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Ed Vulliamy's recovered memories

Mick Hume

Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian is the only one of the three British journalists present at Trnopolje on 5 August 1992 to have replied in person to the LM article 'The Picture That Fooled the World'. A central plank of his argument is that he knows the truth because he was there on that day and Thomas Deichmann was not.

For one who places such emphasis on the role of the eye-witness, however, Vulliamy seems to have a lot of trouble with his memory. His recall of what he actually witnessed at Trnopolje has changed more than once in the past four and a half years.

Take the contentious issue of the barbed wire fence at Trnopolje camp. Vulliamy's first eye-witness report on the camp was published in the Guardian on 7 August 1992, and was probably written before he had seen the ITN pictures from Trnopolje that were broadcast the night before. In this article, Vulliamy stated that 'Trnopolje cannot be called a "concentration camp"'. He did not say a word about any barbed wire fence.

A few months later, however, Vulliamy was recalling how he first saw the emaciated Fikret Alic 'behind the barbed wire of Trnopolje concentration camp' (Guardian Weekend, 10 April 1993).

The following year, 1994, Vulliamy published his book on Bosnia, Seasons in Hell. By now he appeared to have become even more certain about the importance of the barbed wire fence. He describes his first view of Trnopolje camp as 'another startling, calamitous sight: a teeming, multitudinous compound surrounded by barbed wire fencing' (p104, emphasis added).

By the start of this year, Ed Vulliamy's memory seems to have taken another turn. In January 1997, he told BBC World Service about his visit to Trnopolje, 'a place which has been made celebrated by ITN's footage'. Now Vulliamy recalled more than one barbed wire fence around the camp: 'We got out of the van to find all these men packed behind barbed wire fences, some of them skeletal in the most appalling condition' (Newsday programme, 26 January 1997).

That interview would have been conducted before Vulliamy had read Thomas Deichmann's investigative report on the ITN pictures of Bosnian Muslims supposedly caged behind barbed wire at Trnopolje. A week later, Vulliamy responded to the LM article in a vituperative Observer feature (2 February 1997).

He began by recalling the 'unforgettable sight' that first met him at Trnopolje: 'a group of men gathered behind a barbed wire fence, some of them skeletal, talking of mass murder in yet more camps'. The rest of the article, however, suggested that his memory of that 'unforgettable sight' had somehow altered slightly again during the previous week.

Stating that the men in the famous ITN pictures were being held in 'a small fenced-in area', Vulliamy now described how 'One of the four sides of this area was made of barbed wire. It was an existing fence on one side of a garage area which had been reinforced with new barbed wire and chicken wire'.

Ed Vulliamy remembers a barbed wire fence that has gone from being unworthy of mention to 'unforgettable'; a barbed wire fence that 'surrounded' the camp compound, then multiplied into more than one fence, but is now only one of four sides of a fence patched up with chicken wire.

He knows, because he was there.

This article first appeared in LM 98

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