CONCENTRATION CAMP TRNOPOLJE, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
The picture you are looking at was taken at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp, one of many places where Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians were systematically tortured and killed. Just days after the picture's publication, Serbian soldiers killed seven men in the camp whom they had recognised.
The Living Marxism magazine was launched in 1988 as an outlet for the Revolutionary Communist Party, a bizarre controversialist sect which split from the "International Socialists" in the 1970s. Soon the Revolutionary Communist Party was collapsed into Living Marxism, which, hovering between three different parent companies, later changed its name to LM.
In February 1997, Living Marxism (LM) magazine recruited the investigative journalist Thomas Deichmann to tell the (so called) 'real' story behind the Bosnian enclosures. Deichmann was an engineer by training, not a journalist. His writing was largely confined to an obscure German magazine called Novo, which he used repeatedly to defend the Bosnian Serb leadership against charges of murder, torture, rape and ethnic cleansing. He presented himself as a witness for the defence at the trial of the Bosnian Serb war criminal Dusko Tadic who in 1997 became the first man to be convicted in The Hague for crimes against humanity - many of those crimes having been committed in Trnopolje and Omarska (Serb-run concentration camps).
In February 1997, Living Marxism published Thomas Deichmann's article - "The Picture That Fooled the World" - claiming that the broadcasting company ITN had fabricated its dramatic discovery in 1992 of Bosniak prisoners held in Serb-run concentration camps. LM's article "The picture that fooled the world" argued that ITN's footage, in which emaciated Bosniak men clung to barbed wire, showed not a detention centre, as ITN maintained, but a 'safe' haven for refugees. Living Marxism claimed the Bosnian Serb soldiers at the camp were not detaining the Bosniaks but defending them. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
The following article The Poison in the Well of History (Ed Vulliamy) was published March.15.2000 by The Guardian:
Living Marxism accused ITN of distorting the truth about Bosnia. Now, it faces ruin after losing the ensuing libel battle. Ed Vulliamy , who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje concentration camp, explains why an unholy alliance of Serb apologists and misguided intellectuals had to be defeated in court
Some will say that Living Marxism won the "public relations battle", whatever that is. Others will cling to the puerile melodrama that ITN's victory in the high court yesterday was that of Goliath over some plucky little David who only wanted to challenge the media establishment. But history - the history of genocide in particular - is thankfully built not upon public relations or melodrama but upon truth; if necessary, truth established by law. And history will record this: that ITN reported the truth when, in August 1992, it revealed the gulag of horrific concentration camps run by the Serbs for their Bosniak and Croatian quarry in Bosnia.
The law now records that Penny Marshall and Ian Williams (and myself, for that matter) did not lie but told the truth when they exposed this crime to the world, and that the lie was that of Living Marxism and its dilettante supporters who sought, in the time-honoured traditions of revisionism, to deny those camps existed.
Of course Living Marxism was unable to offer a single witness who had been at Trnopolje, the camp they claimed to be a fake, on that putrid afternoon of August 5, 1992. Indeed, they were unable to produce any witnesses at all. Unlike any member of Living Marxism or their sympathisers, I was there with ITN's cameras that day. We went to two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje.
Living Marxism does not like to mention Omarska: there, we saw little, but enough: skeletal men drilled across a yard and devouring watery stew like famished dogs before being bundled out. One man said: "I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth."
The truth emerged with time. Omarska turned out to be the kind of place where one prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off another, who had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle the screams as he died in agony. The yard at Omarska was a killing field, prisoners obliged to load the mutilated corpses of their friends on to trucks by bulldozer.
Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes. Unknown to us when we pulled up on the road, in disbelief at the sight before us, it was the former group that was held captive behind the now celebrated barbed wire fence.
At the time I paid little attention to what would become Living Marxism's myopic obsessions: such as which side of which pole the old barbed wire or fresh barbed wire was fixed. There were more important matters, such as the emaciated Fikret Alic's (accurate and vindicated) recollections of the night he had been assigned to load the bodies of 250 men killed in one night at yet another camp.
If it is still of any remote interest, I will say this: I now know the compound in which these terrified men were held captive to have been surrounded on one side by recently reinforced barbed wire, on two sides by a chain-link fence patrolled by menacing armed thugs and on a fourth side by a wall. But so what? This was a camp - I would say a concentration camp - and they were its inmates.
What does it take to convince people? The war ground on, the British foreign office and Living Marxism in perfect synergy over their appeasement of the Serbs while other, worse camps were revealed. The bench in The Hague issued its judgment on Trnopolje in 1997: a verdict that described the camp as infinitely worse than anything we reported - an infernal place of rape, murder and torture. Witness after witness confirmed this. The Financial Times enthusiastically re-iterated Living Marxism's claims of a fabrication, but published a hasty and grovelling retraction when it looked at LM's non-evidence.
It was dispiriting to have to report that in the first year of what was proclaimed as the new united, democratic Europe such places as Trnopolje and Omarska existed. It was worse still to return to London and find an obscure group of supposed intellectuals putting such effort into trying to convince society that the camps had been a fabrication and that I had committed perjury when testifying to their existence and horrors at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague My friends and colleagues Marshall and Williams - brave reporters of the highest calibre - were being branded as liars. I suffered a whole lot less but there was a steady stream of hate mail. "You piece of shit," read one letter from an LM supporter revelling in the destruction of Vukovar, "probably a nasty little Jew.'"
Those most horribly insulted, of course, were the disbelieving camp survivors and relatives of the dead. I happen to believe that those who survive and are left bereaved by such monstrous crimes are owed at least one thing. They should be given back their lives by an admission that what happened happened. Their sanity requires that history records and acknowledges the truth of the atrocities that were committed against them and those they lost.
Richard Tait, editor of ITN, realised that three things had to be reclaimed. One, the reputation of his correspondents and his programme. Two, the trustworthiness of front-line, on-site reporting in general. And three, the need to etch the truth about those camps into history. Tait was the man who in private and in his affronted, righteous anger used the words "revisionism" and "fascism" without blushing.
When ITN sued in pursuit of these aims, the company of course ran the risk that such action would draw attention to LM's revisionism. But no one could have predicted the degree to which, rather than be dismissed as a foul revisionist trick, Living Marxism's claims would become a matter for voguish tittle-tattle among bored intellectuals on the sofas of the Groucho Club.
LM played its hand well but the rot in the British intelligentsia made it easy for them to do so.
LM succeeded in entwining the two issues of the libel writ and denial of the camps. Some of their supporters argued that they accepted the truth of the genocide but nevertheless felt compelled by ITN's supposedly heavy-handed use of the libel laws to speak out in favour of those who denied the carnage. But such distinctions were utterly unconvincing. Those who helped LM cannot fail to recognise that by doing so they also stirred the poison LM had dropped into the well of history, playing their own role in denying a genocide.
By this entwinement, genocide was devalued into a "media debate", something to chitter-chatter about over grilled sea bass and pale Belgian beer.
Hungry for controversy, a sizeable portion of London's intelligentsia lined up to support Living Marxism. They rallied round those who had named me and others as liars in the name of free speech - so why not name them too, the great, the good and the up-and-coming? Fay Weldon, Doris Lessing, Harold Evans, Toby Young, and even a handful of contributors to this newspaper. A diverse coterie, eager to sip Living Marxism's apparently excellent claret at the ICA, to eat their canapés and run alongside the rotten bandwagon of revisionism. But how, and why?
One could argue about post-modern ennui and the paucity of values in a society obsessed by packaging. One could argue very cogently about the complete inability to understand fascism, about "victim-hatred" and the strong historical strand of British appeasement of Europe's tyrants, from Franco and Hitler to Milosevic. There was also a mutated strand of anti-Semitism in a lot of this, the Muslims being, in their way, the Jews of Bosnia. But the most tangible answer lies, I think, in the way revisionism works in a bored society, whether you are David Irving or Living Marxism. For just as the Serbs were the tinpot Nazis of the Balkans, so Living Marxism is the tinpot Holocaust denier, appealing to the same cheap slogans.
There is at the moment a remarkable convergence of trials: ITN vs Living Marxism wraps up in the high court; in The Hague, four guards at the Omarska camp go on trial. And also in London, Irving's case against Deborah Lipstadt, for her book Denying the Holocaust, approaches its denouement.
Like Irving, Living Marxism tried - and to a degree succeeded - in couching its argument on the reality of Trnopolje as a matter of free speech. This was LM's most grotesque deceit. Free speech has nothing whatsoever to do with LM's agenda. Although it denied it in court, Living Marxism - on this issue at least - is first and foremost an apologist for the genocide orchestrated by Belgrade. Thomas Deichmann, the author of the original LM piece on Trnopolje, was a defence witness for the camp-roving thug Dusko Tadic, who in 1997 became the first man to be convicted in The Hague for crimes against humanity - many of those crimes having been committed in Trnopolje and Omarska. One of Tadic's attorneys, Mikhail Wladimiroff, has since published his own revisionist views of Trnopolje in LM.
Deichmann has also been a regular contributor since his original article: one of his less subtle efforts was a grovelling interview with the man at the apex of the Serb's genocidal command structure, Radovan Karadzic, on whose authority we went to the camps in the first place. Karadzic is now wanted in The Hague for genocide, but Deichmann's article was entitled "War Criminal or Whipping Boy?" No prizes for guessing which thinly-veiled conclusion Deichmann came to. LM's continuous flagellation, in successive articles, of us "bloody liberals" and "cosmopolitan types" who contested the genocide became almost tedious - while the views of the authors were more interesting.
As is by now well-known, Living Marxism has become adept at finding or placing supporters in what it regards as influential positions in the media. This is all perfectly above board: the Times was desperate enough to offer LM's editor, Mick Hume, his own column. The signatories of LM's letters are familiar bylines across Fleet Street. But the pivot of Living Marxism's activities in the mainstream is, for some reason, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has at times, backstage, been torn asunder by arguments over key positions held by the group's leading members.
Two of these are a Serb called Laza Kekic, the author of some of the most virulent attacks on the "bloody liberals", and Joan Phillips, who also works under the name Joan Hoey. This is the text of an email that came my way from Kekic to Hoey, written after the Nato bombardment of 1995 that produced the Dayton agreement:
"The Serbs have come back from far more difficult moments in the past. In the meantime, should accept and swallow a lot and consolidate what's left. Can even do Eurospeak and fluff on about the Balkan peace and co-operation in the meantime. Then, at some future date, the obliteration of the Bosniaks, the Albanians, and last of all the Croats. That's my perspective. And there's little else left to say."
Indeed there isn't. The message was sent from Kekic's electronic address at the Economist Intelligence Unit on September 14, 1995, at 10.11am. Others in the series of emails involve chatter about gainful contact with David Owen and friendly journalists at the BBC and Observer.
At one point during the trial, LM produced video footage shot by what it called Bosnian-Serb Television, which did indeed have a crew there that day. But these particular images, it emerges, came from a third camera, a camcorder held by a man in military fatigues I remember well; LM was serviced in that instance by Serbian military intelligence.
The point is this: "free speech" has nothing to do with what is going on. Living Marxism's attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathised with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and - in the final hour, the only - issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.
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ITN, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams sued LM magazine (formerly Living Marxism) over a claim that they misrepresented an image of an emaciated Bosniak, Fikret Alic, at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in August 1992.
They said an article, editorial and press release, headed "The picture that fooled the world", published in February 1997, amounted to a highly damaging attack upon their reputations and professional integrity.
ITN and two of its reporters have won £375,000 in High Court libel damages from a communist LM magazine. Reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams were each awarded £150,000 in damages. The left-wing magazine was also ordered to pay £75,000 to ITN for libelling them in a February 1997 article headlined "The Picture That Fooled the World."
ITN said it would pay its damages to the International Committee of the Red Cross to continue its humanitarian work with the victims of conflict on all sides.
Outside the court, Ms. Marshall said: "Today's decision is important for ITN in that it vindicated its journalists and cameramen."
Mr. Williams added: "This case was about what happened in those concentration camps in northern Bosnia. What we have seen is a sordid attempt to rewrite history."
Ms Marshall and Mr Williams also issued a joint statement which said: "There was never any doubt whatsoever that the allegations made against us were both untrue and unfounded.
"The reports in question were filmed and presented with the professionalism and integrity that would be expected of us."
"LM was given every opportunity to retract the article and its allegations."
"There is absolutely no doubt that freedom of speech is essential to society."
"But the freedom to print lies masquerading as the truth, as LM did, is not."
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Update: As of March 31, 2000: LM, the magazine formerly known as Living Marxism, has closed after losing a libel action brought by ITN over an article in which it falsely accused the broadcaster of misrepresenting one of the most enduring images of the Bosnian war.
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Fikret Alic - He Was the Face of Bosnia's War - What Happened Next?
Kate Connolly in Berlin
Sunday August 4, 2002The Observer
His emaciated, terrified face became an icon of the Bosnian war. When Fikret Alic was filmed at a Serb-controlled prison camp 10 years ago this week, the world watched in horror.
As he stared at the ITN cameras through the barbed wire fence at Trnopolje, Alic prayed that the pictures would prompt Western governments to act and end the bloodshed.
The horrific images went round the globe and led to renewed diplomatic manoeuvres, culminating in the 1995 Dayton peace accord which ended the four-year conflict started by the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Ten years after he was filmed in the concentration camp, Alic is married to Aida, and they have a two-year-old son, Amir. The couple live in a modest three-room flat in Hjorring, Denmark, and work at an abattoir. They dream of returning to a more peaceful Bosnia. Alic says: 'We'd like Amir to be able to start school there, at the very least.'
Alic only escaped death in Trnopolje by securing female clothing and mingling with women bussed out of the camp. 'During the journey we were stopped several times,' he said. 'Once I was almost discovered as Serbian soldiers dragged the women off the bus to rape them.'
With the help of human smugglers who secured forged identity papers, Alic fled to Denmark, where he was granted asylum.
Danish doctors found him in a terrible state. His weight had fallen from 13.5 stone to 7 stone. Six of his ribs were broken, as was his lower jaw.
All his teeth had been kicked out or had fallen out owing to malnutrition; his nose was broken; he had a fractured skull and more than 100 scars from stabs, cuts and burns.
Last week Alic, unrecognisable as the 22-year Bosniak prisoner of the Serbs 10 years ago, said that time would heal, but the scars remain.
In an interview with the German news magazine Stern, he recalled how each day at least 10 people died in the barracks where he and thousands of others were held. Their bodies 'were simply piled up in a corner and stayed there, until the smell of decay was bearable no more'.
'We were beaten with chains and clubs, and tortured with electric shocks or burning cigarettes,' he said. 'Some prisoners had their throats cut before our eyes, while others were shot.
'That was when the Serbs threw tear-gas grenades through the windows and if we wanted to save ourselves from the smoke-filled barracks through the windows and doors, they opened machine-gun fire on us.'
He said that 'death would have been a welcome friend to me at that time. I even tried to provoke the henchmen by laughing at them when they tortured us. When that didn't help, I begged them several times to shoot me. But they only said it wasn't worth them wasting a bullet on me.'
Alic had been at the concentration camp for nine days when journalists stumbled upon him. Just days after the picture's publication, Serbian soldiers killed seven men in the camp whom they had recognised.
The picture of Alic and his fellow prisoners was used as evidence in war crimes tribunals in The Hague. But it also sparked a debate, which divided intellectuals across the political spectrum, over the claims that the Serbs were running Nazi-style concentration camps.
Five years after its publication on 7 August, 1992, the image led to a high-profile libel case between ITN, which had taken the pictures, and the monthly periodical LM (formerly Living Marxist ) which, in an article entitled 'The Picture that Fooled the World', claimed the report was construed to give the impression the camp was a concentration camp run by Serbs for Bosnians and Croats rather than just a collection centre for refugees. It claimed that Alic was emaciated because of a childhood bout of tuberculosis.
The Observer's Ed Vulliamy, who had accompanied the ITN team and helped break the story of the horrors of the camp, gave evidence in the trial, arguing that those who had died in Trnopolje and Omarska concentration camps were those 'most horribly insulted' by the LM report.The case was won by ITN, and the magazine later declared itself bankrupt.
In 1998, six years after his escape, a largely physically healed but still mentally scarred Alic returned to his homeland. 'I wanted to see for myself exactly what had happened,' he told the magazine. There it was that his life took a turn for the better, when he met and fell in love with Aida. They married soon afterwards. 'She's the best thing that has ever happened in my life,' he said of his 24-year old wife. 'She has helped me immensely to start to enjoy life again.'
Two years ago Amir was born. The couple are bringing up the boy to speak their mother tongue of Bosnian. 'When he was born, I cried with happiness,' Alic added.
Alic's lack of bitterness is astounding. His initial anger towards his perpetrators, he said, has been damped down as war crimes tribunals have got under way.
'First, I wanted to kill our torturers with my own hands, but then the arrest and conviction of the 'Butcher', (Bosnian Serb) Dusan Tadic - who came from the same area as me - helped me to get a grip.'
'But I still have nightmares,' he added. 'I wake up in the night dripping with sweat and I still have a lot of physical pain.'
Fikret Alic in Serb-run Concentration Camp (1992)
Bosnian Prisoner Praises ITN Crew
March. 14. 2000.
The emaciated Bosnian man whose image was at the centre of a libel dispute between ITN and Living Marxism has praised the TV crew for their coverage.
Bosniak Fikret Alic paid tribute to ITN reporter Penny Marshall. He also expressed his gratitude to the TV crew who had filmed the Serb-run Trnopolje camp where he and hundreds of others were held captive in August 1992.
"Until Penny arrived, no one knew around the world what had happened and that we were all prisoners," he told ITN through an interpreter.
Ms Marshall and her colleague Ian Williams were each awarded £150,000 by the High Court on Tuesday, following a successful libel action against Living Marxism. The magazine ran a story questioning the veracity of the coverage.
But Mr Alic added that after the camera crew left, conditions at the camp deteriorated further.
"Our lives changed a lot," he said. "I would like to say that behind the cameramen there were Serb soldiers and they shouted to write everybody's names who said something in front of the camera.
He went on: "At the time they didn't know why they were saying that but the camera crew left and they started killings."
He added: "Justice is in The Hague. I wouldn't like something like that to happen anywhere in the world."