Using War as an Excuse for More War Srebrenica Revisited by DIANA JOHNSTONE

Posted on November 12, 2012 by


OCTOBER 12, 2005

Last summer, almost the entire political spectrum in the Western world joined in a chorus of self-flagellation on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. The dominant theme was “nostra culpa”: “we” let it happen, “we” didn’t want to know about it, and “we” mustn’t let it happen again.

Dear reader, who are “we” in this case? How in the world could “we” (you and I) have known or done anything about this at the time? And in fact, how much do “we” really know about it now? We know what we read in the newspapers or see on television. But how precise and accurate is that information? How do we know now that we are much better informed than we were before the event?

Such questions are virtually taboo. Srebrenica has become a sacred symbol of collective guilt, and to raise the slightest question is to be instantly condemned as an apologist for frightful crimes , or as a “holocaust denier”.

A left that retains any capacity for critical thinking should regard the lavish public breast-beating over “Srebrenica” (the quotation marks indicate the symbol rather than the actual event) with a certain skepticism. If mainstream media commentators and politicians are so extraordinarily moved by “Srebrenica”, this is because it has become an incantation to justify whatever future foreign war the U.S. government and media decide to sell under the label of “humanitarian intervention”.

The Uses of a Massacre

Aside from the probable future use of “Srebrenica”, there is the way it has already been used. Indeed, it was perhaps being used even before it happened.

From the the U.N. Secretary General’s 1999 Report on Srebrenica, it emerges that the idea of a “Srebrenica massacre” was already in the air at a September 1993 meeting in Sarajevo between Bosnian Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic and members of his Muslim party fromSrebrenica. On the agenda was a Serb proposal to exchange Srebrenica and Zepa for some territories around Sarajevo as part of a peace settlement.

“The delegation opposed the idea, and the subject was not discussed further. Some surviving members of the Srebrenica delegation have stated that President Izetbegovic also told them he had learned that a NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina was possible, but could only occur if the Serbs were to break into Srebrenica, killing at least 5,000 of its people.” (1)

Izetbegovic later denied this, but he is outnumbered by witnesses. It is clear that Izetbegovic’s constant strategy was to portray his Muslim side in the bloody civil war as pure helpless victims, in order to bring U.S. military power in on his side. On his death bed, he readily admitted as much to his ardent admirer Bernard Kouchner, in the presence of U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Kouchner reminded Izetbegovic of a conversation he had had with French President Mitterrand in which he “spoke of the existence of ‘extermination camps’ in Bosnia.”

You repeated that in front of the journalists. That provoked considerable emotion throughout the world. […] They were horrible places, but people were not systematically exterminated. Did you know that?

Yes. I thought that my revelations could precipitate bombings. I saw the reaction of the French and the others-I was mistaken. […] Yes, I tried, but the assertion was false. There were no extermination camps whatever the horror of those places. (2)

Like the Bosnian Serbs, the Muslims also herded their adversaries into “horrible” camps at the start of the civil war, on the way to expulsion. Unlike the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosnian Muslims enjoyed the services of high-powered U.S. public relations experts in the Washington-based Ruder Finn agency who knew how to “spin” the Bosnian conflict in order to equate the Serbs with the Nazis-the quickest and easiest way to win public opinion over to the Muslim side. The news media and political figures were showered with press releases and other materials exaggerating Serb atrocities, whereas Muslim atrocities (such as the decapitations of Serb prisoners, fully documented) remained confidential. To the public, this was a one-sided conflict between a Serbian “fascist aggressor” and innocent victims, all unarmed civilians.

The general public did not know that Srebrenica, described as a “safe area”, was not in fact simply a haven for refugees, but also a Muslim military base. The general public did not know what Lord Owen knew and recounted in his important 1995 book, Balkan Odyssey (p.143), namely that in April 1993, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was extremely anxious to prevent Bosnian Serb forces from overrunning Srebrenica. “On 16 April I spoke on the telephone to President Milosevic about my anxiety that, despite repeated assurances from Dr. Karadzic that he had no intention of taking Srebrenica, the Bosnian Serb army was now proceeding to do just that. The pocket was greatly reduced in size. I had rarely heard Milosevic so exasperated, but also so worried: he feared that if the Bosnian Serb troops entered Srebrenica there would be a bloodbath because of the tremendous bad blood that existed between the two armies. The Bosnian Serbs held the young Muslim commander in Srebrenica, Naser Oric, responsible for a massacre near Bratunac in December 1992 in which many Serb civilians had been killed. Milosevic believed it would be a great mistake for the Bosnian Serbs to take Srebrenica and promised to tell Karadzic so.”

Thus, many months before the July 1995 “Srebrenica massacre”, both Izetbegovic and Milosevic were aware of the possibility and of its potential impact-favorable to the Muslim cause, and disastrous for the Serbs.

A few other indisputable facts should not be overlooked:

Shortly before the Bosnian Serb attack on Srebrenica, the Muslim troops stationed in that enclave carried out murderous attacks on nearby Serb villages. These attacks were certain to incite Serb commanders to retaliate against the Srebrenica garrison.

Meanwhile, the Muslim high command in Sarajevo ordered the Srebrenica commanders, Oric and his lieutenants, to withdraw from Srebrenica, leaving thousands of his soldiers without commanders, without orders, and in total confusion when the foreseeable Serb attack occurred. Surviving Srebrenica Muslim officials have bitterly accused the Izetbegovic government of deliberately sacrificing them to the interests of his State.

According to the most thorough study of Srebrenica events, by Cees Wiebes for the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation report, the Bosnian Serb forces set out in July 1995 to reduce the area held by Bosnian Muslim forces on the outskirts of Srebrenica, and only decided to capture the town itself when they unexpectedly found it undefended.

“The VRS [Republika Srpska Army] advance went so well that the evening of July 9 saw an important ‘turning point’ […] The Bosnian Serbs decided that they would no longer confine themselves to the southern part of the enclave, but would extend the operation and take the town of Srebrenica itself. Karadzic was informed that the results achieved now put the Drina Corps in a position to take the town; he had expressed his satisfaction with this and had agreed to a continuation of the operation to disarm the ‘Muslim terrorist gangs’ and to achieve a full demilitarization of the enclave. In this order, issued by Major General Zdravko Tolimir, it was also stated that Karadzic had determined that the safety of UNPROFOR soldiers and of the population should be ensured. Orders to this effect were to be provided to all participating units. […] The orders made no mention of a forced relocation of the population. […] A final instruction, also of significance, was that the population and prisoners of war should be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. On July 11 all of Srebrenica fell into the hands of the Bosnian Serbs.”

In testimony to a French parliamentary commission inquiry into Srebrenica, General Philippe Morillon, the UNPROFOR officer who first called international attention to the Srebrenica enclave, stated his belief that Bosnian Serb forces had fallen into a “trap” when they decided to capture Srebrenica.

Subsequently, on February 12, 2004, testifying at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, General Morillon stressed that the Muslim commander in Srebrenica, Naser Oric, “engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the region, and this prompted the region of Bratunac in particular—that is the entire Serb population—to rebel against the very idea that through humanitarian aid one might help the population that was present there.”

Asked by the ICTY prosecutor how Oric treated his Serb prisoners, General Morillon, who knew him well, replied that “Naser Oric was a warlord who reigned by terror in his area and over the population itself. I think that he realized that these were the rules of this horrific war, that he could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollection, he didn’t even look for an excuse. It was simply a statement: One can’t be bothered with prisoners.”

Morillon recounted how “the Serbs took me to a village to show me the evacuation of the bodies of the inhabitants that had been thrown into a hole, a village close to Bratunac. And this made me understand the degree to which this infernal situation of blood and vengeance […] led to a situation when I personally feared that the worst would happen if the Serbs of Bosnia managed to enter the enclaves and Srebrenica.”

“I feared that the Serbs, the local Serbs, the Serbs of Bratunac, these militiamen, they wanted to take their revenge for everything that they attributed to Naser Oric. It wasn’t just Naser Oric that they wanted to revenge, take their revenge on, they wanted to revenge their dead on Orthodox Christmas.”

segment from book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions

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Posted in: Bosnia, NATO, Serbia