Re: “The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre”

On July 10 I attended a memorial in Seattle for the victims of the Serbian massacre of about 8000 Bosnian Muslims ten years prior. I heard the devastating first-hand report of a survivor of the massacre, which was entirely consistent with the several books and numerous articles I have read, along with eyewitness accounts, wiretap transcripts, forensic investigations, and confessions of some of the perpetrators.

It’s appalling that Edward Herman chooses the 10th anniversary of the massacre (which he doubts happened) to insult the widows, parents, children, and other survivors of Bosnian Muslim civilians (whom he thinks weren’t killed). It is beyond me why he is so persistent in his denial of Serbian atrocities and his apologetics for Serbian aggression. He consistently repeats mistruths that have long-since been refuted. And while he leaves some ambiguity about what he thinks actually happened, he never gets around to expressing sorrow about the “only 2000” or however many victims he can bring himself to admit. Instead, he characterizes the killings as “fighting and executions,” rather than the pre-planned, organized destruction of every Bosniak male of “fighting age” that the Serbs could get their hands on. He writes that “many Bosnian Muslim men died during the evacuation of Srebrenica and its aftermath” as if this were an unfortunate happenstance rather than a systematic campaign of murder.

Herman seems incapable of framing an issue outside of a condemnation of Western powers. There’s plenty of criticism to be made of the US, NATO, and the UN for dithering while Milosevic’s regime destroyed Yugoslavia and killed thousands. But instead of addressing these issues, Herman brings disrepute on this forum with bizarre theories and absurd suggestions that Bosnian Muslims bombed themselves, etc.

Herman’s long expositions and extensive footnotes should not fool readers into thinking that this is scholarly work. He takes his sources out of context, uses unreliable sources, or just references previous work of his own that offered no documentation.

I hope that a few examples of his blatant falsification, below, will convince readers that they need to look elsewhere for reasoned, accurate accounts of the Bosnia war and the Srebrenica massacre in particular.

Anyone who believes Herman is providing a credible “alternative” viewpoint or the “suppressed” story, is sadly misled. One would do better to read a new report from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (, a thorough history of what is now known about the planning and execution of the Srebrenica massacre. It would be interesting to see Herman try to refute that report point-by-point, rather than giving it a vague brush-off and trying to ignore it.

Roger Lippman

Herman writes:
… the original estimate of  8,000 [killed],  including 5,000 “missing”–who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines-was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find  the executed bodies and  despite the absence of  a  single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which is the leading authority on the issue, has a list of about 8,000 named individual Srebrenica Bosnian Muslims either confirmed dead or reported missing by survivors. This is the minimum number of casualties. Some complete sets of remains that have been found remain unidentifiable by DNA matching because they have no survivors to provide DNA samples. Entire families, and entire villages (of the 200-odd villages in the region), were in some cases wiped out by the Serbian assault. Over 2000 victims have been identified to date, with more added daily.

Herman states that “only” 2000 bodies had been found through 1999, but he is a little out of date. Well over 4000 bodies have been found so far, with new mass graves still being discovered regularly. He claims that the lack of satellite photos casts doubt on the number of casualties, but he ignores all other evidence and denies that Serbian forces moved bodies from the original mass graves to secondary graves in order to hide them.

As the Republika Srpska (RS, or Bosnian Serb) Commission Report (2004) and the International Commission on Missing Persons note, Serbian excavation and reburial led to what is known as commingling of remains; the bones are mixed up, and parts of the same body are often found in two or even three different grave sites. The fact that parts of individual bodies are sometimes found in multiple mass graves is, by itself, convincing evidence of reburial. The RS Commission Report states that RS investigators visited 29 secondary and tertiary mass graves – making Herman’s denial ridiculous and shameful. Furthermore, some of the perpetrators themselves have described moving the evidence to secondary graves. (See Srebrenica Commission preliminary report, page 23.) [1]

Perhaps Herman will demur that he does not deny the existence of secondary mass graves, since he did not do that in so many words. But his statement that no one “has ever shown a satellite photo of  people actually being executed, buried, or dug up for reburial, or of trucks conveying thousands of bodies elsewhere” is clearly (if deniably) meant to imply the non-existence of secondary mass graves.

Secondary mass graves of Srebrenica victims continue to be discovered and exhumed. The latest include one reported June 21, 2005, containing partial remains of 240 people [2]; and another reported July 11, 2005, believed to contain about 100 remains. [3]

Herman writes: “It was standard media practice to move from an asserted and unproven claim of  thousands missing, or a report of the uncovering of  bodies in a grave site, to the conclusion that the claim of  8,000 executed  was thereby demonstrated.”

As an example he cites a recent article by Tim Judah, “How the video that put Serbia in dock was brought to light.” The point of the article is not how many were killed in the Srebrenica massacre, but rather how the video from the massacre directly implicates the Milosevic regime. It’s certainly worth reading this remarkable story of heroism and detective work by one of Serbia’s leading human rights activists. [4]

Herman attributes three bombings of Bosnian Muslims not to the Serbian forces that barraged Sarajevo for years (and killed close to 10,000 civilians), but to the Muslims themselves. He says that “numerous UN officials and senior Western military officials have claimed that the evidence is strong in all three cases that the actions were planned and executed by Bosnian Muslims,” But he omits the fact that the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), which initially had believed that the Markale Market shelling was fired from Bosnian Government positions, discovered a calculation error and concluded that it could not determine who had fired the shell. An ammunition expert subsequently determined, and presented in evidence at the Hague tribunal, that the shell could only have come from a position under Serb control. Another witness, a former UN officer, testified that almost 100% of shells landing on the Bosnian army side of the confrontation line were fired by the Serbs, and that the Bosnian army did not fire on its own people (the citizens of Sarajevo of all ethnicities). [5] The Sarajevo daily newspaper Oslobodjenje (January 28, 2005) reports that, according to UN records, about 70 high-caliber missiles were fired into the area immediately around the Markale Market during the war. The only three that Bosnian Serbs bothered to deny firing were the three that resulted in the massacres cited by Herman.

Amazingly, Herman resurrects the false denial that the Serbs operated a vicious concentration camp at Trnoplje. This denial has been extensively refuted, in the media and in British courts. Again Herman presents his falsehood deniably, but he places such importance on the issue that it is clear he is not just talking about the characterization of a photo. Rather, he is covering up Serbian cruelty to Bosnian Muslim prisoners. For a rebuttal to Herman’s position, see “Poison in the well of history” [6]; see also a compendium of related articles. [7]

In his brief treatment of the Kosovo war Herman makes as many misrepresentations as he has sentences. Most have been rebutted elsewhere, but I will mention one here for its illustrative value.

Herman writes that “high U.S. officials at various moments claim[ed] 100,000, 250,000 and 500,000 Serb killings of  Kosovo Albanians.” As a reference he gives a previous article of his, where at no point does he mention the figure of 250,000, and I have not found it previously mentioned by him or anyone else. His earlier article gives the figure of 500,000 declared “missing” by the State Department. [8] In other articles he has described the State Department statement as “500,000 killed in Kosovo.” What could be his source for this? In fact it’s not the State Department, but rather an article in The New York Times (November 11, 1999) that erroneously made that attribution. [9] The Times recognized its misreading of a State Department report and, two days later, ran a correction, admitting, “The [State] Department did not say that up to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing and feared dead.” [10] But to this day Herman is repeating misinformation from the Times. He does not seem to be concerned with accuracy.

It appears that Herman is acting as a front-man for Serbian nationalists who are deep in denial over their country’s campaign of destruction. Serbia will not heal, and there will not be Serb-Bosniak reconciliation, until Serbs can come to terms with the crimes perpetrated in their name. Many Serbs agree, and they are given a voice by such Serbian human rights organizations as the Humanitarian Law Center [11] and Women in Black.[12]

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