SREBRENICA: USES OF THE NARRATIVE Print
Tuesday, 19 February 2013 20:24

Several preliminary considerations are in order when assessing the credibility of the received narrative about Srebrenica:
•    How could Serbian Army commanders have thought that a massacre of 8,000 individuals, and the subsequent relocation of nearly as many corpses, could have remained unnoticed by NATO forces that were controlling the airspace over Bosnia and monitoring all troop movements on the ground?  


•    How could an allegation of the execution of 8,000 individuals be made and then widely accepted if the only hard evidence in The Hague Tribunal’s possession that points to summary execution involves the remains of 442 persons that were found with blindfolds and ligatures?


•    How can it be asserted that the human remains exhumed so far prove summary executions on a large scale when in their autopsy reports ICTY Prosecution forensic experts conceded that out of 3,568 exhumed “cases” 1,583 or 44.4 %, consisted only of body parts, and that in 1,462 or 92.4 % of them no conclusion could be drawn regarding the cause of death?  


•    How can the Prosecution and the chambers accept that simultaneously with executions a great deal of combat also took place, and then, without any serious inquiry into its scope, downplay combat as a significant source of casualties?


•    DNA is currently presented as undeniable proof of “genocide”. However, DNA findings cannot establish key elements of a murder case, the cause and time of death, which is important given the possibility of many combat deaths as well as natural deaths and burials in the Srebrenica area prior to July 1995.


•    The DNA matching performed by ICMP is characterized by a complete lack of transparency. No independent laboratory has been allowed to check or confirm claimed DNA results. Technically, even the validity of personal identification remains in doubt.


•    Exhumations between 1996 and 2001 were conducted by ICTY forensic teams. They involved mass graves presumed to contain bodies of summary execution victims. Exhumations which continued after 2001 were conducted by Bosnian Muslim authorities in collaboration with ICMP. Evidence strongly suggests that most of these mass graves exhumed after 2001 are located along the breakout path of the Srebrenica Muslim column and in proximity of the sites where it engaged Serbian forces in combat. Based on autopsy report evidence, a significant portion of these remains are presumptively combat-related. Without specific forensic proof to the contrary they cannot be presented as execution victims or, a fortiori, as victims of “genocide”.


•    Has the number of execution victims been inflated by Muslim authorities? That is reasonable to suspect because fighting in the area is known to have occurred before July of 1995, pattern of injury analyses of available autopsy reports and survivor statements relating to the events of July 1995 confirm that numerous individuals were killed in combat. Furthermore, during the three and a half preceding years in the enclave there must also have been some natural deaths. There are strong indications, therefore, that July 1995 combat casualties and deaths from a variety of other causes pre-dating July of 1995 have been amalgamated with execution victims in order to generate the impression of a significantly higher total of illegal murders.    


These are just some of the major issues that compromise the received Srebrenica narrative. The narrative’s unrealistic claims are not salvaged by the consideration that they are based upon an underlying fact which is authentic – the criminal execution of several hundred prisoners. The attention and vast logistical resources invested in propping up the misleading narrative could have been more effectively used to conduct a proper investigation.


The fact that in investigating Srebrenica almost no standard professional criminological or juridical procedures were followed is in itself a red flag.  It suggests that in the minds of its promoters Srebrenica was much more than simply an abhorrent war crime. Primarily it was a major political opportunity which was seized eagerly on several levels.   


First, as former US ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith recently revealed, in terms of the Bosnian conflict “endgame” Croatia’s Operation Storm in 1995 against Serb-held areas in the Krajina would not have been feasible had not “Srebrenica” prepared the ground for it, morally and psychologically.  The Srebrenica narrative and the outrage it produced served as a convenient veil to shield atrocities committed during the Croatian offensive in August of 1995 from substantial public examination or criticism.


Secondly, in terms of “nation building” the applied Srebrenica narrative has played an important role both as a mobilizer of Bosnian Muslims and as a device to estrange them from the neighboring Serbian community, by injecting into their mutual relations a deep and permanent enmity which now seems extremely difficult to overcome. Identity politics based on a spurious genocidal narrative generally is not beneficial for the community which embraces it. Such a strategy does not hold the promise of stable development, but quite the contrary. The Jewish people, for example, are not defined by victimhood implied by the Holocaust. They have indisputably played an historical role and could point to a sophisticated identity long before it happened. Far from yielding the anticipated “nation building” results, Bosnian Muslims’ internalization of Srebrenica as a genocidal event is bound to have quite the opposite effect. By stimulating an attitude resentment and blocking salutary inquiry into their own share of responsibility for war crimes, the separate Bosnian Muslim “identity” that “Srebrenica” reinforces will remain an artificial and sterile construct of brief duration.


Third, the Srebrenica narrative serves as the cornerstone of an important new doctrine in international relations. It has been variously articulated, but “R2P” or “Responsibility to Protect,” seems to summarize it well. Its beneficiaries are the Western interventionist powers. The underlying rationale and its practical consequences were described somewhat simplistically (but on the whole accurately) by Bruno Waterfield, The Daily Telegraph’s EU and European Affairs correspondent in Brussels:

 

Nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys died. The International Community’s failure to prevent an act of genocide traumatised European and Western powers and set the world on course for a new doctrine of “liberal interventionism.”


By 1999, as the Serbs threatened to do in Kosovo what had been done in Srebrenica, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed that this time the West would not stand by in a crisis he regarded as his “first real moral test.”


As Bill Clinton, the U.S. President who had stood by in Bosnia, wavered again, Mr Blair warned that Kosovo was a test of whether civilised nations acted before it was too late. “This is not a battle for territory; this is a battle for humanity. It is a just cause, it is a rightful cause,” he argued.


Britain’s involvement in the successful military action in Kosovo marked a turning point in Mr Blair’s “ethically based’’ foreign policy. In 2003, he used the example of Srebrenica to illustrate the consequences of Western inaction while battling to convince reluctant European allies that the use of military force against the Iraqi regime was necessary.


Although the Iraq occupation discredited Mr Blair, in 2011 another British Prime Minister used the spectre of the West standing by in the face of genocide to rally Barack Obama, another reluctant American president. David Cameron made a passionate plea that as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi killed civilians in Libya “words are not enough; what we will be judged on is our actions. We cannot stand by.”


This panoramic view of R2P’s application is useful not only because of its essential correctness but also because, perhaps in a way not intended by the commentator, it demonstrates the new, Srebrenica inspired doctrine’s wide reach, as well as its enormous potential for mischief.


Quite recently, in the aftermath of the Libyan crisis and while the conflict in Syria still seems unresolved, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invoked Srebrenica as an object lesson of what might happen when the “international community” chooses to remain unresponsive to “genocide”:  


 “In a tragedy of such epic proportions, there was so much blood and so much blame. The United Nations did not live up to its responsibility. The international community failed in preventing the genocide that unfolded,” the Secretary-General said. “But we have learned from the horror, and we are learning still.”


Linking his observations directly to Srebrenica, Ban added that the events there “helped bring about a new international resolve for justice, accountability, for a responsibility to protect civilians”.  Addressing the Bosnian Parliament during a visit to the region, he drove his point home and drew the appropriate analogies in no uncertain terms:


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on world powers on Wednesday to urgently unite to end the bloodshed in Syria, recalling the inertia of the United Nations in 1995 as genocide occurred in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.  
 “That is why, here in the heart of a healing Bosnia and Herzegovina, I make a plea to the world: do not delay. Come together. Act. Act now to stop the slaughter in Syria.”  


It sounds as if the Secretary-General were merely taking his cues from Western statesmen who were going about their business without waiting for his approval. They were, in fact, already spinning their interventionist agenda around the “failure to act” allegedly exemplified by Srebrenica, and the resulting imperative not to waver in the face of the next humanitarian catastrophe.  


Thus, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [“We came, we saw, he died…”] evinced evident satisfaction at the successful conclusion of the Libya campaign: “We prevented a new Srebrenica in Libya”.  It was, according to her, a hugely successful “Srebrenica prevention” week: “In a single week, we prevented a potential massacre, stopped an advancing army (loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi) and expanded the coalition.”  That view was shared by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a speech to the European Council in Brussels:


“If the coalition hadn’t acted, in a very short time the population of Benghazi would have been massacred. I had the opportunity to talk about Srebrenica, where 8,000 people were assassinated in 1995 in conditions you are aware of. The international community did not take the right steps to prevent this massacre.... Just imagine if we hadn’t intervened what would have happened in Benghazi.... We are there to put into place a historic principle: the protection of the Libyan population.”


There is little doubt that UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorizing military operations in Libya, was adopted under the intimidating impression produced by the guilt-ridden Srebrenica narrative: “The vote was also a seminal moment for the 192-member United Nations and was being watched closely as a critical test of its ability to take collective action to prevent atrocities against civilians. Diplomats said the specter of former conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, when a divided and sluggish Security Council was seen to have cost lives, had given a sense of moral urgency to Thursday's debate,” reports The New York Times.  According to morally concerned officials, the just-in-the-nick-of-time Western intervention in Libya “may have saved up to a 100,000 people,” thus atoning somewhat for their failure in Srebrenica.  


The ineluctable link between Srebrenica and any crisis, anywhere in the world, which might offer the slightest rationale for Western intervention, can now be found in the most unexpected settings. An example of that is the statement made by former UN Sri Lanka spokesman Gordon Weiss, commenting on an episode in that country’s civil war, to the effect that even remote Sri Lanka was not spared its “Srebrenica moment”.  


This posturing is somewhat shorn of its moral luster, however, by the persistent refusal of Western interventionist powers to permit an investigation of the considerable death toll caused in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, not by hypothetical massacres but by NATO humanitarian bombing missions launched to prevent them, and by the mayhem perpetrated by NATO-backed and armed local militias. In Libya, this reluctance to face responsibility has been criticized by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.  Regardless, the nascent R2P doctrine is now being propped up by a quasi-academic discipline loosely named Genocide Prevention and by a US government agency, Atrocity Prevention Board, formed to put theoretical principles into practice. Once it is admitted that military action to prevent anticipated genocides is legitimate, it is up to the interventionists themselves to determine when criteria allowing such operations against sovereign states to take place have been met. It appears from the proceedings of a high level recent conference on the subject that the theoretical underpinnings of unbridled interventionism are being elaborated meticulously to justify future interventions and conflicts, potentially on a global scale:


[The US Administration] has ordered the CIA to compile the first ever National Intelligence Estimate analyzing factors that contribute to mass violence against civilians and identifying common warning signals. According to Christopher Kojm, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, risk factors include the struggle for natural resources, a history of ethnic conflict, and demographic imbalances, including disproportionate numbers of young men.


Yale historian Timothy Snyder identified food imbalances and Germany’s effort to acquire productive agricultural land as one of the main contributing factors to the Holocaust. He drew an unsettling parallel between Hitler’s expansion to eastern Europe — the first killing fields of the Holocaust — and a drive by modern-day China to control farmland in Ukraine and Africa in order to compensate for a chronic agricultural deficit. He predicted that similar imbalances could result in widespread killing in the future, particularly if accompanied by the collapse of existing states.


Furthermore, as part of a “comprehensive strategy” to “prevent and respond to atrocities” the Atrocities Prevention Board, instituted in accord with Presidential Study Directive Number 10 issued in 2011, is tasked with “helping the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats, and oversee[ing] institutional changes that will make us more nimble and effective.” By adopting an expansive concept of “core national security interest,” it argues that:


Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.


It all seems a long way from Srebrenica, but there is a linear link between these policy directives and events alleged to have taken place in Eastern Bosnia in 1995. Ever subtle, or “nimble”, Srebrenica-inspired atrocity preventers are nevertheless careful to nuance their doctrine to exclude their own protégés from the impact of the thinly disguised regime change strategy:


It could be objected that repression in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain has not reached genocidal levels, but it has surely included atrocities. The new policy and board are framed, after all, in “atrocity” rather than “genocide” terms. It is surely the point of “preventative” policy to act at lower levels of violence, to stop escalation.   


It therefore comes as no surprise that Turkey, a notorious “atrocity preventer”, should come up with some creative proposals of its own on how to apply “The Srebrenica Lesson” by setting up safe havens for the countless unfortunates displaced in the Syrian conflict.  Never mind that some would argue that this war could scarcely have reached its present stage without Turkey’s active and one-sided interference:


There is no better lesson about the perils of setting up a safe zone in a country in conflict than Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serbs killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995 in what had been declared a U.N.-protected enclave. Now Turkey is pressing the United Nations to set up a safe haven inside Syria to protect thousands of people fleeing the country’s civil war as it strains to shelter an increasing flow of refugees.


These unctuous sentiments came duly garnished with all the right ritualistic references:


Mindful of that bloody episode in the Balkans — Europe’s worst massacre since World War II — Turkey and its allies, particularly the United States, have conducted detailed planning and extensive diplomacy ahead of a possible occupation of some territory in Syria, where activists say more than 20,000 people have died since an uprising began in March 2011 — many of them civilians killed by regime forces.


The direct link between Srebrenica and newly emboldened Western interventionism, with all its grievous results that were witnessed in the last decade, could not have been stated more clearly than was done by one of its most vociferous cheerleaders, Bernard-Henri  Lévy:


What is much more interesting is that all four of us had the same reason to be convinced (i.e., of the need to intervene in Libya) — the three heads of state or ministers and me.  What was this same reason?  It was Bosnia.  The secret password, the silent pact which unites those three, the three non-Libyan heroes of the film — Sarkozy, Cameron, Clinton — and me, is the watchword “Never again Srebrenica.”


To summarize. Much more than historical truth or the integrity of judicial procedure is at stake in the rigorous insistence that the contrived Srebrenica narrative must be kept intact and immune to criticism at all costs. It seems to have its well defined political uses and whenever these higher purposes are in conflict with mere facts, the latter are required to yield.  For some time therefore we shall have to deal with “Srebrenica” as a modern Platonic state lie, though evidence is decidedly against the proposition that in its contemporary form this lie is benign, either in intention or in its effects. Since 1995 “Srebrenica” has been invoked repeatedly to unleash violence on a world scale and with lethal consequences surpassing by many multiples even the most inflated estimate of its original victims.

 

 


[1] It is, in the final analysis, irrelevant from a technical point of view whether the “aerial platforms” that were observing the goings-on in Srebrenica and its environs in July 1995 were satellites or U2s, as ICTY Prosecution Chief Investigator Jean-René Ruez belatedly informed us. It suffices that there was continuous observation and that photographic evidence exists, but that nevertheless this potentially damning evidence remains under lock and was never allowed to be submitted to a forensic examination.
[2] These findings can also be presented in another way so that their significance might more easily be     grasped. Of the 3,568 exhumed and autopsied remains thought by ICTY forensic teams to be related to Srebrenica executions, only 2,105 could yield forensically meaningful conclusions. However, even many of those show diverse patterns of injury, consistent with causes of death other than execution.
[3] For example, exhumation sites were sealed off to all but prosecution forensic teams and independent verification of DNA testing results has been consistently obstructed. As a result, there is only a number but no publicly available list of identified individuals claimed to be missing. This prevents further investigation of their identities and rules out production of additional evidence about the manner and circumstances of their death.
[4] Vesti, November 21, 2012, http://www.vesti.rs/Ratko-Mladi%C4%87/Oluju-smo-im-dali-zbog-Srebrenice.html
[5] It should be recalled that US Secretary of State Madeline Albright demonstratively waved alleged Srebrenica execution photos in the UN on August 10, 1995, as the Croatian Operation Storm which displaced a quarter of a million Serbs from the Krajina and killed several thousand was in progress.
[6] The Age, May 28, 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/world/failure-to-prevent-the-massacre-at-srebrenica-weighs-heavily-on-west-20110527-1f8kl.html#ixzz2JksU1tF6
[7] UN News Center, July 25, 2012, “In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ban notes country’s progress and affirms UN support,” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42558&;Cr=bosnia&Cr1=
[8] Ibid.
[9] Reuters, July 25, 2012, Recalling Srebrenica, U.N’s Ban urges action on Syria, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/25/us-syria-crisis-ban-idUSBRE86O1D020120725Free
[10] Free Republic, April 16, 2011, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2705764/posts
[11] Ibid.
[12] Speech to the European Council, Brussels, March 24, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyyCw4De1Hk
[13] The New York Times, March 18, 2011, “Military Action Against Qaddafi Is Backed by UN.”
[14] Agence France Presse, March 23, 2011, “Obama, allies, defend handling of Libya.”
[15] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6OD_sWHCnw, at 2:35 minutes.
[16] Reuters, March 19, 2011, Michael Holden, “NATO failed to probe Libya civilian deaths: Amnesty International.” Also, Counterpunch, March 15, 2012, Vijay Prashad, “NATO’s Craven Coverup of Its Libyan Bombing.”
[17] Foreign Policy Online: Michael Dobbs, July 24, 2012, “Debating the causes of genocide.” It is  noted somewhat ominously that at this Genocide Prevention Conference: “The consensus among the speakers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was that the most effective kind of intervention is long-term preventive action. Once the killing starts, whether in Bosnia or Rwanda or Syria, it is virtually impossible to prevent it.” Who decides when the time is right for “preventive action”, how can we be sure of the purity of the decision makers’ motives, and are they prepared to accept liability for all the consequences of their “humanitarian” actions?
[18] Open Democracy, April 27, 2012: Martin Shaw, “The United States and ‘Atrocity Prevention’,” http://www.opendemocracy.net
[19] Associate Press, August 29, 2012: Christopher Torchia, “The Srebrenica lesson: Turkish proposal to set up a safe zone in Syria carries heavy risks.”
[20] Ibid.
[21] Bernard-Henri Lévy, interview on TV 5 Monde, 5 June 2012, available online at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xreeux_bhl-quelques-heures-avant-la-sortie-en-salles-du-serment-de-tobrouk-tv5-monde_news.  These remarks come at 04.54 minutes into the video.
[22] The heuristically priceless concept of the “political uses of Srebrenica” is, of course, Diana Johnstone’s.