2) The vanishing corpses
Like the juggling of the numbers of "missing" and their whereabouts, excuses had to be found for the lack of corpses.
In August 1995, during a Security Council meeting, the US delegation to the United Nations accused the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs of having committed wide-scale atrocities against Muslim civilians. With what amounts to a satellite photo "peep show," Madeleine Albright had an excuse already prepared for the lack of evidence to support her charges. The NY Times in referring back to that session of the UN Security Council wrote:
"On Aug. 10,  the chief United States delegate to the United Nations, Madeleine K. Albright, showed selected photos of the two sites to a closed session of the United Nations Security Council. She then said, 'We will keep watching to see if the Bosnian Serbs try to erase the evidence of what they have done.'" One of the earlier versions was the vanishing corpses through a corrosive agent. In the same article, the NY Times adds:
"American officials said today that they suspect Bosnian Serb soldiers may have tried to destroy evidence that they killed thousands of Muslim men seized in and around the town of Srebrenica in July. The Serbs are suspected of pouring corrosive chemicals on the bodies and scattering corpses that had been buried in mass graves, the officials said. The suspicions first arose in early August, after Central Intelligence Agency experts analyzed pictures of the area taken in July by reconnaissance satellites and U-2 planes." With the absence of traces of a corrosive substance, when it comes time to dig up the "evidence," the entire legend falls flat. Another explanation had to be found: the bodies were simply dug up and moved someplace else. This excuse has its advantages: With the needle in the haystack search for "mass graves," the tribunal could keep the public at bay for quite a while. But also disadvantages: How do you remove thousands of buried, decomposing bodies without being seen by the "watchful eye" of Madeleine Albright's satellites? Undismayed by this factual detail, the Tribunal and media continue their course.
In Nov. 1995 the Dutch Minister of Defense, Joris Voorhove, accused the Serbs of "trying hastily to destroy the evidence of the massacre they committed against thousands of Bosniaks around Srebrenica." Citing "intelligence services" as his source, he claimed in a TV interview, that "these days Serbs have been exhuming the corpses from the mass graves in order to remove the evidence of their crimes."
Approaching the day of reckoning and desperate for more concrete evidence of the massacre, Richard Goldstone, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, wrote a letter to the US Embassy in the Hague in Nov. 95, to pressure the US government to come forward with the evidence it evidently had promised. The letter was quoted in the Washington Post:
"Judge [Goldstone] called the 'quality and timeliness' of intelligence provided by the United States 'disappointing.' He complained about the failure to hand over spy photos that he said could help the United Nations-sponsored tribunal identify mass graves that appeared after the fall of Srebrenica in July. The judge also complained that much of the information provided by the United States so far was based on 'open-source material' not relevant to the original requests. He submitted an additional 25 questions to Washington, including a request for information about a transcript of a conversation between General Mladic and Yugoslav Army commanders who report directly to President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia." [The reference to "open-source material," that the US government furnished the tribunal as "evidence," simply means that the CIA uses media reports, some of which are obviously its own propaganda plants.]
The Clinton Administration made public 3 of the 8 photos shown the Security Council. One of these 3 showed "disturbed soil." "According to one American official who has seen the photographs, one shows hundreds and perhaps thousands of Muslim men and boys in a field near a soccer stadium about 5 miles north of Srebrenica. Another photo taken several days later shows a large area of freshly dug earth, consistent with the appearance of known mass graves, near the stadium, which is empty."
One of the three photos reproduced in several newspapers showed two buildings, a main and subordinate road. Two light colored patches (indicated with arrows) in the middle of what could be a field with a parallel double-lined path (tire tracks?) leading from the main road to each of the light areas. The photo is entitled: "Possible Mass Graves; Kasaba/Konjevic Polje Area, Bosnia; unclassified Jul. 95." In the lower left corner the explanation of the arrows: "Recently disturbed earth."
As a NY Times journalist complained, the US government refused "to let reporters see the satellite photographs (...) which were said to include pictures of people crowded into a soccer field. American officials said the satellite photographs were classified, although Ms. Albright showed them to the other 14 members of the Security Council." This striptease sort of procedure, in itself, should provoke questions concerning the credibility of these photos portraying what we are told that they are supposed to show.
Where are other more conclusive photos showing people in the process of being shot, dead bodies being removed, open pits being - or already - filled with bodies or being covered,...? How closely were diplomats of the Security Council able to examine (for authenticity, manipulation, falsification) the photos? Were they forced to appraise the photos quickly, or were they allowed to keep copies of the photos? Why are photos purported to be the most important - those showing "Muslim men and boys," - hidden from the public? Do they actually show what the US administration claim that they show? How does the US secret service discern the difference between "hundreds and perhaps thousands of Muslim men and boys" from the same number of Serb or Croatian males - and that from outer space? The Security Council members apparently saw something different on these photos: A NY Times journalist following the presentation to the Security Council reports: "The photographs showed a stretch of fields at Novo Kasaba, near Srebrenica, where Bosnian Muslim families were apparently herded together." A mere detail? Which is the true story? The version "Muslim men and boys" given by the CIA official the day before? Or the one of "Bosnian Muslim families" the day after members of the Security Council viewed the pictures? Had they realized that they were viewing mainly women and children, (perhaps being "herded together" to prepare to be taken by bus to Tuzla)? Is this not a first indication that perhaps the satellite photos will not stand up under independent appraisal? Could this embarrassing discrepancy be the main reason why the satellite photos were made inaccessible to the public? Where is the original photo taken by the reconnaissance aircraft? Why was the original photo not shown to the Security Council? The labeling that accompanied the published photo: "Possible Mass Graves" was added after the photo was taken, meaning that the built-in time and geographical settings from reconnaissance cameras, were edited out of the picture and arrows and other written interpretations of what one is supposed to see edited onto the photo. Left to make ones' own interpretations the same photo could have been interpreted to show something having nothing to do with warfare in the Balkans. How does one know that the photo was taken near Srebrenica, or at the time that it is claimed to have been taken - and not at some other time in some other part of the world? Could it be that the US government knows that the origin of this "disturbed soil" has nothing to do with "Mass Graves"? Could this be the reason why the photo is entitled: "Possible Mass Graves"? Would this not also explain why the State Department and CIA found it necessary to launch rumors that Serbs had allegedly removed the thousands of bodies that were supposed to have been buried under this "disturbed soil" - albeit without any satellite photos to back up this new rumor? The assumption that several days after having seen a full soccer field, an empty one would signify that those formerly seen there had been executed, is so farfetched, that it could be dismissed as crazy. How many soccer stadiums remain filled overnight, or days at a time? If those seen had in fact been Muslims captured, why would the first assumption not have been that they had been taken to a prisoner of war camp? This type of explanation says more about the ethnic prejudices of the author than it does about those of Bosnian Serb armed forces. In the Bible, faith is defined as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This seems a very appropriate description of the Tribunal's handling of the US satellite and U-2 "evidence." It was on the basis of these photos that the Security Council and tribunal accused the Serbian leadership of having committed a massacre. The Tribunal's indictments against Karadzic and Mladic were primarily based on faith in the journalists' faith in the Security Council's faith in the CIA and its spy photos. Neither the press nor the tribunal were given access to all of the photos, yet both take it for granted that the Bosnian leaders are "guilty as charged."
But once the indictment handed down, the Bosnian Serb leaders shut out of negotiations and the Serbian President Milosevic under effective threat (that he too could suffer the fate of his Bosnian Serb Brethren), the Clinton Administration showed little interest in helping "further the cause of justice."
The White House spokesman, Michael D. McCurry, and other US officials responded to Goldstone's complaints by saying:
"There are certain types of intelligence information that our Government cannot share with the international community." The NY Times article continues: "Mr. McCurry cited 'national security reasons' as the reason the United States would withhold some evidence, and criticized the complaints by the prosecutor, Judge Richard Goldstone, as 'unfortunate.' (...) In defending their level of cooperation with the tribunal, Administration officials insisted that Judge Goldstone is getting most of his data from the United States and there would be no war crimes tribunal if not for the United States." With this statement these "administration officials" confirmed what Serbs and independent observers have suspected from the beginning: that the tribunal is simply being manipulated by the US to serve its own foreign policy interests, and that its procedures have really as little to do with "rule of law" standards as its goals, with doing "justice."
It has been reported that in the New York central headquarters of the UN, all files relevant to Srebrenica have been classified "secret" for the next 30 - 50 years and are not even available for the tribunal. This decision was taken at the demand of the permanent members of the Security Council, the USA, France and Great Britain, in reference to their protection of the secrecy of government documents.
With what right does the US classify evidence that it claims to have, concerning what is often referred to as "the worst atrocities committed in Europe since WW-II?" One could understand the US government withholding evidence of war crimes committed by US troops. But what justification does the US have for classifying a "national security secret," crimes committed by those designated as "enemy forces?" Is the US administration hiding the proof of a crime or proof that it has no proof of a crime? Most disturbing of all is that hardly anyone raises this question.
As in November, the snow and icy winter began to set in, chances of exhuming graves were slim. Come January, and the approaching thaw, the Tribunal and their chief prosecutor, at the time, Richard Goldstone, began to get nervous. The US government was still not forthcoming with more conclusive evidence of a massacre. At one point, Goldstone threatened "the exhumation of the graves may become necessary in order to determine the identity of the corpses and the time and cause of death and to obtain the necessary evidence." What Goldstone formulated here as a threat should have been - if the tribunal were a normal court of law - the most logical first step for determining that a crime had been committed, a prerequisite for an indictment.
Confronted with the inevitability of the exhumation, American journalists began to prepare public opinion for the disappointment that would soon come when the graves turn up empty. Washington Post journalist, John Pomfret, visited a site that "according to a Western investigator, could be 2 of several mass graves in the region believed to hold corpses of some of the estimated 12,000 Muslim fighters." Pomfret observes that: "while dirt obviously had been moved recently around the sites in Glogova, if Serbian gunmen had attempted to tamper with it or destroy evidence, they did not do a thorough job. Bones were readily visible on the clay dirt, as were bandages, shoes and other things that obviously once belonged to the men buried below." Mr. Pomfret, does not take the tampering too seriously, since he leaves the efforts of the would-be tamperers at the level of "attempting to" and admits that they did it unseriously. Could it have been that it was supposed to appear as though someone had "attempted" to tamper. Since the region was being watched by American IFOR forces, maybe Mr. Pomfret has also information about whether the would be tamperers were Americans. Besides his inflationary reporting - pulling the sum of "12,000 Muslim fighters" out of thin air - it would seem that along with his "Western investigator," Mr. Pomfret must also have a very "special" source of information concerning the would-have-been tamperers: How else would he know, that they were carrying guns - "gunmen" - instead of shovels? Little wonder they did not do a good job. Ever try to dig a hole with a rifle?
Also to be noted, and not just for both Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Pomfret, many journalists have a privileged source: their anonymous "investigators," another name for intelligence agent.
It would be interesting to learn with what means the Serbian forces supposedly disposed of 7,500 decomposing bodies. Such an enterprise would not only take a lot of time and effort, but would also require quite a large space. How is this supposed to have been accomplished without having been seen by the hi-tech satellite and U-2 surveillance?
Mr. O'Connor also affirms that the US is using "satellites that can locate bodies decomposing underground." The question should arise: Why has it taken them 3 years to locate the corpses that they claim to be in the area since July '95? And they still do not have them.
(It should not be forgotten that simply the fact of finding a "mass grave" is not necessarily proof of a mass execution. In wartime the battlefield victims of the opposing side may be disposed of in this way, until a transfer of the remains could be negotiated with the other side, to avoid the health problems that their decomposition on the surface could cause, particularly in summer.)
The work of the Hague Tribunal has been highly praised as an "example" of what is needed on a more general basis as an answer to "war crimes" and "genocide." Neither the tribunal nor the press has produced substantial evidence 1) that a genocide was ever planned or attempted by the Bosnian Serb leadership and 2) that a large scale massacre - thousands of Muslims - ever took place in the aftermath of the Bosnian Serbian takeover of Srebrenica. And this after nearly 3 years of promises to bring proof to support indictments. It is as adventurous to speak of a "genocide" without corpses as it is of a "murder" without a victim.
To be sure, if this becomes the international legal norm of jurisprudence, no national legal system - no matter how good it is, will withstand the pressure of such a totalitarian judicial system. This sort of procedure if allowed to set in on the international level will determine also national judicial standards. Humanity will find itself being juridicially set back to the standards of the era of the inquisition.