Sources: COVERTACTION QUARTERLY, Spring/Summer 1999, Title: “William Walker: `Man With a Mission“‘, Author: Mark Cook; THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, June 1999, Title: “My Multinational Entity, Right or Wrong”, Author: Progressive Staff; EL PAIS, September 23, 1999 Title: “Spanish Police and Forensic Experts have not Found Proof of Genocide in the North of Kosovo” Author: Pablo Ordaz
Faculty Evaluators: John Kramer, Ph.D. & Andrew Botterell, Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Fera Byrd & Jeremiah Price
Mainstream coverage: Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1999, Editorial
According to the New York Times, the “turning point” to NATO’s decision to go to war against Yugoslavia occurred on January 20, 1999 when U.S. diplomat William Walker led a group of news reporters to discover a so-called Serb massacre of some 45 Albanians in Racak, Kosovo. This story made international headlines and was later used to justify the NATO bombings.
The day before the “massacre,” Serb police had a firefight with KLA rebels that was covered by an Associated Press (AP) film crew. At the end of day, the village was deserted. Then, the next day the village had been reoccupied by the KLA, and it was the KLA who initially led foreign visitors to the alleged massacre site. William Walker arrived at noon with additional journalists, and expressed his outrage at a “genocidal massacre” to the world press.
Walker’s story remains shrouded with doubt. “What is disturbing,” remarks war correspondent Renaud Girard, “is that the pictures filmed by the AP journalists radically contradict Walker’s accusations.” Challenges to Walker’s massacre story were published in Le Monde and Le Figaro: “During the night, could the UCK (KLA) have gathered the bodies, in fact killed by Serb bullets, to set up a scene of cold-blooded massacre?” (Le Figaro). Belarussian and Finnish forensic experts were later unable to verify that a massacre had actually occurred at Racak.
Walker’s pronounced massacre pled NATO’s justification for the air attacks on Serbia as a means of prevent genocide. However, reports from various foreign offices state that genocide was not occurring in Kosovo.
The Progressive Review reported that according to internal documents from Germany’s Foreign Office and regional courts on January 6, 1999, “No cases of chronic malnutrition or insufficient medical treatment among the refugees are known and significant homelessness has not been observed.” On January 12, other records noted: “Even in Kosovo an explicit political persecution linked to ethnicity is not verifiable.” In addition, records from February 4 state: “The various reports presented to the Senate all agree the often-feared humanitarian catastrophe threatening the Albanian civil population has been averted.” February 24 records state: “Events since February and March 1998 do not evidence a persecution program based on Albanian ethnicity.” Records from March: “Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have neither been, nor are now, exposed to regional or countrywide group persecution in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.”
Additionally, El Pais reports that Spanish forensic experts have not found proof of genocide in the post-war region of northern Kosovo. NATO told the Spanish forensic teams that they were going into the worst part of Kosovo and to be prepared to perform 2,000 autopsies. Only 187 bodies were found in nine villages. They were buried in individual graves (most of which pointed toward Mecca to comply with the Albanian Kidovar religious custom) and without sign of torture.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR SAM SMITH: At about the time the Balkan War broke out, I was working on a memoir of the ‘60s and read, with no little embarrassment, some of the things I wrote as a 27-year-old in 1965 about Vietnam. I found there the tracks of a Cold-War-liberal upbringing, recent service in the Coast Guard, the memory of a friend who was among the first 40 killed in Southeast Asia, but most of all of a young journalist unwilling to risk looking foolish to others. It took about a year before I could turn such influences aside and stare straight at the facts.
In the end, it was a struggle that stood me in good stead. It taught me that war was the most seductive drama most of us will ever encounter, and that the media too often chooses the role of playwright rather than of honest observer.
The task has become much harder. Not only has military agitprop become infinitely more sly and manipulative, today’s typical journalists are without personal experience of the system they celebrate. For this reason, I sometimes suggest a revival of the draft—but only for reporters. That way they would not be so easily conned by the military “experts” they so gladly interview and quote.
A less painful solution, of course, would be a far more aggressive and skeptical journalism that did not repeatedly serve, in Russell Baker’s phrase, as a “megaphone for fraud.” For my part, I find myself increasingly covering Washington’s most ignored beat: the written word. The culture of deceit is primarily an oral one. The sound-bite, the spin, and the political product placement depend on no one spending too much time on the matter under consideration.
Over and over again, however, I find that the real story still lies barely hidden and may be reached by nothing more complicated than turning the page, checking the small type in the appendix, charging into the typographical jungle beyond the executive summary, doing a Web search, and, for the bravest, actually looking at the figures on the charts.
My work on the Balkan War represents an effort of this sort. It is the result not of investigative journalism, but of something that I fear is even rarer these days: Simple journalistic curiosity, a chronic dissatisfaction with the loose ends of our culture and experience. The piece was just a compilation of what should have been in my morning paper, but was not.
Although the issue with the article “My Multinational Entity, Right or Wrong” is out of print, photocopies of the article can be obtained by sending $2 to the Progressive Review. Other coverage of the Balkan War can be found at the following Web sites: http://prorev.com/balkan.htm and http://prorev.com/balkan 2.htm.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR MARK COOK: Seldom has the power of mass media censorship been so graphically and frighteningly demonstrated as in the William Walker episode in Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo atrocity story Walker trumpeted in January 1999 was almost immediately discredited, not by a small political weekly somewhere, but by the leading newspapers in France. No matter—the discrediting was so completely suppressed in the United States that virtually no one could have heard of it. It was not as if anyone successfully answered the French journalists’ claims; practically nobody even tried. As with Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, it was found that the best way to kill the story was not to challenge it.
In contrast, Walker’s dubious Racak story was loudly and unquestioningly repeated and became the propaganda justification for the bombing war. “Racak transformed the West’s Balkan policy as singular events seldom do,” wrote the Washington Post on April 18, 1999. The same day, the New York Times called Racak “a turning point.”
Ironically, Walker had no credibility with the U.S. press corps. His role in El Salvador was so notorious that CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a segment on him twice. The second time was after the principal figure Walker was protecting, Salvadoran army chief of staff Rene Emilio Ponce, turned out to have been the main culprit in the 1989 Jesuit murders.
Since publication, the press has still not backed off the Racak story in the way that was finally done with the Battleship Maine or the Gulf of Tonkin. The revelations in the article have had an effect, however, in Europe as well as here. Many Europeans doubted Walker’s Racak atrocity story, but knew little or nothing about his role in Central America. In the period since the article’s publication, several European governments are reported privately to have called for his dismissal, arguing that if nothing else, his Salvador reputation made it difficult to use him to sell a “humanitarian” war.
Washington has not given up, however. Aside from Richard Holbrooke, who has a similarly unsavory record in East Asia and has now been appointed Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, there is Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering. As ambassador to El Salvador in 1984, Pickering publicly took much the same position that Walker accused the Serbs of taking at Racak—that it was all right to kill unarmed civilians who sympathize politically with armed rebels, since they are, in Pickering’s words, “something more than innocent civilian bystanders” (see “The Salvador Boys,” Fall/Winter 1999 issue of CovertAction Quarterly).
Readers interested in following the story further can search the Internet under the word “Racak,” where the French stories can be found in English translation. Nexus or Internet searches will produce the U.S. Embassy cables from San Salvador published by the National Catholic Reporter on September 23, 1994, as well as the articles cited on the Jesuit murders. The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights publication on the Jesuit murders, “A Chronicle of Death Foretold,” may be obtained in libraries or from the Committee, 330 Seventh Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10001.
The findings of the “United Nations Truth Commission on El Salvador” published in 1992-93, do not appear to be on the Internet but can be found in libraries. Unfortunately, the report, “De la Locura a la Esperanza,” (Naciones Unidas, San Salvador y Nueva York), is available only in Spanish, reportedly because the U.S. government blocked publication in English.