The Picture That Continues To Fool the World


Friends: In December 2009, I had proposed to editors at The Times of London (e.g., Sally Baker) that they grant to Edward S. Herman and me the web-space to post a one-time blog in response to some of The Times's leader-writer and blogger Oliver Kamm's multiple calumnies against us, which Kamm had by then been writing on a serial basis in his Times-blog over a two or three month period. 

Of course, The Times's editors never responded to my request; and in one of his subsequent Times-blogs, Kamm later mentioned the fact that I had made this proposal to The Times, but was dismissed out-of-hand.


For the record, then, I'm posting here a copy of the response that Ed and I would have submitted to The Times, had they granted us the space for a response, rather than blown-us-off.

"The Picture That Continues To Fool the World" refers to the famous images of the Bosnian Muslim man Fikret Alic, and his fateful encounter with a group of British and Serbian journalists who visited Trnopolje camp in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 5, 1992. 


David Peterson
Chicago, USA


The Picture That Continues To Fool the World


According to the one-time financial speculator who went on to become a Times of London's imperial Truth-enforcer, Oliver Kamm, our "Open Letter to Amnesty International's London and Belfast Offices, on the Occasion of Noam Chomsky's Belfast Festival Lecture, October 30, 2009"[1]


"blithely repeated claims that were judged to be defamatory in the High Court in 2000, when ITN successfully sued Living Marxism (LM) magazine. LM had claimed that Ed Vulliamy, along with Penny Marshall and Ian Williams of ITN, had been fraudulent in reporting the Trnopolje camp in Bosnia…."[2]

Kamm is wrong.  Nowhere in the March 2000 verdict in the libel case brought by ITN against LM for publishing and then refusing to retract Thomas Deichmann's "The Picture that Fooled the World"[3] did the jury reject the specific factual counterclaim by Deichmann and LM that when the first encounter took place between these British reporters and Fikret Alic and the other Bosnian Muslim men on August 5, 1992, it was Marshall, Williams, Vulliamy, and the ITN cameraman Jeremy Irvin who were standing behind the dilapidated fence through which the interviews were carried out and the images recorded.  As Deichmann argued and has never been refuted, this part chicken-wire, part barbed-wire fence surrounded and formed an agriculture-related compound at the far southern end of a much larger site that included a public school and a community center, but was then serving as a camp for displaced persons and detainees during the civil wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  In the center of this compound stood a barn, the fence having been erected prior to the civil wars to enclose the barn and objects related to it.  But this fence did not surround or enclose the Bosnian Muslim men standing on the opposite side of it from the British reporters, outside the immediate compound in which the British reporters stood.


As Deichmann wrote:



"When Marshall, Williams and Vulliamy entered the compound next to the camp, the barbed wire was already torn in several places. They did not use the open gate, but entered from the south through a gap in the fence. They approached the fence on the north side [of this compound], where curious refugees quickly gathered inside the camp, but on the outside of the area fenced-in by barbed wire. It was through the barbed wire fence at this point that the famous shots of Fikret Alic were taken….[4]


Anyone who views Marshall's original August 6, 1992 report for ITN from approximately the 2:37 mark through 2:58 will see Marshall walking briskly towards the fence ("We were not prepared for what we saw and heard there" (2:37-2:44)), then a cut to Fikret Alic reaching through the barbed-wire to shake hands with Marshall ("How long's he been here?" (2:45-2:51)), and then another cut to a close-up of the emaciated Fikret Alic filmed through the fence that lasts roughly seven seconds in all (2:52-2:58).[5]  These 20-21 seconds of footage convey unambiguously the impression of prisoners standing inside or behind a fenced-in enclosure at a camp that Marshall's voiceover identifies as Trnopolje.  The six or seven seconds of footage that focus on Fikret Alic alone convey even more strongly the impression of a severely maltreated man reminiscent of those to be found at Nazi-era concentration and death camps.  Hence, Marshall's opening voiceover: "We were not prepared for what we saw and heard there."


The actual position of the British reporters vis-à-vis these Bosnian Muslim men was also faithfully conveyed by the Radio Television Serbia documentary Presuda ("Judgment").  Working from the English translation of this documentary produced by Petar Makara and Jared Israel, Part Two, as archived at YouTube,[6] beginning roughly at the 4:44 mark, we see clearly that the British reporters were not alone when they stood inside the compound, interviewing and filming the Bosnian Muslim men: Standing right there with the British reporters, filming and interviewing the same men, were an RTS reporter and cameraman.  The British reporters had not simply arrived at Trnopolje, approached a barbed-wire fence that enclosed these Bosnian Muslim men, and begun to interview and film them.  In fact, the British reporters and the RTS crew entered the compound through one of the gaps in its dilapidated fence (this comes from Deichmann's analysis of the unused film that day, but is not visible in Judgment), and from the position that both groups of reporters took inside this compound, both groups interviewed and filmed the Bosnian Muslim men who gathered outside of the compound, through the fence that separated the reporters from the Bosnian Muslim men, and behind which the British and RTS groups stood.


The positioning of the British reporters when they interviewed and filmed the Bosnian Muslim men on August 5, 1992, was described even by Justice Morland of the British High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division, who, in what David Campbell calls Morland's "summing up for the jury" near the end of the libel trial, stated explicitly and correctly:



"Clearly Ian Williams and Penny Marshall and their TV teams were mistaken in thinking they were not enclosed by the old barbed wire fence, but does it matter?"[7] 



The question "but does it matter?" was an allusion to British libel law, under which the "defendant carries the burden of proof," as Britain's Libel Reform Coalition reports, and "is asked to prove the truth of their statement," which is "always presumed [to be] false" until proven otherwise.  The effect of such an onerous condition is that Britain's "libel law has been used to protect the rich and powerful from criticism and has come to be associated with money rather than justice. The high costs involved and the scale of potential damages have chilled free speech."[8] 


Thus the March 2000 libel case argued by ITN against LM did not establish that it was the Bosnian Muslim men who stood behind the fence during this encounter, and it did not establish that the famous images of Fikret Alic and the other Bosnian Muslim men faithfully represented the reality of this encounter, but LM could not stand on these facts in its defense against the libel charge: LM had to prove not only that Marshall and Williams and ITN's editors were mistaken in representing the Bosnian Muslim men as standing behind the fence, but also that they deliberately or knowingly misrepresented this encounter.  With the wealth of resources and witnesses ITN could utilize, LM stood little chance of prevailing.  ITN's attorneys even called the Bosnian Muslim physician Idriz Merdzanic, who was detained at Trnopolje, worked there as the camp's doctor, and had been interviewed by the British reporters during their first visit.  Merdzanic provided testimony about atrocities at the camp that surely moved the jury in favor of ITN but that was unrelated to questions about the agriculture compound, the fence, where the ITN reporters had stood, and how the images they took of the men represented the men as standing behind the fence.  ITN's ability to stack-the-deck against LM followed from Britain's libel law, not from the lack of soundness of Deichmann's and LM's counterclaim.


Nevertheless, Justice Morland's assertion that the British reporters "were mistaken in thinking they were not enclosed" (i.e., were mistaken in representing the Bosnian Muslim men as standing behind the fence, rather than the reporters themselves) is indistinguishable from the basic counterclaim by Deichmann, LM, and by Phillip Knightley in the affidavit he prepared on behalf of LM's defense but which was not allowed into the evidence at trial—and by us in our "Open Letter to AI."


Thomas Deichmann's "The Picture that Fooled the World" was and remains a solid debunking of the Fikret Alic imagery recorded at Trnopolje by the British reporters on August 5, 1992, with the images of these Bosnian Muslim men almost immediately fed to the world as standing behind barbed-wire, and Alic an iconic figure for the "living dead" at Trnopolje, proof of Nazi-era brutality resurrected on European soil after 50 years by ethnic Serbs, exactly as the British reporters dispatched to northwest Bosnia-Herzegovina expected to find.  As Knightley explained in his affidavit on behalf of LM:


"The barbed wire turns out to be only symbolic. Were all the inmates starving?  No. Fikret Alic was an exception. Even in Marshall’s report other men, apparently well-fed, can be seen, and the out-takes reveal at least one man with a paunch hanging over his belt. Phil Davison, a highly-respected correspondent who covered the war from both sides for The Independent says, 'Things had gone slightly quiet. Suddenly there were these death camps/concentration camps stories'.….

"When…the ITN report was hailed as a great image, should the team have stood up and publicly said, 'Hey, hang on a minute. It wasn’t quite like that'. In an ideal world, yes…. But given the commercial pressures of modern TV and the fact that to have spoken out would hardly endear the ITN crew to their employers and might even have endangered their jobs, it is understandable but not forgivable that no one chose to do so."[9]



Not only did none of the British reporters stand-up and say "Hang on a minute."  But eleven days after they first visited Trnopolje and misrepresented Fikret Alic and the other Bosnian Muslim men as standing behind the fence, Penny Marshall boasted in the Sunday Times about the power of these images "to move world opinion."  After her August 6 report on Trnopolje for ITN, "British newspapers were calling for military intervention," she maintained; "within 20 minutes of the [ITN] report being re-broadcast on American television, George Bush promised to press for a United Nations resolution authorising use of force."[10]

Now more than 17 years later, it is far less forgivable than ever that characters such as Oliver Kamm still cling to and defend this early, yet decisive, falsehood from the dismantling of Yugoslavia, to misrepresent the nature of the verdict in the 2000 libel trial of ITN v. LM, and to use his blog at The Times Online to issue not-so-subtle threats to other British media that he claims "publish libellous remarks online, as Media Lens have done," all the while posing as a "near-absolutist on free speech."[11]


Edward S. Herman, Philadelphia, USA
David Peterson, Chicago, USA

—- Endnotes —-

[1] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Open Letter to Amnesty International's London and Belfast Offices, on the Occasion of Noam Chomsky's Belfast Festival Lecture, October 30, 2009," MRZine, November 22, 2009, <http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/hp221109.html>.  Also see our "The Dismantling of Yugoslavia," Monthly Review, October, 2007, esp. section 10, "The Role of the Media and Intellectuals in the Dismantlement," <http://www.monthlyreview.org/1007herman-peterson4.php>.

[2] Oliver Kamm, "The anatomy of war crimes denial," The Times Online, December 21, 2009, <http://timesonline.typepad.com/oliver_kamm/2009/12/the-anatomy-of-war-crimes-denial.html>.


[3] Thomas Deichmann, "The picture that fooled the world," LM97, February, 1997, <http://www.srpska-mreza.com/guest/LM/lm-f97/LM97_Bosnia.html>.  Also see Deichmann's "'Exactly as it happened'?" LM100, May, 1997, <http://www.srpska-mreza.com/guest/LM/lm-100/LM100_Bosnia.html%20>.   


[4] Deichmann, "The picture that fooled the world," <http://www.srpska-mreza.com/guest/LM/lm-f97/LM97_Bosnia.html>.  When reading Deichmann's analysis, be sure to study the diagram titled "Site plan of Trnopolje, based on US satellite photo, 2 August 1992, three days before British journalists arrived."  The part of this diagram you want to focus on is in the lower right-hand corner, (a) "Position of the Refugees with Fikret Alic," (b) "Position of the ITN News Team with Penny Marshall," and of course (c) "Compound Fenced-In with Barbed Wire," the building identified as a "Barn" in the center of this little enclosure, and the line denoting the part chicken-wire, and part barbed-wire fence which stands immediately between (a) where the British reporters stood, and (b) where the Bosnian Muslim men gathered.


[5] For a copy of Penny Marshall's August 6, 1992 report for ITN, see the website of David Campbell, "Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia, Videos," <http://www.david-campbell.org/photography/atrocity-and-memory/videos/ >; Marshall's report is the second video from the top.  In providing minute-marks, note that these are approximations, and we can't rule out that they may vary slightly for each computer.  Marshall's August 6, 1992 report opens (0:07): "The Bosnian Serbs don't call Omarska a 'concentration camp'.  Come in, they challenged ITN, and see it for yourselves."

[6] Petar Makara and Jared Israel, Judgment: The Bosnian 'Death Camp' Accusation: An Exposé, Emperor's Clothes, 2000 and 2008, specifically Part Two beginning at the 4:44 mark, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eOjxauzsn8&feature=related>, and Part Three through roughly the 3:00 mark, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg9ZQP6CGZU&feature=related>. For those of you who don't like the RTS voiceover, or who believe that the voiceover is wrong and misleading, simply turn-off the sound, and watch these segments with your eyes open: Any remaining questions about which side of the fence the British reporters and the Bosnian Muslims were standing vis-à-vis each other when this first encounter took place on August 5, 1992, will be answered. 

[7] In David Campbell, "Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosniathe case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part 1," Journal of Human Rights, March, 2002, p. 21, <http://www.david-campbell.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/part1.pdf>.—We should add that Campbell's lengthy analysis over two different issues of this Journal rejects the obvious: That it was the British reporters who stood behind the fence when their first encounter with Fikret Alic and the Bosnian Muslim men occurred.  For Campbell, the fact that the fence that once surrounded the barn was then dilapidated and incomplete makes it impossible to claim that the British reporters stood inside an "enclosure" or "compound," much less "behind the fence."  Remarkably, Campbell does not apply this reasoning to the Bosnian Muslim men.  Throughout his two-part analysis, Campbell repeatedly refers to the Bosnian Muslim men as standing "behind the fence."  How these men can be accurately described as standing "behind the fence" while the British reporters cannot be accurately described this way, because the "'enclosure' was anything but completely or fully enclosed" and the British reporters cannot be "on 'the inside' and Alic and the others on 'the outside'" (pp. 18-21) defies rational explanation—but Campbell repeats it often and at great length.  Campbell's entire analysis boils down to little more than a reaffirmation that the Bosnian Serbs (or ethnic Serbs as such) did very bad things during the civil wars over the fate of the former Yugoslavia; therefore, Deichmann's successful debunking of "The Picture that Fooled the World" must be wrong, as it advances the wrong political script.  With the exception of his treatment of Margaret Bourke-White's famous photo "The Living Dead at Buchenwald, April 1945" (pp. 4-6), the rest of Campbell's two-part analysis fails miserably. 


[8] Jo Glanville et al., Free Speech Is Not For Sale, A Report by the English PEN and Index on Censorship, Libel Reform Coalition, November 10, 2009, <http://libelreform.org/the-report?showall=1>.


[9] For a partial copy of Phillip Knightley's affidavit, see Alexander Cockburn, "Storm Over Brockes' Fakery," CounterPunch, November 5/6, 2005, <http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11052005.html>.


[10] Penny Marshall, "ITN's Penny Marshall tells how she made the world wake up," Sunday Times, August 16, 1992.

[11] See Oliver Kamm, "Retreat of the Srebrenica Deniers," The Times Online, December 10, 2009, <http://timesonline.typepad.com/oliver_kamm/2009/12/retreat-of-the-srebrenica-deniers.html>.  A more robust statement of opposition to the value of freedom of speech and of the media would be hard to find.






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