved of the necessity of coming up with the corpus delicti, the great "crime" of the Serbs – who dared to defend themselves against an unprovoked attack – can be prosecuted and punished.


Naturally, anything coming out of a US government-run "news" source such as NPR is automatically suspect, especially in matters related to foreign policy: NPR was a virtual arm of the NATO press office during the Kosovo war. But the objectivity of the two authors of this story is suspect on other grounds, notably their joint consultancy with the so-called Independent International Commission on Kosovo, set up by the governments of the NATO countries at the instigation of billionaire George Soros and UN secretary general Kofi Annan. Other consultants were Petrit Bushati, Albania's ambassador to the US, Sven Alkalaj, Bosnia-Hercegovinia's ambassador, and that noted paragon of journalistic objectivity, none other than Clinton shill Sidney Blumenthal. The commission's mandate was to "present a detailed, objective analysis of the options that were available to the international community to cope with the crisis." Not too surprisingly, a panel consisting of NATO cheerleaders, notably Richard Goldstone, Michael Ignatieff, and Richard Falk, concluded that:

"The NATO military intervention was illegal but legitimate. It was illegal because it did not receive prior approval from the United Nations Security Council. However, the Commission considers that the intervention was justified because all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted and because the intervention had the effect of liberating the majority population of Kosovo from a long period of oppression under Serbian rule."


"Illegal but legitimate" – oh, that's rich! The anti-Serbian propaganda mill is gearing up for a major barrage, and I have yet another, even more outrageous example – but it will just have to wait for my next column, as this one is plenty long enough already. One of my New Years' resolutions was to try to keep my columns as short as possible, but, unfortunately, the War Party has been working overtime recently, and there is a lot of ground to cover. With the incoming administration being courted by lobbyists, both foreign and domestic, each making the case for intervention in their particular area, these are busy times for warmongers, and, therefore, for us. So tune in Wednesday for more debunking of the War Party's little fibs.

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"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

Lying About Kosovo

Globalism on the Right

Cold War Follies: There's No Business Like Show Business

An Inaugural Party

Inaugural Fireworks Over Iraq?

Ashcroft Versus the Smear Machine

The Gulf War In Retrospect: the "Isolationists" Were Right

Our War Criminals, and Theirs

The American Dracula

NATO's Poisoned Arrow

The New Bolivar: Hugo Chavez and the Rise of Pan-American Nationalism

No to the International Kangaroo Court

Know Thy Enemy

The Canonization of Colin Powell

Big Government Invades the Internet

The New Cold War: Who's Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

The Case for Pessimism

The Gore Coup: No Justice, No Peace – No Exit

Bush or Gore: Pick Your War

Gore, Bush, and the Imperial Style

Neo-Nazis and Neocons: An Unholy Alliance

Al Gore – The O.J. Simpson of American Politics

Coup d'Etat 2000 and the Madness of Al Gore

Slobo and Gore: Peas in a Pod

Gore Coup Radicalizes Republicans

The Dimple That Shook the World

Listen Soldier, You Can Stop the Gore Coup

Two Ways to Steal an Election

In Occupied America: Rage Against "The Regime"

Al Gore's Beer Hall Putsch

A Message to My Readers

The Real Victors: Nader & Buchanan

Buchanan's "Hail Mary" Pass May Work

Doubletalkin' Dubya: Bush Backtracks on Kosovo

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

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Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

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The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
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Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisited

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

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UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

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Passage to Cartagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

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Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

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Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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