Roy Gutman's story
In April, Roy Gutman of US Newsday won a Pulitzer Prize for
his reporting of the war in Bosnia. In the May issue of Living Marxism,
Joan Phillips questioned the basis of Gutman's award-winning stories
about Serbian 'death camps' (see 'Who's
making the news in Bosnia?'). Here we print Roy Gutman's reply.
I read Joan Phillips' critique of my Bosnia reportage with interest. Just
as reporters claim to be watchdogs, we must submit to the scrutiny of others.
But a critique must observe the standard of objectivity it sets for the
target of examination. And absent in Phillips' extended discussion of my
methodology and impact of my stories on public perceptions is any discussion
about the core facts. What really happened at Omarska and Brcko camps? Who
told the truth: the witnesses I quoted or the military authorities in Banja
Luka who were responsible for the operation of the camps? The truth matters.
First to methodology. Phillips describes mine as relying on hearsay and
double-hearsay. My very first article on Omarska, on July 19, was indeed
based on a secondhand account and was so presented. The military in Banja
Luka refused to take me to Omarska, on the transparent excuse they, the
armed authorities, could not guarantee my safety. They refused also to admit
the International Red Cross until well after my articles were published.
Now there can only be one reason to run an account based on hearsay: to
warn that something terrible seemed to be going on. No one, starting with
the US government, took the warning seriously. I will defend the story as
the right thing to do in the circumstances in which I could not gain access
to the site. I am grateful you gave it the attention no one else did.
So I returned to the region in the hopes of locating survivors who could
say what was going on behind the closed gates. After two of the most frustrating
weeks imaginable, I found two in Zagreb, then the biggest gathering area
for Bosnian refugees. Theirs were firsthand accounts, not hearsay. Now,
why go to print based on only two witnesses? I was convinced that the lives
of thousands of people were at stake and we should take the journalistic
risk on their behalf. Were the witnesses telling the truth? At least 350
reporters headed into Bosnia in the weeks following my 'Death camps' report
in Newsday on August 2. Few matched my account. Only after my story
were ITN and the Guardian allowed to visit Omarska. The photos were
dramatic, the settings ominous, but that was the wrong place to get the
definitive story - for the simple reason the authorities clearly were intimidating
the prisoners. And it turns out they also had mounted a quick and massive
In retrospect, I am surprised that my press colleagues did not take the
trouble to dig out the story but watched passively as governments, led by
US and Britain, did their best to knock down my reports. For example, Lawrence
Eagleburger, then acting secretary of state, said on August 18 that the
US government had found no evidence of systematic killing at the camps,
only of 'unpleasant conditions'.
This prompted me to re-report the Omarska story from scratch. The article
ran at great length October 18 and was based on interviews with about 20
survivors of Omarska. Their accounts were mutually corroborative, whereas
the story told by the Serb authorities quickly fell apart. From the accounts
of witnesses, I estimated that at least 1000 prisoners were killed at Omarska
alone. The prisoners and the Red Cross told me about the cover-up. The Serb
authorities closed Omarska within a day or so of my story, moved nine-tenths
of the prisoners elsewhere, brought in bunk beds and bedding and set up
a Potemkin village story for visiting reporters, including ITN. They also
concocted a tale of events at Omarska. Serb officials claimed that two people
died at Omarska, both of natural causes. Yet when questioned in depth, they
acknowledged to me that well over a dozen top officials and leading citizens
of the nearby city of Prijedor, including Lord Mayor Muhamed Cehajic, 'disappeared'
and perhaps 'died in the process of disappearing' while at Omarska.
If the facts were not there, rest assured that my story would have been
knocked down long ago. The contrary is the case. Under pressure from within
the state department, the US government began interviewing victims at Karlovac.
They now conclude that at least 5000 people were killed at Omarska. Tadeusz
Mazowiecki, special rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Commission, has also
reported the daily murder of dozens at Omarska, but I do not know if he
reached a numerical estimate.
You need not take my word for it. Research it yourself. The first 68 released
detainees, including many from Omarska, came to Britain in September. Alone
among major Western governments, your government did not debrief them or
file a report to the UN commission examining war crimes. The British press
failed to pursue the story on its doorstep. You should not perpetuate the
Let me return to the question of methodology. The Banja Luka military headquarters
never issued a detailed rebuttal of my stories but in January distributed
a release which attacked me ad hominem, alleging that I am a CIA
spy, that I hired and paid mercenaries, and accepted information about rapes
and concentration camps from Robert Loftus. The account was signed but did
not identify the author. He is the head of army propaganda. Though he knows
me personally, he made no effort to contact me. His only explanation when
I phoned Banja Luka was to say he had written it under instruction from
his superiors. His attack was published throughout the Serbian press, carried
on Belgrade television, and is now being distributed by the Serbian government.
It is, as Phillips notes, outlandish and with no evidence.
I have no problem with her using that attack as the starting point for an
investigation. But please reflect. I have reported on a phenomenon that
is best summed up in one word: genocide. Shouldn't you also subject the
source of the assault on my reporting to a critical examination? As you
know, your article about me in May was picked up and treated in the Serbian
press as a confirmation of the allegations.
Put yourself in my shoes. I asked to see Loftus' diaries, as Phillips did,
to determine how they were being used; but the Banja Luka command refused
access. I denied the allegations in writing, but the Banja Luka authorities
would not issue my denial in a manner similar to the article about me and
the Serb press will not publish my letter. I seem to have no recourse. I
sent a follow-up letter reminding the Serb newspapers that by law, I have
a right of reply. I hired a lawyer to seek an injunction. The court denied
venue on the grounds that I am a non-resident. Five months later, my letter
I believe my coverage was scrupulous in its methodology, accurate in its
conclusions, and will stand up to scrutiny. Can that be said of the actions
and statements of the Bosnian Serb or Serbian authorities?
With regard to the Serdari massacre, I readily accepted the invitation of
the military spokesman in Banja Luka to visit the site, but local officials
in Kotor Varos, instead of taking me directly there, held me up for three
hours without explanation. I arrived in the village in the company of the
coroner. It was baffling that the corpses had been removed. The coroner
had to take the word of local militia who was killed, how and where. The
exception was two corpses charred from a fire in the house. That fire was
burning 12 hours after the raid, with a garden hose at full pressure within
easy reach. Then there was the mysterious radio conversation that the army
said it had taped and suddenly produced for my benefit in which the Muslim
and Croat units repeatedly announced to each other the number killed. I
proposed to write a story from the visit, but my editors objected that it
would raise questions but answer none. So I continued searching. And the
story later fell in place. In Zenica at the Muslim-run centre for investigation
of war crimes, officials introduced me to a Muslim who had fled to Travnik,
who took part in the raid. He told me, by the way, that the attacking force,
mainly Muslims, had no radio.
Roy W Gutman Newsday European Bureau Bonn, Germany
A bitter Pilger
As an admirer of Living Marxism, I believe you ask not to be taken
seriously when you run a piece such as 'Left,
right, left, right' and which reflects much of the June
issue. To suggest that Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and many other socialists,
including myself - socialists with a proven record of independence - now belong
to some monolithic bloc known as the 'old left' and subscribe to a 'new
consensus behind [Western] intervention' is downright stupid and depressingly
so. And you must know it is.
For example, you lump Ken Livingstone and me together on the issue of Yugoslavia.
Ken Livingstone wants serious military intervention in Bosnia, including
bombing. I am totally opposed to that, just as I am opposed to the Vance-Owen
plan. By describing a fake 'consensus', you deny a range of radical thought
and argument distinguished by striking differences of analysis and opinion.
Above all, you deny the indisputable existence of a genuine political and
moral dilemma on Yugoslavia. Ask any socialist, whose views you respect,
and almost certainly the dilemma will become apparent - even among those
who do not care to admit it.
It is Western intervention that denies the multi-ethnic Bosnians the right
to defend themselves. The embargo works, in practice, only against the Bosnians;
and you clearly support this. Using the inane argument that puts the 'old
left' behind Margaret Thatcher, you, alas, are in the queue behind the British
government, Denis Healey, Edward Heath and Bill Clinton, as well as others
on the neanderthal right, who would applaud your denial of one of the most
basic of human rights: the right of ordinary people to protect and defend
In the past Living Marxism has been astute in pointing out irony.
It has become a distinguishing mark. It will be a shame if you lose this
when the irony is too close to home.
John Pilger London W1
Ragga v Suede
Even if the vehement homophobia of ragga stars is a reaction to white society
('Ragga and the silent race war',
June), this is of no comfort, or even consequence, to a young gay man who
has to grow up in the hostile environment of ignorant and bigoted peers
who are encouraged and legitimised in their homophobia by, among others,
Whilst homophobia does fester in the political establishment, epitomised
in Section 28, the Labour and Liberal parties' political correctness ensures
that overt homophobia is discouraged and creates an atmosphere whereby homophobia
is assumed wrong.
Ragga makes homophobia acceptable, even fashionable. Alternatively, bands
such as Suede, although hyped by the journalists of the music press in order
to sell papers, have managed to ensure that freedom of sexuality has a refuge
from the reactionaries. Suede's popularity, no matter if it is due to hype
and image, means that young people are confronted by a band that says any
sexuality is good sexuality, helping homosexuals to confront a new generation
To claim that 'black men from the ghetto' are 'some of the least powerful
people in society' when they have access to millions via the charts and
'youth' television, is to deny that music has any influence or meaning beyond
light entertainment. If that were the case, no one would have noticed the
lyrics in the first place.
John Williams Bristol
Let's not have sloppy journalism in the Living section of the magazine.
The article on Suede ('White Suede
blues', June) was poor reporting.
Its message tied in with the 'Ragga and
the silent race war' article in the same issue, which rightly exposed
the sensationalisation of ragga. To consider Suede's media success as part
of this racist hysteria is simply incorrect, and the anti-American sentiment
expressed in Select magazine that you quoted should not be read as
The Select article was a reactionary backlash against white
grunge music, regrettably calling for a return to fey parochial English
pop, announcing their intention to 'save the Union Jack from the Nazis'.
Ironically, the magazine has long heralded the elusive 'summer of ragga',
and acknowledged the racist nature of the victimisation of Shabba Ranks.
Laying into Suede and Select is easy, so why bother to twist things
to make your arguments fit? Personally, I have no aversion to even a faint
echo of the genius of early Bowie (whatever his politics) back in the charts,
and I stand guilty of the no doubt culturally decadent crime of harking
back to the musical good ol' days.
BM Thompson Birmingham
Ban (almost) nothing
It does seem as though nearly everyone on the left is calling for some kind
of censorship these days. I don't agree with them but I can certainly see
the reasoning behind their actions: a ragga record with lyrics insulting
to gay people potentially has a very dangerous effect on young people's
perception of homosexuality. I certainly wouldn't buy it even if it wasn't
And something needs to be done about pornography which really is degrading.
Anti-porn legislation doesn't ultimately affect availability, although it
would help clear it out of shops that people frequent every day. Ultimately
pornography will only be overcome by individuals choosing to reject it.
But on a large scale is this realistic? The left really does need to say
what it thinks about such issues especially when a minority faction of 'anti-censorship
feminists' is presenting women in pornography as the paragon of 'the strong
I applaud your anti-censorship stand but am interested to know just how
far you will let your faith in popular democracy go: will you tolerate 0898
child abuse numbers? Will you allow the mass of public opinion to re-introduce
Simon Kyte Windsor
You assert that there is patently no connection between violence in the
media and behaviour at large ('Ban
nothing', May). To my mind you are wrong, there must be a connection
because the TV in particular is a very powerful medium.
It is important to remember that copying is one of the most significant
human attributes - eg, the fashions exhibited by all the sub-groups in society,
from dark suits and ties to jeans and white socks. An average teenager in
America will have seen something like 200 000 fights and 50 000 murders
on TV. I find it hard to believe that this exceedingly violent society owes
nothing to its TV.
Ian Ellis Menstrie
The art of living
Why is it that people castigate art for having no connection with everyday
life? M Hughes (letters, June)
believes that art can only survive by 'reaffirming its commitment to life
and to lived experience'.
Capitalist production processes are often extremely abstract. Such soul-destroying
processes are used to exploit people in factories - picking faulty products
off production lines, for example. Isn't this 'lived experience'? Abstract
processes can be seen around us every day. I have no wish to defend all
abstract art, but art does occur in a social context, whether it is abstract
or representational. Abstract art is another reflection of the age in which
I can't agree with the statement that abstract art 'cannot contain within
itself the image of its inspiration'. If this were true, my own, often very
abstract colour photographs (derived from 'lived experience') wouldn't exist.
But then they're photographs and photography's not art, is it?
Andrew Payne Bedford
Stop Larkin about
I feel that Alistair Ward ('A very
English poet', June) would fare much better if he were to take advice
from Kenan Malik's critical review of
Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism: 'he [Said] tries
to force authors as different as Austen and Conrad, Defoe and Dickens into
a single framework with a single view of the "other", and thereby
loses the particularity of each.'
Apart from Malik's plea for contextualisation, Ward repeats the very errors
that Malik warns against. In the 'good old days' of the postwar liberal
consensus was every English writer a racist in private and a liberal pluralist
in public? Are all to be tarred with the same brush in huge (illegitimate)
Ward writes: 'Larkin stands in the tradition of quintessentially English
poets running from Wordsworth, through Tennyson and Hardy to Auden and Housman
and such contemporary figures as Roger McGough.' Evidently! Well once, to
be 'quintessentially English' was to be revolutionary. Wordsworth's sentiments
on the French Revolution: 'Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, to be
young was very heaven.'
Ward claims that Larkin was inferior to, separate from and disliked the
interwar 'modernist' intelligentsia and its incipient elitism. Ward then
goes on to place Larkin with the 'modernist' roll call of TS Eliot, Ezra
Pound and DH Lawrence.
I've never read Larkin, nor do I intend to. But I know a dodgy analysis
when I read one.
Robert Fletcher Essex
I had the privilege to join with people from all around the UK on 17 May
at Timex in Dundee to support the 343 sacked workers. My feelings of elation
at being part of such a successful picket and demonstration were tempered
by the ill-feeling given out to the 'scabs' going into Timex Dundee.
Let me qualify this quickly. I accept that anyone who has the choice to
work on in the face of cuts and changes in conditions rather than standing
in solidarity with their fellow workers, fully deserves to be called a 'scab'.
However, what of those scores of unemployed who are given the choice to
take a 'scab' job or face a cut or even total withdrawal of their income
support? Under Tory social security legislation, this is legal and I wonder
how many of those people being bussed into Timex every day have been faced
with that stark choice.
The reality of unemployed people being a pool of labour organised by the
state through the benefits system to defeat class struggles in the workplace,
has implications beyond the Timex dispute which pickets and demonstrators
are not addressing by calling other workers 'scabs' indiscriminately.
It is time we recognised everyone not as workers and unemployed, but as
potential workers, as it is clear the bosses do, and try to bring every
worker into the workers' movement to defeat the inhumanity of the capitalist
class and their Tory errand boys. If we do not, we allow the bosses to divide
and defeat us.
Practically, this would mean offering a basic rate for every person forced
to take 'scab' work or face a cut in benefi ts. Given that the AEU leaders
are more interested in getting their feet under the table of the bosses
at Timex, rather than getting the mud of the picket line on them, it is
clear that such action would have to be organised at grassroots level, by
subscription and donation.
In the 1990s the workers' movement must not only talk about solidarity,
it must provide a framework to bring us all together for this to happen.
Paul Gostelow Glasgow
Marc Deith (letters, June)--let
me make one thing clear. Political correctness (PC) is not the way to 'genuine
Simply challenging the way people speak (as Deith would want) hardly challenges
oppression. In fact it's bordering on 'let's be nice to black people'. PC
actually divides and weakens the very people who can bring about a 'genuine
democracy', namely the working class.
Once PC gives oppressed people special names (black people should now be
called 'people of colour'), where does it end? Now everyone lays claim to
differing histories and identities. This celebration of difference disarms
the working class by division (which is good for the establishment), and
never politically challenges the system.
Steve Hodson West London
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 57, July 1993