A Reuters news dispatch of October 13 bylined Pristina, Kosovo, is entitled " Absolutely No Bodies Found in Supposed Mine Shaft Mass Grave in Kosovo." This follows an earlier report by a Spanish forensic team that went into a part of Kosovo allegedly rich in killing fields, where instead of the predicted thousands the team found 187 bodies. In its examination of 30 mass grave sites the FBI has found a total of almost 200 bodies. In Ljubenic, a mass grave alleged to contain some 350 bodies, when fully exhumed contained only seven bodies. In town after town, alleged mass graves were found to be empty or contained only one or two bodies.
In an extensive review of the numerous reports, the research organization Stratfor concludes that "the numbers of dead so far are in the hundreds, not the thousands" ("Where Are Kosovo's Killing Fields?" Oct. 20, 1999). Stratfor acknowledges that huge new graves may be found, but as the ethnic Albanians were presumably eager to reveal the biggest sites, and the largest sites should have had the most witnesses and most visibility for investigative teams, much larger numbers are deemed unlikely. "The killing of ethnic Albanian civilians appears to be orders of magnitude below the claims of NATO, alliance governments and early media reports."
What makes this evidence important is that NATO's assault on Yugoslavia was built on the claim that the government was engaging in ethnic cleansing before March 24, and that thereafter, according to plan, it escalated its violence to the level of genocide. NATO eventually gravitated to the number of 10,000 ethnic Albanians butchered by the Serbian army and paramilitaries. In early August Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosovo, claimed that 11,000 had been killed, based on figures allegedly supplied by the International Crimes Tribunal for the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (ICTY). But the ICTY quickly denied having supplied such a number, and it was ICTY investigators who found the mine shaft supposedly containing 700 Albanian bodies completely empty.
It seems highly likely that the 10,000 or 11,000 figure is a propaganda fabrication, and that the true number may be in the high hundreds or as many as one or two thousand. This lesser figure is of course horrendous, but it falls far short of a "genocide" standard, and is considerably smaller than the Indonesian army- militia killings in East Timor even BEFORE the August 30 referendum, that elicited no response whatever from Clinton, Blair and company.
Where did the 10,000 figure come from? Such a round number suggests a straightforward propaganda concoction, but the numbers were of course built up by refugee claims, and Stratfor notes that "both governments and outside observers relied on sources controlled by the KLA, both before and during the war.....the sophisticated public relations machine of the KLA and the fog of war may have generated a perception that is now proving dubious."
But atrocities management and the patriotic gullibility factor must be considered crucial in this process of inflating claims of enemy villainy. Government lying on enemy atrocities is standard operating procedure in building support for war. What is more interesting, however, is that the gullible transmission of official propaganda is standard operating procedure for the U.S. mainstream media. As soon as a war starts, the mainstream media get "on the team," suspend critical analysis, and allow themselves to be led by the nose by official opinion. There is a patriotic bandwagon effect that causes virtually all reporters to toe the official line, at threat of ostracization and removal (a la Raymond Bonner in the Central American wars). Even straight reporting from enemy lines (like Bonner's) becomes traitorous--one should stick to official handouts and energetic attempts to confirm official claims. It becomes a journalistic postulate that while enemy sources lie, our official sources tell the truth. As this assumption about our officials is confuted by a steady stream of evidence, past and present, it reflects a clear and straightforward abandonment of honest journalism.
It was a notable feature of the Persian Gulf War that Peter Arnett's on-site reporting from Baghdad about bombed civilian facilities angered much of the U.S. media as well as the Pentagon and Bush administration. Arnett was accused of gullibility in the service of Saddam Hussein, when in fact Arnett was quite aware of the constraints on him, whereas the reporters in Washington who sneered at Arnett were completely unaware of their own conduit role. This was partly because the Washington reporters believed so deeply in the rightness of their cause that they thought themselves uncompromised by being "on the team," and that Arnett failed by refusing to ignore inconvenient facts that a "team player" would see hurt the cause.
Noam Chomsky has told the story of the Soviet journalist Vladimir Danchev, who for five successive days in May 1983 denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and urged the Afghans to resist this aggression. U.S. journalists applauded, and they denounced the Soviets for taking Danchev off the air. But as Chomsky pointed out, there were no U.S. reporters as bold as Danchev. During the Vietnam war no mainstream journalist denounced the U.S. attack as "aggression" and urged the Vietnamese to resist. No, the internalized patriotic gullibility and bandwagon effect caused them all to regard the U.S. as resisting "internal aggression" by the Vietnamese. This swallowing and self-righteous regurgitation of state propaganda as truth, on a system-wide and uncoerced basis, is what makes the Free Press of the U.S. so effective.
So in the case of the Yugoslav war, the mainstream media made it possible for a series of official lies to be institutionalized: the Serb refusal to negotiate at Rambouillet (whereas the Serbs were given an ultimatum with a proviso that assured rejection, to allow bombing); the humanitarian objective (whereas neither real aim nor result was humanitarian, and as Canadian former OSCE monitor Rollie Keith stated, NATO's policy turned "an internal humanitarian problem into a disaster"); and the Serb attempt at genocide by plan, not in any way induced by the NATO bombing (for which no evidence has been given, and contradicted by the earier Serb admission of 1500 OSCE observers).
Atrocities management played an important role in the institutionalization of NATO lies and the initiation of bombing. There was a series of alleged massacres, some real and some concoted, but all of them attracting intense and indignant coverage. Some, like the one at Racak on January 15, 1999, were extremely well timed to forward the program of NATO proponents of a policy of force. And an excellent case can be made that the Racak incident was provoked, its victim numbers and character inflated and distorted, and the atrocity exploited and managed for political ends (see Renaud Girard, in the French daily Le Figaro, January 20, 1999). During the bombing war, the media spent a great deal of reportorial effort passing along NATO estimates of Serb mass killings and trying to collect confirming data on Serb atrocities from Albanian refugees.
But now that the killing fields are proving to be less fertile than expected the mainstream media are exceedingly quiet on the subject. Their job was done, however, in helping rationalize the NATO display of its "resolve" and its continuing role in protecting human rights, and its success in returning Serbia to the stone age. In short, truth is not the business of the media members of "the team."
And you may be sure the mainstream media are not going to turn their attention to the killing fields of East Timor or Turkish Kurdistan, or to the dying children of sanction-ridden Iraq: Bill, Madeleine, and the other members of "the team" want them to stay away from those much more fertile fields, and they (and Susan, Todd, and Vaclav also) will do so.