Where are the Bodies in Kosovo? (IV) –
A Compendium of "Revisionist" Literature

November 26, 1999

Comment: #335

Discussion Thread:  #s 334 & 334A


[1] Lars-Erik Nelson, "That Kosovo 'Genocide' The Numbers Don't Add Up," New York Daily News, October 24, 1999.

[2] Elaine M. Grossman, "Gen. Clark Says 11,000 Genocide Victims Have Been Found In Kosovo," Inside the Pentagon, October 28, 1999.

[3] Jon Swain, "Lost in the Kosovo numbers game," Sunday Times (UK), October 31 1999. Excerpt "As doubts rise about the number of dead in Kosovo, Jon Swain, who reported the war, says Serbian barbarity must not be forgotten."

[4] Alexander Cockburn, "Where's the Evidence of Genocide of Kosovar Albanians? Yugoslavia: Uncertainties are immense, but body counts still don't show extermination plan," Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1999.

[5] Nicholas Rufford, "Cook accused of misleading public on Kosovo massacres," Sunday Times [UK], October 31, 1999.

[6] Editorial, "KOSOVO'S CORPSE COUNT: How many bodies make a genocide?" Times (UK), November 2 1999

[7] Michael Roddy, "More Charges Likely Against Milosevic -UN Official," Reuters, October 27, 1999.

[8] Steven Erlanger & Christopher Wren, "Early Count Hints at Fewer Kosovo Deaths," New York Times, November 11, 1999.

[9] James Carroll, "A Question Of Numbers," Boston Globe, November 16, 1999 Pg. 31

Everybody makes mistakes, but the important thing is to correct them as soon as one learns about them [I am somewhat of an authority on this subject, e.g., #334A]. In Comment #334, I said that Michael Ignatieff’s charge that the so-called revisionist literature failed to notice that 334 sites were not yet excavated is an outrageous fiction. I tried to show how he used this false characterization to set the stage for launching a biased attack. Eight of the nine references to this message serve to illustrate my point and, as we will see, he gets little help from the ninth.

This comment addresses further the question of whether or not Ignatieff make a reasonable mistake or deliberately distorted information to prove his point?


While there are no doubt exceptions, the overwhelming majority of the news reports and Op-Eds I have read went out of their way to say that only 20% to 40% of the killing sites in Kosovo had been excavated. In Comment #334, I said there were too many of these reports to distribute with that comment, and promised to distribute some of them in a following message. The attached list of nine articles fulfills that promise. They give the reader a feel for what the so-called "revisionists" have really been saying. I have highlighted their references to the fact the only a portion of the sites have been investigated. [Note: some email systems will not read formats for "bold fonts" and therefore the appropriate words may not be highlighted in the message you receive.]

For your convenience, I am reproducing the relevant passage from Ignatieff’s Op-Ed in #334 Reference #1.

Ignatieff said,

-----[begin quote]----

"Moreover, the revisionists have misinterpreted the Hague tribunal's numbers. The tribunal's total figure -- 2,108 bodies uncovered from 195 sites -- appeared at first to confirm the revisionists' claims. But the revisionists FAILED TO NOTICE that there are at least 334 other sites that the investigators will turn to in the spring when the ground thaws and digging can resume. No one knows how many bodies will be uncovered from these remaining sites or whether more sites will be discovered."

The TRIBUNAL'S CURRENT ESTIMATE -- from Western intelligence sources, eyewitness statements and evidence taken from surviving family members -- is that there are 11,334 bodies at 529 sites. Instead of exaggerating the case, the British Foreign Ministry's estimate in June of 10,000 bodies appears, if anything, to UNDERSTATE it."

-----[end quote]------

Recall that the numbers released by Ms. Del Ponte equated to only 37% of the sites being excavated [Comment #334, Reference 3].

EIGHT of the nine references point out that only a fraction of the sites were investigated. Moreover, note also (1) six of these references are dated BEFORE Ms. Del Ponte released the official numbers to the press on November 10, and (2) FOUR of these six references contain estimated proportions that are LESS than the 37% reported by Ms. Del Ponte, i.e., #1: 20%; #2: 28%; #3: 20% & 37%; #5: 20%; and #7: 30%; whereas only two of the six have estimates have the correct percentage of 37%, i.e., #3 & #4 [#3 contains two different estimates].

In other words, to the extent that this sample represents a fair snapshot of the "revisionist" literature, the bulk of it not only noticed that only a proportion of the mass killing sites had been investigated, but also assumed that proportion to be SMALLER than the official number the ICTY released on November 10.

Now, ask yourself the following question: Is Ignatieff’s charge that revisionists "failed to notice" the majority of sites were not excavated a fair and reasoned characterization of the so-call "revisionist" literature?

To ask the question is to answer it. I will leave it up to the reader to judge whether it was deliberate.

Note also that only one of the nine references (i.e., the Times [UK] editorial, Reference #6) does not "notice" that a fraction of the sites were investigated. But in this case, the omission does not help Mr. Ignatieff, because the aim of this editorial is hardly revisionist. In fact, the Times [UK] agrees with Ignatieff’s evident purpose, in the sense that it makes the case that the question of genocide should not detract from the moral justification of the war effort, but it does so in a far more reasoned and balanced way.

In fact, readers who are interested in penetrating the vagaries of the moral conundrum posed by the question of whether genocide matters should compare the well-reasoned but opposing arguments made by the Times in Reference #6 [i.e., it does not matter] to the Op-Ed by James Carroll published in the Boston Globe, Reference #9 [i.e., it does matter].

These two arguments stand in sharp contrast to the biased polemic issued by Ignatieff and are far better examples of how this very important debate ought to be conducted.

Chuck Spinney

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