Some cracks in the media propaganda front: reports of grossly exaggerated
                    atrocity stories in Kosovo.

                    By Barry Grey
                    6 July 1999

                    In recent days scattered reports have emerged in the American media of
                    the inflated and misleading character of claims by US officials of Serb
                    atrocities against the Kosovan Albanians. On June 28 the Detroit Free
                    Press carried an article by foreign correspondent Lori Montgomery,
                    datelined Prizren, which bore the headline, “Rapes not a policy in
                    Kosovo: Assaults were individual acts by Serbs, evidence indicates.”

                    The article stated: “Western officials have accused Serb soldiers of
                    raping ethnic Albanian women as a tool of war. Although numerous
                    credible accounts detail attacks by Serb soldiers, it now appears that
                    rape was rarely systematic and that allegations of ‘rape camps' and ‘rape
                    hotels' will never be proved...

                    “Along Kosovo's Albanian border, where US officials alleged in April
                    that Serb soldiers were raping and killing women at an army base near
                    the southwestern town of Djakovica and in a hotel in the western city of
                    Pec, few signs of sexual abuse could be found.”

                    Three days later USA Today carried the front-page headline, “Kosovo's
                    plight exaggerated.” The article began: “Many of the figures used by the
                    Clinton administration and NATO to describe the wartime plight of
                    Albanians in Kosovo now appear greatly exaggerated as allied forces
                    take control of the province.” It cited House Intelligence Committee
                    Chairman Porter Goss, a Republican critic of the US-NATO war, who
                    said, “Yes, there were atrocities. But no, they don't measure up to the
                    advance billing.”

                    The article went on to note that US claims of up to 100,000 murdered
                    ethnic Albanians have been replaced by official estimates of 10,000. It
                    debunked a statement made by Clinton to a veterans group in May that
                    600,000 ethnic Albanians were “trapped within Kosovo itself, lacking
                    shelter, short of food, afraid to go home or buried in mass graves dug by
                    their executioners,” noting that thousands of Kosovars did indeed go into
                    hiding during the war, but there is no evidence they were starving or
                    without shelter. The article further said Kosovo's livestock, wheat and
                    other crops were not destroyed by Serb forces, as had been widely

                    That evening NBC Nightly News carried a segment by foreign
                    correspondent Andrea Mitchell on the same theme. Mitchell
                    characterized the war-time reports of Kosovan deaths as a “gross
                    exaggeration” and said officials now estimate the civilian death toll in
                    Kosovo since the onset of NATO bombing last March 24 to be between
                    3,000 and 6,000.

                    These reports have been simply ignored by the “newspapers of
                    record”—the New York Times and the Washington Post—which
                    enthusiastically backed the bombing of Yugoslavia and retailed the
                    government claims of mass murder, rape and genocide that were used to
                    justify the war and manipulate public opinion.

                    Significantly, none of the American officials who responded to the USA
                    Today and NBC News defended the veracity of their earlier claims.
                    Instead, they passed off the flagrant inaccuracies as honest and
                    unavoidable mistakes. State Department official James Foley told NBC
                    News that the government had no choice but to base itself on refugee
                    accounts. Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security
                    Council, told USA Today there was no effort to mislead. The Clinton
                    administration found that “as you go through a campaign like this, there is
                    a great deal of uncertainty.”

                    There was, of course, nothing “uncertain” about the reports of mass
                    killing and rape given out by President Clinton, Secretary of State
                    Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen and a host of
                    lesser officials. These were presented to the American people and
                    international public opinion as facts, not speculation.

                    Kenneth Bacon, spokesman for Defense Secretary Cohen, told USA
                    Today that the “best estimates available” had been used. He defended
                    the comparisons between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and
                    Hitler, adding, “I don't think you can say killing 100,000 is 10 times more
                    morally repugnant that killing 10,000.”

                    This cynical bit of moralizing is typical of the official campaign waged in
                    support of the war. From the outset those prosecuting the bombing
                    sought to intimidate and stifle opposition by depicting critics of NATO as
                    defenders of Milosevic and “ethnic cleansing.” But Bacon's response
                    begs the question: if the issue is purely one of abstract morality, and the
                    scale of atrocities is not important, why the systematic resort to
                    exaggeration and falsification?

                    One of those interviewed on the NBC news segment, former Democratic
                    Congressman Lee Hamilton, while no less cynical, was a bit more
                    forthright. He explained there was always a tendency in war to demonize
                    the enemy so as to whip public opinion into line.

                    Clinton's own statements during and after the war make clear that what is
                    involved in the official presentation of events in Kosovo is not “making
                    the best estimates available,” but using the vast resources of the
                    government and a pliant media to mislead the public into thinking Serb
                    atrocities were on such a order—reaching the level of genocide—as to
                    justify the aerial destruction of power plants, oil refineries, bridges, water
                    supplies, schools, hospitals and even television headquarters, and the
                    killing of thousands of civilians.

                    Within days of the onset of NATO bombing, Clinton described the
                    ensuing Serb attack as an attempt to wipe out the Kosovan Albanian
                    population. In a radio address from the Oval Office on April 3 he said
                    the “cold clear goal” of Milosovic was to “keep Kosovo's land while
                    ridding it of its people.” Twelve days later he told the American Society
                    of Newspaper Editors that Milosovic was “determined to crush all
                    resistance to his rule even if it means turning Kosovo into a lifeless

                    On May 5, in a speech at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, he added
                    to the list of Serb crimes the setting up of concentration camps,
                    something that never occurred. In a Memorial Day address on May 31
                    he compared Milosevic to Hitler, saying his government “like that of Nazi
                    Germany rose to power in part by getting people to look down on
                    people of a given race and ethnicity, and to believe they had... no right to
                    live.” On June 11, on the eve of the deployment of NATO troops into
                    Kosovo, Clinton described the actions of the Serbs as “an attempt to
                    erase the very presence of a people from their land, and to get rid of
                    them dead or alive.”

                    Since the withdrawal of Serb forces, Clinton's rhetoric has become, if
                    anything, more unrestrained. Even as NATO was quietly lowering its
                    estimates of ethnic Albanian deaths, Clinton repeatedly said the evidence
                    of death and destruction in Kosovo was “even worse than we imagined.”
                    In a June 20 interview on Russian television he said, “We were only
                    trying to reverse ethnic cleansing and genocide.” Two days later, in a
                    speech to KFOR troops in Macedonia, he spoke of “young girls [being]
                    raped en masse.”

                    In his White House press conference of June 25, Clinton all but declared
                    that the continued rule of Milosevic would signify the collective guilt of the
                    Serb people in the atrocities carried out against the Kosovan Albanians.
                    Justifying his opposition to Western aid for the reconstruction of Serbia,
                    he said, “And then they [the Serbs] are going to have to decide whether
                    they support his leadership or not; whether they think it's OK that all
                    those tens of thousands of people were killed and all those hundreds of
                    thousands of people were run out of their homes and all those little girls
                    were raped and all those little boys murdered.” (Emphasis added)

                    The function of such exaggerated and often unsubstantiated atrocity
                    claims, relentlessly repeated and reinforced by the most sophisticated,
                    modern techniques of media manipulation, is to overwhelm the critical
                    faculties of the public. The aim is not so much to convince as to benumb
                    and bully, and thereby obtain, if not active support, at least passive

                    However the falsification is not simply a matter of exaggerated atrocity
                    stories and statistics. There were, after all, terrible crimes committed
                    against innocent Kosovars, and on a large scale. At least as decisive in
                    the US war propaganda is the removal of the events in Kosovo from
                    their real context, and the erection of a completely self-serving and
                    distorted version of recent Yugoslav history. Only on such a basis could
                    the violent and tragic events in Kosovo be attributed to the evil motives
                    and machinations of one man, the new Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic, and
                    the role of the United States and the other imperialist powers be

                    According to Clinton and his NATO allies, all of the tragedy and turmoil
                    of the past decade in the former Yugoslavia are the result of Milosevic's
                    grand design to forge a Greater Serbia at the expense, even the
                    destruction, of the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians. That
                    Milosevic is a Serb nationalist, and that Greater Serbian chauvinism is a
                    reactionary political force, are truisms. This, however, is only one part of
                    the picture.

                    What is left out is the disruptive and destructive role played by
                    US-dominated financial institutions, such as the International Monetary
                    Fund, which imposed austerity and capitalist market policies on
                    Yugoslavia throughout the 1980s, driving up unemployment and poverty
                    and undermining the economic foundations of the federated Yugoslav
                    state. These policies encouraged the growth of nationalist tendencies
                    among all ethnic groups.

                    In 1991 and 1992 the European powers and the US supported the
                    secession of three Yugoslav republics—Slovenia, Croatia and
                    Bosnia—without allowing any expression of the will of the Yugoslav
                    people as a whole, or any negotiations with Belgrade to secure the rights
                    of large Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia. These suddenly found
                    themselves stripped of their constitutional guarantees and ruled by hostile
                    nationalist regimes. As many had predicted, the inevitable result was an
                    eruption of civil war.

                    The Croatian nationalism of Tudjman, Muslim nationalism of Izetbegovic
                    and Albanian nationalism of the Kosovo Liberation Army are no less
                    intolerant and reactionary than the politics of Milosevic. In the successive
                    civil wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, all sides have resorted to
                    methods of “ethnic cleansing,” not simply the Serbs.

                    What set Milosevic up for demonization and destruction, however, was
                    the conclusion reached by the United States that Serb nationalism cut
                    across its strategic interests in the Balkans. Thus Washington came to
                    support, financially, politically and militarily, the nationalist cliques in
                    Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo as instruments of its policy directed against
                    Serbia. In Kosovo this first took the form of covert CIA support for the
                    KLA, which began several years ago to wage an armed struggle for the
                    secession of the province from Serbia.

                    This is the real context within which the US decided to go to war. The
                    US-NATO bombing, on top of the ongoing struggle between Belgrade
                    and the KLA, created the conditions for the eruption on a mass scale of
                    Serb violence against Albanians, and the reprisals by Albanians against
                    Serbs which have followed the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from