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Noam Chomsky's Denials of Serbian War Crimes

By Balkan Witness staff and contributors
Compiled and edited by Roger Lippman
November 2009
Updated December 26, 2013


Professor Noam Chomsky has made misleading statements with the effect of denying or minimizing Serbian crimes against the peoples of Bosnia and Kosovo. We list some of those statements below.

When challenged, Chomsky has not denied or retracted his statements. Rather, he switches the subject to freedom of expression, unbalanced reporting, or the worse crimes of U.S. imperialism.

Chomsky appears not to be particularly knowledgeable about the history of the former Yugoslavia or about the recent conflicts there. Rather, he speaks off-handedly and inaccurately.

While we respect the contribution that Chomsky has made to our understanding of media, propaganda, and the framing of messages, we are saddened that in this case he has become a denier of major crimes of war. Unfortunately, he has not applied his prodigious analytical abilities to the former Yugoslavia.

We invite Professor Chomsky to clarify or retract the positions enumerated below.

Direct quotations from Chomsky and his interviewers are shown in this color. Words in bold are of particular relevance. Proximate phrasing is included to keep Chomsky's words in their original context.

In the section following are direct quotations from Chomsky and his interviewers.
Side-by-side are brief discussions of his statements, along with links to more detailed analysis.

The following topics are covered:

   1. Serbian concentration camps in Bosnia / Living Marxism (LM) controversy
  
2. The Srebrenica massacre
   3. The Kosovo War
  
4. John Norris book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo

 


Chomsky's statements, annotated

Direct quotations from Chomsky and his interviewers are shown in this color.
Words in bold are of particular relevance.


1. Serbian concentration camps in Bosnia / Living Marxism (LM) controversy

Chomsky has made statements at various times that call into question the existence of Serbian concentration camps, where Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat prisoners were often tortured and killed. The camps were exposed in August 1992 by Penny Marshall and Ian Williams of British television (ITN), and by journalist Ed Vulliamy.

Diana Johnstone's book Fools' Crusade echoes Serbian denials of the substance of these reports. The British publication Living Marxism likewise repeated those denials. Chomsky's statements assert that these denials are valid.

Chomsky:
The Serbian concentration camp at Trnopolje
"was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted."
Extensively documented reports on the Serbian camp are "probably not true."
Serbian atrocities - ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions: "a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication."


Chomsky:

From On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia (transcript), Noam Chomsky interviewed by Danilo Mandic, RTS Online [Radio-Television Serbia], April 25, 2006
Video: The pertinent section is here (at 1:38 into the video). The interview video sequence begins here.

Chomsky:  ... if you look at the coverage [of the Bosnia war], for example there was one famous incident which has completely reshaped the Western opinion and that was the photograph of the thin man in a concen - uh, behind the barb-wire.

Danilo Mandic [interviewer]: A fraudulent photograph, as it turned out.

Chomsky: You remember. The thin men behind the barb-wire so that was Auschwitz and 'we can't have Auschwitz again.' The intellectuals went crazy and the French were posturing on television and the usual antics. Well, you know, it was investigated and carefully investigated. In fact it was investigated by the leading Western specialist on the topic, Philip Knightley, who is a highly respected media analyst and his specialty is photo journalism, probably the most famous Western and most respected Western analyst in this. He did a detailed analysis of it. And he determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted and, near the thin man was a fat man and so on ...


Chomsky
signed an open letter to the Swedish publication Ordfront:

"We regard Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition. But whatever opinion one may have of that book, there are more fundamental issues at stake, namely freedom of expression and the right to express dissenting views."

In the same article, Chomsky continues:

A Swedish journalist sent me sections of an article in Svenska Dagbladet that stated: ...

"Mikael van Reis published an article in Göteborgs-Posten. I quote:
 
"… the revisionist author Diana Johnstone, foreground figure in the slander-convicted magazine Living Marxism. She insists that the Serb atrocities - ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions - are western propaganda. ..."

Johnstone argues -- and, in fact, clearly demonstrates -- that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication. ...

In an introductory letter on the same page, Chomsky writes:

I have heard from various friends in Sweden about an ongoing controversy concerning Diana Johnstone's book on the Balkans. I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important. I also know that it has been very favorably reviewed, e.g., by the leading British scholarly journal International Affairs, journal of the Royal Academy.
...
I don't read Swedish journals of course, but it would be interesting to learn how the Swedish press explains the fact that their interpretation of Johnstone's book differs so radically from that of Britain's leading scholarly foreign affairs journal, International Affairs. I mentioned the very respectful review by Robert Caplan, of the University of Reading and Oxford. It is obligatory, surely, for those who condemn Johnstone's book in the terms just reviewed to issue still harsher condemnation of International Affairs, as well as of the universities of Reading and Oxford, for allowing such a review to appear, and for allowing the author to escape censure.


Chomsky was interviewed
by Emma Brockes of The Guardian, October 31, 2005. (While Chomsky has objected to certain statements in the interview, he has not specifically taken issue with the portion quoted here. For his list of objections, click here.) Brockes wrote:

As some see it, one ill-judged choice of cause was the accusation made by Living Marxism magazine that during the Bosnian war, shots used by ITN of a Serb-run detention camp were faked. The magazine folded after ITN sued, but the controversy flared up again in 2003 when a journalist called Diane Johnstone made similar allegations in a Swedish magazine, Ordfront, taking issue with the official number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. (She said they were exaggerated.) In the ensuing outcry, Chomsky lent his name to a letter praising Johnstone's "outstanding work". Does he regret signing it?

"No," he says indignantly. "It is outstanding. My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough. It may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work."

How, I wonder, can journalism be wrong and still outstanding?

"Look," says Chomsky, "there was a hysterical fanaticism about Bosnia in western culture which was very much like a passionate religious conviction. It was like old-fashioned Stalinism: if you depart a couple of millimetres from the party line, you're a traitor, you're destroyed. It's totally irrational. And Diane Johnstone, whether you like it or not, has done serious, honest work. And in the case of Living Marxism, for a big corporation to put a small newspaper out of business because they think something they reported was false, is outrageous."

They didn't "think" it was false; it was proven to be so in a court of law.

But Chomsky insists that "LM was probably correct" and that, in any case, it is irrelevant. "It had nothing to do with whether LM or Diane Johnstone were right or wrong." It is a question, he says, of freedom of speech. "And if they were wrong, sure; but don't just scream well, if you say you're in favour of that you're in favour of putting Jews in gas chambers."

Eh? Not everyone who disagrees with him is a "fanatic", I say. These are serious, trustworthy people.

"Like who?"

"Like my colleague, Ed Vulliamy."

Vulliamy's reporting for the Guardian from the war in Bosnia won him the international reporter of the year award in 1993 and 1994. He was present when the ITN footage of the Bosnian Serb concentration camp was filmed and supported their case against LM magazine.

"Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist, but he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true."


E-mail exchange with Chomsky

Professor David Campbell, of Durham University in the UK, wrote in detail about the defamation lawsuit of the ITN reporters against Living Marxism. In a November 2009 e-mail to Chomsky, he wrote:

In 2002 I published two lengthy, refereed academic articles in the Journal of Human Rights on the controversy surrounding the ITN news reports from the Bosnian Serb camps in 1992. These articles were the result of two years research using many primary sources, and they have been freely available on the web for the last few years. [Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism, 2002, Part 1 and Part 2, PDF]

I am aware that you have made a number of statements repeating and endorsing the substance of the Thomas Deichmann/Living Marxism critique of the ITN reports.  I am referring to two items available on your web site, namely the 2005 interview with The Guardian and the 2006 interview with RTS.

In light of my research, I find those statements very disturbing. I believe if you examined the empirical details of the case you would recognise that the Deichmann/LM position is without foundation when it comes to the accuracy of the original TV reports and the meaning of the camp at Trnopolje.

I hope you will read my work, and I look forward to your response.

Chomsky replied to Campbell:

Thanks for the reference.  I’ll look it up.  I doubt that I’ll have any comments, unless you raised the matter of freedom of speech.  On the camp and the photo, I’ve barely discussed it, a single phrase in an interview, in fact, which didn’t say much.


Comment:

Given the opportunity to discuss the issue of human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia in the interview he gave for Serbian Television - part of the apparatus used by Slobodan Milosevic to conduct the wars of the 1990s - Chomsky focused carefully on the Fikret Alic photograph ["the thin man"], refuting its significance as evidence of atrocity and avoiding the opportunity to raise the issue of the wider human rights abuses with an organisation closely associated with the perpetrators. As the interview demonstrates, Chomsky's interventions serve his own agenda.  When that requires, he draws attention away from the suffering of the vulnerable and attacks those who have sought to hold them to account.
    --Letter to Amnesty International UK from Owen Beith.
 

Chomsky's classification of Trnopolje as a refugee camp people were free to leave (footnotes follow this section):
 
(a) Denies reality of Trnopolje described in Dr Merdzanic's evidence given to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia1 and ITN libel hearing2, which Chomsky has no excuse to ignore if commenting on the case.
(b) Willfully ignores role of Trnopolje in Prijedor system of concentration camps3,4 (amply covered in ICTY Tadic; Bassiouni Commission Prijedor Report).
(c) Willfully ignores more prominent reporting of Omarska in same ITN news broadcast.

Dismissive "thin man" reference (Knightley himself uses "emaciated," though suggests Alic is exceptional):

(a) Willfully ignores Merdzanic's evidence of the group of prisoners having arrived from Omarska and Keraterm and even Deichmann's reference in the LM article to arrival from Keraterm, allowing him to ignore ICTY evidence of Omarska and Keraterm conditions, including reference3,5 (ICTY Tadic, Kvocka) to some prisoners having lost 20 to 30 kg weight, some more.
(b) Willfully ignores ITN Omarska footage of gaunt prisoners and reference to food.
(c) Willfully ignores other Trnopolje images in Marshall and Williams footage - there are at least four other obviously emaciated individuals in the sequence with Fikret Alic at the fence (even though none appear in quite as extreme a condition as Alic), and there is no "fat man" in the group.

Trnopolje was not simply a transit camp, and it was also not simply a death camp - it was both. There were people who did go there because it seemed safer than hiding in the woods or in their homes in that region. And there were people who came and went from that camp - but there were also people who were raped there, and others who were killed. And people were released from there in exchanges and under international pressure. When Omarska was discovered and was closed, people were moved to Trnopolje - including malnourished captives.


David Campbell has done a thorough job of exposing Chomsky's misguided statements on the Serbian concentration camps and Chomsky's exuberant support for Diana Johnstone's work. Read his detailed discussion here
(scroll to "What Chomsky has said on the photographs of the Bosnian camps").


In response to Chomsky's claim that Diana Johnstone's book has been favorably reviewed, Marko Hoare writes:

The essence of what Chomsky is saying is that Johnstone received a positive review in a respectable scholarly journal, therefore her book must be good.

There are, first of all, a number of distortions in Chomsky's claim: International Affairs is the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, not of the 'Royal Academy' [which is an arts organization]; the RIIA is a para-governmental think tank, not a scholarly institution, therefore it makes no sense to describe International Affairs as 'Britain's leading scholarly foreign affairs journal'; the reviewer was Richard, not Robert Caplan; and his review of Johnstone's book was far from being as positive as Chomsky suggests. Caplan wrote: 'Diana Johnstone has written a revisionist and highly contentious account of Western policy and the dissolution of Yugoslavia... Yet for all of the book's constructive correctives, it is often difficult to recognize the world that Johnstone describes…The book also contains numerous errors of fact, on which Johnstone however relies to strengthen her case... Johnstone herself is very selective.'

Indeed, Caplan was overly polite in his criticisms of what is, in reality, an extremely poor book, one that is little more than a polemic in defence of the Serb-nationalist record during the wars of the 1990s - and an ill-informed one at that. Johnstone is not an investigative journalist who spent time in the former Yugoslavia doing fieldwork on the front-lines, like Ed Vulliamy, David Rohde or Roy Gutman. Nor is she a qualified academic who has done extensive research with Serbo-Croat primary sources, like Noel Malcolm or Norman Cigar. Indeed, she appears not to read Serbo-Croat, and her sources are mostly English-language, with a smattering of French and German. In short, she is an armchair Balkan amateur-enthusiast, and her book is of the sort that could be written from any office in Western Europe with access to the Internet.

Oliver Kamm adds:

Chomsky scarcely gives a reliable account of Caplan’s review. Caplan does give credit to Johnstone for stressing that atrocities were committed not only by the Serbs, and for that reason describes the book as ‘well worth reading’. But Caplan states baldly: "The book also contains numerous errors of fact on which Johnstone, however, relies to strengthen her case. For instance, the 1996 SIPRI yearbook (an 'authoritative source'), which she invokes in support of her claim that the number of people killed in the Bosnian war has been exaggerated, actually offers the higher estimate (250,000) that she challenges (p. 55). … Johnstone herself is very selective. She omits any discussion of Milosevic's own assault on the constitutional order (by abolishing Vojvodina's and Kosovo's autonomy); of the irregular if not extra-legal means he employed to remove the political leadership of Vojvodina, Montenegro and Kosovo; or of the extensive materiel and other support he provided to some of the most vicious Serb militias in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina."
...
Chomsky’s manipulative use of source material is one of the principal charges made against him by academic historians and other critics. ... Chomsky describes as ‘a very favourable review’ a sceptical article, written in the diplomatic language of Chatham House, that faults Johnstone for precisely the charge that Emma Brockes raised in her interview with Chomsky: downplaying Serb culpability for the horrors of the Bosnian war.


Regarding Chomsky's comment on Ed Vulliamy's report on the concentration camps being "probably not true," see:

Poison in the well of history By Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian, March 15, 2000. Living Marxism magazine (LM), in denying reports on a Serbian-run concentration camp, accused a British TV station of distorting the truth about Bosnia. Mr. Vulliamy, who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje camp, explains why these Serb apologists had to be defeated in court.

Incidentally, "putting LM out of business" is misleading. LM refused to withdraw the libel when asked, and after losing the case went bankrupt to avoid paying costs and damages, but nevertheless emerged almost immediately as Spiked Online.


See also:

  • David Campbell's Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part 1 and Part 2, PDF
  • Oliver Kamm's comments
  • The Prijedor Report Description of concentration camps of Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje. United Nations Commission of Experts, December 28, 2004
  • More documents
  • Book: Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell (Simon & Schuster, 1994)


2. Srebrenica

Extensive evidence demonstrates that about 8000 Bosniaks were killed by Serbian forces when they overran Srebrenica in July 1995. Chomsky has made statements that minimize the significance of Srebrenica and suggest that it was not a calculated Serbian campaign of murder.

Chomsky:
Srebrenica, the Bosnian town besieged for three years by Serbian forces:
"was being used as a base for attacking nearby Serb villages."


Chomsky: Interview with Left Hook magazine

Chomsky: [Comparing Srebrenica with the US invasion of Fallujah, Iraq] Which incidentally is very much like Srebrenica - which is universally condemned as genocide -- Srebrenica was an enclave, lightly protected by UN forces, which was being used as a base for attacking nearby Serb villages. It was known that there's going to be retaliation. When there was a retaliation, it was vicious. They trucked out all the women and children, they kept the men inside, and apparently slaughtered them. The estimates are thousands of people slaughtered.

Civilization versus Barbarism? Noam Chomsky interviewed by M. Junaid Alam Left Hook, December 17, 2004


Comment:

The key words here are "retaliation," "apparently," and "estimates"; the slaughter "apparently" took place; the thousands killed were mere "estimates"; they were, in any case, simply "retaliation" for earlier Muslim crimes. While Chomsky raises doubts about the fact and scale of the killings, he is absolutely categorical that they were retribution for earlier Muslim crimes - the slaughter apparently took place, but if it did, then it was definitely retaliation.

See Marko Hoare's discussion of the Guardian interview and Chomsky's position on Srebrenica, Chomsky’s Genocidal Denial, November 21, 2005


Chomsky: Comments posted on Swedish website

Swedes who display their outrage over these examples of Serbian genocide clearly have the duty of informing us of their far more bitter condemnations of the [East Timor] massacres (again with decisive US-UK backing) through 1999, leaving maybe 5-6000 civilian corpses, according to the Church in East Timor and the leading Western historian of Timor, the British scholar John Taylor --- all BEFORE the paroxysm of terror in late August 1999, after which the US and UK (and for all I know, Sweden) continued to support the Indonesian murderers who were already responsible for the death of about 1/3 of the population in pure aggression decisively supported by the US and UK (and when it came time to make some profit from it, Sweden). Perhaps they have issued bitter condemnations of their Western allies (and Sweden). If so, they have a right to use the term "genocide" in the case of the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica.


Marko Hoare
writes:

In the year 1999, the Indonesian army and its East Timorese auxiliaries killed 1,400–1,500 East Timorese civilians according to the CAVR survey, a figure apparently supported by a study carried out by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and cited in the CAVR survey. In 1995, the RDC’s figures confirm that Serb forces massacred over 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica. Chomsky is on record as describing the Srebrenica massacre as ‘much lesser’ in scale than the Indonesian massacres in East Timor in 1999. He achieves this by using high estimates for East Timorese losses – high estimates of the kind that Chomskyites regularly cite as proof of ‘exaggeration’ and of ‘pro-war propaganda’ when made for Bosnian or Kosovar losses.

Chomsky described the Srebrenica massacre as 'much lesser' in scale than what he claims was the Indonesian massacre of 5-6,000 East Timorese civilians in 1999.  At least, that is the way his passage reads to me, though his prose is sufficiently convoluted that there is admittedly some room for differing interpretations.  
In any case, the actual figure for East Timorese civilians killed by the Indonesians and their auxiliaries in the whole of 1999 was 1,400-1,500.

Describing the Srebrenica massacre as 'much lesser' than the Indonesian massacres in East Timor of 1999 amounts to minimisation of the Srebrenica massacre, however you look at it. The best Chomsky can plead is ignorance of the facts concerning both atrocities.


On the Dutch report on Srebrenica

Chomsky: there was an extensive, detailed inquiry into it [Srebrenica] by the Dutch Government, which was the responsible government, there were Dutch forces there, that's a big, you know, hundreds of pages inquiry, and their conclusion is that Milosevic did not know anything about that, and that when it was discovered in Belgrade, they were horrified.
   --
RTS interview, 2006

Chomsky: "So later they added charges [against Milosevic] about the Balkans, but it wasn't going to be an easy case to make. The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible - their troops were there - and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it. So it was going to be pretty hard to make that charge stick."
   --Interview by Andrew Stephen in the
New Statesman, June 19, 2006


Chomsky misrepresents the Dutch investigation of the Srebrenica massacre.

The Dutch report (part 3, chapter 6) actually says,

It is also not known whether Milosevic had any knowledge of the continuing Bosnian-Serb offensive that resulted in the occupation of the enclave. After the fall of the enclave, Milosevic made no mention to that effect to the UN envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg – he was too much of a poker player to reveal anything. On the other hand, Milosevic did express himself clearly later, in 1996, when he dropped the question to a group of Bosnian-Serb entrepreneurs as to ‘what idiot’ had made the decision to attack Srebrenica while it hosted international troops when it was obvious that, in any event, the enclave would eventually have been bled dry or become depopulated. It is not clear to what extent that statement had been intended to clear his responsibility for those events. [Emphasis added.]

Chomsky has taken an inconclusive statement from the Dutch report and distorted it to fit his ideology and his preconceptions.


For more information, see also Srebrenica documentary background, by Balkan Witness.

   Books on Srebrenica:
Chuck Sudetic, Blood and Vengeance
Emir Suljagic, Postcards from the Grave
Laura Silber and Allan Little, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation (Penguin, 1995)
Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both, Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime
David Rohde, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica
Hasan Nuhanovic,
Under the UN Flag: how the Dutch state and the United Nations abandoned the people of Srebrenica to genocide in July 1995


3. Kosovo

To support his criticism of NATO intervention in Kosovo, Chomsky denies the existence of a Serbian campaign of killings and expulsions of Albanians, which went on for a full year before NATO intervened.

Chomsky:
"
up until January 1999 a majority of killings came from the KLA guerillas ..."
"
Now there were terrible [Serbian] atrocities, but they were after the bombings."
"Prior to the [NATO] bombing, and for two days following its onset, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported no data on refugees ..."


Chomsky:
Radio-Television Serbia interview, 2006

Chomsky: In the year prior to the [NATO] bombing [which began in March 1999], according to Western sources about two thousand people were killed, the killings were distributed, a lot of them were coming in fact according to British government, which was the most hawkish element of the Alliance, up until January 1999 a majority of killings came from the KLA guerillas who were coming in as they said, you know, to try to incite a harsh Serbian response, which they got, in order to appeal to Western humanitarians to bomb. We know from the Western records that nothing changed between January and March [1999], in fact up until March 20 they indicate nothing. March 20th they indicate an increase in KLA attacks. But, it was ugly but by international standards it was almost invisible unfortunately and it was very distributed. If the British are correct, the majority was coming from the KLA guerillas.

I've gone through a ton of reporting on this [the Kosovo war], almost invariably they [media, perhaps British media] inverted the chronology. There were atrocities...

Danilo Mandic [interviewer]: But after the bombing.

Chomsky: After the bombing. The way it's presented is: the atrocities took place and then we had to bomb to prevent genocide, just inverted.


New Statesman interview
by Andrew Stephen June 19, 2006

When we talk about Bush, Blair and co being hauled before the War Crimes Tribunal, I mention Milosevic and he switches subjects without pausing. The case against the Bush administration is stronger, he insists, than that against the late Serb president.

Chomsky: "Remember, the Milosevic Tribunal began with Kosovo, right in the middle of the US-British bombing in late '99 . . . Now if you take a look at that indictment, with a single exception, every charge was for crimes after the bombing.

"There's a reason for that. The bombing was undertaken with the anticipation explicit [that] it was going to lead to large-scale atrocities in response. As it did. Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings. In fact, if you look at the British parliamentary inquiry, they actually reached the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas.


Comment:

Chomsky claims that because so many of Milosevic's atrocities in Kosovo (with the exception of the Racak massacre) followed NATO's intervention, they were caused by the intervention. The Serbian destruction, murders, and deportations in Kosovo began before the NATO bombing, and, at any rate, could not have happened without significant planning and preparation, well in advance.

  • In 1998, starting more than a year before NATO intervened, Serbian forces engaged in widespread killings of Albanians, destruction of villages, and expulsions of the civilian population. Chomsky denies, by disregarding, the extensive litany of Serbian crimes in Kosovo in the year preceding March 1999. (Report on Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo in 1998, No Peace Without Justice (pages 25-49), February 1999, Word document)

  • Serbian authorities killed over 1900 Albanians, burned over 40,000 houses and flats, and looted extensively in the year before the NATO intervention. (Report on the violation of human rights and freedoms in Kosova in the course of 1998, Council for The Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, Prishtina, January 22, 1999)

  • About 460,000 people had been expelled from their towns and villages before the beginning of NATO’s intervention. (UNHCR Kosovo Crisis Update, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, March 30, 1999)

  • Further, Chomsky ignores the apartheid-like situation Milosevic created after his illegal revocation of Kosovo's autonomy, in 1989.

  • In its March 1999 report on the situation in Kosovo, the International Helsinki Foundation (IHF) observed:

The IHF has for 15 months drawn attention to the pattern of large scale attacks and reprisals of Serbian security forces and paramilitary militia. We believe that this pattern suggests a coherent policy aimed at a future partition of Kosovo following the decimation of its Albanian social and political fabric — where residents have not been killed or physically forced from their homes, they leave for fear of state terror that uses torture, mutilation, and degradation to achieve its ends.

(The relevant portion is section 2. For the details supporting that section, look at earlier IHF Reports and Appeals. They are indexed from http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/?sec_id=58. Select 1998 or 1999.)

Regarding the British Parliamentary inquiry that Chomsky refers to, Oliver Kamm writes:

I believe I have found what Chomsky is referring to, in the Defence Select Committee report (published on 23 October 2000). It is not a conclusion, but a direct quotation from the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook (paragraph 35):

The Foreign Secretary told the House on 18 January 1999 that— "On its part, the Kosovo Liberation Army has committed more breaches of the ceasefire, and until this weekend was responsible for more deaths than the [Yugoslav] security forces."

This is not at all the same statement as that "most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas". For a start (paragraph 34), it refers to a specific and brief period - the three months after the agreement secured by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, on 16 October 1998, in which Belgrade would withdraw its military and police forces to "pre-crisis levels". But what makes Chomsky's use of this quotation disgraceful and dishonest is that, as well as attributing it to the inquiry rather than the Foreign Secretary, he omits what it refers to and why it was said. The significance of Cook's reference to "this weekend" is clear from the parliamentary debate in which he said it. The debate was held on a Monday. That weekend, reports had emerged of the massacre at Racak, in which at least 45 unarmed civilians were murdered by Serb paramilitaries. The victims included women, several elderly, and a child. One of the victims was decapitated.

Chomsky knows this (he delicately alludes to the massacre as as "a single exception" in the charge sheet against Milosevic at the Hague, in predating the Kosovo war). It is, to say the least, highly relevant to what he falsely describes as a "conclusion" to the inquiry (but is in fact a contemporary statement by the Foreign Secretary), to the reckoning of moral culpability by the protagonists in the conflict, and to the reasons that Nato resolved upon a bombing campaign to repulse Serb aggression. So Chomsky leaves it out, the better to misrepresent his material and prettify his political record.

See also Michael Bérubé's response to the New Statesman interview, June 2006.
 


Displaced Kosovo Albanians before the NATO intervention

Chomsky: Kosovo Peace Accord, Z Magazine, July 1999
"From the start the Kosovo problem has been about how we should react when bad things happen in unimportant places," global analyst Thomas Friedman explained in the New York Times as the Accord was announced. He proceeds to laud the enlightened states for pursuing his moral principle that "once the refugee evictions began, ignoring Kosovo would be wrong...and therefore using a huge air war for a limited objective was the only thing that made sense."

A minor difficulty is that concern over the "refugee evictions" could not have been the motive for the "huge air war." The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported its first registered refugees outside of Kosovo on March 27 [1999] (4000), three days after the bombings began. The toll increased until June 4, reaching a reported total of 670,000 in the neighboring countries (Albania, Macedonia), along with an estimated 70,000 in Montenegro (within the FYR), and 75,000 who had left for other countries. The figures, which are unfortunately all too familiar, do not include the unknown numbers who have been displaced within Kosovo, some 2-300,000 in the year before the bombing according to NATO, a great many more afterwards.

Chomsky: Lessons from Kosovo (excerpted from The New Military Humanism, page 16, 1999)
In the year before the bombing, according to NATO sources, about 2,000 people had been killed in Kosovo and several hundred thousand had become internal refugees. The humanitarian catastrophe was overwhelmingly attributable to Yugoslavian police and military forces, the main victims being ethnic Albanians, commonly assumed to constitute about 90 percent of the population.

Prior to the [NATO] bombing, and for two days following its onset, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported no data on refugees, though many Kosovars - Albanian and Serb - had been leaving the province for years, and entering as well, sometimes as a consequence of the Balkan wars, sometimes for economic and other reasons.


Contrary to Chomsky's statement, the UNHCR reported on refugees outside of Kosovo throughout much of 1998 and early 1999.

July 22, 1998: UNHCR reported tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees in Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia. The report noted that over 20,000 new refugees had entered Montenegro in the preceding three months.

September 1, 1998: UNHCR reported 71,700 refugees outside of Kosovo and another 170,000 displaced persons within Kosovo.

October 6, 1998: the UNHCR reported that 294,100 people had been displaced by the fighting: 94,100 outside of Kosovo and 200,000 remaining within Kosovo.

December 24, 1998: UNHCR reported on 460,000 persons expected to require assistance in the first months of 1999, including "displaced, returnees and host families," inside and outside of Kosovo.

February 10, 1999: UNHCR reported 18,500 refugees in Albania and 10,000 in Bosnia. Refugees were registering in Montenegro at the rate of 400 daily. An estimated 210,000 were displaced within Kosovo.

UNHCR issued similar reports until March 1999.

In "The State of The World's Refugees 2000: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action," chapter 9, the UNHCR reported, "when the air strikes began, there were already an estimated 260,000 internally displaced people within Kosovo. In addition, outside Kosovo, there were some 70,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees and displaced people in the region and over 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Western Europe and further afield."

How is it that Chomsky missed or ignored the UNHCR's multitude of reports on refugees from Kosovo, issued roughly once a week in the nine months preceding the NATO intervention?

Furthermore, by addressing his comments on the motive for the air war to the subject of refugees outside of Kosovo, he distracts attention from the vastly higher numbers that had been forced from their homes and villages to become internally displaced persons within Kosovo, often in deplorable, life-threatening conditions. These internally displaced persons were also the subject of the same UNHCR reports.

For links to UNHCR's 1998-99 reports on Kosovo refugees, click here.


For more information on Kosovo:

Balkan Witness Reports from the Area of Conflict

   Books:
Tim Judah, Kosovo - War and Revenge (Yale University Press, 2000)
Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History (New York University Press, 1998) For a review, click here.
Miranda Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo (Columbia University Press, 1998)
Howard Clark, Civil Resistance in Kosovo (Pluto Press, 2000) For a review, click here.


4. John Norris book

John Norris, director of communications for President Clinton's Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, wrote about the Kosovo war in his 2005 book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo. Chomsky misrepresents Norris's statements, as shown by a careful reading of the book, as well as by clarifying comments from Norris and Talbott.

Chomsky: [NATO's intervention in Kosovo] "was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neo-liberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated."


In
On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia, Chomsky was interviewed by Danilo Mandic, RTS Online [Radio-Television Serbia], April 25, 2006.

Chomsky: Actually, we have for the first time a very authoratative comment on that from the highest level of Clinton administration, which is something that one could have surmised before, but now it is asserted. This is from Strobe Talbott who was in charge of the…he ran the Pentagon/State Department intelligence Joint Committee on the diplomacy during the whole affair including the bombing, so that's very top of Clinton administration; he just wrote the forward to a book by his Director of Communications, John Norris, and in the forward he says if you really want to understand what the thinking was of the top of Clinton administration this is the book you should read and take a look on John Norris's book and what he says is that the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neo-liberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated. That's from the highest level.


Comment:

Click here for a discussion of Chomsky's misuse of John Norris's book.

Here is the passage that Chomsky misrepresents, page xxii:

For Western powers, the Kosovo crisis was fueled by frustration with Milosevic and the legitimate fear that instability and conflict might spread further in the region. The evolving political aims of the Alliance and the changing nature of the transatlantic community also played a role. In that vein, it is useful to more broadly consider how NATO and Yugoslavia came to be locked in conflict....

NATO's large membership and consensus style may cause endless headaches for military planners, but it is also why joining NATO is appealing to nations across central and eastern Europe. Nations from Albania to Ukraine want in the western club. The gravitational pull of the community of western democracies highlights why Milosevic's Yugoslavia had become such an anachronism. As nations throughout the region sought to reform their economies, mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to delight in continually moving in the opposite direction. It is small wonder NATO and Yugoslavia ended up on a collision course. It was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform--not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians--that best explains NATO's war. Milosevic had been a burr in the side of the transatlantic community for so long that the United States felt that he would only respond to military pressure. Slobodan Milosevic's repeated transgressions ran directly counter to the vision of a Europe "whole and free," and challenged the very value of NATO's continued existence.

Many outsiders accuse western countries of selective intervention in Kosovo--fighting on a hair-trigger in the Balkans while avoiding the Sudans and Rwandas of the world. This was hardly the case. Only a decade of death, destruction, and Milosevic brinkmanship pushed NATO to act when the Rambouillet talks collapsed. Most of the leaders of NATO's major powers were proponents of "third way" politics and headed socially progressive, economically centrist governments. None of these men were particularly hawkish, and Milosevic did not allow them the political breathing room to look past his abuses.

Through predatory opportunism, Milosevic had repeatedly exploited the weakest instincts of European and North American powers alike. Time and again, he had preserved his political power because nations mightier than his own lacked the political resolve to bring him to heel. His record was ultimately one of ruin, particularly for the Serbs, as Yugoslavia dwindled into a smaller and smaller state verging on collapse. It was precisely because Milosevic had become so adroit at outmaneuvering the west that NATO came to view the ever-escalating use of force as its only option. Nobody should be surprised that Milosevic eventually goaded the sleeping giant out of repose. NATO went to war in Kosovo because its political and diplomatic leaders had enough of Milosevic and saw his actions disrupting plans to bring a wider stable of nations into the transatlantic community. Kosovo would only offer western leaders more humiliation and frustration if they did not forcefully respond. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's view of Milosevic was probably best revealed when she said that, at a certain stage at Rambouillet, it was evident that Milosevic was "jerking us around." In early June of 1999, German Minister Joschka Fischer rather angrily responded to those who questioned NATO's motives. Fischer observed that he had originally resisted military action, but that his views had changed, "step by step, from mass murder to mass murder"...

 


Notes to section 1, above (Serbian concentration camps in Bosnia / Living Marxism (LM) controversy):


1
PROSECUTOR vs. MILOMIR STAKIĆ, Testimony of Witness Idriz Merdžanić September 10-11, 2002 (Word document)
(Page numbers indicate pages of original transcript, as shown in this document.)

First mention of Trnopolje and fence. p. 7748
Camp that civilians were not able to leave. p. 7750
Fence erection and dismantling. pp.7750-51
Checkpoints, guards, fence, but "even if only a simple line had been drawn on the ground, nobody would dare cross that line" p.7751
Machine-gun nest and sniper point. p. 7754
Families separated. p.7755
No food. p.7757
No water, sanitation. p.7759
Rapes p.7759 (Implied, but not specific whether perpetrators were soldiers associated with the camp), rapes (mostly outsiders). p. 7761
No provision of medicines until ICRC arrival. p.7765
Violence against inmates / beatings in "the lab." p.7766
Photographs of injuries. p.7767
Beatings outside. p.7768
Guards did not attempt to stop beatings. p.7769
Hands over films to Penny Marshall. p.7769
Photo of detainees boarding truck - soldier standing guard with a rifle. p.7777
Weight loss and death in Trnopolje p.7777 ("in Trnopolje throughout that period of time" p.7778)
(Some photos mentioned here were reproduced by David Campbell, in Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism,
Part 1 and Part 2, PDF.)
Rooms used for examination and beatings. pp.7783-4
Deaths from beatings. p.7785-6
Convoys - admissions as part of the ethnic cleansing process, women moved out, build-up of men who were not allowed to leave the camp. p.7787
Discussion of maximum 3 per cent of Bosniaks allowed to stay in the Prijedor area. "This clearly indicates that decisions were being made elsewhere, and it didn't really appear to me that Major Kuruzovic was the one making decisions concerning the fate of those people there." p.7790
Men loaded onto Koricani Cliffs (Koricanske stijene)/Mt. Vlasic massacre convoy; prior to that men left only by smuggling themselves out. p.7791
Conditions at the camp just prior to arrival of the journalists (the most difficult period, anyone would be allowed into the camp, take away any of the prisoners inside the camp, beat them. There was no safety. There was no food.) p.7792
Accommodation of prisoners from Omarska and Keraterm, construction of fence, guarded escorts; later removal of wire fencing after journalists' visit; women from Omarska removed. p.7793
Journalists had Serb escort, so prisoners were not allowed to say anything; clandestine attempt to speak to Marshall. p.7796
Visits from Prijedor allowed after visits. p. 7797
IM not allowed to speak, always had a guide. Able to speak in refugee camp at Karlovac. p.7798
Per video tape,
Dr. Merdžanić reported about 200 men were killed at Trnopolje. p.7798
Registration, food, medicine start after ICRC visit. p.7799
All people leaving forced to sign document handing over their property to Serbs. p.7800

(Cross-examination:)
Fence put up two days before journalists' visit. p.7829 (Omarska and Keraterm prisoners arrived day before, p.7751)
Mladen Mitrovic kills 5 unregistered people by pond where Kuruzovic was fishing Dr. Merdžanić believes Kuruzovic gave order. p.7837-8
Fence and Marshall's positioning - the inmates she filmed were inside this area here which was fenced off ... she was filming from this fenced-off area -- she was filming a different fenced-off area. p.7839
Discussion of closed circle  of fencing around community centre / inmates arrived from Keraterm. p.7841
Discussion of fencing - marking up of Exhibit Number S324-1. pp.7842 et seq.
Discussion of barbed wire fence.  p.7850
Different between photos taken later when more journalists came "aside from this man in the foreground here who looks emaciated, all the other people in the background look regularly or well-fed. Would you agree with that?" A. Yes, indeed, I do agree. But if you remember the video where you can see the people behind the fence, you will probably agree with me that those people look severely underfed, don't they?" p.7854
Kuruzovic in charge of camp, part of chain of command which must have gone through Prijedor, and then higher levels  p.7861
Serb politicians convince own people to wage war on others - left no middle ground. p.7864
Camps used for destruction of Bosniak intelligentsia. p.7865

PROSECUTOR vs. MILOMIR STAKIĆ, Judgement, July 31, 2003 (PDF)

Findings regarding Trnopolje, paragraphs 185 to 195 (Koricanske stijene/Mt. Vlasic, paragraph 215)

Killings in the camps and detention facilities (based on allegations in paragraph 47 of the Indictment):
   (k) Killings at Trnopolje camp - between 25 May and 30 September 1992, paragraph 225-227

Interrogations, beatings, and sexual assaults in the camps and detention facilities (based on allegations in paragraph 49 of the Indictment):
   (c) Interrogations, beating, rapes Trnopolje camp 242-244

People taken to Trnopolje re-bussed for execution, paragraph 265
Stakic, Kovacevic, Zeljaja, Drlaca attend meeting of Council for National Defence - minutes refer to report on "the open Trnopolje  reception centre"; Public Security Station in Prijedor to provide escort for convoy, paragraph 363
2 July 1992, Crisis Staff prohibited "the individual release of persons from Trnopolje, Omarska, and Keraterm," paragraph 386
Stakic talks about movement from Trnopolje, paragraph 403
Actus reus for genocide (not found, dolus specialis not proved), including events at Trnopolje, paragraph 544
Rape of Witness Q by Kuruzovic at Trnopolje, paragraphs 791-806
Witness X - Nobody went to Trnopolje of their own free will, paragraph 862
Conditions at Trnopolje awful, lot of illness, paragraph 863
 

2 ITN libel hearing

Report in The Guardian by Julia Hartley-Brewer, March 9, 2000. Includes reference to Dr. Merdžanić himself losing 20 pounds weight at Trnopolje.


3
PROSECUTOR vs. DUSKO TADIĆ, Opinion and Judgement (PDF)

No food, foraging. paragraph 174
Beatings, killings, rapes (including psychological  impact: " When the rapes started, everybody lost hope, everybody in the camp, men and women. There was such fear, horrible." paragraph 175
Serb soldiers told inmates they were being held for own protection against Bosniak extremists, in fact camp was where civilian population would be gathered, collected and then deported. paragraph 176
Because of inhumane conditions inc. lack of food, water, sanitation, majority of inmates, perhaps 95 percent, suffered from dysentery. paragraph 177
October 1992 deportations, subject to relinquishment of material goods; Trnopolje was  culmination of campaign of ethnic cleansing with Bosniaks and Croats not killed at Omarska or Keraterm deported from BiH from Trnopolje. paragraph 178
Prisoners taken from Trnoploje to Keraterm/Omarska (inc. description of 5-7 day period of brutalisation in white house at Omarska with no food at all). paragraph 248-9, 286
Column of men, women and children surrendering at Kozarusa, guarded Kozarac to surrender, guarded by Serb army and police personnel "singling people out and killing them", men separated, divided into three groups, for bussing to Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje. paragraph 330
Tadic played active role in moving non-Serbs from Kozarac area to assembly points and subsequent separation into categories by age and sex for transport to camps, including Trnopolje, all effected by force or the threat of force, acts committed in context of an armed conflict. paragraph 455
Use of Trnopolje camp for deportation of non-Serbs (thousands) from municipality of Prijedor; SDS programme including vision of Greater Serbia. paragraphs 458-9
 

4 Bassiouni Commission Prijedor Report, United Nations Security Council Document S/1994/674 - 1994
Final Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992) - chaired by Cherif Bassiouni

Table  of contents
Content of annexes

The Prijedor Report - Annex V See part one (summary and conclusions)
   VI. Concentration camps and deportations (in part one)

Part two (The context)
   Part VIII. The concentration camps
      C. Logor Trnopolje

Full collection of Bassiouni Commission documents
 

5 ICTY Kvocka et al, Trial judgment (PDF)

110. ... the evidence presented indicates that the Keraterm and Trnopolje camps functioned according to the model established by the concurrently operating Omarska camp.
..
115. Trnopolje was also a notoriously brutal camp, although a few witnesses testified that conditions in Trnopolje were more bearable than in Omarska and Keraterm. Food, water, and hygiene facilities were far less than adequate, and violence was pervasive throughout the camp.

 


More about Noam Chomsky

  • Professor Chomsky has expressed his support for one of the most notorious Serbian ultra-nationalist war criminals facing the Hague Tribunal, Vojislav Šešelj, who set up paramilitary groups to accomplish the annihilation of Kosovo Albanians and Bosniaks. (See his party's Program for "Cleansing" Kosovo, 1991 and Program for a Greater Serbia Theocracy, 1996.)

    • Chomsky appears at the top of a list of Šešelj's foreign supporters. (Scroll down, to find Chomsky in the company of such genocide apologists as Edward Herman, Sara Flounders, and David Peterson.)

    • Šešelj says he expects to pay for the services of famous experts, including the US intellectual Noam Chomsky.

    • When Šešelj's Serbian Radical Party held a rally in Belgrade in December 2006 demanding Šešelj's release, Noam Chomsky reportedly sent a letter of support that was read aloud at the event. See Der Tagesspiegel, December 4, 2006 (in German).

    • As early as 1984, Chomsky signed a letter of support for Šešelj, who was already known as an extreme Serb nationalist. Šešelj was, in fact, a prisoner of conscience at the time, jailed on the basis of unpublished writings, though he had also gotten into trouble for his attacks on powerful figures in trying to advance his own career.

    • Has Chomsky ever spoken out in support of a Bosniak or Kosovar who was unjustly arrested or fired? For example, did he express support for Alija Izetbegovic and 12 other Bosniak intellectuals who were jailed just before Šešelj, in 1983, also on the basis of unpublished writings? Or, did Chomsky speak out for the hundreds of Kosovo Albanian teachers fired by Serbian authorities? Balkan Witness will offer honorable mention to anyone who can provide evidence of such a statement by Chomsky.
       

  • In April 1999, Chomsky and others signed a manifesto entitled "Academics Against NATO's War in Kosovo." For critical comments on Chomsky's statement, see the response by Igor Korsic of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
     

  • Noam Chomsky and Ian Williams engage in a debate over the UN's Responsibility to Protect (R2P) declaration, and others weigh in. In the course of the discussion, Chomsky still defends his statement that "NATO air raids on Serbia [beginning March 24, 1999] actually precipitated the worst atrocities in Kosovo," and Ian Williams rebuts.
      The articles:
    Ban Ki Moon and R2P, by Ian Williams, August 3, 2009
    Kosovo, East Timor, R2P, and Ian Williams, by Noam Chomsky, August 17, 2009
    Response to Chomsky, by Ian Williams, August 21, 2009
    Response to Williams, by Noam Chomsky, September 1, 2009
    Response to Chomsky II, by Ian Williams, September 8, 2009
    Noam Chomsky and genocidal causality, by Marko Hoare, August 25, 2009
     

  • The Left Revisionists An extensive review of a broad array of those on the Left who downplay the violence and suffering involved in the wars in the former Yugoslavia and shift the blame to the Western alliance. Among those discussed are Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Michael Parenti, Michel Chossudovsky, Diana Johnstone, Mick Hume, John Pilger, Harold Pinter, and Jared Israel. By Marko Hoare, November 2003
     

  • Nothing Is Left A review of several books covering the former Yugoslavia, by authors Philip Hammond, Edward Herman, Michael Parenti, Diana Johnstone, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and Kate Hudson. By Marko Hoare, Bosnia Report, October-December 2003
     

  • On Chomsky's misinterpretation of the Rambouillet conference and accords, see Alex Bellamy, Reconsidering Rambouillet, especially in the section "Alternatives."
     

  • A Critical Chomsky Reader When Truthdig interviewed Noam Chomsky in April 2010, three activists who had respect for his work were disappointed. The article ignored Chomsky's persistent misrepresentation of Balkan war crimes, even though author Chris Hedges had risked his life to report them. There are broader lessons for radicals here, about humanity, solidarity, and complexity. Western involvement in the wars of Yugoslav dissolution has confused many anti-imperialists, who still distort the facts to fit preconceptions. Though we’ve valued Chomsky’s insights on other subjects, from Israel and Palestine to propaganda, we’ve been forced to reappraise his analysis.
     

 


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