Articles on the Bosnia Conflict
Michael Sells, Chairperson
Department of Religion
February 14, 1995
To the Editorial Board, FOREIGN POLICY:
Over one year ago, on January 16, 1994, I wrote to Foreign Policy about egregious flaws in Peter Brock's article "Dateline Yugoslavia: the Partisan Press."
In view of New Republic journalist Charles Lane's expose of this article and Charles William Maynes's response, I update points I made last year.
Had Mr. Maynes dealt with these issues in a serious and forthright manner, Foreign Policy might have been saved a public embarrassment. I urge Foreign Policy to take responsibility for the harm done by the Brock piece. Let me please review the evidence of that harm in the light of subsequent events.
1) Generic Terms Inappropriate for Scholarly Debate
Mr. Maynes claims in his response to New Republic that the Brock article did not deny that "Serbs" had committed atrocities.
As an American of Serbian heritage, I am dismayed at Mr. Brock's unprofessional use of the generic term "the Serbs" for the extremist ethnonationalist regimes in Pale and in Belgrade. Would Foreign Policy publish articles labeling Hamas extremists as "the Arabs" or followers of the Jewish Defense League as "the Jews"?
The popular media label as "the Serbs" the militias and armies of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his ally, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic. This label ignores all those Serbs (and there are many) who reject Milosevic's project of a Greater Serbia founded on racial purity, "ethnic cleansing," and religious homogeneity. It ignores those Serbs who have risked torture, rape, and execution to save their Muslim or Croat neighbors. It ignores those Serb journalists who risk their lives to expose the criminality of the Milosevic regime in a manner far more precise and devastating than any Western reports. It ignores millions of Serbs who voted for Milan Panic, against Milosevic.
Throughout his article Brock perpetuates labels as "the Serbs" the forces of Milosevic and Milosevic's hand-picked General Ratko Mladic. The identification of all Serbs with the Milosevic regime is a tactic of Milosevic and Karadzic who accuse opponents of not being "true Serbs."
Sadly, Mr. Maynes' statement that the Brock article does not deny that "Serbs" had committed atrocities repeats rather than correcting such generic language.
2) Genocide and Denial
Brock's article presents a disingenuous and misleading description of the atrocities in question. Most egregious is Brock's attack--through Joan Phillips' Tanjug--based reports--on the Roy Gutman articles that ultimately forced the closing of several notorious concentration camp complexes (Omarska-Keraterm, Manjaca, Trnopolje).
Over the past year, since I wrote my first letter to you, I have come to know the families of those civilians who were tortured to death at the "White House" at Omarska, and have come some of those who survived Omarska only because Mr. Gutman's reports ultimately forced a closing of the camp.
Few people want to believe genocide has happened when it has happened. Few wish to do anything about it when it is acknowledged to have happened. The systematic killing of Jews in WW2 was known as early as 1942, but denials--very similar to the Joan Phillips reports--allowed people to persuade themselves that it couldn't be true, until it was too late. Foreign Policy has become the flagship in the Milosevic and Karadzic denials, and is cited continually by ardent Serb nationalists as "proof" Omarska was just a "POW camp."
Brock cites Phillips (p. 164) as claiming that Gutman's reports of death camps were "based on the very few accounts from alleged survivors." Of course Gutman relied on testimony of survivors; operators of death camps do not invite the press into view their atrocities. Brock neglects to point out that since Gutman's reports appeared, the atrocities at those camps have been overwhelmingly documented in the Eight U.S. State Department Reports to the UN War Crimes Tribunal. They are documented in the reports of Helsinki Watch, Doctors without Borders, and other human rights organizations. There are now living proofs (survivors and the families of those who perished) in most Western countries.
Phillips has been attacking Gutman with Belgrade-based innuendo since March, 1993 when she wrote a story for the British journal Living Marxism (Number 53) entitled "Briton Planted Black Propaganda." Phillips cites a certain John Lofthouse who claims Gutman paid him for false information about Milosevic atrocities. The only source of the story was the Tanjug News Agency. This is only the beginning of the Phillips--Lofthouse--Gutman saga. According to the Serbian Ministry of Information (Jovan Babic, "Blatant Lies for 500 Pounds," Feb. 1993 Bulletin Serbia Today), John Lofthouse claims that Roy Gutman is a CIA agent, code 2IC. Lofthouse used "2IC" and to systematically slander "Serbs" (read Milosevic forces). Neither the Ministry of Information, Tanjug, nor Phillips explain why the CIA would pay "2IC" to pay Lofthouse to show that two U.S. administrations failed to resist genocide in Europe on the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust, especially when it is now known that the Bush administration actively repressed information on mass-killings and death-camps from May through July of 1992, the very time agent 2IC was supposed to be making up information about such killings and camps.
Gutman's stories saved thousands of lives by forcing the Serb nationalists to close the camps at Omarska, Trnopolje, Manjaca, and Keraterm. Unfortunately there was no Gutman for the Susica death camp at Vlasenica, where thousands of Muslim civilians were beaten to death. There was no Gutman for Foca or Visegrad where the Drina River bridges were used as killing centers. (Gutman's reports on these places came after the atrocities were over).
Foreign Policy's dissemination of the Joan Phillips attack will make it less likely that such groundbreaking and crucial stories are reported in the future. Gutman, in a speech at Haverford College, acknowledged how vulnerable he felt in publishing reports of survivors without having been on-site to verify them, and the dilemma journalists face, given the fact that no death-camp operator would allow journalist free access to such a camp.
Had Joan Phillips and Peter Brock had their way and had Gutman not published his expose, Omarska may have operated for months, even years. How many would have perished there: 50,000, 80,000, 100,000?
That Brock's piece is shallow and unfounded does not make it ineffective: it is human nature to seize on any excuse to deny genocide. The appearance of Brock's propaganda in a journal like Foreign Policy is enough to convince those who need some respectable source to support their prejudice.
3. An Obvious Error of Fact
Brock claims that it was not until November and December of 1992 that reports of mass rapes by Milosevic forces appeared (p. 166). The most basic fact-check by Foreign Policy would have revealed that this statement was false; see the August, 23, 1992 feature article in New York Newsday (Roy Gutman, "The Rapes of Bosnia: We Want to World to Know--Systematic Assault on Thousands of Muslims"). Gutman's report is corroborated by later U.S. State Department and Helsinki Watch reports which show that other armies and militias have committed rapes, but not in the systematic manner of the Milosevic forces.
4. Srebenica Massacre: Contradiction and Withholding of Evidence
Brock criticizes UN spokesman Larry Hollingsworth for condemning Milosevic's Srebenica massacre but not the "allegation" that a Muslim tank had fired on Milosevic artillery positions before the attack. Should the "allegation" that a single Muslim tank fired on Milosevic's massive artillery positions be condemned in equal terms as the fact that Milosevic commanders deliberately shelled a group of civilians waiting to be evacuated, killing 56, including 15 children, and seriously wounding 73? One of these children had half her face blown away; Mr. Hollingsworth commented, "I must confess we all hoped and prayed that she would die, and die she did."
Brock omits to tell the readers of the other "allegation": that the victims of the massacre were Serbs who had been tortured to death and then dressed as Muslims. This allegation, broadcast on Milosevic controlled Belgrade TV, was called by a UN spokesman "a shameless lie." Milosevic and Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic couldn't get their alibis straight; the massacre cannot have been both a response by Milosevic commanders to a Bosnian tank and an event staged by Bosnian commanders.
5. Foreign Policy Should Take Responsibility for the Damage
I made these objections over a year ago. Foreign Policy refused to print any part of my initial letter. Since then Mr. Lane has made his own comments independently. After Mr. Lane made some of the same points, and some other points as well, Mr. Maynes's reply only dug a deeper hole for Foreign Policy. I urge you to consider a formal apology to Mr. Gutman and to all the victims of the Omarska death camp and of Serb nationalist "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Michael Sells, Chairperson
Department of Religion