Where are the Bodies in Kosovo? (II)

October 19, 1999

Comment: #327

Discussion Thread:  #s 278 (Ref. 1) & 326

STRATFOR just raised the question of whether or not genocide occurred in Kosovo and I used that report to argue that the US government has a high obligation to answer this question in a verifiable factual way, because the US government based its decision to go to war on a moral justification for a war that violated other moral principles -- namely the rule of law, constitutional accountability, and the principle of national sovereignty, which are moral values our nation professes unconditionally and is expected to uphold [Comment 326].

The basic reason why STRATFOR was able to argue that genocide might NOT have occurred is the paucity of the human remains needed to support the claim. To date, only a small number of the 400+ suspected execution/burial sites have been investigated by scientific forensic methods. Moreover, the uncertainty posed by the paucity of data is bound to increase, because, in a few weeks, the snows and ice of winter will shut down most forensic investigations until the Spring thaw.

Roy Gutman, a highly regarded reporter for Long Island Newsday, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering genocide in Bosnia, a man who has spend many years in the Balkans, including Kosovo, responded to Comment #326 with the attached email message. Gutman argues that genocide did in fact occur. Moreover, he believes that the real number killed may approach 20,000 rather than the 11,000 claimed by administration sources. His views are based on long experience and on-the-spot observations and must, therefore, be taken seriously as a judicious counterpoint by anyone who might be tempted to conclude that the absence of confirming information implies genocide did not occur.

On the other hand, Gutman makes it clear that his analysis is not a counter-factual statistical argument, but one of expert opinion, based on reason, extensive personal observation, and a study of Serbian ethnic cleansing methods. Included in Gutman's response (second paragraph) is a brief outline of a method that could be used to determine how many Kosovar Albanians were in fact murdered by the Serbs during the recent Serbo-NATO War. Gutman's proposal is clearly labor intensive and therefore expensive, but the question of genocide is too important to ignore.

Unfortunately, the question will be ignored, and the poisonous uncertainty will fester, unless decisive is taken as soon as possible.

RECOMMENDATION: The US government, together with its NATO allies, the Russians, and impartial members of the UN (like Finland), should use the down-time of winter to prepare for the Spring by putting together a comprehensive plan and assembling the resources (money, people, and equipment) needed to determine once and for all the true magnitude of Serb atrocities (and any Albanian atrocities) during the Serbo-NATO War.

-----[Begin email from Roy Gutman]-----

(I have taken the liberty to break down some of the paragraphs into multiple paragraphs but the text is unchanged)

Date: Mon, 18 Oct 1999
Subject: killings in Kosovo To: cspinney@erols.com

Dear Mr Spinney:
I just read your analysis of the deaths in Kosovo (courtesy of Pat Sloyan) and must say that if you rely on others' reports including those of the ICTY, each of whom has an institutional agenda, your skepticism is understandable. But it is not a sufficient basis for constructing a theory of the war or the crimes of war.

There is no substitute for doing your own research on the ground. This means getting to the top humanitarian (e.g. ICRC), UN, and local religious and civil officials in each region and getting their figures then testing them by doing a "bore sample" of an area. That means visiting each village, determining how many are known dead or missing there, and then on the basis of one's own methodology making an estimate and taking that to other regions.

I would not take the Spanish assessment as anything special at all, If they are operating in the Italian/Spanish region (northwest Kosovo), you should be aware that that is the least seriously run of all the KFOR regions. The Italians, who are in charge there, are a complete disaster. I also have no clue how seriously and deeply the Spanish investigators have probed into the methods of the Serbs including destruction and removal of evidence (q.v.) As for Trepca, I looked into that and came up empty handed, but I am not aware whether ICTFY or anyone else has really researched this enormous area, which has numerous mineshafts and other means of disposal. I do know that reporters (e.g. CNN) who arrived in the Zvecan smelter north of Mitrovica found some bizarre and possibly deliberately misleading evidence at the scene: piles of women's and children's clothes, and barrels of chemicals that could have been used to dissolve corpses. It was misleading because no one ever alleged the Serbs had destroyed evidence in that way; and second, no one ever alleged they were killing women and children en masse in any fashion. I found that ICTFY, for whom I have a lot of respect, unfortunately is not in the business of determining what really happened, rather of prosecuting cases that it can readily assemble.

One of their investigators told me that he thought mysteries such as Trepca would never be solved by gumshoes because the Serbs obviously organized a "clean-up" operation, and the only hope was that someone involved would come forward and admit what had happened.

If you cannot go to the scene, before reaching conclusions, I would at the very least talk with the leading humanitarian groups, including ICRC, Robinson's office at the UN, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, MSF, Amnesty International, etc. You should be able to compile sufficient material from different villages that one or another group investigated to get a grasp of the order of magnitude.

So that brings me to my own research. I came away from six weeks in the Prizren area convinced, both from internal sources and external evidence, that this time around, there was a concerted effort by the Serbs, indeed a part of the operational plan, to organize the clean-up. I hasten to add it was not done to completion. There is ample evidence of not only killing, of torching by specialized squads, and also of removing the evidence -- sometimes to a different village, sometimes by excavating already buried corpses, or destroying it often by burning, then throwing the bones or ashes in the river or garbage heap. There was a concerted effort to avoid mass graves. It was as if they had learned their lesson from Bosnia and were determined not to be caught in the act of crimes against humanity a la Srebrenica. I had both specific cases that I researched and anecdotal evidence that I picked up without searching for it in other locations.

So I would not assume a KLA conspiracy to fool the international public. I would look first to the Serbian operating methods. A further observation: if you saw the amount of destruction, particularly in the west of the province, often in the smallest villages and hamlets which are far off the beaten path, it would temper the temptation to dismiss the estimates made so far. My own guess, and it is only that, although a UK Foreign Office expert happens to share it is, is that the number is probably around 20,000.

On the question of genocide, I would argue based on the evidence available that a genocide was in the works; without NATO intervention, there would have been one. I am not using the narrowest definition possible under the Convention -- destruction of a group in whole or in part -- under which one can be charged for the killing of 20 people -- but the broader meaning as I understand it, the destruction of the preponderant part of the group and of the ability of the remnants to survive in their habitat. The Convention requires its parties to prevent and punish the crime of genocide, so NATO could claim, in the view of a number of genocide scholars, to have acted to prevent a genocide. By the way you may find of interest a book I co-edited with David Rieff, called "Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know", published by W.W. Norton, and just out, which contains lively definitions of all these terms, and indeed all the grave breaches of the Conventions.
Roy Gutman
Newsday Washington Bureau

-----[End email from Roy Gutman]-------

Chuck Spinney

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