AGAINSTNATO'S WAR IN YUGOSLAVIA
Matthew C. Ally
Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis
Alexander V. Buzgalin
Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone
NOT ON THE NEWS:
Early in April 1999, a leader of Yugoslavia's New Green Party warned that NATO missiles were beginning to contaminate the water supply for much of Eastern Europe. "I warn you that Serbia is one of the greatest sources of underground waters in Europe and that the contamination will be felt in the whole surrounding area all the way to the Black Sea," Branka Jovanovic reported from Belgrade.
Her worst fears have apparently come true.
On the first day of the NATO air strikes, March 24, 1999, the municipality of Grocka was hit where the decommissioned Vinca nuclear reactor is situated. The site contained a great stockpile of nuclear waste.
The municipality of Pancevo was hit, in which the petrochemical factory and a factory for the production of artificial fertilizers are situated. They were bombed again two weeks later and, in fact, a dozen times over the next two months.
The municipality of Baric was also hit. Baric houses a large complex for the production of chloride, using the same technology that led to the explosion and poison gas release at Union Carbide's plant at Bhopal in 1985, in which 10,000 people were killed within a few hours.
"It is not necessary for me to explain what the blowing up of one of such factories would represent," Jovanovic said. "Not only Belgrade, which is situated at a distance of 10 kilometers, but the rest of Europe would be endangered."
On the second day of bombing, a chemical factory in the Belgrade suburb of Sremcica was bombed. Also hit was a storage facility, releasing rocket fuel into the surrounding area and water system.
Branka also reported that four national parks were bombed and that the depleted uranium weaponry first used against Iraq, responsible for thousands of cases of leukemia and other cancers in children, was also being used against Yugoslavia.
As the war went on, NATO bombers hit factory after factory, and bridge after bridge. The military censored US news stories coming out of the region although it hardly had to. Corporate news reporters were doing a fine job of censoring themselves. While NBC anchor Tom Brokaw triumphantly reported one night that NATO's laser guided Cruise Missiles, or "smart bombs", had successfully crippled Yugoslavia's oil refineries, to a person on the ground the experience was a bit more sanguine. Tom Walker, reporting from Belgrade for the London Times on April 19, filled in the details missing from Brokaw's parroting of US government press releases:
"A towering cloud of toxic gases looms over Belgrade after warplanes, on the 25th night of the NATO onslaught, hit a petrochemicals plant in the northern outskirts of the city.
"An ecological disaster was unfolding yesterday after NATO bombed a combined petrochemicals, fertiliser and refinery complex on the banks of the Danube in the northern outskirts of Belgrade.
"A series of detonations that shook the whole city early yesterday sent a toxic cloud of smoke and gas hundreds of feet into the night sky. In the dawn the choking cloud could be seen spreading over the entire northern skyline.
"Among the cocktail of chemicals billowing over hundreds of thousands of homes were the toxic gas phosgene, chlorine and hydrochloric acid. Workers at the industrial complex in Pancevo panicked and released tons of ethylene dichloride, a carcinogen, into the Danube, rather than risk seeing it blown up.
"At least three missile strikes left large areas of the plant crippled and oil and petrol from the damaged refinery area flowed into the river, forming slicks up to 12 miles long. Temperatures in the collapsing plant were said to have risen to more than 1,000 degrees centigrade. Asked about the hazard from chemical smoke, NATO's glib response was that there was 'a lot more smoke coming from burning villages in Kosovo.'"
NATO's bombing annihilated Yugoslavia's water and electric systems, schools, hospitals and sanitation facilities, bridges, dams, refineries and factories. President Clinton and Vice President Gore ordered the New World Order's vast modern arsenal of death and ecological devastation to be put on display. Its depleted uranium weapons, cluster bombs, graphite bombs, supposedly invisible "Stealth" fighter jets, and so-called "Apache" and "Black Hawk" helicopter gunships ravaged the recalcitrant populace and environment. A message written by US soldiers "Don't Fuck With Us" was written on a bomb fragment found near Pristina, in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The US rulers, wrapped in the Emperor's new line of clothing known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, screamed to the world: "We are your master, do as we say."
The unnerving truth is that urban civilian structures and the farming countryside were purposely targeted by NATO, in violation of all existing war crimes codes. Planes returned to a bridge, hospital, factory, school or dam that they had "accidentally" bombed just 20 minutes earlier, to bomb the rescue teams arriving at the scene. This was standard procedure. Said Germany's Gen. Klaus Naumann: "We will see how they will feel after a few more weeks and months or what have you of continuously pounding them into pieces." (The Slate, May 5, 1999)
The Yugoslav's, for their part, held daily rock concerts to express resistance to the US military. They used makeshift low-tech tactics to foil NATO's super-technological sensors; long unrolled sheets of plastic mimicked airport runways, which the US promptly bombed. Cardboard tanks were placed all over the countryside, near small fires US missiles blew them up, but failed to find the real ones. By war's end, the Yugoslav government's entire tank contingent rolled out of Kosovo effectively (and suspiciously) intact. If only the same could have been said for the hospitals, bridges and schools. No less a figure than US Air Force Gen. Michael Short bristled at Yugoslav civilians' non-violent resistance beneath the bombardment, and testified about the horrific intentionality and criminal nature of the bombing missions he'd ordered on civilians: "I think no power to your refrigerator, no gas to your stove, you can't get to work because the bridge is down, the bridge on which you held your rock concerts and you all stood with targets on your heads. That needs to disappear at 3 o'clock in the morning." (The Observer, May 16, 1999)
Let no one doubt that the targeting of the civilian infrastructure was intentional, and thus a war crime under international law. In Pancevo, thousands fled the city, coughing and complaining of choking, burning eyes and upset stomachs. Dozens of people reported suffering from poisoning due to the bombings of refineries, fertilizer facilities and a vinyl chloride and ethylene plant, which manufactured plastic bags. Huge quantities of toxic matter such as chlorine, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer were released. Transformer stations were also heavily damaged; highly toxic transformer oil poured into the ground and nearby waters. The Health Ministry could not find enough gas masks to distribute. Residents were told to breathe through scarves soaked in sodium bicarbonate as a precaution against showers of nitric acid.
"By burning down enormous quantities of naphtha and its derivatives, more than a hundred highly toxic chemical compounds that pollute water, air and soil are released" endangering the entire Balkan ecosystem, said New Green Party scientist Luka Radoja. Dr. Radoja points out that NATO began bombing just as many crops vital for survival were about to be planted: corn, sunflower, soy, sugar beets and vegetables. As a result, the planting of 2.5 million hectares of land was halted.
The lack of fuel for agricultural machines will have catastrophic results, because it leads to hunger for the entire population. When you add to this the poisoning of the water, air and soil the catastrophe becomes a cataclysm. "As an expert who has spent his entire life working on the fields of this up until now ecologically pure part of Europe, I am a witness to the disappearing of the most beautiful garden of Europe," Radoja said, sadly.
"This is our worst nightmare," said Miralem Dzindo. "By taking away our fertilizer they stop us growing food, and then they try to poison us as well."
In fact, the ecological crisis only grows worse. With the bombing of petrochemical facilities, NATO's air strikes hit tanks containing tons of explosive chemicals. According to Miralem Dzindo, one such tank containing 20,000 tons of liquid ammonia was grazed by NATO missiles. "If that had gone up in flames much of Belgrade would have been poisoned. The pollution in the Danube and in the atmosphere over Belgrade 'knows no frontiers.'" Dzindo warned neighbouring countries that "the poison clouds could soon be with them." (London Times, April 19, 1999)
The poison clouds soon reached Macedonia. Zoran Bozinovski, a speaker for the Center for Radio Isotopes, a Macedonian government institution based in Skopje, explained how the river Lepenec which crosses the border between Macedonia and Yugoslavia carried oil slicks and toxic chemicals into the surrounding region.
Ivan Grozdanov, a chemist at the center, made the further point that the burning aircraft fuel expended by NATO planes is the primary source of stratospheric nitrogen oxides responsible for ripping open the protective ozone layer around earth's upper atmosphere. His report was confirmed by Alexei Yablokov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences specializing in ecology. He reported that the approximately 25,000 "sorties" of high altitude flights by NATO planes did much to destroy the earth's ozone layer. "The thinning of the ozone layer will harm every country of the northern hemisphere, in particular Canada and the United States." The 1,000+ cruise missiles that hit Yugoslavia during the 78-day war emitted large amounts of carbon dioxide, and, according to Dr. Yablokov, generated huge amounts of acid rain.
Indeed, the furans and dioxins released by bomb explosions carried long distances, according to Miroslav Balaburski, the chief inspector of the Macedonian Ministry of Environment. As thick black clouds of toxic smoke billowed out over the region, they were washed to the ground by heavy rains. Farmers just north of Pancevo reported that their crops were completely ruined, and that even walnuts and other fruits had been decimated overnight. Doctors noted that the once pure drinking water system had been completely polluted and that toxic clouds regularly passed over populated areas. Combined with exposure to depleted uranium shells, the unbearable pollution had a devastating effect on pregnant women, greatly increasing the incidence of miscarriage and children born with birth defects. Doctors advised Yugoslav women to have abortions rather than risk bringing genetically damaged babies into the world. During the bombing and for two months after, women aborted fetuses as a matter of course.
NATO's bombing campaign greatly polluted the surrounding countries as well. Scientists in Romania are frightened about the long term impact of pollution on the Danube, which forms Romania's southern border with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria for more than 1,075 km (670 miles), and then forks into a delta before flowing into the Black Sea. The Danube had been a main source of Yugoslavia's drinking water. It was also used to irrigate crops. European officials banned Bulgaria's entire asparagus crop because of the presence of high levels of contaminating chemicals released by the bombing.
Local officials continue to report high concentrations of zinc, mercury and other heavy metals in the Danube, which carries the pollution into Romania and Bulgaria. Enormous numbers of fish and flora were killed by the bomb-related pollution in April and May. And, poisoned by the pollution caused by the bombing, dozens of dolphins washed up dead on the shores of the Black Sea.
Communities along the Danube and Tamis Rivers dependent on fishing were also devastated. Many of the fishermen use live black leeches as bait. A leech usually lasts on the hook for up to five days, if no fish has grabbed it. Now, they say, something in the water has changed. The leeches die in a day, and are white when pulled out, looking as if they had been boiled. One fisherman, Dragomir Djuric, says the fish are different, too, sluggish and sickly, with protruding bones and bulging eyes. "I personally won't eat any fish from the river, not for the next five years."
Djuric held out his sun parched hand to say goodbye to a reporter who had just interviewed him: "Come back, my friend, in 10 years. Then you will find half the people of Pancevo are dead, just like the fish." [As reported by Uli Schmetzer, Chicago Tribune, July 8, 1999]
Even the Romanian government, which officially backed the NATO campaign, says that "it will take at least two years to size up the full impact, especially on the Danube and the Black Sea fauna and flora. We fear there may be long term effects." That toned-down report was released only after ecologists and local media accused officials of covering up the environmental consequences of NATO's air strikes.
Long range transboundary transfer of ash and benzo-a-pyrene from Yugoslavia to a number of other countries, including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldavia is still occurring, months after the bombings have stopped. Acid rains in May in areas on the Yugoslav border are the direct consequence of air pollution caused by fires set off by the bombings. Large-scale emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides have not abated, destroying agriculture and forestry throughout the region.
Often casualties occur not due to direct bomb hits, nor even as direct "collateral damage," but in unanticipated ways. In Bulgaria, the Agriculture Ministry announced that hailstorms destroyed millions of dollars of crops because the government relied on anti-hail radar systems that had to be turned off to avoid interfering with war plane communications and to prevent "mistaken" NATO bombings; the sophisticated equipment on the war planes automatically targeted radar systems throughout the region. Without radar, the government could not pinpoint the timing or location of the destructive weather patterns, and so could not warn farmers to take precautions nor launch their usual "anti hail weather missiles," which, they claim, help to disperse the crop destroying hail. Consequently, by May 22, hailstorms had damaged 77,000 acres of crops in Bulgaria. Around 40 percent of crops in those areas were completely lost, with damages estimated at $8.7 million, greatly exacerbating hunger in the region and rendering the countries dependent upon aid from Western sources.
Perhaps nothing expresses the inarticulable terror of NATO's bombardment than its effect on animals. Although Reuters wire service put out the story, no major papers in the US picked it up. Belgrade zoo director Vuk Bojovic explains:
"The noise starts around half an hour before the bombs fall as the animals in Belgrade zoo pick up the sound of approaching planes and missiles."
"It's one of the strangest and most disturbing concerts you can hear anywhere," he said.
"It builds up in intensity as the planes approach. Only they can hear them, we can't, and when the bombs start falling it's like a choir of the insane. Peacocks screaming, wolves howling, dogs barking, chimpanzees rattling their cages.
"I have made a record every hour of each day of when the animals start acting up. One day, when this craziness is over, I'd like to check it with reliable data on when the planes were flying. Someone could make a scientific study out of it. ...
"I had 1,000 eggs of rare and endangered species incubating, some of them ready to hatch in a couple of days. They were all ruined. That's 1,000 lives lost."
Meat in the zoo's freezer defrosted and went off, making it suitable only to scavengers like hyenas and vultures. Belgrade people donated meat out of their home freezers when the power went down, "but most of it wasn't even fit for animals."
The lack of water meant that some animals, particularly the hippos, were literally swimming in their excrement, he said.
"We had to give dirty drinking water to a lot of pretty delicate animals. We won't know the effects of that for two or three months," Bojovic said.
The zoo overlooks the confluence of two major rivers, the Danube and the Sava. Both were heavily polluted by chemical and industrial waste.
The nightly air strikes, with their accompaniment of heavy anti-aircraft fire lighting up the sky, has had other effects on many of the animals, the director said.
Many of them aborted their young in the latter stages of pregnancy. Many birds abandoned their nests, leaving eggs to grow cold. "If they ever lay again, I just wonder what they will do with them,'' he said.
Even a snake aborted some 40 fetuses, apparently reacting to the heavy vibration shaking the ground as missiles hit targets nearby.
The worst night the zoo can remember, the Reuters report continues, was when NATO hit an army headquarters only 600 meters away, with a huge detonation.
"The next day we found that some of the animals had killed their young," the director said. "A female tiger killed two of her four three day old cubs, and the other two were so badly injured we couldn't save them."
"She had been a terrific mother until then, raising several litters without any problems. I can't say whether it was the detonation or the awful smell that accompanied the bombing. I personally think it was the detonation," he added.
On the same night, an eagle owl killed all of its five young, and ate the smallest of them. "It wasn't because she was hungry. I can only think it was fear."
The most disturbing case was of the huge Bengal tiger, who began to chew his own paws. "He was practically raised in my office. He trusted humans."
Looking up into the sky, Bojovic said the constant stream of NATO war planes, with their trails of polluting gases, threatened to disturb the migration of several species of birds that pass over the area every year.
Some were heading north just as NATO's bombardment began.
"They have always used these corridors. I wonder whether they will ever do so again. I think fauna right across Europe and beyond will feel the effects of this war for a long time to come."
The grimmest spinoff of the war was the sight of armed guards patrolling the zoo.
"They're not there to keep people from harming or stealing the animals," Bojovic said. "Their job is to shoot the animals if the zoo gets bombed and some of them try and break out."
"We must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons."
President William Jefferson Clinton, at Columbine H.S., Colorado, while directing NATO forces to bomb Belgrade.
The government hides behind statistical "policy" rationales, "sorties," and military jargon. What do all these look like from the ground? Irish Times reporter Laura Marlowe offers a gruesome picture: "Father Milevoj Ceric's headless body lay on the mortuary slab, just hours after he said Mass. His black shoes were polished and his pale blue shirt was still neatly tucked into the trousers of the black suit he had worn to celebrate his villagers' feast day (Sunday).
"Father Milevoj's parishioners said he was about 50 years old, but it was impossible to know what he looked like because his head blown off in the NATO air raid was not found.
"The man lying next to him on the slab had his guts torn out by the explosion, and his waxy, white arms were thrown back over his head as if in panic or in horror. A handsome young man was one of eight bodies laid out in the morgue; someone had put his legs beside him on the stretcher.
"NATO aircraft dropped their first bomb on the rusty old bridge across the Morava River at 12:53 p.m. They came back 14 minutes later as townspeople, including Father Milevoj, rushed out to help the victims of the first explosion and dropped two more bombs.
"Ten people were killed. We don't know how many more have found graves in the waters of the Morava," said Mr. Dragan Cavnic, the mayor of this pretty town of 5,000. Forty people were still missing. "Varvarin is famous for its rose wine and vegetables. Everybody knows today is a religious holiday here. This has been our market day for centuries. People from surrounding villages gather. They bombed as people were leaving.
"The NATO spokesman, Mr Jamie Shea, said: Our policy hasn't changed. Everything we attack is a military target. Just because there wasn't a tank on the bridge, doesn't mean it wasn't a military target.
"But the bridge was too narrow for a tank to cross. Villagers said the two NATO aircraft flew low. They believe that NATO planned to kill the maximum number of people.
"Mr. Dragoljub Stanojevic, the principal of a local school, said: If they had bombed the bridge at night, I could believe it was a military target, but on a Sunday when it was full of people?"
To justify such terror from the air, we in the US were told repeatedly that hundreds of thousands of Albanian Kosovars were being subjected to "genocide", "ethnic cleansing", a new "Holocaust", "mass graves" and were being used as "human shields". Story after story appeared each one more dramatic than the last alleging horrific crimes attributed to "the Serbs". British foreign secretary Robin Cook assured the world that he "knows" that twenty Albanian Kosovar teachers had been murdered in front of their students in Goden. Only later did we learn and not from Cook that the Kosovo village in which this "little bit of genocide" supposedly took place was lucky to have a total of 20 houses in it! Had Cook's claims been true, Goden's student/teacher ratio would have been the envy of even elite private schools in Scarsdale and Chevy Chase, to say nothing of inner-city public schools which are supplying the soldiers for the coming wars.
A report in the Guardian of April 9 tells a different story: Serb paramilitary forces had come into Goden, separated out the men (who numbered 20, including two teachers), and told the women and children to leave the village. Contrary to mass-media reports, the women were not raped, the children were not brutalized. One woman who fled told reporters, "We don't have the slightest idea whether our men are alive, dead or massacred!" This understandably anxious but inconclusive statement became the sole basis for the media's "definitive evidence" of mass murder.
Robin Cook, among others, just took it all in stride and went right on to the next big lie. He assured the world that "the Serbs" had established ethnically based "rape camps" all over Kosovo. "Young women are being separated from the refugee columns," the British foreign secretary said in one such pronouncement, "and forced to undergo systematic rape in an army camp. We have evidence from many refugees who have managed to escape that others were taken to rape camps." As it turns out, no such rape camps existed. Cook is now on the hotseat before Parliament, whose members are accusing him of intentionally lying to the British people. But by then the lies had served their purpose.
Former European Green Party General Secretary Diana Johnstone and other investigative journalists exposed the falsity of the "rape camp" claims made previously against the Yugoslav military in Croatia and in Bosnia. (See, especially, Diana Johnstone, "Seeing Yugoslavia through a Dark Glass," Covert Action, Fall 1998; and "NATO's Humanitarian Trigger," March 24, 1999). British reporter Audrey Gillen took up the same thread, pointing out that "among the rape victims arriving in Macedonia nobody spoke of anything like the camps the British Foreign Secretary referred to. Benedicte Giaever told me there had been rape, but not systematic and not on a grand scale. The same was true of the killing. 'We don't have big numbers,' she said. 'What we have are consistent small numbers - two here, five there, ten here, seven there.' " (London Review of Books, May 27, 1999)
Yet the media beating the drums of war continued to report hysterical tales of Serb "rape camps" that, it turns out, did not exist. When Audrey Gillan returned to London, she "went to see the KLA's spokesman and recruiting officer in Golders Green. Dr Pleurat Sejdiu, sitting beside the KLA flag and busts of the Albanian national hero Skenderbeg, claimed that there were indeed rape camps, and that the evidence of mass atrocities was to be found among the refugees in Albania, not in Macedonia. He is in daily contact with the KLA frontline command by satellite phone and has been told of rape camps in Gjakova, Rahovec, Suhareka, Prizren and Skenderaj. 'We know there are concentration camps and women are kept and raped there,' he said. 'I don't think we will get the evidence until we go in with the ground troops.'" Ground troops have been there for almost a year, now, and have yet to turn up evidence of "rape camps".
On the other hand, in a largely overlooked statement, Sadako Ogata, who was in charge of humanitarian relief at the refugee camps in Albania, reported many instances of rapes and brutality committed by Albanian gangs that run the overcrowded camps. Ogata pleaded for assistance: "Certain [Albanian] gangs and groups dealing in the sale of human beings are forcing young women [refugees] into prostitution. They have already begun transporting them across the Adriatic sea" to Italy. Ogata also warned that the KLA was forcing refugees into its ranks at gunpoint. (May 7, letter to the UN Security Council)
Rolland Keith, a former Canadian military officer and a Canadian member of the Kosovo Verification Mission supervising the Milosovic-Holbrooke agreement, served as one of the UN's Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors in Yugoslavia until the 1,381 verifiers were ordered to withdraw by NATO a few days before the bombings began. Keith agrees with Diana Johnstone and other critics challenging the purported rationales for war. He says that all those "rape-camps in Kosovo stories" are utter nonsense. Keith claims that he witnessed "no ethnic cleansing" or widescale "humanitarian issue" while he was stationed in Yugoslavia. And, he says, he was looking for it. What there was, he says, was a war zone, horrible to be sure, but typical of warfare, with people being moved about according to the geography of warfare, not ethnicity.
Lt. General Satish Nambiar, First Force Commander and Head of Mission of the UN Forces deployed in the former Yugoslavia, and currently Director of the United Services Institution of India, agrees: "Portraying the Serbs as evil and everybody else as good was not only counterproductive but also dishonest. According to my experience [in Bosnia] all sides were guilty but only the Serbs would admit that they were no angels while the others would insist that they were. With 28,000 forces under me and with constant contacts with UNHCR and the International Red Cross officials, we did not witness any genocide beyond killings and massacres on all sides that are typical of such conflict conditions. I believe none of my successors and their forces saw anything on the scale claimed by the media. ... One of the main problems was that there was an unwillingness on the part of the American administration to concede that Serbs had legitimate grievances and rights. I recall State Department official George Kenny turning up like all other American officials, spewing condemnations of the Serbs for aggression and genocide. I offered to give him an escort and to go see for himself that none of what he proclaimed was true. He accepted my offer and thereafter he made a radical turnaround. Other Americans continued to see and hear what they wanted to see and hear from one side, while ignoring the other side."
Another infamous "massacre" story, this one in January 1999 at Racak, appears to have been fabricated as well. KLA soldiers killed in battle were hastily reclothed, moved and reassembled into common grave, under the auspices of longtime US secret operations officer William Walker, who had arranged similar fabrications in Nicaragua and El Salvador while working under the direction of Oliver North.
Unfortunately for Walker, in their haste to re-dress the bodies, some of the bullet holes in the clothing did not match the wounds on the bodies and in some cases the clothing had no bullet holes at all. The Belorussian forensic report concluded the dead were killed with bullets fired from a distance, as in a battle. There was also indication that additional bullets were fired at the victims from close range after their deaths in order to make it appear the Serbs had massacred civilians. Few shell-casings were found at the alleged massacre site, and there was a noticeable absence of blood. The forensics also showed that many of the bodies tested positive for having fired weapons shortly before dying, indicating that they were soldiers or, at best, militias not terrorized civilians as claimed.
The Yugoslav government asserted a fierce battle had taken place in Racak, that emptied the village of this known KLA stronghold. This claim is supported by the OSCE observers who were watching the battle from a nearby hill, and by two Associated Press journalists who filmed the exchange of fire between the Serbian police and KLA fighters. Both the OSCE and the press had been informed about the operation ahead of time and invited to monitor the events by the Serbs themselves. The conservative French newspaper, Le Monde (21 January, 1999), among others, sharply attacked Walker's version of events at Racak. But most of the media simply denounced the Serbs as Walker told them, without researching further, and without considering the AP film footage or reports. The damage was done.
With few exceptions the press reported NATO's "spin" as fact. The destruction of a Yugoslav train by a NATO missile was called "an uncanny accident" by NATO supreme commander Gen. Wesley Clark, though similar incidents happened repeatedly. Each time, it was "an uncanny accident." Paul Watson reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that "NATO bombers scored several direct hits here in Kosovo's capital yesterday including a graveyard, a bus station, and a children's basketball court." (April 14) A Spanish pilot flying missions for NATO, Capt. Martin de la Hoz, stated that on a number of occasions his supervising colonel protested to NATO about their bombing of non-military, civilian targets. "Once there was a coded order from the North American military that we should drop anti-personnel bombs over Pristina and Nis. All of the missions that we flew, all and each one, were planned in detail, including attacking planes, targets and type of ammunition, by US high-ranking military authorities. ... They are destroying the country," the Spanish F-18 pilot continued, "bombing it with novel weapons, toxic nerve gasses, surface mines dropped by parachute, bombs containing uranium, black napalm, sterilization chemicals, sprayings to poison crops, and weapons of which even we still know nothing about." (quoted in "Articulo 20," a Spanish weekly newspaper, June 14, 1999)
Challenges to Clinton's "humanitarian" claims began coming more frequently as it became clear that the US and NATO were intentionally targeting civilians and the civilian infrastructure. "Smart bombs" allegedly designed to hit only military targets somehow managed to destroy 190 schools and 16 hospitals. Does General Wesley Clark since removed from his post expect us to believe that all of these were "accidents" too? Although receiving almost no play in the corporate media, word began to spread about the carnage the US was committing in Yugoslavia. Anti-war activists in Greece and Italy protested by the thousands, in militant demonstrations They blocked NATO tanks heading for Yugoslavia, spraypainting the "NATO" logo to make it read "ThaNATOs" "death" in Greek. Across Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the United States, demonstrators demanded an immediate end to the bombing. And in Russia, hundreds of thousands of people participated in militant anti-war marches, with many of them calling on Russia to intervene on behalf of the Serbs.
As each lie piled on top of the preceding one, the claim that a "holocaust" was being perpetrated by "Serbs" outran the facts. Audrey Gillan, writing for the London Review of Books, was one of the few reporters who tried to track down the truth to the stories they were being told. Aboard a bus filled with refugees heading toward a refugee camp in Macedonia, Gillan tells of Ferteze Nimari, of the village of Sllovi, who "caught me glancing at the watch on her wrist when Remzi, her husband, said all the women in the village had been robbed of their jewelery." (May 27, 1999)
Earlier that day, Gillan continues, "Ron Redmond, the baseball-capped spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stood at the Blace border-crossing from Kosovo into Macedonia and said there were new reports of mass rapes and killings from three villages in the Lipljan area: Sllovi, Hallac Evogel and Ribari Evogel. He told the press of bodies being desecrated, eyes being shot out. The way he talked it sounded as if there had been at least a hundred murders and dozens of rapes." When Audrey Gillan pressed him on the rapes, asking him to be more precise, Redmond "reduced it a bit and said he had heard that five or six teenage girls had been raped and murdered. He had not spoken to any witnesses. 'We have no way of verifying these reports of rape', he conceded."
"Another report, again from Sllovi, put the dead at a hundred. Mr. and Mrs. Nimari (who still wore her jeweled watch) were adamant that it was 16. ... One afternoon, the people in charge said there were refugees arriving who talked of sixty or more being killed in one village, fifty in another, but I could not find one eye witness who actually saw these things happening.
"Now, they may have happened. But what we have is a situation where Western journalists accept details without question. Almost every day, the world's media, jostling for stories in Macedonia, strain to find figures that may well not exist. In the absence of any testimony, many just report what some agency or other has told them. I stood by as a reporter from BBC World reeled off what Ron Redmond had said, using the words 'hundreds', 'rape' and 'murder' in the same breath. By way of qualification (a fairly meaningless one in the circumstances), he added that the stories had yet to be substantiated. Why, then, had he reported them so keenly in the first place?"
As the first NATO bombs were hitting Yugoslavia in March, the Greens/Green Party USA denounced the bombardment, as well as talk of sending in ground troops. Greens participated in anti-war demonstrations, and encouraged and supported war-resisters inside the military. Robert Naiman (of the Preamble Foundation) and I circulated an "Appeal from American Jews to Stop the Bombing," which was cirdculated on the floor of the German Greens' historic gathering on May 13 in Bielefeld, Germany. We collected many hundreds of signatures of prominent American Jews many of them Greens, and supporters urging the Greens in Germany to resist the propaganda portraying the situation in Yugoslavia as "another Holocaust," with all the guilt and historical suasion that holds for anti-fascist Germans. This was the gathering at which foreign minister Joschka Fischer, a founding member of the Green Party but now an ardent architect of the war, was hit with a burst of red paint thrown by an anti-war activist.
NATO's comparison of the situation of Kosovo Albanians with that of Jews during the World War II Holocaust riled many activists, but it had a different effect on Germany's liberal intelligentsia, including the Greens, who could not understand that such holocaust imagery was manufactured by public relations firms at the behest of the US government precisely for the purpose of neutralizing opposition in Europe's progressive movements.
Comparing the situation in Yugoslavia to Nazi Germany is so misleading and historically false as to be obscene. The Holocaust consisted of the rounding up of millions of Jews throughout Nazi occupied Europe and transporting them to death camp assembly-lines of mass murder. Nothing of the sort existed in Kosovo before the bombing began, or after. Six million defenseless Jews, and millions of other civilians, Slavs, homosexuals, communists, and gypsies were murdered by the Nazis.
But, why let facts stand in the way when there's a "patriotic" war to be fought? In the prelude to the Gulf War, a public relations firm was hired to craft a series of lies expressly for the purpose of demonizing Iraqis and swinging public opinion in favor of bombardment. Now, almost a decade later, the public relations firms hired by Croatia and the Albanian Kosovars molded their propaganda to manipulate and divide the normally stalwart anti-war opposition in Germany, the U.S., and France. And it worked! At the Bielefeld conference, the German Greens contrary to the wishes of most of the Green parties throughout the world voted to endorse Germany's participation in the bombardment of Yugoslavia, although to their credit 40 percent of the Green delegates opposed it. Through its participation in the German government, Germany's Green Party, along with one-time anti-war radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the French Greens, played a key role in whipping up support among Greens for the bombing campaign, abandoning their anti-war roots and betraying the ideals of the international Green movement.
How did this propaganda work? In April 1993 Jacques Merlino, associate director of French TV 2, interviewed James Harff, director of Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs, a Washington DC-based public relations firm. The interview is a classic example in how corporate media shape political issues.
Harff bragged of his services to his clients the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the parliamentary opposition in Kosovo. Merlino described how Harff used a staff of several hundred journalists, politicians, representatives of humanitarian associations, and academics to create public opinion. Harff explained: "Speed is vital ... it is the first assertion that really counts. All denials are entirely ineffective."
In the interview, Merlino asked Harff what his proudest public relations endeavor was. Harff responded: "To have managed to put Jewish opinion on our side. This was a sensitive matter, as the dossier was dangerous looked at from this angle. [Croatian] President Tudjman was very careless in his book, Wastelands of Historical Reality. Reading his writings one could accuse him of anti-Semitism. [Tudjman claimed that 'only' 900,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust, not six million MC] In Bosnia the situation was no better: President Izetbegovic strongly supported the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in his book, The Islamic Declaration.
"Besides, the Croation and Bosnian past was marked by real and cruel anti-Semitism. Ten of thousands of Jews perished in Croatian camps, so there was every reason for intellectuals and Jewish organizations to be hostile toward the Croats and the Bosnians. Our challenge was to reverse this attitude and we succeeded masterfully.
"At the beginning of July 1992, New York Newsday came out with the article on Serb camps. We jumped at the opportunity immediately. We outwitted three big Jewish organizations the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League, The American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress. In August, we suggested that they publish an advertisement in the New York Times and organize demonstrations outside the United Nations.
"That was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organizations entered the game on the side of the [Muslim] Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind. Nobody understood what was happening in Yugoslavia. The great majority of Americans were probably asking themselves in which African country Bosnia was situated.
"By a single move we were able to present a simple story of good guys and bad guys which would hereafter play itself. We won by targeting the Jewish audience. Almost immediately there was a clear change of language in the press, with use of words with high emotional content such as 'ethnic cleansing', 'concentration camps', etc., which evoke images of Nazi Germany and the gas chamber of Auschwitz. No one could go against it without being accused of revisionism. We really batted a thousand in full."
Merlino replied, "But between 2 and 5 August 1992, when you did this, you had no proof that what you said was true. All you had were two Newsday articles."
"Our work is not to verify information," said Harff. "We are not equipped for that. Our work is to accelerate the circulation of information favorable to us, to aim at judiciously chosen targets. We did not confirm the existence of death camps in Bosnia, we just made it widely known that Newsday affirmed it ... We are professionals. We had a job to do and we did it. We are not paid to moralize." (Jacques Merlino, "Les verites yugoslaves ne sont pas toutes bonnes á dire" (The truths from Yugoslavia are not easy to report), Paris: Editions Albin Michel S.A., 1993. Unofficial translation, as reported by Sara Flounders in NATO in the Balkans, 1998, International Action Center, New York.)
Essential to winning the governments of Europe behind the US strategy was the evocation of Holocaust imagery. The extremes to which the media went to keep that holocaust imagery before us was exemplified by Fox TV's reports of the high-profile visit made by presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole to the refugees on the Macedonian border. In much the same way that a famous picture circulated in the early 1990s purported to be of a Bosnia slave labor camp surrounded by barbed wire (when in fact the camera was carefully placed behind the only strand of barbed wire in the area, near an outhouse and angled just right to give it the old "concentration camp" feel), Fox News decided to carefully shift the camera angle so as not to show a group of young Albanian men playing basketball just behind Elizabeth Dole's left shoulder, men who were reported to have "disappeared", possibly murdered. Without such manufactured images, the Social Democratic and Green governments might never have won support for involving Germany or even Britain in battles so clearly under the US/NATO military command. In short, the application of Holocaust imagery was specifically designed by public relations firms hired by the US to manipulate the sensibilities of the new European governments, particularly the Greens and Social Democrats in Germany.
Outside of Germany and France, however, Greens in 24 of the 27 countries with national Green parties opposed NATO's war. At its national congress in Washington D.C. on July 22-25, the US Greens reaffirmed the organization's earlier condemnation of the bombing and its critique of the German Greens. As Syracuse, New York Green Party member Howie Hawkins wrote, "The US bombed Yugoslavia for the same imperialist reasons it bombed Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan this year, as well as Bosnia in 1995, namely, to project global power and show the world who's the boss. The expressed concern for the rights of Albanian Kosovars was a pretext for advancing US economic and geopolitical interests."
Hawkins continued: "The US pushed the bombing campaign in order to reinforce the dominion of US-run NATO over Europe and to expand NATO's mission to out-of-area military interventions. Under the cover of humanitarian pretensions, NATO now becomes the global cop who enforces the conditions for coporate exploitation. ("Bombing Yugoslavia: A Humanitarian War for an Imperialist Peace," Synthesis/Regeneration 20, Fall 1999) When it came to the bombing of Yugoslavia, the corporate media gave the architects of the new world order's "humanitarian warfare" Clinton and Gore in the U.S., Joschka Fischer and Schroeder in Germany, Daniel Cohn-Bendit in France, Tony Blair and Robin Cook in England a "free" ride.
Secret documents obtained from Germany's foreign office and from various regional Administrative Courts in Germany, challenge the orchestrated hysteria. They maintain that the "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" alleged by the governments of the 19 NATO member countries to have occurred in Yugoslavia simply did not exist. In contrast to public assertion of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the public pronouncements of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Green Party), the German foreign office, over which Fischer presides, privately denied that ethnic cleansing or genocide existed in Kosovo in the period leading up to the bombing. For Fischer to conceal these documents in order to support the bombings is, according to existing international law, a war crime.
The documents, which were reviewed by and filed in Germany's Foreign Ministry offices, conclude: "No ethnic cleansing, no genocide" in Kosovo, before the bombing started.
These documents, collected by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) from various regional Administrative Courts spanning the year before the start of NATO's air attacks, and presented to the Foreign Minister's office, were written by various courts given the task of deciding the status of Kosovo Albanian refugees in Germany. Had they been publicized, they would have undermined Fischer's rationale for engaging in this war. It remains highly significant that the chief Foreign denied the documents' existence, thus freeing Germany to use its military power in Europe for the first time since World War II.
The Foreign Office's assessment remained unchanged through March of 1999, as the bombing began. The significance of these documents rests not only on whether genocide or ethnic cleansing actually occured in Kosovo, but on what the German government believed, and thus, on its rationale for endorsing and participating in the bombardment of a sovereign nation. Contrary to the public pronouncements of government officials, the documents belie assertions of "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" in pre-bombardment Kosovo. They assert that the "criteria" of ethnic cleansing and genocide were not met, clearly demonstrating that stopping genocide was not the reason the German government, and by implication NATO, intervened in Kosovo. The government (according to the documents), after all did not believe that genocide (as understood in German and international law) in Kosovo or ethnic cleansing was occurring prior to NATO's bombardment. Consider the following:
1: Opinion of the Upper Administrative Court at Munster, March 11, 1999 (Az: 13A 3894/94.A): "Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have neither been nor are now exposed to regional or countrywide group persecution in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
2: Opinion of the Bavarian Administrative Court, October 29, 1998, (Az: 22 BA 94.34252): "The Foreign Office's status reports of May 6, June 8 and July 13, 1998, given to the plaintiffs in the summons to a verbal deliberation, do not allow the conclusion that there is group persecution of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. Not even regional group persecution, applied to all ethnic Albanians from a specific part of Kosovo, can be observed with sufficient certainty. The violent actions of the Yugoslav military and police since February 1998 were aimed at separatist activities and are no proof of a persecution of the whole Albanian ethnic group in Kosovo or in a part of it. What was involved in the Yugoslav violent actions and excesses since February 1998 was a selective forcible action against the military underground movement (especially the KLA) and people in immediate contact with it in its areas of operation. ... A state program or persecution aimed at the whole ethnic group of Albanians exists neither now nor earlier."
3: Intelligence report from the Foreign Office, January 12, 1999 to the Administrative Court of Trier (Az: 514 516.80/32 426): "Even in Kosovo an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian ethnicity is not verifiable. The East of Kosovo is still not involved in armed conflict. Public life in cities like Pristina, Urosevac, Gnjilan, etc. has, in the entire conflict period, continued on a relatively normal basis." The "actions of the security forces (were) not directed against the Kosovo Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military opponent and its actual or alleged supporters."
4: Intelligence report from the Foreign Office January 6, 1999 to the Bavarian Administrative Court, Ansbach: "At this time, an increasing tendency is observable inside the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia of refugees returning to their dwellings. ... Regardless of the desolate economic situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (according to official information of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 700,000 refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzogovina have found lodging since 1991), no cases of chronic malnutrition or insufficient medical treatment among the refugees are known and significant homelessness has not been observed. ... According to the Foreign Office's assessment, individual Kosovo Albanians (and their immediate families) still have limited possibilities of settling in those parts of Yugoslavia in which their countrymen or friends already live and who are ready to take them in and support them."
5. Report of the Foreign Office March 15, 1999 (Az: 514 516,80/33841) to the Administrative Court, Mainz: "As laid out in the status report of November 18, 1998, the KLA has resumed its positions after the partial withdrawal of the (Serbian) security forces in October 1998, so it once again controls broad areas in the zone of conflict. Before the beginning of spring 1999 there were still clashes between the KLA and security forces, although these have not until now reached the intensity of the battles of spring and summer 1998."
6. Opinion of the Administrative Court of Baden Wrttemberg, February 4, 1999 (Az: A 14 S 22276/98): "The various reports presented to the senate all agree that the often feared humanitarian catastrophe threatening the Albanian civil population has been averted. ... This appears to be the case since the winding down of combat in connection with an agreement made with the Serbian leadership at the end of 1998 (Status Report of the Foreign Office, November 18, 1998). Since that time both the security situation and the conditions of life of the Albanian derived population have noticeably improved. ...
"Specifically in the larger cities public life has since returned to relative normality (cf. on this Foreign Office, January 12, 1999 to the Administrative Court of Trier; December 28, 1998 to the Upper Administrative Court of Lneberg and December 23, 1998 to the Administrative Court at Kassel), even though tensions between the population groups have meanwhile increased due to individual acts of violence... Single instances of excessive acts of violence against the civil population, e.g. in Racak, have, in world opinion, been laid at the feet of the Serbian side and have aroused great indignation. But the number and frequency of such excesses do not warrant the conclusion that every Albanian living in Kosovo is exposed to extreme danger to life and limb, nor is everyone who returns there threatened with death and severe injury.
7: Opinion of the Upper Administrative Court at Munster, February 24, 1999 (Az: 14 A 3840/94,A): "There is no sufficient actual proof of a secret program, or an unspoken consensus on the Serbian side, to liquidate the Albanian people, to drive it out or otherwise to persecute it in the extreme manner presently described. ... If Serbian state power carries out its laws and in so doing necessarily puts pressure on an Albanian ethnic group which turns its back on the state and is for supporting a boycott, then the objective direction of these measures is not that of a programmatic persecution of this population group. ... Even if the Serbian state were benevolently to accept or even to intend that a part of the citizenry which sees itself in a hopeless situation or opposes compulsory measures, should emigrate, this still does not represent a program of persecution aimed at the whole of the Albanian majority (in Kosovo)."
"If moreover the (Yugoslav) state reacts to separatist strivings with consistent and harsh execution of its laws and with anti-separatist measures, and if some of those involved decide to go abroad as a result, this is still not a deliberate policy of the (Yugoslav) state aiming at ostracizing and expelling the minority; on the contrary it is directed toward keeping this people within the state federation."
"Events since February and March 1998 do not evidence a persecution program based on Albanian ethnicity. The measures taken by the armed Serbian forces are in the first instance directed toward combatting the KLA and its supposed adherents and supporters."
These conclusions notwithstanding, the present regime in Germany, specifically Joschka Fischer's Foreign Office, justified its intervention in Kosovo by pointing to a "humanitarian catastrophe," "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" occurring there, especially in the months immediately preceding the NATO attack. (These texts were not published in Germany until April 24, 1999, a full month after the bombing began. See http://www.jungewelt.de/-1999/-0424/-011.shtml as well as http://www.jungewelt.de/1999/-0424/-001.shtml. Translated into English by Eric Canepa.)
Professing ignorance of these documents, Ludger Vollmer, state secretary to Joschka Fischer (and supposedly a left-wing Green), continued the ruse: "Milosevic," said Vollmer, "does not act differently than Hitler." Said Fischer (in commenting on the secret Amendments to the Rambouillet Ultimatum as well): "The imagination that I manipulated something to draw NATO into a war against Milosevic, is wrong."
But that is precisely what they have done.
Much of the demonization of the Serbs cited prior wars in Croatia and Bosnia. But even there, some of the horror stories have been utterly fabricated for propagandistic effect. Diana Johnstone interviewed a number of officers of the Croatian military, including the commander of the 113th brigade, Davo Skugor, in which they admit actually, revel in the bombings they'd staged of some of their own cities and blamed it on the Serbs! "Recently, Croatian officers have admitted that in 1993 they themselves staged a "Serbian bombing" of the Croatian coastal city of Sibenik for the benefit of Croatian television crews. The former Commander of the 113th Croatian brigade headquarers, Davo Skugor, reacted indignantly. `Why so much fuss?' he complained. `There is no city in Croatia in which such tactical tricks were not used. After all, they are an integral part of strategic planning. That's only one in a series of stratagems we've resorted to during the war.'" (Diana Johnstone, "NATO's Humanitarian Trigger," March 24, 1999)
General Colin Powell gives us some insight into the similar mindset of the US warmongers in the Clinton cabinet: "My constant, unwelcome message at all the meetings on Bosnia was simply that we should not commit military forces until we had a clear political objective. ... The debate exploded at one session when Madeleine Albright, our ambassador to the UN [at the time] asked me in frustration, 'What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?' I thought I would have an aneurysm. American GIs were not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board." (Colin Powell, Memoirs, 1995) Thus, we have Madeleine Albright answering a question posed by reporters for 60 Minutes. Albright was asked whether US/UN sanctions that had left half a million Iraqi children dead were "worth it." Albright replied, "I think this is a very hard choice. But we think the price is worth it." (5/12/96) 60 Minutes never asked the obvious follow-up question: "How many dead children would NOT be worth it?"
Before NATO began bombing Yugoslavia, we were offered daily dollops of "reliably sourced" reports claiming that between 100,000 to 250,000 Albanian men had been tortured and murdered. In October, when the mass hysteria was no longer needed to wage the war, officials suddenly dropped the actual figure to "under 10,000". As Albanian men keep turning up from their hideouts in the forests and basements, just how far under 10,000 the figure will go they won't say. By the end of the year, of the hundreds of mass graves alleged by NATO and examined by the official War Crimes Tribunal, not a single one has turned out to have been a "mass grave". All told, as all of the "biggest" mass graves have been exhumed (constituting 50 percent of the total alleged mass graves), perhaps 300 to 400 people, most of them soldiers of the KLA and not civilians, have been found. NATO now admits that there are most likely not more than 2,000 people killed, total, by the Yugoslav forces surely not a figure to take lightly, but hardly evidence of "genocide", "ethnic cleansing", a "holocaust," of "mass graves" once alleged to have held more than 100,000 bodies! So much for the pretext for bombing the hell out of Yugoslavia.
In Yugoslavia, tractors built to plow the land were used by farmers to tow their villages to the border and, hopefully, to safety. On April 17th, NATO planes bombed a column of Albanian Kosovar refugees and tractors, but denied responsibility and tried to blame it on the Serb military.
Robert Fisk, reporting for the London Independent, visited the scene: "This atrocity is still a mystery to NATO. Perhaps I can help.
"When you stand at the site of a massacre, two things happen. First, you wonder about the depths of the human spirit. And then you ask yourself how many lies can be told about it.
"The highway of death between Prizren and Djakovica on which the Serbs say NATO slaughtered 74 Kosovo Albanian refugees in a series of bombing raids is no different.
"Only hours after I slipped on a dead man's torso near an old Turkish bridge, less than a day after I stood by the body of a young and beautiful girl, her eyes gently staring at me between half closed lids, the bottom half of her head bathed in blood, I watched James Shea, NATO's spokesman, trying to explain yesterday why NATO still didn't know what had happened.
"All those torn and mangled bodies I had just seen, the old men ripped in half and blasted into a tree at Gradis, the smouldering skeleton with one bloody, still flesh-adhering foot over the back of a trailer at Terezicki Most, the dead, naked man slouched over the steering wheel of a burnt tractor all, apparently, were a mystery to NATO. ...
"NATO 'thinks' it bombed a tractor on a road north of Djakovica. Indeed, NATO's military spokesman would say yesterday only that it was 'possibly' a tractor. Mr. Shea or 'Jamie' as he enjoins us to call him, says he is still trying to find out what happened to the 74 refugees. NATO needs more time, he tells us, to assess what it bombed and did not bomb.
"Well perhaps I can help Jamie to speed up his enquiries. Of the four air strike locations, I have visited the first three at Velika Krusa, Gradis and Terezicki Most and they run consecutively from east to west along the Prizren Djakovica road. At the third, I came across four bomb craters. I saw, and in some cases collected, a number of bomb and missile parts. At Gradis, I came across part of a missile circuit board, its congealed wiring attached to a plate which contains a manufacturer's code. ... 'SCHEM 872110 () 96214ASSY8721122 MSN 63341' (remaining figures obscured by detonation damage).
"It shouldn't take NATO armaments experts more than a few hours to find out where that code came from, indeed, what aircraft carried and fired that missile. Its pilot if it was a NATO bomb will then be able to explain why he fired it.
"At Velika Krusa, I found the fusings of an aerial bomb next to a smashed trailer containing the belongings of 35 Albanian refugees, four of whom (all women) were killed in this air strike." Fisk goes on to list serial numbers from half a dozen other bomb fragments found at various sites. "Most of the shrapnel was so sharp that it cut the hands of those who touched it. The corpses showed what happened when the bomb parts shredded them alive.
"One of the bodies lying in a field at Terezicki Most, that of a man in his 40s, had the top of his head cut cleanly off, along with his brain and eyes so that his face had turned into an actor's mask. A middle aged woman in a purple pullover and brightly flowered skirt with her eyes open and pale waxen face, had had her neck cut open."
So heinous was the crime, so nasty the fields of torn up bodies, that NATO's press officers and generals at first claimed, on the record, that such a dastardly cluster bombing could only have been done by "the Serbs". When that spin didn't whirl (the assertion was too much even for the compliant press who rarely left their hotels), NATO trotted out a pilot who claimed that the refugee convoy was a legitimate military target. NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea begged the media's indulgence, an attitude not too difficult for NATO to come by in this bombardment: "The pilot dropped the bomb in good faith," the obsequious Shea said, "as you would expect of a trained pilot from a democratic NATO country to do" (April 15).
Agence France Presse correspondent Aleksandar Mitic, LA Times reporter Paul Watson, and two Greek TV crews also made their way to the scene of the bombing. They confirmed what Fisk had reported: "bodies charred or blown to pieces, tractors reduced to twisted wreckage and houses in ruins." Mitic quoted one refugee as saying the group had been bombed three or four times, "the planes circling overhead as if they were following us."
NATO was adament: "In one case and one only, we have proof of civilian loss of life," Shea stated, and NATO General Giuseppe Marini concurred. "Otherwise, we are talking about military vehicles." (April 16)
But while few western reporters ventured into the field, Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) broadcast images of the bombings of the refugees round-the-clock. They were too horrifying to be glibly dismissed, as per NATO's custom. In fact, that is the reason some have offered for why NATO bombed the TV station a week later (April 22), killing 20 civilians and wounding many more.
In mid-April, NATO Air Commander David Wilby said that NATO was sick of the Serb propaganda televised to every household and warned that unless Serb Television broadcast three hours of US programming in the daytime and another three hours in the evening, the TV station would be destroyed.
On the night of April 22, without a second thought, NATO bombed the main Serb TV station. Scores of workers were in the building at the time, as many as 100 or more, mostly technicians. Seventeen or so are thought to have been killed. One reporter said the scene was reminiscent of the Oklahoma City bombing, and wondered, "Why didn't they just bomb the transmission tower on a nearby mountaintop, which would have minimized civilian casualties and done a far more effective job?"
Serb TV was knocked off the air for all of a few hours before resuming broadcast from another location. So were CNN and the BBC, which shared the facilities. But the bombing provided NATO with a "victorious" lead story on evening newscasts in the US. Of course, most of the details were left out.
British reporter John Simpson, World Affairs editor for the BBC, fills in some of those details: "Less than 12 hours after the attack that destroyed his television station, Zarko was back at work, satelliting our report about the attack to London. "I was lucky" he said. ... 'My shift ended at 11 on Thursday night.'
"I had seen what had happened to the control room where he used to work. If his shift had ended at 4 am, as it normally did, it would have been his body in the mass of rubble and wiring on the floor instead of somebody else's. But Zarko lived to broadcast another day. ...
"When, shortly after 2 a.m. on Friday, my room in the Hyatt Hotel lurched with a series of explosions, my first thought was for Zarko. When, in the greyness of Friday's dawn, my team and I judged it safe enough to drive round to the television station to film the aftermath, it was Zarko I was thinking about as the firemen clambered over the heaps of rubble, listening for the sound of human voices.
"He had been the only person at the television station who was actively pleasant to foreigners; the only one who would put himself out to help you; the only one who seemed to care whether or not your report reached its destination, and was glad when it did.
"It was Zarko, his eyes red with fatigue and several days' stubble on his chin, who listened with patience to my complaints about the high temperature in the dreadful little studio, now rubble too, where I had to do my live question and answer sessions into the Nine O'clock News. It was he who managed to find an electric fan to bring the temperature down to the merely unbearable; who, as a last resort, called up the large, bad tempered, blonde make-up woman to put some powder on my sweating face.
"I saw the make-up woman again on Friday morning. Or, to be more exact, I saw her foot. It was sticking out at a strange angle from the heap of crumbled brick and plaster that was all that was left of her room. ...
"Should the television station, as opposed to its transmitters, have been hit? Should the make up woman have paid the ultimate price for the propaganda of people so high up in the system that she would never have been allowed to put powder on their foreheads?"
Between March 24 and June 10, US/NATO bombs destroyed more than ten private radio and television stations, and 36 television transmitters. "RTS was targeted because of its programming concerning NATO's repeated bombing of a convoy of Albanian refugees on the Prizren-Djakovica road. ... RTS broadcast the scene on the ground and reported the refugees were killed for going home. According to reports from RTS if the Albanian refugees returned to their villages, NATO would lose their pretext and justification for the war, supposedly to return the refugees under the aegis of NATO." (Carol Holland, "Destruction of the Yugoslav Media," from the Independent Commission of Inquiry to Investigate US/NATO War Crimes," July 1999.)
And so, tens of thousands of people in Yugoslavia and in Europe but not in America saw that the so-called "military vehicles" of early NATO reports were in actuality a few tractors that NATO claimed "looked like tanks". The pilot brought out to explain the bombing turned out to have been on a completely different mission, even though NATO at first pretended that he'd been on this one. NATO next claimed that the refugees had camped next to a military base. But the British Daily Express found a British pilot who had, he said, warned one of the American pilots responsible for the bombing that the convoy included civilians. How did NATO respond? "Night and day," moaned Jamie Shea, "I am under pressure from journalists to justfy NATO's actions, but I am struck that Slobodan Milosevic is not asked to justify anything" (April 18). In other words, no matter what NATO did, no matter how many civilians were killed by US/NATO bombs, it was always the other guy's fault. Even a week later, when NATO finally admitted responsibility, NATO still insisted on blaming "the Serbs" for it.
One of those journalists exacting pressure on poor Jamie Shea was Robert Fisk, of the London Independent. Fisk filed scathing, accurate, uncompromising reports day after day. He walked his readers with him through Kosovo, through the inner circles of Dante's Inferno. "This is a horror story," Fisk wrote. "There are no other words for it. It is the story of massacres along a road lined with torched houses and cherry blossoms, of smoldering skeletons and women cut in half, of a man's head lying in a field with the wind blowing his brown hair against the grass, and of corpses lying in a squalid hospital nearby.
"NATO did all this, say the Serbs, and it is true that US munitions litter the road and fields around here, sometimes within a few inches of corpses, body parts, human bones, smashed tractors and trailers, their pathetic contents of old clothes, pots and family snapshots lying around them."
"Along miles of the same road were other tractors, some scorched, most abandoned, apparently in panic, at the side of the road," Fisk continues. "The few Kosovo Albanians we found spoke of thousands on the road that day (14 April) and it appears that they were moving in both directions. ... It wasn't difficult for me to imagine the terror on that road. While we were picking our way through the corpses of Terezicki Most, NATO planes dropped bombs less than a mile away, cluster bombs from the sound of them, and a series of massive explosions changed the air pressure around us. We watched the skies. From time to time, we could hear but not see NATO jets power diving. Columns of dark smoke billowed over the bright green fields.
"...The only victims of these air strikes appeared to be civilians. At Terezicki Most, I counted 13 corpses and other body parts. A missile had rammed a tractor, setting fire to its trailer and incinerating all inside. In the Prizren hospital mortuary, six corpses lay on the concrete floor." (London Independent, April 16, 1999)
On May 3 Fisk filed a similar report. Another civilian caravan had been bombed.
"It was so utterly predictable. Up to 60 civilians are torn apart in a NATO bombing attack on Saturday and President Slobodan Milosevic releases three captured American soldiers. And which event the tragedy or the melodrama do we regard as more important? The freeing of three Americans, of course. Even yesterday's NATO briefing spent more time discussing the implications of their release than the bus massacre. 'Any loss of innocent life is regretted,' German Colonel Konrad Freytag announced.
"Note the passive tense 'it is regretted'. 'We did not bomb the bus,' the colonel announced, adding that the bridge was 'a military target'. 'We bombed the bridge. We did not bomb the bus and we did not target the bus.'
"So that's all right then.
"How much longer will NATO get away with these dreadful attacks?
"Aleksinac, Cuprija, the train massacre at Grdelica, the assault on the civilian centre of Pristina, the bombs dropped near Belgrade University, the slaughter of Albanian refugees near Djakovica, the mass killings in the air raid at Surdulica and now the bus blown apart on the Lujane bridge.
"The Serbs are making good headway with their propaganda: that Nato is deliberately trying to kill innocent Serbs. And what do we get from Colonel Freytag? 'It is regretted.' "
In early May, NATO bombed a Greek convoy carrying humanitarian aid and medications, despite the fact that "Doctors Without Borders" was written in clearly visible letters on the trucks. Said Dr. Lakis Nicolau, who escorted the convoy: "What happened has been planned and designed by NATO in advance, something like a premeditated murder. There is no other explanation. They knew who we were, where we were going and why, because they had been informed [ahead of] time."
And then NATO bombed yet another refugee convoy, this one at Korisa. British foreign minister Robin Cook repeated, yet again, the same tired "justifications" like an android programmed by other androids to repeat the same thing over and over regardless of context: "The responsibility for that tragedy rests with the Serb forces who rounded up those refugees from the hillside, forced them back to Korisa [the refugees were returning to their homes and were waiting until the bombing stopped!] and in particular forced those 100 refugees not to return to their homes but to settle, squeezed together, in those two compounds." (Reuters, May 17) What strategic genius in the Yugoslav Army command figured out that NATO was going to hit the refugee compound at Korisa that day thinking it was a military outpost, and so ordered the refugees to camp there?!
Americans weren't shown any of this on TV. The government and media covered up their own crimes by demonizing the "Serbs," soldiers and civilians alike (the soldiers are, lest we forget, mostly teenage draftees), inuring us to NATO's blowing them to bits.
But we are not the government. Are we to countenance the killing of 3,000 civilians by NATO bombs Albanian and Serb alike, their animals, buildings, land? Are these to be seen as mere "collateral damage," "accidents," "acceptable" casualties of war? And what of the tens of thousands whose lives have been destroyed by NATO bombs and sanctions? Has Congressional Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Bernie Sanders, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Jesse Jackson or any of the other liberal Democrats who lined up along the sidelines egging on this miserable war ever gone to war themselves? For that matter, has the President? Or do they only send others, the children of the poor, mostly, to do their killing for them?
What of the leader of the French Greens, Daniel Cohn Bendit? What of Joschka Fischer, the Green Party leader and Foreign Minister of Germany? Without them, this war would have been nigh impossible; without their support the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia would have fallen apart. Bombing a civilian population; destroying their water supply; poisoning their crops this is the "Green alternative"? No. It is the very essence of modern warfare, of advanced technologies specifically designed and utilized to inflict terror and ravage human beings and nature alike for their refusal to accede to the demands of international capital.
The morality of NATO's "humanitarian intervention" in Yugoslavia cannot be measured solely by the thousands of civilians killed outright by bombs, nor by the thousands wounded. But the numbers are part of the story: by war's end NATO forces had driven two million people not only Albanian Kosovars, but more than one million Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma (Gypsies), Macedonians, Jews and others from their homes, and turned them into refugees in their own land.
As NATO's lies fall one by one, I find myself standing increasingly with Voltaire, who said: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," and with Karl Marx, who observed: "The demand to abandon illusions about one's condition is a demand to abandon a condition that requires illusions."
How does one do that? The first principle our "prime directive" is that regardless of circumstances, to terrorize civilians and bomb civilian infrastructure is unacceptable and wrong, for any reason, under any circumstance. To engage in such activities is, to be blunt, a war crime of the first magnitude a crime against humanity. It was wrong when the United States government dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was wrong when the U.S. military fire-bombed Dresden, Germany (a center of culture and resistance to fascism), killing more than 100,000 civilians during World War II. It was wrong, wrong, wrong for the US's to bomb Vietnam, to carpet-bomb Hanoi and Haiphong, to burn huts and forcibly expel thousands of Vietnamese under the ethnic cleansing program known as the "strategic hamlet" policy. It is wrong in Iraq, which the US, under the aegis of the United Nations, continues to bomb with "depleted uranium" munitions to this very day, nine years after that war had supposedly ended. And it was wrong in Yugoslavia the so-called "humanitarian bombing" of Belgrade, Pristina, Pancevo, Nis, Novi Sad, and other cities. That principle alone do not target civilians or civilian infrastructure should have been sufficient to deter any caring person from accepting NATO's bombardment as "the lesser evil." That it was not; that many still insisted on "intervention" despite the fact that it would violate not only international law but the US Constitution as well, on the one hand shows that Americans do want to help whom they see as "the underdog" in this world; but it also shows how easily those feelings are manipulated into bolstering the policies of global capital and the State.
In a just world, the violations of these treaties, conventions and the UN charter, along with the current campaign of imposing deprivation on the people of Yugoslavia and Iraq, blockading heating oil from civilians in the cold Yugoslavian winter, would be sufficient to bring to trial President Clinton and his cabinet (Albright, Cohen, Berger, and Gen. Wesley Clark), along with Tony Blair and Robin Cook of England, Fischer and Schroeder of Germany, and others for war crimes crimes against humanity. But, as one member of the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee put it: "You're more likely to see the UN building dismantled brick by brick and thrown into the Atlantic than to see NATO pilots go before a UN tribunal." (Rep. Lester Munson, May 22, 1999).
Mitchel Cohen is a founding member of the Red Balloon Collective (1969) at SUNY Stony Brook, and organizes with the Brooklyn Greens, Green Party of New York. email@example.com