“Srebrenica” and the Power of Reason

"Truth and reason are eternal,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to Rev. Samuel Knox in 1810. “They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail . . . ” Jefferson was wrong. His belief that “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left to combat it” was naive. As Patrick J. Buchanan proves in a passing reference in his otherwise sound latest column, even men of generally sound understanding and good intentions end up the victims of the disinformation campaigns that pass for media reporting.

“In none of the Libyan towns affected by fighting in recent weeks,” Buchanan writes, “has anything like the massacre in the Ivory Coast taken place, let alone Srebrenica.”

It is noteworthy that “Srebrenica” is used here not as a geographic location that needs to be preceded by a noun (“the massacre in…”) but as a stand-alone term that denotes horror, on par with “Auschwitz,” or “Katyn,” or “Hiroshima.”

Srebrenica” used in this sense has established itself as a myth based on a lie. As the introduction to an enlightening recent article points out, we need to transcend the routine banalities of the Srebrenica debate which turns mostly on numbers; but the very term “debate” is rejected by those who should be on one of the two sides in that debate:

They deny as a matter of principle that there is anything to debate. So many thousand prisoners were executed and a distinguished international judicial forum of unquestioned authority has found it to constitute genocide. (These are the “routine banalities” that define the parameters of Srebrenica as an issue at least, if not as a debate.) According to our hypothetical debating partners there is nothing to debate because everything is settled and clear.

Reasonable people with no ethno-religious axe to grind in the Balkan quagmire have long fought such “routine banalities,” including the claim that as many as 8,000 Muslims were killed in cold blood and the systematic misuse of the term “genocide.”

BACK TO THE NUMBERS—The fact beyond dispute is that during the Bosnian war thousands of Muslim men were killed in the region of Srebrenica. Most of them died in July of 1995 when the enclave fell almost without a fight to the Bosnian Serb Army and the Muslim garrison—the 28th division of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army—attempted a breakthrough. A significant number reached safety at the Muslim-held town of Tuzla, 60 km to the north; a few found shelter in Serbia, across the Drina River to the east. An unknown were killed while fighting their way through; and many others—numbers remain disputed—were taken prisoner and executed by the Bosnian Serb army.

The numbers remain unknown and misrepresented. With “8,000 executed” and—inevitably—thousands more killed in the fighting or reaching the Muslim lines, the column attempting to break out should have counted 12 to 15,000 men—an impossibly large number. There should have been huge gravesites and satellite evidence of executions, burials, and body removals. The UN searches in the Srebrenica vicinity, breathlessly frantic at times, still falls far short of the sanctified figure of 8,000. The Islamic shrine at Potocari, where the supposed victims are buried, includes those of soldiers killed in action, Muslim and Serb, between May 1992 and July 1995.

The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague (ICTY) never came up with a conclusive breakdown of casualties. That a war crime did take place is undeniable. The number of its victims remains forensically and demographically unproven. According to the former BBC reporter Jonathan Rooper, “from the outset the numbers were used and abused” for political purposes. The number of likely casualties corresponds closely to the ‘missing’ list of 7,300 compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Rooper says. But the early estimates were based on nothing more than the simple combination of an estimated 3,000 men last seen at the UN base at Potocari and an estimated 5,000 people reported ‘to have left the enclave before it fell’:

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the 7-8,000 figure is that it has always been represented as synonymous with the number of people executed. This was never a possibility: numerous contemporary accounts noted that UN and other independent observers had witnessed fierce fighting with significant casualties on both sides. It was also known that others had fled to Muslim-held territory around Tuzla and Zepa, that some had made their way westwards and northwards, and that some had fled into Serbia. It is therefore certain that nowhere near all the missing could have been executed.

The Red Cross reported at the time that some 3,000 Bosnian Army soldiers managed to reach Muslim lines near Tuzla and were redeployed by the Bosnian Army “without their families being informed.” The number of military survivors was also confirmed by Muslim General Enver Hadzihasanovic in his testimony at The Hague.

The last census results, from 1991, counted 37,211 inhabitants in Srebrenica and the surrounding villages, of which 27,118 were Muslims (72.8 percent) and 9,381 Serbs (25.2 percent). Displaced persons from Srebrenica registered with the World Health Organization and Bosnian government in early August 1995 totaled 35,632. With 3,000 Muslim men who reached Tuzla “without their families being informed” we come to the figure of over 38,000 survivors. The Hague Tribunal’s own estimates of the total population of the Srebrenica enclave before July 1995—notably that made by Judge Patricia Wald—give 40,000 as the maximum figure. It does not add up.

Having spent five days interviewing over 20,000 Srebrenica survivors at Tuzla a week after the fall of the enclave, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Henry Wieland declared, “we have not found anyone who saw with their own eyes an atrocity taking place.” A decade later a Dutch field investigator, Dr Dick Schoonoord, confirmed Wieland’s verdict: “It has been impossible during our investigations in Bosnia to find any people who witnessed the mass murder or would talk about the fate of the missing men.”

A “PROTECTED ZONE”?—It is often pointed out that Srebrenica was an UN “protected zone,” but it is seldom noted that the enclave was simultaneously an armed camp used for attacks against Serb villages in the surrounding areas. Muslim General Sefer Halilovic confirmed in his testimony at the Hague Tribunal that there were at least 5,500 Bosnian Muslim Army soldiers in Srebrenica after it had obtained the “safe haven” status, and that he had personally arranged numerous deliveries of sophisticated weapons by helicopter.

French General Philippe Morillon, the UNPROFOR commander who first called international attention to the Srebrenica enclave, is adamant that the crimes committed by those Muslim soldiers made the Serbs’ desire for revenge inevitable. He testified at The Hague Tribunal on February 12, 2004, that the Muslim commander in Srebrenica, Naser Oric, “engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the region.” Asked by the ICTY prosecutor how Oric treated his Serb prisoners, General Morillon, who knew him well, replied that “Naser Oric was a warlord who reigned by terror in his area and over the population itself… he didn’t even look for an excuse… One can’t be bothered with prisoners.”

Cees Wiebes, who wrote the intelligence section of the Dutch Government report on Srebrenica, notes that despite signing the demilitarization agreement, Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica were heavily armed and engaged in provocations (“sabotage operations”) against Serbian forces. Professor Wiebes caused a storm with his book Intelligence and the War in Bosnia 1992-1995, detailing the role of the Clinton administration in allowing Iran to arm the Bosnian Muslims.

On 11 July, 1995, the Muslim garrison was ordered to evacuate the town which the Serbs entered unopposed. Local Deputy Director of UN Monitors, Carlos Martins Branco, wrote in 2004 (“Was Srebrenica a Hoax?”) that Muslim forces did not even try to take advantage of their heavy artillery because “military resistance would jeopardize the image of ‘victim,’ which had been so carefully constructed, and which the Muslims considered vital to maintain.”

POLITICAL BACKGROUND—Two prominent supporters (at the time) of the late Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, his Srebrenica SDA party chairman Ibran Mustafic and police commander Hakija Meholjic, have subsequently accused Izetbegovic of deliberately sacrificing the enclave in order to trigger NATO intervention. Meholjic is explicit: in his presence, Izetbegovic quoted Bill Clinton as saying that 5,000 dead Muslims would be sufficient to provide the political basis for an American-led intervention on the side of the Muslims.

Testifying at The Hague Tribunal, Muslim Generals Halilovic and Hadzihasanovic confirmed this theory by describing how 18 top officers of the Srebrenica garrison were abruptly removed in May 1995. Ibran Mustafic, the former head of the Muslim SDA party in Srebrenica, is adamant that the scenario for the sacrifice of Srebrenica was carefully prepared:

Unfortunately, the Bosnian presidency and the Army command were involved in this business … Had I received orders to attack the Serb army from the demilitarized zone, I would have rejected to carry out that order. I would have asked the person who had issued that order to bring his family to Srebrenica, so that I can give him a gun let him stage attacks from the demilitarized zone. I knew that such shameful, calculated moves were leading my people to catastrophe. The order came from Sarajevo.

Military analyst Tim Ripley agrees that Srebrenica was deliberately sacrificed by the Muslim political leaders. He noted that Dutch UN soldiers “saw Bosnian troops escaping from Srebrenica past their observation points, carrying brand new anti-tank weapons [which] made many UN officers and international journalists suspicious.”

The term “genocide” is even more contentious than the exact circumstances of Srebrenica’s fall. Local chief of UN Monitors, Carlos Martins Branco, noted that if there had been a premeditated plan of genocide, instead of attacking in only one direction, from the south to the north—which left open escape routes to the north and west, the Serbs would have established a siege in order to ensure that no one escaped:

The UN observation posts to the north of the enclave were never disturbed and remained in activity after the end of the military operations. There are obviously mass graves in the outskirts of Srebrenica as in the rest of ex-Yugoslavia where combat has occurred, but there are no grounds for the campaign which was mounted, nor the numbers advanced by CNN. The mass graves are filled by a limited number of corpses from both sides, the consequence of heated battle and combat and not the result of a premeditated plan of genocide, as occurred against the Serbian populations in Krajina, in the Summer of 1995, when the Croatian army implemented the mass murder of all Serbians found there.

The fact that The Hague Tribunal called the massacre in Srebrenica “genocide” does not make it so. What plan for genocide includes offering safe passage to women and children? And if this was all part of a Serb plot to eliminate Muslims, what about hundreds of thousands of Muslims living peacefully in Serbia itself, including thousands of refugees who fled there from Srebrenica and other parts of Bosnia? Or the Muslims in the neighboring enclave of Žepa, who were unharmed when the Serbs captured that town a few days after capturing Srebrenica? To get around these common sense obstacles, the ICTY prosecution came up with a sociologist who provided an “expert” opinion: the Srebrenica Muslims lived in a patriarchal society, therefore killing the men was enough to ensure that there would be no more Muslims in Srebrenica. Such psychobabble turns the term “genocide” into a gruesome joke.

Yet it was on the basis of this definition that in August 2001, the Tribunal found Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic guilty of “complicity in genocide.” Even if the unproven figure of “8,000” is assumed, it affected less than one-half of one percent of Bosnia’s Muslim population in a locality covering one percent of its territory. On such form, the term “genocide” loses all meaning and becomes a propaganda tool rather than a legal and historical concept. On that form, America’s NATO ally Turkey—a major regional player in today’s Balkans—committed genocide in northern Cyprus in 1974. On that form, no military conflict can be genocide-free.

As Diana Johnstone explained in a seminal “Counterpunch” article, the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ is part of a dominant culture discourse that is highly relevant, some years later, to the ongoing intervention in Libya:

We people in the advanced democracies have reached a new moral plateau, from which we are both able and have a duty both to judge others and to impose our ‘values’ when necessary. The others, on a lower moral plateau, must be watched carefully, because unlike us, they may commit ‘genocide.’ … The subliminal message in the official Srebrenica discourse is that because ‘we’ let that happen, ‘we’ mustn’t let ‘it’ happen again, ergo, the U.S. should preventively bomb potential perpetrators of ‘genocide’.

The accepted Srebrenica story, influenced by war propaganda and uncritical media reports, is neither historically correct nor morally satisfying. The relentless Western campaign against the Serbs and in favor of their Muslim foes—which is what “Srebrenica” is really all about—is detrimental to the survival of our culture and civilization. It seeks to give further credence to the myth of Muslim blameless victimhood, Serb viciousness, and Western indifference, and therefore weaken our resolve in the global struggle euphemistically known as “war on terrorism.” The former is a crime; the latter, a mistake.

In more ways than one “Srebrenica is, indeed, a totem for the new world order. And I hope that Pat Buchanan reads this.

Read the entire article on the Chronicles of Culture website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.

Date posted: April 18, 2011