Socialist Worker

The lies of war crimes mass graves

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1711

KOSOVO. THREE men in a car hurl a grenade at a group of children playing basketball and then speed off.

Nine children are left injured. All are lucky to be alive. This gruesome scene is not from early last year. It happened last week in the village of Crkvena Vodica, and the victims were Serb, not Albanian. The Guardian gave just two paragraphs to the story on Saturday.

Shootings, bombings, kidnappings, murders and intimidation have forced most of Kosovo's pre-war Serb and Roma Gypsy populations to flee. The Guardian and the rest of the press justified NATO's intervention as the only way to stop 'ethnic cleansing' against Albanians.

Well, NATO now occupies Kosovo and ethnic cleansing is continuing, this time against non-Albanians and those who defend them. On Friday a bomb damaged a building which houses the offices of Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, and of the authority representing Serbs in Kosovo. But, say the Guardian, foreign secretary Robin Cook, and NATO chief George Robertson, such killings are as nothing compared with the atrocities committed by Serb forces in Kosovo.

Remember the claims by NATO governments during the war about obscene atrocities and 'genocide' by Serbs in Kosovo? US defence secretary William Cohen said as the bombing intensified in March that 100,000 Albanian men of military age were missing, adding, 'They may have been murdered.'

The media dutifully repeated the wartime propaganda. Even the left of Labour paper Action for Solidarity quoted '100,000 Young Men Slaughtered'. Opponents of the war faced vilification, particularly at the hands of allegedly liberal journalists who backed the bombing.

John Sweeney, journalist on the Guardian's sister paper, the Observer, accused anti-war campaigner John Pilger of being an apologist for mass murder.

Sweeney predicted that those against the war would hang their heads in shame when the war ended and 'tens of thousands of bodies are discovered in mass graves'.

Investigators for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia reported last week. After a year of examining hundreds of sites they discovered less than 3,000 bodies of civilians in the whole of Kosovo.

That figure fits the estimate by the International Committee of the Red Cross earlier this year of about 2,400 Albanian dead. The tribunal's findings are significant.

It is a pro-Western body. Its remit excludes investigating NATO war crimes. It is allowed to retry someone found innocent until it gets a conviction. Its rules of evidence favour the prosecution. And much of its $93 million budget comes from private sources, notably US billionaire George Soros.

Yet its investigators say they have not found mass graves. Rather, according to Benedicte Giaever of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 'What we have are consistent small numbers-two here, five there, ten here, seven there.'

The tribunal refuses to say how many of those people were shot at close range-executed-and how many were killed by long range fire or explosions, what NATO refers to as 'collateral damage' when its bombs kill civilians.

'Those of us who opposed the war are absolutely vindicated. We were right to challenge NATO's claims because this will happen again,' said Phillip Knightley, author and anti-war campaigner. Serbian forces did commit atrocities in Kosovo but on nothing like the scale NATO and the media claimed-and mainly after NATO started bombing.

Audrey Gillan was one of the few journalists to say this at the time. She described again in the Guardian on Monday how journalists were under instructions from their editors at the time to come up with the most grotesque atrocity stories.

Basic procedures, such as checking facts or taking account of the distressed state of Albanian refugees, went out the window. The Guardian now blames NATO governments for misleading the public over the scale of the horror and the success of the bombing, conveniently whitewashing the media's role.

It still backs the bombing 'in spite of the lies'. It gives no apology for spreading those lies or for refusing space to anti-war campaigners. 'Liberal bombers' such as Sweeney and Jonathan Freedland have yet to admit they were wrong. They are quite prepared to churn out the same stuff the next time the West goes to war.

Who exactly should be hanging their heads in shame?

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Article information

Sat 26 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1711
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