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Ed Vulliamy's recovered memories
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
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