According to a post to Michel Collon’s website, the fearless founder of Medecins du monde Bernard Kouchner’s 2004 book Les guerriers de la paix (“Warriors for Peace”—Grasset) recounts the following exchange between Kouchner and the former president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, which Kouchner claims took place some time before Izetbegovic’s death in October, 2003:
Kouchner: Those places were awful, but they didn’t exterminate consistently. Did you know about that?
Izetbegovic: Yes. The assertion was false. There were no extermination camps even if those places were terrible. I thought that my revelation would bring faster bombings.
In this brief passage, “those places” and “camps” refer to various camps controlled by Bosnian-Serb forces during the spring and summer (and perhaps into the fall) of 1992, including Keraterm, Omarska, and Trnopolje (among others), located in north-to-northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, then hotly contested territory. (On this Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina, see the territory of the Republika Srpska around Prijedor and Banja Luka, designated in yellow.)
(Quick aside. I would like to be able to refer readers to at least one online source of reliable background material on this theater of the conflict, and the role the camps played within it, ca. 1992. Though this is easier said than done, I’m afraid. The only online source that comes to mind right now, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’s serial indictments of Bosnian-Serbs over these camps—e.g., The Prosecutor v. Miroslav Kvocka et al. (IT-98-30/1)—provide us with no such thing. Apologies. So if anyone else can recommend a reliable source, I’d greatly appreciate it.)
Collon quite accurately points out that stories about Bosnian-Serb-run “extermination camps” (and the like) belong to the much larger pattern of atrocities management (my phrase here, not Collon’s) among the warring factions of Bosnian and Herzegovina, and that one of these factions, the Bosnian-Muslim, happened to excel at the craft, thanks to a lot of help from its foreign friends, with lasting consequences for the conflict’s portrayal within the Western media. Thus Izetbegovic could tell Kouchner (in effect) that he had thought his allegations in 1992 about Bosnian-Serb-run “extermination” camps would bring a more rapid Western military intervention on behalf of the Bosnian-Muslims. And Collon himself could add that the propaganda successes enjoyed in the arena of atrocities management—the likening of one side in the conflict to the worst of Nazi Germany, both in its alleged eliminationist philosophy, and its resort to “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” to achieve its ethnically-pure Lebensraum—served not only to line up the Western powers against the side accused of committing the gravest atrocities. But also to divide the historical Left on questions of war and peace and Western military intervention, preventing it from opposing this particular Western military intervention packaged under a “humanitarian” wrapper, and aligning a troubling segment of the Left behind the Western militaries then intervening allegedly on behalf of the side suffering the gravest atrocities.
Based on Michel Collon’s report (also see below, where I’ll post an English translation of it), I thought I’d take a look at who else may have discovered the same passage in Kouchner’s Les guerriers de la paix (a book about which I myself know next-to-nothing), and what else may have been placed into circulation about it. In English, that is. And in print above all.
Wish me luck. Because aside from the fifth paragraph of a subsequent post by Mick Collins (“Hot’L Rwanda Propaganda Gas Bag Bursts—Sickening Entire Planet,” April 7), I have been unable to find any other English-language media source that mentions this paricular passage in Kouchner’s book. Let alone develops any lessons about the role of Bernard Kouchner and the craft of atrocities management on the basis of it.
On the other hand, what I have been able to find includes a BBC Monitoring International Report about the Forum 2000 conference that was held in Prague last October, and hosted by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, an “international conference” whose luminaries included not only Bernard Kouchner, but also “World Bank Vice-President for Europe Jean-Francois Rischard, Russian Economist Grigory Yavlinsky,…[and] former CIA head James Woolsey” (Oct. 12, 2004).
I also found a flattering profile of Kouchner in the Ottawa Citizen—”handsome tanned face, hands sculpting the air to sharpen each passionate point,…the most popular politician in France,” we read. A “genius at seducing the media.” A man whose “insistence on the ‘duty to intervene’ inspires dozens of non-governmental charities.” But whose “gung-ho, Kouchner-style humanitarianism often makes traditional aid-givers edgy.” (“Big Mouths Can Save Lives,” Keith Spicer, Jan. 9.)
And I found this gem by the New York Times‘s Thomas Friedman (“Divided We Stand,” Jan. 23):
”The most important threat [to the West] is Islamic terrorism,” said Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders, and one of the few French intellectuals to support the ouster of Saddam. This is not a war with the Muslim religion, he stressed, but with a violent ”fascist” Muslim minority. ”We [in the West] have always been allied against fascism since the Second World War,” he said. ”We have to be together, America and Europe, because our enemies are the same, Muslim extremism and fascism,” but right now, unlike in Bosnia, ”we are apart.”
Mr. Kouchner blames Paris for having been too quick to threaten a U.N. veto and blames even more the Bush team for having been too quick to go to war without a real U.N. alliance, and for mismanaging postwar Iraq. At least he cares. Most of his countrymen, I sense, are hoping Mr. Bush will fail in Iraq so that the ends will never justify his unilateral means. It’s quite amazing, when you consider that Europe, with its large Muslim minorities, needs the moderates to win the war of ideas within Islam so much more than America
Still. No additional mentions of Kouchner’s published account of Alija Izetbegovic’s “deathbed” confession to him that “There were no extermination camps,” and that he, Alija Izetbegovic, had thought that his assertion that there were extermination camps “would bring faster bombings.”
Now why do you suppose that is?
By the way, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was vacated in February, under a cloud of scandal, leaving Wendy Chamberlin in charge of the office on an interim basis. Among the eight finalists scheduled to interview with the UN for the position, Bernard Kouchner’s name turns up on the list. Promotional literature circulated by the UN at the time claimed that “Candidates will be selected according to criteria such as their diplomatic, political and fund-raising skills, knowledge of refugee issues and law, and proven management skills in a complex organization. Fluency in English is required, while fluency in is French highly desirable.”
“The views of the refugee community on the candidates will be sought informally,” the UN added.
So: Where might this leave warrior-for-peace Bernard Kouchner?
Writing about the death last October of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Peter Ford assembled a number of anecdotes about the contemporary scene in Paris.
“[T]he new generation of philosophers who dominate the French airwaves today spend more time commenting on international affairs than they do philosophizing,” Ford noted. He continued (Oct. 13, 2004):
Bernard-Henri Levy (known by the simpler moniker, “BHL”), Andre Glucksmann, and other young(er) Turks who rose up against “French Theory” can be found regularly on television or in the columns of Le Monde or The Wall Street Journal, pontificating about terrorism, the war in Iraq, and other subjects of the day.
“With the ‘new philosophers,’ intellectual production has been replaced by a moralist stance,” complains [Francois Cusset, a philosopher who has written about the influence of French philosophy on America]. “They lecture rather than come up with concepts, and they have been absorbed by the media. Their causes are good, but it is not the role of the philosopher just to adopt causes – he should create concepts.”
Whether such concepts influence practical politics very much is open to question, regardless of the respect that well-known philosophers enjoy in France.
Mr. Glucksmann and his friend Bernard Kouchner developed “the right of humanitarian intervention” – a humanitarian version of President Bush’s preemptive-strike doctrine – which justified European involvement in the Kosovo war to avert ethnic cleansing.
But almost all of the media-savvy French philosophers supported the war in Iraq last year, and nobody in France paid them the slightest heed.
Nice work. Huh? From Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq—and god-only-knows where next. That last decade’s nice-sounding “humanitarian” rhetoric about the U.S.-led Western military interventions in the former Yugoslavia goes hand-in-hand with this decade’s more frank rhetoric about the exclusively American right to wage wars of aggression (“President Bush’s preemptive-strike doctrine,” to cite Peter Ford’s polite locution) is an infrequently appreciated fact of world affairs. But a fact it is. As is the fact that so many of the figures who peddled the one justification for American wars have now moved right into peddling the other.
Bernard Kouchner can pontificate all he likes about this “brave new world” of ours, in which “it is necessary to take the further step of using the right to intervention as a preventive measure to stop wars before they start and to stop murderers before they kill.”
A “right” that is bound to be abused in the extreme by the Great Powers, as David Chandler reminds us. Something radically other than an advancement of international justice. But more akin to a “return to the Westphalian system of open great-power domination over states which are too weak to prevent external claims against them.”
Just keep the office of the UN High-Commissioner for Refugees free from Bernard Kouchner’s dirty hands.
“Oui, Bernard Kouchner mentait…,” Michel Collon, InvestigAction, March, 2005
“Hot’L Rwanda Propaganda Gas Bag Bursts—Sickening Entire Planet,” Mick Collins, CirqueMinime/Paris, April 7, 2005
“Establish a Right to Intervene Against War, Oppression,” Bernard Kouchner, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1999
“‘International Justice’,” David Chandler, New Left Review, November-December, 2000
“Why France lionizes the man who challenged everything,” Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, October 13, 2004
“Big mouths can save lives,” Keith Spicer, Ottawa Citizen, January 9, 2005
“Divided We Stand,” Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, January 23, 2005
FYA (“For your archives”): The following translation of Michel Collon’s “Oui, Bernard Kouchner mentait…” was produced by Hanene Hamdoun.
Yes, Kouchner lied…
The co-author of one of the biggest media lies of the nineties has just confessed. A good example for the future because ways of manipulations are always the same…
Flash-back. Summer 92, war in Bosnia. Bernard Kouchner and his “doctors of the world” (Médecins du monde) broadcasted into the press and on the walls in Paris an advertisement, outstanding and expensive. The photograph showed “prisoners” of a Serbian camp in Bosnia. Behind barbed wires, Kouchner sticking the picture of a watchtower from Auschwitz. His text blamed Serbians for “mass executions”.
Was it right or wrong? Wrong, admits Kouchner twelve years later. His latest book, the warriors for peace, recounts an interview with Izetbegovic (the Muslim nationalist leader in authority at the time of Sarajevo), in his deathbed:
-Kouchner: those places were awful, but they didn’t exterminate consistently. Did you know about that?
- Izetbegovic: Yes. The assertion was false. There were no extermination camps even if those places were terrible. I thought that my revelation would bring faster bombings.
This media lie did actually change the opinion towards the support for bombings. All the Western press broadcasted it massively but the latest rectification was not communicated. The public could actually not be informed that they get rolled.
The half-confession of Kouchner and this media silence makes us asking some important questions:
1.Did Kouchner know all about it previously?
Answer: Yes. Since 1993, a journalist from France 2 channel, Jacques Merlino, revealed the deception in his book with an eloquent title “All the truths are not good to say”. He was interviewing the director of Ruder Finn, US agent for public relations. The latter, very proud to tell that his campaign on” extermination camps” was just fake :
- “We got around three big Jewish organisations: B’nai B’rith, American Jewish Committee et American Jewish Congress. And right away, we managed to make the link between Serbians and Nazis concerning the public opinion. The case was complex, nobody understood what was going on in Yugoslavia, but bolt upright it was not really difficult to formulate who was the nice and the good people.
- By lying, points out the journalist! Answer: We are professionals. We are not paid to give moral lessons.”
So, Kouchner knew since a long time and that’s not nice to charge up the entire blame on a dead person.
2.Did the media hide all the proofs of the deception?
Answer: Yes. A German journalist Thomas Deichmann showed since 1994 that the photograph about barbed wires was fake, and also the prisoners were not locked.
I reality, it was taken from an ITN reporting where they declare to be well-treated, but the journalist took away those declarations!
You can find the Kouchner poster, Deichmann comments, and our paper about special effects in our book Liar’s Poker. Dated from 1998. So, we didn’t have to wait today to adjust.
Nota Bene for the url : this site is up to now in French (we look for help from translators), but books and film are also available in English.
In a video-reporting “Under NATO bombings” (1999), we also showed the pictures recorded by a local TV, where they were proving the cheating of the ITN reporting.
3.Did Kouchner receive protection, even from “media critics”?
Answer: Yes. One example: Daniel Schneidermann( Arrêts sur images, France 5 channel TV) contacted us about this paper, and he dropped us from Kouchner in order to not annoy him.
No questions about the media lies on Kosovo and neither his disastrous statements on this province were asked to Kouchner.
We are talking about media lies and not mistakes. His career plan focusing the UN general secretary post, and he has to do whatever to please USA.
4.Why did they have to tell a story “simple”, but false?
In order to hide the responsibilities of big Western powers in this conflict:
-Since 1979, the German CIA (the BND) was supporting extremists to collapse Yugoslavia.
-In 1989, the IMF put neoliberal pressure to eradicate the auto management and the workers rights, provoking the crisis and nationalisms.
-In 1991, German gave weapons to the Croatian and Muslim extremists before the war.
-From 1992 to 1995, the USA intentionally extended and prolonged the conflict as certified by a special European reporter in Bosnia, Lord Owen.
-Are there any advantages in those actions? Eradicate a social system too much in the left side, and also control the strategic Balkans and the oil roads.
5.Is it a matter to contradict all the crimes committed?
Not at all, but when our governments try to pull us into a war propaganda “nice versus bad people”, it is important to think about their hidden interests. And their fake information. For example, concerning prison camp in Bosnia, the UN counted six Croatians, two Serbians and one Muslim. And they were rather gathering camp for exchanges, not extermination camp. But, the Croatian and Muslim nationalists as being our allies or rather “our” agents, Kouchner, Bernard Henri Levy and the permanent media guests whitewashed them.
We would have to judge the war criminals. All the war criminals, in all camps. But not by phoney courts created by a justice of winners where the USA and the NATO are sitting above the law and straight out outlaw since they are violating the UN bill without embarrassment.
6.Are there any more media lies “well-done” in this war?
Yes. Just one example. When NATO started bombing Yugoslavia, in 1999, it claimed
its action after the “massacre of 40 civilians” by the Yugoslavian army, in Racak, Kosovo village. But Belgrad was talking about a fight between two armies, caused by the Albanian separatist forces. The UN asked for a report to a medical examiner commission led by a Finnish doctor, Mrs Ranta who confirmed what Belgrad asserted. The media lie remains intact for the opinion.
Why? Because media lies of Kouchner, BHL and others, allowed to divide the left and stopped it from opposing to the war in reality unfair. The public opinion needs to be manipulated. And the next time, it will start again.
[Thanks to the translator Hanene Hamdoun!]