Amnesty International’s Chomsky invitation sparks Bosnia controversy

Noam Chomsky will speak at Queen’s University in Belfast tonight as this year’s guest for the annual Amnesty International lecture. In comments to students ahead of his lecture, Chomsky warned of the dangers of resurgent right-wing extremism in the wake of Obama’s election: “The far-right is providing answers that are completely crazy: that rich liberals are giving their hard-earned money away to illegal immigrants and the shiftless poor. A common reaction in elite educated circles and much of the left is to ridicule the right-wing protesters, but that is a serious error… If the protesters are getting crazy answers from the hard-line right-wing extreme, the proper reaction is to provide the right answers…” (Belfast Telegraph, Oct. 30)

These words will seem ironic to those who recall Chomsky’s recent apologias for the neo-fascism of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic in the 1990s, who scapegoated Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians in precisely the same terms that the American right currently uses regarding “rich liberals,” the “shiftless poor” and “illegal immigrants”—and whose campaign to purify Greater Serbia of these perceived enemies actually reached genocide. As we have noted, Chomsky joined the chorus of ostensibly “leftist” voices in the West that denied the genocide and helped loan a propaganda cover to Serb fascism.

Ed Vulliamy of The Observer, one of the journalists whose vital Bosnia work was impugned by Chomsky, protests the invitation in an Open Letter to Amnesty International:

To whom it may concern:

I have been contacted by a number of people regarding Amnesty International’s invitation to Professor Noam Chomsky to lecture in Northern Ireland.

The communications I have received regard Prof. Chomsky’s role in revisionism in the story of the concentration camps in northwestern Bosnia in 1992, which it was my accursed honour to discover.

As everyone interested knows, a campaign was mounted to try and de-bunk the story of these murderous camps as a fake – ergo, to deny and/or justify them – the dichotomy between these position still puzzles me.

The horror of what happened at Omarska and Trnopolje has been borne out by painful history, innumerable trials at the Hague, and – most importantly by far – searing testimony from the survivors and the bereaved. These were places of extermination, torture, killing, rape and, literally “concentration” prior to enforced deportation, of people purely on grounds of ethnicity.

Prof. Chomsky was not among those (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like Fred Leuchter’s questioning whether the thermal capacity of bricks was enough to contain the heat needed to burn Jews at Auschwitz. But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them the credibility and energy they required to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings. Chomsky comes with academic pretensions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists have revelled in his endorsement.

In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”. Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992 (I didn’t see him there)? Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons?

These people pretend neutrality over Bosnia, but are actually apologists for the Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic plan, only too pathetic to admit it. And the one thing they never consider from their armchairs is the ghastly, searing, devastating impact of their game on the survivors and the bereaved. The pain they cause is immeasurable. This, along with the historical record, is my main concern. It is one thing to survive the camps, to lose one’s family and friends – quite another to be told by a bunch of academics with a didactic agenda in support of the pogrom that those camps never existed. The LM/Novo/Chomsky argument that the story of the camps was somehow fake has been used in countless (unsuccessful) attempts to defend mass murderers in The Hague.

For decades I have lived under the impression that Amnesty International was opposed to everything these people stand for, and existed to defend exactly the kind of people who lost their lives, family and friends in the camps and at Srebrenica three years later, a massacre on which Chomsky has also cast doubt. I have clearly been deluded about Amnesty. For Amnesty International, of all people, to honour this man is to tear up whatever credibility they have estimably and admirably won over the decades, and to reduce all they say hitherto to didactic nonsense.

Why Amnesty wants to identify with and endorse this revisionist obscenity, I do not know. It is baffling and grotesque. By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst – Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead. Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for. I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq – it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with.

There is no concern at all with the victims, which is, I suppose, what one would expect from a bureaucrat. In any event, the letter goes nowhere towards addressing the revisionism, dispelling what will no doubt be a fawning, self-satisfied introduction in Belfast and rapturous applause for the man who gives such comfort to Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and their death squads. How far would Amnesty go in inviting and honouring speakers whose views it does not necessarily share, in the miserable logic of this AI official in Belfast? A lecture by David Irving on Joseph Goebbels?

Alistair Campbell on how Saddam really did have those WMD? The Chilean Secret Police or Colonel Oliver North on the communist threat in Latin America during the 70s and 80s? What about Karadzic himself on the “Jihadi” threat in Bosnia, and the succulence of 14-year-old girls kept in rape camps?

I think I am still a member of AI – if so, I resign. If not, thank God for that. And to think: I recently came close to taking a full time job as media director for AI. That was a close shave – what would I be writing now, in the press release: Come and hear the great Professor Chomsky inform you all that the stories about the camps in Bosnia were a lie – that I was hallucinating that day, that the skeletons of the dead so meticulously re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons are all plastic? That the dear friends I have in Bosnia, the USA, the UK and elsewhere who struggle to put back together lives that were broken by Omarska and Trnopolje are making it all up?

Some press release that would have been. Along with the owner of the site of the Omarska camp, the mighty Mittal Steel Corporation, Amnesty International would have crushed it pretty quick. How fitting that Chomsky and Mittal Steel find common cause. Yet how logical, and to me, obvious. After all, during the Bosnian war, it was the British Foreign Office, the CIA, the UN and great powers who, like the revisionists Chomsky champions, most eagerly opposed any attempt to stop the genocide that lasted, as it was encouraged by them and their allies in high politics to last, for three bloody years from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

Yours, in disgust and despair,

Ed Vulliamy,

The Observer.

A special irony is provided by the fact that just on Sept. 30, Amnesty issued a report, “Whose Justice? The women of Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting,” demanding restitution “for thousands of women and girls who were raped during the 1992-1995 war” in Bosnia, and prosecution of the perpetrators. The report notes:

Rape and other crimes of sexual violence occurred on a massive scale during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993 to prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law, including sexual violence. However, the ICTY was only able to prosecute a limited number of cases related to sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina—18 as of July 2009.

The War Crimes Chamber of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was created in 2005, to investigate and prosecute crimes that could not be prosecuted by the ICTY. To date, only 12 men have been convicted for crimes of sexual violence.

For further deconstructions of Chomsky’s genocide-apologias, see Balkan Witness.

See our last post on the legacy of the Bosnia war.

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  1. Amicus Chomsky, magis amica veritas.
    Amnesty International is featuring Noam Chomsky, because their present primary worry are American wrongs in the world, and Noam is such an eloquent US-basher. It is the on-going Balkan tragedy that, by the virtue of the historic accident that US interests there at some point aligned with the humanitarian necessity, the victims of Yugoslav wars of succession suddenly became suspect of fraud in the eyes of the US leftists and their paramount leader, Chomsky. This is like tripple victimization…

    Ok, I am not asking for a world-wide ban of Chomsky, but I join Bill in finding it ironic that he is a featured speaker at Amnesty International event, despite he and them hold such irreconcilably different opinions on the important matter of the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s. It does not serve Amnesty’s mission well.

  2. Seriously?

    Bill, do you honestly think that a US or Nato invasion has ever been for humanitarian purposes? Chomsky has been specifically asked if he was a “Milosevic sympathizer”, and he said that Milosevic deserved to be tried for his many crimes, but the specific case against him in the Hague would not have held. Amnesty is having him speak, in part, because they agree with him that NATO war crimes in Yugoslavia war should be brought up in international court as well those of Milosevic and his government. Human Rights watch agrees also. Hell, even Judge Goldstone, whom everyone has been loving recently, has said in a lecture early in the 2000’s that many (not all, but many) of the atrocities came after the bombings started, and that they were a predictable result of an international invasion.

    Yes, horrible things happened in that region, but horrible things happen all over the world. But what happens when a large foriegn force comes to supposedly “stop those horrible things”, is that even more horrific things occur. I cannot believe that someone who would name their site “World War 4”, with the many implications that come with that name, could actually think that Yugoslavia was an instance were the US acutally “came to save the day”. You’re talking about the same war were KBR perfected it’s McBase model for the military. The same war were we established several bases to overlook the Caspian energy corridor, including the horrifying Camp Bondsteel, with an airfield large enough to supply support to all Centcom operations. Much of how the US operates militarily is now based off the Balkan model, from the rhetoric to the privatized hollow army designs. Legitimizing it by essentially calling it a “good war” is ludicrous.

    I do not agree with all Chomsky says. I actually think he’s not radical enough in many instances. He’s extremely institutionalist. But he never denied that crimes were happening, he just pointed out that these same things happen in many other places, and it’s only when the region happens to meet our strategic or economic goals, we exaggerate the case and go make people’s lives even worse, while claiming we’ve made them better. Turkey was massacring and displacing Kurds at the time, but were they invaded? No, but were they used as support in the invasion. Ethiopia was doing the same in Ogaden and still are, but are they not US allies?

    Don’t get me wrong, I look at your newsfeed all the time, and appreciate your site a lot, I have since I found it 2 years ago. But claiming that we “saved the day” in the Balkans is no different than liberals claiming that we went into Afghanistan to liberate the women. It’s simply not true.

    1. Changing the subject
      Joe, the question of US intentions in the Balkan intervention, and whether the intervention ultimately helped or hurt the situation, are completely distinct from that of whether or not there was genocide in Bosnia. If you follow the links, you will see that Chomsky has shamefully loaned support and encouragement to the genocide-deniers. Opposition to US interventions cannot be based on the notion that Milosevic/Karadzic/Saddam/Taliban/etc. aren’t really that bad. Yes, they are. And pointing out the atrocities of US clients like Turkey and Ethiopia does nothing to help the victims of Serb fascism. So you might want to reply to what I actually wrote. Ed Vulliamy said a few words which could (conceivably) be taken as support for Western intervention in the letter I reprinted. But I did no such thing in my own commentary. Where did you get the phrase “good war,” which you put in quotes? Not from me, or from Vulliamy.

      That said, I absolutely believe the world owed the Bosnian Muslims some kind of solidarity. And contrary to the assumptions of both the pro- and anti-intervention crowds, the West connived with and rewarded Serb aggression, at least through the start of Operation Allied Force, the NATO bombardment campaign of June 1999. I include the Dayton Accords in this period. Maybe if the international community hadn’t sold out the Bosniaks and Albanians at Dayton, the atrocity of Allied Force could have been avoided. But, rather than demanding justice for the victims of genocide and persecution, the “left” (like Chomsky’s one-time co-author Ed Herman) were too busy cheering on Serb fascism.

      1. Bill, firstly, i should say
        Bill, firstly, i should say that both “came to save the day” and “good war” should both be in single quote marks or whatever they are called (‘good war’). I meant them as impressions i got from reading, not as quotations pulled out of the reading. sorry about that, sometimes I get wrapped up in my head write too fast to notice my mistakes. I said ‘good war’ because Vulliamy’s letter reminded me of the o-so many appeal to emotion calls that don’t directly say ‘intervention’ but do imply it’s necessity, like those we still hear for afghanistan.

        But I was responding to what you said, and not simply changing the subject, when I said that Chomsky has said that Milosevic and the many members of his government and military should be tried. I heard him say in myself in California several years ago, and he even said it in the full version of an interview that is partly quoted at the Balkan witness site, in the Kamm article. I’m not someone who would defend everything the man says, like I said before, and I am sure you have followed this longer than I have, but I’ve personally heard him say that he thought the Milosevic regime WAS criminal, but the case being held against him wouldn’t hold.

        Though his institutionalist point of view honestly gets very annoying coming from someone who occasionally calls himself an anarchist, from the institutionalist point of view that he always holds to the fact that the specific case against Milosevic wouldn’t hold up in court is important, and I think that’s why he stresses it.

        Maybe some of the things he has said have helped exonerate Serbian fascism, i don’t know of a specific instance but i will continue to look for it, and i’m sure you can lead me to them. But emotional monologue’s like Vulliamy’s also help cover the fact that the KLA was partly funded by the CIA and that they were, and still are, vital parts of the drug trade headed into the EU, and that NATO forces have also been implicated in human trafficking of young girls, and that carpet bombing cities not only usually kills many more civilians than supposed enemy combatants, but destroys lives on the same scale as camps do (though not in the same evil sense).

        It seems it was more Vulliamy’s letter than your words that got me all riled up. The second half of this, just as the latter half of my last post, was kind of a rant. sorry about that

        1. Nobody knows how to use quote marks anymore
          Single quotes are used for quotes within quotes (e.g. “Some people call the Bosnia intervention a ‘good war.'”). To denote a common phrase without specific attribution, plain old double quotes are fine. You did say “essentially,” which gives you some wiggle room, but be careful not to attribute to others things they did not actually say.

          You fail to provide a source or a link for Chomsky’s putative dissing of Milosevic. I provide both for his abject praising of the Bosnia genocide-deniers—which makes any denunciations of Milosevic come across as empty lip-service. (You don’t have to “look for it” any further than the link in the above post.) I do not doubt your claim that he made the requisite denunciation, but it doesn’t impress me very much. Sorry.

          Where did you get the idea that “the specific case against Milosevic wouldn’t hold up in court”? Thanks to his untimely death, we will never know.

          How come nobody on the left accuses anyone of “emotionalism” when they discuss oppression of the Palestinians or Maya Indians in Chiapas? Then, it is praised as “passion.” Please examine your double standards.

          How does Vulliamy’s letter “help cover” the facts of KLA or NATO corruption? A perfect non-sequitur.

          I don’t mind ranting in the sense of “emotionalism,” but I am a bit of a bear about logical consistency (and quotation marks).

          1. hello again bill
            hello again bill, I have no idea what would have happened if he was brought to court, what I was saying was that that was part of Chomsky’s claim. It is actually right next to the part where he said Milosevic should be tried, in the interview listed next to Kamm’s article within the links you posted. It leads to the chomsky site,

            like i’ve said several times, I don’t think he’s infallible, and I have found some ridiculously horrible statements by him in the links i’ve been following from you (that is looking, i like seeing source materials as much as you do), which does make his later statements feel hollow.

            and i always try to tell people when they are using “appeals to emotion”, no matter what side they’re on, it fogs up the issues at hand. and yes, i do expect people to tell me too

            DM: Does this mean that you are a “Milosevic sympathizer”?

            NC: No, he was terrible. In fact he should have been thrown out, in fact he probably would have been thrown out and in the early nineties if the Albanians had voted, it was pretty close. He did all sorts of terrible things but it wasn’t a totalitarian state, I mean, there were elections, there was the opposition, a lot of rotten things, but there are rotten things everywhere and I certainly wouldn’t want to have dinner with him or talk to him, and yes, he deserves to be tried for crimes, but this trial was never going to hold up, if it was even semi-honest. It was a farce; in fact they were lucky that he died.

            1. Not buying it
              Sorry, Joe. But this sounds to me like the same old cynical game. When nailed by an interviewer (“Does this mean that you are a ‘Milosevic sympathizer’?”) he gives a rote and equivocal disavowal (“wouldn’t want to have dinner with him”!!!)—then immediately reverts back to the party line by saying his trial was a farce. He doesn’t explain why; we are asked to accept this on faith. I remain unimpressed.

                1. What are you talking about?
                  I assume you mean Milosevic, although you use the present tense to refer to someone who has been dead for three and a half years. Now do you care to explain how Carla del Ponte and Patrick Robinson are guilty of crimes against humanity? This should be very interesting.

  3. Lands Where War Criminals Are Heroes
    Friends: Speaking of “states of denial“: Imagine a world in which the citizen-activists of the Great Powers were as critical of their own perpetrators of war crimes (etc.) as they are about the alleged perpetrators of war crimes from the ranks of The Enemy, and the alleged apologists for these Enemy perpetrators! (Compare (a) “Chomsky: why far right must be challenged,” Belfast Telegraph, October 31, 2009; and (b) “A Land Where War Criminals Are Heroes,” Nenad Pejic, Radio Free Europe — Radio Liberty, October 31, 2009.)

    God only knows, we won’t find such moral acumen in the work of The Guardian‘s resident Serbophobic reporter, Ed Vulliamy.

    Nor at Bill Weinberg’s World War 4 Report.

    David Peterson
    Chicago, USA

    1. Denial
      David Peterson’s comments can be simply dismissed. The only time he ever reads World War 4 Report is when we weigh in on Bosnia, which is no more than a few times a year. He apparently does not follow our weekly coverage of Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. He should examine his own double standards before he impugns others.

      There are, alas, few lands where war criminals are not heroes.

  4. hello again,
    i was looking

    hello again,

    i was looking through your old posts, and i think you respond to pretty much anything i had to say best in this one, along with all the comments though there are many others. i gotta tell you, that’s one of the reasons i always read what you put up, you attempt to be as thorough as possible. thanks for all the useful info, and sorry about giving you a hard time