Truth is the first casualty of war: Often uttered, rarely learned

Instead, we got something that was consistent with mass graves. Having a education from some of the finest schools in the world is consistent with having a finely honed intelligence, but you wouldn’t say George W. Bush is a bright light. Going to church every Sunday with the family bible clutched conspicuously under your arm may be consistent with leading a chaste life, but you’d never say that Bill Clinton, who was conspicuous in his church going, wasn’t being felated in the Oval Office by a young intern. Likewise, many things can be consistent with mass graves without actually being mass graves. The disturbances in the terrain of my backyard are consistent with mass graves too, but you’ll make no gruesome subterranean discoveries if you dig beneath the surface. All you’ll find are the roots of flowers. Phrases like, “the disturbances in the terrain are consistent with mass graves”, is political-speak for saying one thing without really saying it. If people believe what you didn’t say, great. That’s what PR, and politics, is all about.

And then after 78-days of NATO bombing, when forensic pathologists were dispatched to Kosovo to unearth the legions of dead Albanian civilians said to have been slaughtered by Milosevic’s security forces, came more reason to believe NATO’s stories of genocide were nothing more than gross hyperbole. The pathologists couldn’t find all the bodies they were led to believe they’d find. Dr. Peter Markesteyn, a Winnipeg forensic pathologist, was among the first war crimes investigators to arrive in Kosovo after NATO ended its bombing campaign.

“We were told there were 100,000 bodies everywhere,” said Dr. Markesteyn. “We performed 1,800 autopsies — that’s it.”

Fewer than 2,000 corpses. None found in the Trepca mines. No remains in the vats of sulfuric acid. Most found in isolated graves — not in the mass graves NATO warned about. And no clue as to whether the bodies were those of KLA fighters, civilians, even whether they were Serb or ethnic Albanian.

No wonder then that of all the incidents on which Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted for war crimes, the total body count is not 100,000, not 10,000, not even 1,800 — but 391!

That’s 109 lives fewer than the 500 Yugoslav civilians Human Rights Watch estimates were killed by NATO bombs, and it’s many fewer than the larger number other groups estimate were ushered into early graves by NATO’s humanitarian intervention. And it’s far fewer than what the death toll will eventually be once those who have yet to die from cancers induced by the terrible environmental devastation of the war are finally carried off as late — and unaccounted for — casualties.

And it’s also less than the number of Palestinians who have been killed so far by the IDF — the Israeli army — in the latest Palestinian uprising. The difference is that the IDF, under the direction of Ariel Sharon, is an occupying army, while the Yugoslav security forces, under Slobodan Milosevic, were conducting an counterinsurgency operation within their own borders. Moreover, we have evidence now that the insurgency was being helped along by Washington. A European KFOR battalion commander told the British newspaper, The Observer: “The CIA has been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic.” Not a spontaneous uprising against Serb repression, but a calculated, US-engineered insurgency. Throwing kindling on the fires of armed rebellion, and sometimes dousing them with gasoline, is something the US, with its hypocritical denunciations of state-sponsored terrorism, has more than a little experience with. The “contras”, Washington’s proxy army in Nicaragua, comes to mind as just one of dozens of other guerilla groups funded, trained and encouraged by an incessantly meddling US. The KLA is just the latest in an endless series of US-sponsored terrorist groups.

But Sharon, the architect of a long string of atrocities, including the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres, isn’t under indictment for war

crimes. Nor is he ever likely to be — not as long as the United States wields a veto at the UN. And nor, for that matter, is Clinton, Blair, Shroeder, Chretien or any other NATO leader under indictment, for the same reason.

Indeed, that itself is one of the main reasons the war crimes tribunal is a corruption. Because it was established by the UN Security Council, each of whose members wields a veto, Security Council members and their allies effectively enjoy immunity from prosecution. They can commit war crimes aplenty — and do — with impunity, all the while sanctimoniously using human rights as cover for extending their hegemony to those few remaining parts of the globe not yet under their heel.

What’s more, there’s some question as to whether at least one of the war crimes Milosevic is accused of ever happened. And then there’s the revealing issue of when they happened.

It seems that all of the war crimes Milosevic is being tagged with, but one, happened after the bombing — highly curious, since the bombing was said to be necessary to stop a genocide, that, it seems now, NATO had no evidence of. If they did, why haven’t they brought it forward?

Moreover, the one pre-bombing incident, the Racak massacre — which the United States cited as a major reason for the bombing campaign — is more likely to have been faked by the KLA, than to have represented the cold-blooded killing of ethnic Albanian noncombatants, as the KLA, and Washington’s man in Kosovo at the time, William Walker, alleged.

It was Walker, at the time head of the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) who, on the morning of January 16, 1999, led the press to the Kosovar village of Racak, a KLA stronghold. There some 20 bodies were found in a shallow trench, and 20 more were found scattered throughout the village. The KLA, and Walker, alleged that masked Serb policemen had entered the village the previous day, and killed men, women and children at close range, after torturing and mutilating them. Chillingly, the Serb police were said to have whistled merrily as they went about their work of slaughtering the villagers.

It was a horrible tableau, sure to whip up the indignation of the world — and it did. Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as eager to scratch her ever itchy trigger finger as her boss was to scratch his illimitable sexual itches, demanded that Yugoslavia be bombed immediately. Albright, like a kid agonizingly counting down the hours to Christmas, would have to wait until after Milosevic’s rejection of NATO’s ultimata at Rambouillet to get her wish.

Bill Clinton, not to be surpassed in expressing indignation, said, “We should remember what happened in the village of Racak…Innocent men, women, and children were taken from their homes to a gully, forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire — not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were.”

Sadly, you would have never heard Clinton, and you won’t hear George W. Bush, say , “We should remember what happened in the villages of Mai Lai and Thanh Phong and No Gun Ri. Innocent men, women, and children were murdered by American soldiers.” Americans don’t commit atrocities. Only Iraqis. And other official enemies. And Serbs.

But not everyone was so sure that Walker’s story was to be believed. The French newspaper La Monde had some trouble swallowing the story. It reported on Jan. 21, 1999, a few days after the incident, that an Associated Press TV crew had filmed a gun battle at Racak between Serb police and KLA guerillas. Indeed, the crew was present because the Serbs had tipped them off that they were going to enter the village to arrest a man accused of shooting a police officer. Also present were two teams of KVM monitors.

Could the police have returned later on and carried out the massacre under cover of darkness?

That seems unlikely. Racak is a KLA stronghold. Serb police had already discovered that if they were going to enter the village they would have to deal with the guerillas. How could they torture, mutilate and cold-bloodedly kill villagers at close range while harassed by KLA gunfire?

And why, wondered La Monde, were there few signs of spent cartridges and blood at the trench?

The KLA, the Serbs charge, faked the massacre by laying out their fallen comrades in the trench they, themselves, prepared, and the United States used the staged massacre as a pretext for the bombing.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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