Fikret AliThe main in the photograph is Fikret Alic. Today he was in the Hague to witness the trial for Ratko Mladić, the Bosnian Serb commander. Charges relate to the forty-four month Siege of Sarajevo in which 10,000 civilians were killed, and the Srebrenica Massacre in which 8000 men and boys were killed.

The trial judgement summary records that: “The Accused, Ratko Mladić, was indicted on 24 July and 16 November 1995. He was arrested in Serbia on 26 May 2011, almost 16 years after the initial indictments. His trial began on 16 May 2012 and the hearing of evidence lasted for over four years.”

“The Accused stood trial for 11 counts of crimes allegedly committed in his capacity as the Commander of the Main Staff of the Army of the Bosnian-Serb Republic, also known as the VRS, between 12 May 1992 and 30 November 1995. The Indictment charged two counts of genocide and five counts of crimes against humanity, namely persecution, murder, extermination, deportation, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer. It also charged four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war, namely murder, acts of violence the primary purposes of which was to spread terror among the civilian population, unlawful attacks on civilians, and the taking of hostages. The geographical scope of the Indictment included Sarajevo, Srebrenica, and 15 municipalities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

Read the full harrowing summary here.

The verdict is as follows:
Not guilt: Count 1 genocide
Guilty: C2 genocide, C3 persecution (CAH), C4 extermination (CAH), C5 murder (CAH), C6 murder (WC), C7 deportation (CAH), C8 forcible transfer (CAH), C9 terror (WC), C10 unlawful attacks on civilians, C11 taking hostages (WC)

Ratko Mladić was today sentenced to life in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the war in Bosnia, including siege of Sarajevo and Srebrenica genocide.

But as Mladić is taken away screaming abuse at the judge, it’s worth re-examining the denial and evasion that some attempted to try and downplay these terrible events.

As George Monbiot wrote way back in 2011: “In a leading article last week the Times decried the “malign intellectual subculture that seeks to excuse savagery by denying the facts”. The facts are the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda. But it was oddly vague about which intellectual subculture it meant, and it mentioned no names. Could this be because the British person who has done most to dismiss these genocides is a journalist who writes for the same paper?

The massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica in 1995 and the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 are two of the best-documented acts of genocide in history. Both cases are supported by overwhelming evidence: remains of the victims and vast dossiers of testimony from survivors and observers. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), using DNA screening, has so far identified the corpses of 6,595 of the 7,789 Bosnians reported as missing after the siege of Srebenica. Its work suggests that the total number of victims is close to 8,100.”

He continued:

“From 1988 until 2000, Mick Hume was editor of a magazine called Living Marxism (later shortened to LM). The title was misleading: it was a hard-right libertarian paper, which argued that those with the power to act should not be prevented from using it. It campaigned against the control of guns, tobacco advertising and child pornography. It dismissed global warming and demanded greater freedom for corporations. It denounced what it called “the cult of the victim”.

In 2000 the magazine closed after losing a libel case: LM had made false claims about ITN’s footage from the Trnopolje camp, in which Bosnian prisoners were held by Serb forces. In 2001, Hume launched an online successor called Spiked. He also began working for the Times, writing opinion pieces until the beginning of last year. He still writes occasional feature articles for the paper.

In 1996, LM maintained that the figure of 8,000 killed at Srebrenica was the result of “manipulation” and “misrepresentations”. But, the article concluded, 8,000 is “a more useful number for propaganda purposes than 800.” In 1997 it carried a sympathetic interview with Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Bosnian Serb republic. It challenged none of the outrageous claims he made. Of the Sarajevo marketplace massacre of May 1992, he said: “It is quite obvious to anyone objective that Muslims have done it.” He insisted that “General Mladic would not allow any sniping, particularly against civilians”. The people who died at Srebrenica were soldiers “killed in fighting”. When Ratko Mladic was arrested last month, Hume, writing for Spiked, insisted that the concept of a war crime is a “highly questionable notion”, as are both the numbers of people killed at Srebrenica and the circumstances of their deaths.”

Judgement has been a long time delayed, but it has finally been given. But as the full awful truth is laid out we should also examine the people and forces that seek to deny this truth. They are on both the left and the right of politics. As Monbiot stated today:

“As Ratko Mladic is convicted, we see a history of atrocity denial by people on the left repeating itself. It’s shameful and demeaning.”

Both Noam Chomsky and John Pilger endorsed a book by Edward Herman, The Srebrenica Massacre. It claimed that the 8,000 deaths at Srebrenica are “an unsupportable exaggeration. The true figure may be closer to 800.”

Both Chomsky and Pilger are giant figures of the left as writers and investigative journalists. But their denial in the face of facts over a great many years is bizarre.

As Monbiot explains:

“Part of the problem is that a kind of cult has developed around Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, which cannot believe they could ever be wrong, and produces ever more elaborate conspiracy theories to justify their mistakes.”

Truth and History

Living Marxism accused ITN of distorting the truth about Bosnia, and lost in court seventeen years ago. But as Ed Vulliamy reported (‘Poison in the well of history‘) truth wins out in the end,

“History – the history of genocide in particular – is thankfully built not upon public relations or melodrama but upon truth; if necessary, truth established by law. And history will record this: that ITN reported the truth when, in August 1992, it revealed the gulag of horrific concentration camps run by the Serbs for their Muslim and Croatian quarry in Bosnia.

The law now records that Penny Marshall and Ian Williams (and myself, for that matter) did not lie but told the truth when they exposed this crime to the world, and that the lie was that of Living Marxism and its dilettante supporters who sought, in the time-honoured traditions of revisionism, to deny those camps existed.

Of course Living Marxism was unable to offer a single witness who had been at Trnopolje, the camp they claimed to be a fake, on that putrid afternoon of August 5, 1992. Indeed, they were unable to produce any witnesses at all. Unlike any member of Living Marxism or their sympathisers, I was there with ITN’s cameras that day. We went to two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje.

Living Marxism does not like to mention Omarska: there, we saw little, but enough: skeletal men drilled across a yard and devouring watery stew like famished dogs before being bundled out. One man said: “I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth.”

The truth emerged with time. Omarska turned out to be the kind of place where one prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off another, who had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle the screams as he died in agony. The yard at Omarska was a killing field, prisoners obliged to load the mutilated corpses of their friends on to trucks by bulldozer.

Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes. Unknown to us when we pulled up on the road, in disbelief at the sight before us, it was the former group that was held captive behind the now celebrated barbed wire fence.

At the time I paid little attention to what would become Living Marxism’s myopic obsessions: such as which side of which pole the old barbed wire or fresh barbed wire was fixed. There were more important matters, such as the emaciated Fikret Alic’s (accurate and vindicated) recollections of the night he had been assigned to load the bodies of 250 men killed in one night at yet another camp.

If it is still of any remote interest, I will say this: I now know the compound in which these terrified men were held captive to have been surrounded on one side by recently reinforced barbed wire, on two sides by a chain-link fence patrolled by menacing armed thugs and on a fourth side by a wall. But so what? This was a camp – I would say a concentration camp – and they were its inmates.

What does it take to convince people? The war ground on, the British foreign office and Living Marxism in perfect synergy over their appeasement of the Serbs while other, worse camps were revealed. The bench in The Hague issued its judgment on Trnopolje in 1997: a verdict that described the camp as infinitely worse than anything we reported – an infernal place of rape, murder and torture. Witness after witness confirmed this. The Financial Times enthusiastically re-iterated Living Marxism’s claims of a fabrication, but published a hasty and grovelling retraction when it looked at LM’s non-evidence.”

The people behind LM who now have morphed into Spiked! and a hundred other front groups stand today in shame as the truth about the Srebrenica Massacre and the Siege of Sarajevo is laid open.

 

That is a victory, though a grim one.

In ‘Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism’, in the Journal of Human Rights, David Campbell details the entire story.

He concludes:

“Most important of all is the fact that, during the libel trial, Deichmann and Hume conceded that the central point of their case against ITN – the nature of the fence at Trnopolje – had nothing to do with the issue of whether Alic ́ and others were imprisoned in a camp. Under cross-examination, Deichmann and Hume repeatedly stated that conditions at Trnopolje were extremely harsh, killings and rapes were regularly committed, and the con- stant presence of armed guards meant inmates were not free to leave. Accordingly, their legal team did not challenge the first-hand testimony of the Bosnian doctor detained at Trnopolje, Idriz MerdzÏ anic ́. In other words, LM accepted that Alic ́ and others were prisoners in an appalling camp at which human rights abuses were commonplace.”

Several questions arise from this.

What is going on here? What are the processes that lead to historical denial and distortion of such grim harrowing atrocities?

Is this pure ideology that drives people into ridiculous and morally indefensible positions? Is this a pathology? Is this ego?

The old cliche that the first casualty of war is truth is true, but the ideologues of the LM and Spiked don’t have that excuse, they weren’t on the battlefield, they weren’t dodging bullets, they were engaged in an exercise in propaganda to promote their own agenda, whatever that is.