In yesterday’s post, one of the Balkan sayings I cited was “He lies like an Albanian witness.” In case this mystified some newer readers, I’m posting below just one of countless illustrations of the truth of that simile. It’s an excerpt from the late Wall St. Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s December, 1999 article “Despite Tales, the War in Kosovo Was Savage, but Wasn’t Genocide.” Another illustration of the saying, the experience of Canadian journalist Nancy Durham — who admitted to being duped by Albanians — was previously posted here. Before Pearl’s article, I’ll just quote my own 2005 article in which I cite three witness testimonies from the Milosevic trial:

Then there was a witness named Halit Barani, whom Milosevic asked if he knew that KLA commanders were to assassinate all Albanians loyal to Serbia. Barani revealed that he was sympathetic to the KLA, had met with numerous commanders, then indicted the entire Albanian population of Kosovo: “The KLA was born from within the people, to protect parents, brothers and sisters.”

A 2002 BBC wire report related Albanian farmer Agim Zeqiri’s testimony that Serb forces burned down his village and killed members of his family. Upon cross-examination, when the proceedings brought to light that his village of Celina was harboring and supporting Albanian rebels, Zeqiri claimed to feel too ill to continue, but “did acknowledge that the KLA had used the village as a source of provisions and that at least 300 members of the KLA were based there.”

Another witness, Fehim Elshani, was actually rebuked by the now deceased presiding judge Richard May, when he refused to answer Milosevic’s questions at all. In the end, he testified that he did not know of any KLA crimes, while admitting that his son was KLA. Elshani, Zeqiri and another “farmer”, Halil Morina — who claimed to have no knowledge of any KLA presence in his village of Landovica (where after the war a monument was erected to the town’s fallen KLA soldiers) — frequently avoided eye contact with Milosevic as he cross-examined them.

The three-judge panel actually ruled in favor of Milosevic’s objections to admitting testimony from chief Kosovo war crimes investigator Kevin Curtis because of the irrelevance of “evidence” composed entirely of “repeating stories he had heard from others,” the AP reported.

From Pearl:

…The KLA helped form the West’s wartime image of Kosovo. International human-rights groups say officials of the guerrilla force served on the Kosovo-based Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, whose activists were often the first to interview refugees arriving in Macedonia . Journalists later cited the council’s missing-persons list to support theories about how many people died in Kosovo, and the State Department this month echoed the council’s recent estimate of 10,000 missing. But the number has to be taken on faith: Western investigators say the council won’t share its list of missing persons.

Even more closely connected to the KLA was Radio Free Kosova, set up in January as outsiders were cut off from Kosovo hot spots. A former correspondent for the radio, Qemail Aliu, says he and five other journalists holed up with the KLA in the central Kosovo mountains, using satellite phones to take reports from KLA regional commanders. The radio broadcasts were just strong enough to reach the provincial capital, Pristina, where a correspondent translated the reports into English for the KLA’s Kosova Press Internet site.

When the guerrilla encampment had electricity, Mr. Aliu watched NATO briefings on TV. “Many times we saw [NATO spokesman] Jamie Shea talking about the number of people killed, and many times they were the numbers from Kosova Press,” he says.

Bosnia yielded three Pulitzer Prizes for reporters who proved atrocities. When Kosovo was finally opened to the foreign press in June, “fixers” cruising through the lobby of Pristina’s Grand Hotel offered to take correspondents to burial sites. [Note: Two of those Pulitzers have since been shown to be based on false atrocities.]

An example of the mass-grave obsession is Ljubenic, a poor western-Kosovo village of 200-odd homes below the Cursed Mountains, which KLA fighters had used as a supply route. On the morning of April 1, Serb forces surrounded the town, villagers say, and three heavily armed militiamen walked up the village’s main dirt road. They say the Serbs corralled village men at a crossroads, questioning them about weapons and the KLA. Two villagers who spoke up were shot. One of the Serbs then said, “The KLA killed my brother,” and the Serbs started mowing down the men with machine guns, survivors say.

Eleven wounded men later staggered away in two groups, says survivor Sadik Jahmurataj, who adds that his group found a KLA hospital in the hills a day later. When a KLA commander asked how many were killed, “the others were in a panic and said ‘150 to 200.’ I said, ‘No, that can’t be. One hundred at the most.’ ”

Over the next weeks, Mr. Jahmurataj and others told their stories to investigators from several human-rights groups. And after the war, returning villagers, who found 12 bodies scattered around Ljubenic, told Italian peacekeeping troops that 350 people were still missing from Ljubenic and the surrounding hamlets. One villager told of seeing worms coming from the ground in a field where the grass was unusually short.

On July 9, after getting an “operations report” from the Italians, Dutch Army Maj. Jan Joosten mentioned during a regular press briefing in Pristina that a suspected grave had been found, and there could be as many as 350 bodies. He says journalists started packing their bags for Ljubenic before he even finished. “Biggest grave site holds 350 victims,” London’s Independent newspaper proclaimed the next day. Concern Worldwide, a charity working in Ljubenic, claimed that three-fourths of families lost their main wage-earner.

In fact, investigators found no bodies in the field. It now appears that the number killed in Ljubenic was about 65. That is how many names are listed in KLA-printed memorial posters.

Though brutal, these incidents don’t have the impact of accounts of Serbs rounding up Albanian men and dumping their corpses down a mine shaft. The world may owe that image to Halit Berani, head of a branch of the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms in the city of Mitrovica. Mr. Berani is a former actor with a Karl Marx beard who summarizes Serb war crimes by showing a photo of a baby with a smashed skull.

Mr. Berani spent the war moving from village to village with his manual typewriter, calling in reports to foreign radio services and diplomats with his daily allotment of three minutes on a KLA satellite phone. He says he heard from villagers near Trepca that trucks were rolling in full and rolling out empty, and that a strange smell was coming from the mine complex. He phoned in a report in early April suggesting that the mines had become a body-disposal site, and Deutsche Welle, a Germany-based radio service, carried the report in Albanian.

The story spread. In June, Kosova Press’s Internet site quoted a U.S. embassy official in Athens as saying there are “witnesses and still photos” of trucks carrying bodies. Western journalists phoned the embassy, but a spokeswoman said she couldn’t find the supposed source.

London’s Observer ran a similar story, citing a KLA commander, a girl who got a call from an elderly resident, and a Kosovar who heard the story from refugees. A Pentagon spokesman, quizzed about Trepca at the time, said, “There have been several reports throughout the last 10 weeks of bodies being burned in former industrial sites in Kosovo.” Some commentators stated the theory as fact.

When French troops took over the mines, they reported to the tribunal that they had found well-scrubbed vats and piles of clothing. Tribunal investigators weren’t impressed: Clothes are found everywhere in trash-strewn Kosovo, and why would the Serbs clean vats but not burn clothes? After the fruitless search, “we don’t see any need to do further investigation at this point,” a tribunal official says.

Mr. Berani doesn’t completely stand by his story. “I told everybody it was supposition, it was not confirmed information,” he says. But he adds, “For the Serbs, everything is possible.”

That kind of thinking has its parallel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Arabic cameramen who string for any number of reputable international news organizataions and who stage Israeli atrocities in the West Bank (and previously in Gaza) justify their craft by saying it doesn’t matter that the footage is false, because it represents the truth of the reality of what the Israelis supposedly do.

Meanwhile, on the point about the KLA helping to form the West’s wartime image of Kosovo and about the humanitarian organizations and NATO parroting the reports coming from KLA operatives, here is a self-description from an agency called The Croatian Information Centre, which could help explain the West’s likewise anti-Serb position during the Croatia leg of the Balkan wars (emphasis added):

The Croatian Information Centre (further in this text: HIC) is a non-government, non-party and non-profit company which was founded in the 1991 war year.

Already in August of 1991, HIC commenced to open press centres (Foreign Press Bureau) in Zagreb, Split, Zadar, Vinkovci, Osijek, Slavonski Brod and throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. These press centres became the first stopover for foreign journalists reporting on the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and a place where they sought necessary information about the situation on the front-lines, arranged for translating services, field guides and other services. (Aren’t they thoughtful!)

…From the very beginning, intensive cooperation was formed with Croatian émigrés, who, based on HIC information from the field and with the assistance of written, audio and video material, lobbied in their domicile countries for the interests of the Republic of Croatia. HIC publications were dispatched to American Congressmen and Senators, the highest government officials and non-government institutions throughout the world, as well as the most important libraries and editors of reputable world papers.

Below appears one of the many fruits of the Croatian propaganda effort, as referenced in a 1997 letter by then NY Times Balkan Bureau Chief Chris Hedges. He was writing back to Buchenwald concentration camp survivor John Ranz, who complained that Hedges had falsely asserted in an article that Croatian Serbs “trashed the small museum at Jasenovac” (site of a WWII death camp for Serbs, Jews and Roma) — when in fact “the Jasenovac Museum was destroyed,” Ranz wrote in his letter, “by departing Croatian troops who captured the area briefly in September of 1991, according to accounts in the London Independent, the Washington Times and a documentary film by Michael Ignatieff”:

Dear Mr. Ranz:

…I believe you are correct about who trashed the shrine, and will be careful in the future to note this. The Croat officials who took me to the camp, including a government minister, were, I have found, less than candid about that episode.

Your final point, about the failure to put Yugoslavia through a deNazification program is correct, and perhaps worth a story. You are also correct in warning us about [Croatian President] Tudjman’s attempts to rehabilitate the Ustashe [Nazi] movement. And I share your concern about the deportation of the Serbs from the Krajina.

Chris Hedges
Balkan Bureau Chief