Being prepared to debate issues with fundamentalists is hard. And the revisionists who seek to change our understanding of the war in Bosnia by focusing on the pictures of the camps in the Prijedor region are certainly fundamentalists. They have their story and they are sticking to it no matter what; their commitment to evidence and reason is, at best, very weak.
I’ve been reminded of this in the wake of three comments submitted to my web site during the last week responding to my post on Chomsky and the issue of how the Bosnian Serb concentration camps at Omarska and Trnopolje were reported in 1992. Exercising my freedom of expression, I moderate all comments to my site, and declined to accept these three. They added nothing to the debate on the substance of the issue. They were long on personal abuse and short on analysis, and one of them was sent via an organisation promoting Holocaust revisionism.
I’ll be more than happy to post the comments of a critic who wants to engage the details of the 1992 ITN reports with grounded arguments; for example, someone who has a reasoned response to my detailed 2002 study of the issue. But claiming “the ITN photograph was a contrived piece of crap” doesn’t really cut it, and betrays a studied ignorance of Penny Marshall’s and Ian William’s two lengthy reports.
The only substantive point two of these correspondents raised was my use of the 2005 Emma Brockes’ Guardian interview of Chomsky as one of the four sources for his comments on the ITN vs. LM case. Here is what I wrote:
In 2005, in his contested interview with The Guardian, Chomsky stated that “LM was probably correct” in its claims about the pictures and the camp, and that although “Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist…he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true.” This is the first interview I cited in the email above, and the text comes from Chomsky’s own web site. Chomsky objected strenuously to this interview and The Guardian (wrongly in many people’s eyes) issued him an apology. However, his main objection related to his views on Srebrenica, and his list of objections is available here. Chomsky never cited the statement about LM or Vuillamy as being wrongly reported, so he has not previously viewed it as “the complete fabrication” he now calls it. Presumably he doesn’t want to retract his statement in the interview about freedom of speech, that “…in the case of Living Marxism, for a big corporation to put a small newspaper out of business because they think something they reported was false, is outrageous.”
I linked to the interview on Chomsky’s own web site (because The Guardian withdrew it), linked to his detailed objections about this interview also on his web site, and noted The Guardian’s apology. Neither Chomsky’s objections nor The Guardian’s apology touched on the quotes in the interview relating to the ITN vs LM case I drew attention to. However, despite that, and despite providing the context and the links to Chomsky’s site, this was regarded as lacking accuracy and honesty on my part. The problem arose, it was claimed, because I didn’t provide the links to the judgment’s of The Guardian’s readers editor and ombudsman in the ruling on Chomsky’s complaint that led to The Guardian’s apology. So let’s look at those links closely (here and here), and see if they make a difference to the point I was making.
The reader’s editor found in favour of Chomsky on three points in the interview – two relating to his view of Srebrenica, and one to the positioning of a letter from an Omarska camp survivor with Chomsky’s letter to the editor after the interview. In other words, none of the findings related to Chomsky’s remarks on the ITN vs LM case, because Chomsky raised no objection to the reporting of his remarks on the case. Secondly, the external ombudsman reviewed the process that led to the findings of the reader’s editor after a counter-complaint from a group who felt The Guardian should not have apologised at all to Chomsky. In his findings, which supported the reader’s editor, John Willis wrote:
the Terms of Reference from the Scott Trust to me made it clear that my task was to judge the adequacy and fairness of how the complaint was handled not the complex underlying historical debate which surrounds the Bosnian conflict.
Therefore, the respondent who felt the Willis review was an additional source of support for Chomsky clearly didn’t understand the role of the external ombudsman. Nonetheless, Willis makes a point at the end of his review that the revisionists never point to. In the wake of the controversy following the publication of the Brockes’ interview, The Guardian published a comment piece by the revisionist author Diana Johnstone, whose views about the conflict in the former Yugoslavia Chomsky was supporting. Willis concluded:
I am not convinced that the Guardian should have run the short comment piece by Diana Johnstone in the form it did. She was not the direct subject of the original interview and although comment and response pieces are part of Guardian culture, taken with the apology and correction letters and the Open Door article, this piece contributed to the impression that the newspaper may have over compensated for the original, albeit serious errors.
Ms Johnstone’s first paragraph referred to “some of the errors” being corrected which implied that there were more mistakes in the original interview than the substantial and clear apology from the Readers’ Editor had detailed and to that extent was not completely fair to Emma Brockes.
All this demonstrates my original summary of the Brockes’ interview, in relation to the issue I am concerned with – what Chomsky has said about the ITN vs LM case – was fair, accurate and more than reasonable. These further links simply confirm that, and in fact point to inconvenient details the revisionists never raise in their supposedly ceaseless pursuit of the truth. And remember – none of the people so keen to question the legitimacy of the Brockes’ interview have anything to say about the video I posted of Chomsky’s interview with Serbian TV where he repeats and expands on his unsupportable thoughts about the Trnopolje images.
Interestingly, the links to the findings of the reader’s editor and external ombudsman make clear that the widespread support for Chomsky in 2005 was whipped up by an organization called Media Lens. They have been busy recently too, with Edward Herman and David Peterson publishing a lengthy “critique” of Ed Vuillamy’s letter to Amnesty International in their own open letter to the organization, which has been republished on Counterpunch and Monthly Review. This piece covers a wide range of issues, and others have responded to it in some detail.
With regard to the ITN vs LM case, Herman and Petersen have much to say, though we have heard it all before because they simply recycle the discredited Thomas Deichmann and Philip Knightly allegations (just as Chomsky does). My original 2002 investigation picked those apart, so trying to debate the likes of Herman and Petersen is largely pointless because of the way they rely on their false and partisan sources and studiously avoid counter arguments. Indeed, by going back to the flawed Deichmann and Knightly allegations of 1997, Herman and Peterson are oblivious to the fact that Deichmann, and then LM editor Mick Hume, substantially revised and retracted their original claims about the ITN reports and the nature of the camps under cross-examination during the 2000 High Court trial. What that shows is they have never read the hundreds of pages of court transcripts from that trial to see how the revisionist arguments were challenged and changed. In contrast, I have reviewed all that material and it provides an important source for my 2002 study.
However, one point, by way of demonstrating the erroneous nature of Herman and Peterson’s claims, is worth highlighting. They feel they have a decisive point supporting the charge that the ITN reports were fabricated when they turn to the Serbian documentary Judgment for support. They write (in note 17 of their piece):
We strongly recommend this documentary. In Part Two, from roughly the 4:44 minute-mark on, the physical location of the British reporters and cameraman is unmistakable: They set-themselves-up inside the area enclosed by the chicken-wire and barbed-wire fence which, shortly thereafter, they would incorporate into their Fikret Alic images.
In my 2002 articles (part 1, p. 30, note 65) I dealt with this claim:
The RTS video Judgement maintains it has the clinching evidence: ‘Our crew filmed the ITN people as they manoeuvred into this area [the alleged enclosure] through a hole in the broken-down fence, then we followed’. The curious thing is that Judgment does not contain this supposedly crucial footage. If they filmed this manoeuvre, as they say, where are the pictures? Their absence testifies to the falsity of the claim.
I recommend, therefore, after viewing the complete Marshall and William’s video reports on my site, people follow Herman and Peterson’s invitation to watch this section of Judgment on YouTube, so here is the link. What is there is not what they claim. Indeed, there is nothing there – at the moment the narrator says the Serbian crew filmed the ITN crew stepping inside a supposed enclosure, we don’t see anything of the ITN crew ‘manoeuvring’ through a hole as alleged. Instead, there are various scenes in and around Trnopolje, similar to some in the ITN reports themselves. By the time we see an image of Marshall and her crew they are standing next to the fence that encloses the prisoners, filming a segment that would end up consuming only twenty seconds of Marshall’s seven minute report and even less of William’s.
This sums up the fundamentalist attitude of the revisionists – they see what they want to see, not what is actually there in the video. There are many other claims in the Herman and Petersen polemic that could be equally contested, and I have done so in my 2002 articles. But there are perhaps few claims more grotesque than their observation that,
…it is well established that Fikret Alic’s physical appearance—often described as “xylophonic” because his ribcage showed prominently through his extremely thin torso—was not representative of the rest of the displaced persons seen at Trnopolje by the British reporters on August 5, 1992.
Just watch the two ITN reports in their entirety. And look at the Ron Haviv photo in my earlier post. There were dozens, perhaps a majority, of men at Trnopolje whose physical condition exhibited signs of maltreatment like Fikret Alic. He was not exceptional. That is well established. What is exceptional is the revisionists’ unwillingness to see beyond their fundamentalism.