US and British officials told us that at least 100,000 were murdered in Kosovo. A year later, fewer than 3,000 bodies have been found

Submitted by John Pilger on 4 September, 2000 - 13:00

After more than a year, the silence of those who wrote and broadcast the propaganda for Nato's "humanitarian war" over Kosovo remains unbroken: they who answered the Prime Minister's call to join "a great moral crusade" against a regime that was "set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during World War Two".

Something had to be done, they insisted. After all, by March last year, 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing, feared dead, according to the US State Department. In mid-May, the US defence secretary, William Cohen, said: "We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing . . . They may have been murdered." Two weeks later, David Scheffer, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, increased the 100,000 figure to as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59". The British press took their cue. "Flight from genocide," said the Daily Mail. "Echoes of the Holocaust," chorused the Sun and the Mirror.

As the bombing dragged on, the facade began to crack; British television viewers were shown the ruins of trains and refugee convoys attacked by Nato aircraft, and their victims. "We have a public relations meltdown," said someone at Downing Street. On cue, the then Foreign Office minister, Geoffrey Hoon, announced that, "in more than 100 massacres", about 10,000 ethnic Albanians had been killed, adding that "the final toll may be much worse". Although inexplicably reduced from the original claims of 500,000 and 100,000, this was a substantial and utterly unsubstantiated figure.

By mid-June, with the bombardment over, international forensic teams began subjecting the province to minute examination. The American FBI arrived to investigate what was called the "largest crime scene in the FBI's forensic history". Several weeks later, having found bodies but not a single mass grave, the FBI went home. The Spanish forensic team also returned home, its leader complaining angrily that he and his colleagues had become part of "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one - not one - mass grave".

At grave site after grave site, the story was similar. Reports in the western media, sourced to local people but often traced back to the Kosovo Liberation Army (as with the figures quoted above), became unbelievable. One explanation was that the Serbs had come in the night and taken the bodies away. "Where," wrote Michael Parenti in his review of the investigation, "was the evidence of mass grave sites having been disinterred? Where were the new grave sites now presumably chock-full of bodies?"

Perhaps the most significant disclosure, confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal last October, was that the Trepca lead and zinc mines contained no bodies. Trepca was central to the drama of the "genocide" investigation: the corpses of more than 1,000 murdered Albanians were presumed hidden there, many of them disposed of in vats of hydrochloric acid, according to Nato and American officials. According to the Mirror, there was evidence of the "mass dumping of executed corpses" and "Auschwitz-style furnaces". Not a single body was found: no teeth, no remains.

Last November, the Wall Street Journal published the results of its own investigation and dismissed "the mass-grave obsession". Instead of "the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect . . . the pattern is of scattered killings [mostly] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army had been active". The Journal concluded that "Nato stepped up its claims about Serb 'killing fields'" when it "saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by Nato's bombs". This propaganda, said the newspaper, could be traced back to the KLA; many of the most lurid and prominently published atrocity reports attributed to refugees and other sources were untrue. "The war in Kosovo was cruel, bitter, savage," said the paper. "Genocide it wasn't." Such honesty was rare.

Nato bombed, according to George Robertson, the then defence secretary, "to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe" of mass expulsion and killing. In December, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose monitors were in Kosovo until just before the bombing, released its report on the war. This received almost no publicity in Britain. It confirmed that most of the crimes against the Albanian population had taken place after the bombing began: that is, they were not a cause but a consequence of the Nato campaign.

Western gravediggers have found a total of 2,788 bodies, and not all of them war crimes victims. On 7 June this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published a list of 3,368 missing persons whose names had been given to it by families from all communities in Kosovo, spanning January 1998 to mid-May this year. The ICRC says that a substantial number could be alive, among refugees scattered throughout Europe.

What is now beyond doubt is that the figures used by London and Washington, and by much of the media, were ludicrous inventions. The killings in Kosovo were despicable and tragic, but to equate them with genocide and the Holocaust is to mock the truth with profanity. With the exception of the Guardian, almost none of this has been reported in Britain. The Red Cross report was virtually ignored in this country. This is understandable; among the journalists who swallowed Nato's and their government's lies were the truly com-mitted and triumphant, who wrote that "when the mass graves are opened, the opponents of this humanitarian war should apologise".

The defenceless population upon whom Nato's bombs rained down night after night, the 400 to 600 who died, blown up in crowded passenger trains and buses, in factories, television stations, libraries, old people's homes, schools and 18 hospitals, many cut to pieces by the RAF's thousands of "unaccounted for" cluster bombs which fragment into shrapnel, require an apology from the propagandists; because, as Nato's planners never tired of saying at their post-bombing seminars, without journalists "on board", they could never have pulled it off.

Robert Fisk, Britain's greatest war reporter, has called them sheep, gulled by professional manipulators. Take the bombing of the Belgrade TV headquarters and the murder of staff such as make-up ladies. Amnesty International, in a rare departure, called this "a deliberate attack on a civilian object, and as such constitutes a war crime". Shortly before the bombing, the Nato mouthpiece Jamie Shea had given a written assurance that the TV building would not be attacked.

With the media on board, Nato could go forth. At one "private preliminary review by Nato experts" of the bombing (reported in the Daily Telegraph), it was agreed that "any future operation by Nato is likelier to involve heavier, more ruthless attacks on civilian targets . . ."

Having taken sides in what was a bitter but low-level civil war on the scale of Ireland in the 1970s, and having deliberately blocked a peaceful solution at the phoney Rambouillet "talks", Nato was able to finish off the west's "strategic concept" of destroying Yugoslavia - without recourse to the United Nations or international law. It was all based on a marriage of lies, thanks largely to those journalists who acted as the handmaidens of great and murderous power.

Kosovo is today, more than ever, a terror state, run by Mafia-style criminals with links to the KLA: the people who last year could call Robin Cook directly on their mobile phones.

More than 200,000 Serbs and Roma have since been driven out, with few headlines here. The Americans have built one of their biggest military bases in the world, Camp Bondsteel, which achieves a long-held strategic aim of Washington to straddle the Balkan transit routes. Stand by for their next humanitarian adventure.