July 18, 2001

How KLA terrorists are turned into 'victims'

The saga of the Bytyqi brothers, covered in my last column, is an object lesson in how the War Party exploits every opportunity, no matter how dubious, to make propaganda for their cause. It also epitomizes how the media cooperate, allowing themselves to be used as a transmission belt for lies masquerading as "news" – a working alliance underscored by a number of new developments in this fascinating and fast-developing story.


But before we get into that, let's briefly reiterate the background to this case: the Bytyqi brothers – Mehmet, Ylli, and Agron – were members of the "Atlantic Brigade," a band of some 400 Albanian-Americans (and others) who were recruited from abroad to fight in the Kosovo war on the side of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In spite of US laws forbidding such activities, the Atlantic Brigadeers were allowed to recruit, raise money, and even train in the United States, and then travel to the battlefields of Kosovo, where they fought at the KLA's side. The three New York-based brothers, who previously ran a Long Island pizzeria, arrived in Kosovo just as the war was beginning to wind down. (Although at least one, Agron Bytyqi, made a stopover in Ireland.) They promptly disappeared without a trace – until police in the former Yugoslavia disinterred their bodies from a mass grave outside a Serbian special forces training camp. The bodies were found not only with their New York drivers licenses in their pockets, but also with Serbian court papers indicating that they had been arrested on June 27 and jailed for trying to infiltrate the country. Gee, what a fortunate coincidence!


Now, incredibly, these KLA soldiers are being touted as helpless victims of Milosevic's "war crimes." The discovery of these bodies has the US chief of mission in Yugoslavia, William Montgomery, in high dudgeon: he told the Washington Post that the Americans are really really peeved that the Yugoslavs didn't welcome the Bytyqi terrorist tag-team into the country with open arms: "Believe me, this is going to be a very important case for us," Montgomery gloated. "We need to get real information from the Yugoslav authorities. We are going to insist they do a full investigation."


Oh, but surely Mr. Montgomery doesn't want a full investigation, since that would have to mean an investigation of the true nature and sponsorship of the "Atlantic Brigade," and a determined inquiry into just what the brothers Bytyqi were doing in Yugoslavia, anyway, 17 days after the Kosovo war officially ended. But he needn't worry: the "mainstream" media is not about to ask any uncomfortable questions about this murky affair. They are quite content to broadcast the official story: that the three brothers, instead of being on a mission to penetrate Yugoslav territory and wreak havoc, had instead gone to visit their long-lost mother, and, in the midst of another act of charity – escorting 3 male Gypsies from their mother's neighborhood to safety in Serbia – were detained and killed by those awful Serbian racists.


This fanciful tale is sprouting all over the newswires, and is the leitmotif of the major newspaper accounts. The New York Times piece is purest agitprop, depicting the Bytyqis as noble idealists who gave up a comfortable life in a beach town in the posh Long Island Hamptons for a cause greater than themselves. These were "wonderful" boys, we are told, and their father extols their vaunted heroism, saying "they gave up the couch" and an easy life to liberate their people. Their friends are cited as saying that they were all fearless warriors precisely because they were Americans and therefore were unused to being bullied by those bad old Serbs. Embedded in the midst all these extravagant panegyrics is a key nugget of information – or disinformation, depending on your perspective:


"They were," the Times informs us, "apparently not engaged in combat when they were captured, witnesses and investigators said." Witnesses? Who are these witnesses? The Times doesn't elaborate, and so we have to turn to the International Herald Tribune's version of the story, which has a bit more hard information, in addition to the usual dose of propaganda. We hear of another Bytyqi brother, Fatos, still alive and in Kosovo, confessing that "he initially lied about his brothers' war activities, but later explained that he had been 'advised' not to discuss their membership in the Atlantic Brigade." We also have young Fatos blurting out that, as far as he knew, his brothers were on their way to meet up with some buddies from the Atlantic Brigade in Pristina: as for the mission of mercy on behalf of the Gypsies, he could not confirm the story. At any rate, we know that the last anyone saw of them they were heading north in a Volkswagon. At this point, a witness – Miroslav Mitrovic, one of the Gypsies supposedly along for the ride – enters the picture, proffered by the Belgrade-based "Humanitarian Law Center," and here is where the picture really begins to get murky.


Of course, anything that the "Humanitarian Law Center" has to say is immediately suspect, since the HLC is the creature of Nastasa Kandic, a Serbian version of Jane Fonda, the leading theorist of collective Serbian guilt for alleged "war crimes," who has made a career out of accusing her own people of being incorrigible murderers. Kandic – the perfect incarnation of what Isabel Paterson, the Old Right author of the 1940s, called "the humanitarian with a guillotine" – advocates a "re-education" program for Serbia similar to the one undergone by postwar Germany, and calls for the suppression of politically-incorrect speech and organizations. She is now suing the Serbian Socialist Party for "hate speech" and demanding that they be banned. It was Kandic who, as the organizer of an OSCE media conference held in Montenegro, told Serbian journalists who walked out in protest at the NATO-crats' high-handedness: "They pay you and have the right to question your conduct during the war." Heavily subsidized by interventionist sugar-daddy George Soros, Kandic is a weird, isolated figure in Serbian politics, one of the few who openly sided with NATO during the bombing.


In any case, her "witness" isn't proving all that helpful, for we are told by the Tribune that "there is a dispute between Fatos and Mr. Mitrovic over why the brothers did not have their U.S. passports with them on the journey." Although we are not told the nature of this dispute, it isn't hard to fathom the truth: for since when does a covert agent on an important military mission carry his passport with him? According the family lawyer, the brothers were stopped by Serbian police in the village of Merdare, well over the border with Kosovo. Now, what would 3 members of the Atlantic Brigade be doing on the wrong side of the border, even if there was some truth to the story that they were merely acting as a military escort for the poor oppressed Gypsies? You tell me. It doesn't require any great mental effort to draw the obvious conclusion: this incursion was a precursor of the wave of KLA terrorism that erupted in the border zone last year, as yet another "liberation army" sprang up in the war's aftermath, this time in southern Serbia.


The Gypsies were allowed to pass, but the brothers Bytyqi were sentenced to 15 days in prison for illegal entry into Yugoslavia, and on June 27 they were imprisoned at Prokuplie, in southern Serbia. Now the HLC has gotten a former police inspector, Zoran Stankovic, to testify that the three brothers were to be released into his custody and that he showed up at the prison to collect them four days before what was to be their release date, but they were nowhere to be found. According to Fatos, however, a big bribe to a prison official reveals the truth: that the three were "driven away in a white car and never seen again." Will the ICTFY admit evidence from admittedly bribed witnesses? Believe me, they aren't choosy: anonymous witnesses are not only allowed but positively encouraged, and they can submit their bought-and-paid-for "testimony" in absentia.


The International Herald Tribune's spin on this story is basically an echo of the Bytyqi family lawyer's argument: "They were killed because they were American citizens," Bajram Krasniqi, a lawyer in Pristina, told the Tribune. "There were people in that prison who were in the rebel army and they were eventually released. This is the only case where someone was arrested, taken to court, tried, released out of the prison and then executed. This crime was planned, ordered and conducted without any judicial act, and it was done by Serbian officials in cooperation with officials at the prison. Hopefully, the Serb authorities will now arrest these people and they will be brought to justice."


Arrest them – for what? For executing three foreign nationals who were clearly members of a hostile military force, sent into Yugoslavia on a mission to that could've included anything from sabotage to assassination? Fatos tells us that they wore KLA medallions around their necks, and no one denies that they were found on Serbian soil. A truce had been declared, but Yugoslavia was still on a wartime footing, and the military was alert for any new attack: are Yugoslav police to be arrested and tried for summarily dispatching these three invaders to Paradise? Krasniqui claims that a "judicial process" was lacking in the sequence of events that led to their deaths, but by this standard every act of resistance to invasion must be adjudicated before a single shot is fired in self-defense. And it has got to be a joke of a particularly grotesque sort that has a top official of the KLA standing on the principle of "legality"!


Krasniqi is head of the Kosovo Albanian "commission for war crimes and missing people," and a former member of KLA leader Hashem Thaci's "provisional government." Under this government, the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, carried out by KLA stormtroopers, was similarly lacking in the proper judicial procedures. Indeed, the entire judicial process in the conquered province is so corrupt and biased against the Serbs that even the United Nations has had to acknowledge the problem and pledge to solve it. So now we have Mr. Krasniqui standing before us, pontificating that the demise of the brothers Bytyqi was a hate crime against Americans – this from the most fanatic and relentless practitioners of hate in the Balkans! Good lord, is there no limit to the gall of these American sock puppets and their Western handlers? Are we to be spared nothing?


Apparently not. Incredibly, it looks like the ICTFY, in cooperation with Ms. Kandic, is going to highlight the "murder" of the Bytyqi brothers as emblematic of Slobodan Milosevic's "crimes against humanity." The Times piece dutifully echoes the Tribunal by lamely averring that the three were not "in combat" when they were apprehended, but this Clintonian hairsplitting (are soldiers penetrating enemy territory "in combat"?) is what we have come to expect of the Great Gray Lady. Everywhere but for the isle of Manhattan, soldiers caught trying to infiltrate enemy territory are indeed engaged in an act of war. One can hardly imagine that their fate took them by surprise.


It's damn lucky for the ICTFY that poor deluded old Slobo has, bizarrely, decided not to retain legal counsel, and instead chosen to stand on the "principle" of not answering any of the charges against him – on the grounds that the ICTFY has no legal standing or authority. He's right about ICTFY's illegitimacy, but it does not follow that a lawyer is "unnecessary," as the former Serbian strongman put it. For surely this particular charge – the alleged "murder" of the Bytyqi brothers – would be easy enough to refute, and you wouldn't need Johnnie Cochran to do it (although I still think he would be the best). Things would surely get interesting if Slobo's defense lawyers could call to the stand the organizers and financiers of this mysterious "Atlantic Brigade," so we could get, first hand, the real lowdown. I'd settle for an answer to the question of why the Bytyqi brothers showed up in Kosovo in order to fight a war that was largely over once they got there.


Yes, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic could be a great boon for anti-interventionists, instead of a propaganda coup for the War Party – if the defense would get its act together, that is. There are all sorts of interesting questions that are raised by this particular accusation against Milosevic, and a good lawyer – are you listening Ramsey Clark? Can you hear me, Christopher Black? – would take full advantage of it. For all we know, the Brigadeers have not returned home, but are still fighting, this time in Macedonia. In order to pursue the Bytyqi case, UN prosecutors could run smack up against US and European intelligence agencies eager to protect their sources and shield their methods – not that they're fooling much of anybody, anyway.


The great difficulty of the proceedings in The Hague, from the prosecution's point of view, is the problem of directly linking Milosevic to a particular execution. It is one thing to hold him up as the symbol of Serbia's alleged war guilt, and quite another to establish his personal responsibility for specific acts. They seem to have solved that by choosing a case where Milosevic may indeed have issued a direct order of execution, or at least an order that can be indirectly linked to his subordinates. In going this route, however, the ICTFY could also be opening themselves up to a different and far more serious problem, and that is acute political embarrassment. In this case, the defense has a trump card to play: they could conceivably prove that the Bytyqi brothers, far from being innocent American tourists on a Balkan jaunt, were American mercenaries on a deadly mission. Just as it is Carla Del Ponte's job to personally link Milosevic to the decision to execute noncombatants, so the task of the defense – if one is forthcoming – would be to uncover the true nature and origins of the Atlantic Brigade and a give a full account of its activities. What an interesting trial that would turn out to be!

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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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