Michael Dobbs

A question for the genocide deniers

A question for the genocide deniers

Why the continuing focus on a 16-year-old atrocity in an obscure corner of the Balkans? Anyone wondering why I am paying so much attention to the Srebrenica massacre should take a look at some of the comments this blog has generated. The cold-blooded murder of 7,000-8,000 Muslim men following the fall of the United Nations "safe area" in July 1995 is probably the most documented war crime in history — but there are still those who insist it never happened.

For examples of what I mean, look here and here and here. Then listen to the arguments of Stephen Karganovic, whose Bosnian Serb-funded website has become a hub of genocide denial studies. As long as there are people out there claiming that black is white, the rest of us have an obligation to point out that black is in fact black.

I have a simple question for the "black is white" crowd: What happened to the thousands of men from Srebrenica who were rounded up by Bosnian Serb forces? By way of example, look at the CIA overhead imagery at the top of this page. It was taken around 14:00 on July 13, and shows several hundred prisoners in a soccer field at Nova Kasaba, marked with a purple icon on the map below. (For a larger-scale image, click here.) A painstaking investigation by hundreds of international experts has established that only a couple of the prisoners you can see in this photo survived to tell their story.

As you can see from the map, the Nova Kasaba field was one of three main temporary detention points (the sites at Konjevic Polje and Sandici meadow are marked with blue icons) for Muslim men attempting to reach Bosnian government-controlled territory north of Srebrenica. Serb forces ambushed the men as they attempted to cross main roads running along exposed river valleys. Hundreds more Muslim males were detained outside the Dutchbat base at Potocari (see yellow icon) after being denied protection by United Nations peacekeepers.

Click on icons for details. View larger map.

By the late afternoon of July 13, some 6,000 Muslim men had been rounded up at the three principal detention sites. (Others had already been taken to the town of Bratunac, marked with a red icon.) The 6,000 estimate comes from a radio conversation between two Bosnian Serb officers intercepted by Bosniak counter-intelligence. When one officer reveals too much by referring to prisoners "of military age" on an unsecure line, his colleague warns him to "shut up." Nevertheless, the intercept provides a good indication of both the number of Muslim detainees at 17:30 on July 13 as well as their locations.

We now know that some of the prisoners referenced in this conversation were executed on the spot, but most were bused to temporary collection points in Bratunac on the evening of July 13. That night, their fate became the subject of a heated argument among Bosnian Serb officials, meeting just a few blocks away. According to several eyewitness accounts (all from the Serb side), a drunken Mladic aide, Colonel Ljubisha Beara, wanted the prisoners to be killed in the Bratunac area on orders from "his boss." The senior civilian official in Bratunac, Miroslav Deronjic, insisted that executions take place elsewhere. He claimed to be speaking for Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic.

Only a handful of the Muslim prisoners were ever seen again. I will describe what happened to them in a subsequent post.