A chapter from future book:
Just another scandal: Dead men walking!
By Petar Makara
The Wrong Turn
Most of us have made a wrong turn on a road. For three Serbs who made a wrong turn on a road close to Sarajevo, the mistake brought a fundamental, catastrophic change to their lives. It meant torture, unbelievable world-wide humiliation, horror. A hopeless life in jail spent in the hands of a merciless enemy.
On November 11, 1992, Sretko Damjanovic, 31, and his wife Nada Tomic, 46, were traveling in their Volkswagen Golf with their friend Borislav Herak, 21, in the divided city of Sarajevo. The civil war had already been ragging around the city for at least seven months.
In their secessionist demand to form a separate country and control the whole of Bosnia Izetbegovic's fundamentalists seemed quite unreasonable. The Muslims who were ruling class during four centuries of Turkish occupation never inhabited, as majority population, more than 15% of the territory of Bosnia. Those were then the only territories they could control militarily. In all of those they found themselves surrounded - under siege. Their war against the Bosnian Serbs would have been hopeless was it not for their Western guarantors who put intense diplomatic and military pressure on their behalf.
As the war ragged around them, the Serbian trio was traveling from one Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo to another, from Vogosce to Ilidza. After making the wrong turn they stumbled into a Muslim separatists' check point and were arrested on the spot. To make things worse, Mr. Herak and Mr. Damjanovic, were wearing Yugoslav military uniforms.
What a treat for the Islamist rulers of Sarajevo - not just Serbs - but Serbs in uniform! The prey seemed to be heaven-sent. The Muslim government desperately needed a scapegoat for the suffering endured by their population. Someone had to be blamed for the siege.
Two weeks after their fatal turn, the world had not yet heard of Herak and Damjanovic, but behind the scenes an amazing propaganda campaign was being prepared. On November 26, 1992, the London "Evening Standard" was the first to show a photograph of Mr. Herak. The photograph was subtitled:
The next day all hell broke loose, as hundreds of Western newspapers and TV stations reported on Mr. Herak who, with Mr. Damjanovic, were soon to become the personification of cruelty. The news reports contained accusations horrible enough to boil the reader's blood.
And the reports had the intended effect.
The point of the propaganda campaign was to tarnish an entire people, the Serbs; to present them as mindless beasts, perpetrators of mass murder and mass rape. The goal was to make them worse than the Nazis themselves. The very top of the Bosnian Serb leadership was to be blamed. Supposedly they planned, they orchestrated, they ordered the carnage.
To simply quote here what the Western press was writing would only add to the astonishing injustice the propaganda accomplished. Instead, for a moment, let's turn the clock forward.
No witnesses and no bodies
More than THREE YEARS latter, on January 31, 1996, after the propaganda hoopla had receded and the damage was done, the Houston Chronicle, in a barely-noticed statement, on page 10, managed to utter the simple admission:
NO WITNESSES AND NO BODIES! In other words there was NO MATERIAL EVIDENCE. Indeed, no material evidence at all. It was all hearsay. A cruel fairy tale.
Still, the Western press did not want to dull the thunder of the anti-Serb propaganda. The New York Times did manage to acknowledge (on page 6):
But this damning fact appeared deeply imbedded in a text with the accusatory title: "Symbol of Inhumanity in Bosnia Now Says 'Not Me' ."
The referenced "Symbol of Inhumanity" was Mr. Herak. Now, more than three years later, the New York Times, the media outlet that was instrumental during the 1992 anti-Serb propaganda campaign, admited there were no witnesses and no bodies. In 1992, they published all of the damning speculations about Herak. Now, when it did not matter any more, they could managa a single sentence, though it had to be followed by an obligatory "but":
Hearsay defended with more hearsay. They were SEEN by some unnamed inmates? Even if the inmates had been quoted, which they were not, their claims had to be regarded skeptically, given their adversarial bias against the Serbs.
As we shall see, despite stubborn bias of the Western media, the entire structure of lies against Mr. Herak and Mr. Damjanovic collapsed in a miserable scandal a year after no-witnesses-no-bodies revelation. But first, let's examine the initial case against Herak and Damjanovic.
To murder a little girl
Back to November 27, 1992. On that day the story of "genocidal Serbs" exploded - front page - everywhere in the West. The New York Times presented John F. Burns' Special Report on page A1, the front page, under the headline: A Killer Tale - A Serbian Fighter's Path of Brutality
In the very first sentence of his Special Report Mr. Burns said:
Shocking, isn't it? No little girl should be killed, in any war. Let alone this way. But why should this account by a prisoner of war - even when printed by a reporter from a reputable newspaper - be taken at face value? When a captured American pilot was shown on Iraqi TV, it seemed natural for the American media to immediately deny anything he may have said. Of course, he was in enemy hands. He was forced to say whatever they wanted him to say.
But the Western media effortlessly assumed a double standard with respect to Herak: what applies to an American prisoner of war does not apply to a Serbian prisoner of war.
As far as we know, the little girl in Burn's story was never named. Such details are unimportant in creative journalism. Nevertheless, fictional reports like these were instrumental in shaping the public consent for subsequent Western involvement in the Balkans. When three year old Serbian girl Milica Rakic was murdered by NATO planes in their "humanitarian" bombing of Belgrade on April 18, 1999, her name was never mentioned in the Western press. Her death was not worth printing in the New York Times. She was a Serb and after press' demonization of people, any disaster that befell the Serbs seemed justified. Little Milica was only a collateral damage in a humanitarian mission.
But John F. Burns was not satisfied with dramatizing the murder of an imaginary girl. His Special Report seem to be competing with itself in gore:
Just to be sure the reader would notice it, this vignette had a subtitle: "Bodies in a Furnace."
Ah, the furnace! What Nazi would operate without a furnace? This fabrication was obviously intended to target the Jewish audience. Predictably, the Jewish community was outraged and energized by the Burn's report and soon played an important role in the orchestrated Serb-bashing. This is a crime, given the basic history of WWII.
It is common knowledge that the Serbian people suffered terribly at hands of Croat and Muslim Nazis (known as Ustasha) during WWII. Even the matter-of-fact research in the Britannica (Macropedia section, under Yugoslavia, WWII, editions 1971 to 1987) felt the need for a bit of emotion when describing the plight of the Serbs:
Moreover, the suffering of Serbs, as documented in countless Western books on the WWII Holocaust, is always tied to the slaughter of Jews and Roma (Gypsies). Such books rutinely use the phrase "Serbs and Jews" when talking about the mass slaughter. The countryside of the former Yugoslavia (Croatia and Bosnia in particular) is littered with common graves of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.
When one people have suffered so much at the hands of the Nazis, as the Serbs did, one should be particularly cautious about comparing them to Nazis. When the press tailors its anti-Serb propaganda to the fears of the Jewish community in order to turn them against the Serbs - the other victim of the holocaust - it is not only irresponsible journalism it is an appalling crime.
As far as we know, John F. Burns has never repeated his charges that Serbs burned live people in a furnace. Indeed, the charges were never repeated by anyone. The front page story was for one-time use.
Back to Mr. Burns' "Special report." More gore:
Of course, when the no-witnesses-and-no-bodies reality was revealed in 1996 all of Bosnia was under NATO occupation. Yet despite all the digging, no bodies and no human ashes were ever found to substantiate Herak's alleged confession. None. Ever.
Mr. Burns attempted to extrapolate from the Herak stories to generalizations on the entire civil war in Bosnia:
Indeed, Burns made sure that the Serb leadership was implicated:
Let us say here that for the last hundred years, all Western maps that displayed the disposition of ethnic groups in Bosnia clearly show Serbs as being majority population in well over half of Bosnia. The Serbs wanted to carve out nothing. If Islamic separatists wanted an Islamic state under their own control, the Serbs did not want to be any part of it. They wanted to stay loyal to the mother country - to multiethnic Yugoslavia.
As far as the notion of ethnic cleansing is concerned, again without boring you with excessive historical detail, here is one reference to the most infamous twentieth century application of that concept:
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol 1, page 323, entry: Croatia, quote:
Did you notice who was a target of this very real ethnic cleansing? The Serbs. Does it not explain a bit how the Serbs slipped from being the largest ethnic group in Bosnia before WWII to a slight minority in these days? It is particularly disturbing to see the distortions of historical fact - in a quite Orwellian fashion - that labels the Serbs ethnic cleansers.
During the same the decade of 1991-2000, while the Serbs were being blamed for ethnic cleansing as if they had invented it, huge swaths of lands in the former Yugoslavia, that had been populated for centuries by an overwhelming Serb majority, were made Serb free.
For example, in August 1995, NATO and its neo-Nazi Croat proxies cleansed, all the resident Serbs from one third of Croatia. That land was known in history books as "Military Frontier" (or Krajina). The Serbs had settled there, at invitation of the Habsburg emperor in 1578, decades before the "Mayflower" sailed in 1620 to the American shores.
The cleansing of the Serbs was preceded by Western propaganda campaigns, where, again in Orwellian fashion, the Serb residents of Krajina were called aggressors, land-grabbers, even conquerors. What is happening to the English language if people who were the overwhelming majority population for at least four centuries can be called conquerors on the land of their birth?
Such appalling distortion of fact should be insulting not only to Serbs, but to anyone decent.
After expulsion of the Serbs from the Krajina, NATO ethnically cleansed the Serbs from one half of Bosnia and from entire Serbian province of Kosovo.
Mr. Burns' article was instrumental in the shameless propaganda effort to tie the term "ethnic cleansing" to the Serbian people. Here is how he did it:
True - "ciscenje" means cleaning and "prostor" means space, or region, but when combined into the phrase "ciscenje prostora," the words have an easy and standard English translation, meaning "mop up operation." There is no other Serbo-Croatian phrase for this common military term. There is no "ethnic" in "ciscenje prostora." There were many mop up operations in the Bosnian war, but no Serbian leader ever ordered "ethnic cleansing". Yet here is Mr. Burns to place such a spin on the words of Mr. Herak, the prisoner of war.
It does not add up
Why should we believe Mr. Burns? Just because he was one of select Western journalists the Muslim jailers allowed to visit Mr. Herak?
Mr. Burns writes:
Rambling indeed. The numbers of people Mr. Herak admits killing and the number of people he claims to have seen other Serbs executing kept changing from interview to interview over time. The number of 120 men, women and children supposedly machine-gunned outside Vogosca was mentioned in Mr. Burns' original article but not repeated again. The same day, David Crary, of Associated Press, another interviewer a competitor to Mr. Burns, writes an article titled "Serb Soldier Tells of Slaughtering 20 After Hate-Mongering Training." He says:
The 150 victims of Semizovac were never mentioned again. During trial, Los Angeles Times reported on March 14, 1993, that Mr. Herak talked about 150 villagers killed. But now it was not in Semizovac but in Ahatovici:
Nice touch - the "soldiers from Serbia." These words are to claim aggression by the Republic of Serbia against Bosnia.
Most Western articles agree that, in total, Mr. Herak had seen some 220 executions. It does not matter that it does not add up across the articles.
The number of murders and rapes Mr. Herak supposedly committed himself also changes. As you saw above it have started with Mr. Herak confessing to 20 murders...
The Associated Press, March 12, 1993:
The same day, March 12, 1993, United Press International:
Two days later, March 14, 1993, the New York Times:
When one admits and volunteers gruesome stories presenting himself as a mass murderer then numbers may not mean much. The captors must have kept the record of ever multiplying stories so, by March 1997, the New York Times, page A3, says:
So from 20 confessed murders, Mr. Herak had progressed to 42.
One look into Mr. Herak's mind
Forget the numbers. It is the story that sells. Back to the huge and pivotal propaganda article of Mr. Burns (NYT, November 27, 1992, page A1):
It is quite puzzling this avelange of self-accusation. Is Mr. Herak so stupid as not to understand that the gruesome self-accusation would bring him nothing but a certain death sentence? Here is what Mr. Burns saw when trying to peek into the dark corners of Mr. Herak's mind (the same article: NYT, November 27, 1992):
Mr. Burns continued:
Is something wrong, seriously wrong, with this man? (Ibid):
In the same date report (November 27, 1992), Associated Press writer David Crary tells us that Mr Herak told him:
So, in the same day, Mr. Herak wanted to be exchanged, shot and to fight on the Muslim side.
For now, it will seem unrelated, but let us quote a bit more from Mr. Crary's article:
In Mr. Burns' article Borislav Herak's father seemed much more talkative:
Let us not play amateur psychiatrist and try to understand the family dynamics here. The most important point is that captive soldier's father was in the hands of the Muslim enemy too.
Trained on the pigs
The reporters' exaggeration becomes more obvious as the gory details are presented again and again. The exaggerations get to be almost funny. But the reader's mind becomes too numb by horror to notice.
Let us get back once again to Mr. Burns' November 27, 1992 article:
We will skip here the detailed York Times account of how he was supposedly slaughtering those imagined Muslim men.
Trained on the pigs!? Idiotic. And expensive. Are other soldiers, let us say American ones, trained in the "art" of murder? Quite probably yes. Such is the "job." Were they trained on pigs? Not likely. So, what is the purpose for such tales? Was it to sneak the notion that these ugly racists known as Serbs do not distinguish between pigs and Muslims? What else would they print in the democratic press?
But do not be fooled. For this job Mr. John F. Burns got no less than a Pulitzer prize! The article we are talking about went round the globe and was reprinted a few times. For example, The Houston Chronicle printed it on the same day. The London's Guardian, on December 3rd, 1992, etc. In the Guardian the title was: "Slaughter in the name of Serbia!"
Competition in Serb-bashing
Mr. Burns was not without competition for that Pulitzer prize. As mentioned above Mr. David Crary of the Associated Press was also interviewing Mr. Herak at the Muslims army jail. He also mentions pigs. He also had a story about how Mr. Herak was thought to hate Muslims by the Serb authorities:
It is a bit too much, wouldn't you say? Even if coming from primitive people like Serbs. This story was, as we know, repeated only once, and that in the Irish Times, on September 15, 1995 during NATO's deliberate bombing of one party in the civil war - the Serbs. The operation was nicknamed - "Deliberate Force." Then, maybe, it was again time to recycle Serb-bashing and say few more nasty things against the Serbs. Then it turned out that the story of Serbian children and zoo was not a story at all - it was a tape. Quote from Irish Times:
While Mr. Burns was harping on the Serbian motives in becoming slaughter machines, Mr. David Crary in his long article never mentioned that Muslims may have some motives in the war. Mr. Crary's mistake was to mention this in his article of November 27, 1992:
Mr. Burns tried to avoid the mistake of casting doubt on our allies, the Bosnian (i.e. Muslim) officials:
Immediately he slips in adding:
Why in the world would Mr. Herak be harmed when he had said everything the Islamic fundamentalist ears wanted to hear? He said everything that "neutral" reporter from NATO country could and did gladly print.
Obviously, the Muslim officials presented only the prisoners who were willing to say whatever they were told, so they would be allowed to live one more day. We should also remember this detail that Mr. Burns asked Mr. Herak to take of shirt. How did Mr. Burns get the idea? Why did Mr. Burns not interview Mr. Damjanovic, the other Serbian soldier captured with Mr. Herak? He obviously knows about him and mentions him in the article. Why didn't he ask Mr. Damjanovic to pull up his shirt? We will get answers to all those questions.
Obviously Mr. Damjanovic was not nearly as compliant as Mr. Herak. Mr. Burns says:
Actually, as we will see later, Mr. Damjanovic and his wife Nada Tomic, together with Mr. Herak, have all signed statements, in front of their Muslim "investigators." All three texts were supposedly consistent with each other. Not a difficult thing to do. But two weeks after the trio was caught, Mr. Burns and other Western reporters were left with only Mr. Herak to interview.
Well, in time, we will also see that the methods of "investigation" were a bit medieval. In medieval times actually the term "inquisition" was preferred over the term "investigation."
The mass rape!
Mr. Burns' article has all the elements needed to present the Serbs as Nazis. There is mass-murder, a whole family slaughtered, ethnic cleansing, even a furnace. In copying the Nazi style Mr. Herak was supposedly ordered to kill some Muslims simply because they "were working poorly." For others there was no food to feed them... All of this is your regular every-day life in some German Nazi concentration camp of WWII. The supposed murders described by Mr. Herak were readily printed by Mr. Burns, in all the gory details. The only excuse Mr. Herak offered was a standard Nuremberg Nazi excuse - he was ordered to do it.
Despite it all, it seems that it was not enough for the Western propaganda machine that Serbs should be simply equated with the Germans of WWII. The Serbs had to be painted as worse than Nazis. This is how mass rape was invented. It is out of scope of this analysis but the mass-rape propaganda was proven to be just another anti-Serb propaganda hoax.
But here we had a Serb ready to talk and he have given his own contribution to the mass-rape propaganda campaign. We will again skip the gory details and quote only parts of Mr. Burns' article (the same Pulitzer winning article of November 27, 1992):
Mr. Herak even gave some names, first names:
By the way names like Emina, Fatima and Sabina are among the most frequent names for Bosnian Muslim women. But what a beautiful way to attract yet another Western activist group to the anti-Serb lynch mob. Here, obviously the group targeted by the propaganda was women activists.
Here is more from the same Burns article:
Makes you scream, doesn't it? Who cares a damn whether there is ANY truth to it. Hey, the reputable New York Times has printed it. Front page. They would not dare lie to such a degree. Right?
The story of mass rapes was repeated so many times by so many different (reputable) Western newspapers that it simply had to be truth. Right?
Why did we say - Never again!? Was it not Hitler's Minister of Propaganda Mr. Goebbels who said that if you repeat a lie s sufficient number of times it becomes a truth. A Big Lie has a better chance according to his master:
Western women are not heartless. The Big Lie eventually worked. Still, in late 1992 the New York Times editors felt that the story needed additional boost. Ten days after Mr. Burns' article was published, on December 7, 1992, the editorial page of the magazine said (page A18):
The invitation to Western women organizations to join the anti-Serb crusade is clear and open.
[ Herak Part 2: The scandalous trial.
(The precursor to The Hague trials) ]
[ The Hague "Tribunal" ]
The truth belongs to us all.
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Last revised: March 26, 2002