How the US State Dept. Recruited Human Rights Groups to Cheer On the Bombing Raids: Those Incubator Babies, Once More?

Alaxender Cockburn

CounterPunch newsletter, April 1-15, 1999
Also available here Alternative Press Review


Two-Bit Pricks

“‘We’re not inflicting pain on these fuckers,’ Clinton said, softly at first. ‘When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers.’ Then, with his face reddening, his voice rising, and his fist pounding his thigh, he leaned into Tony [Lake, then his national security adviser], as if it was his fault. ‘I believe in killing people who try to hurt you. And I can’t believe we’re being pushed around by these two-bit pricks.’”
—Clinton ordering the bombing of civilian targets in Somalia, as quoted in All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos

Those Incubator Babies, Once More?

As the US stepped up its bombing raids against Yugoslavia, Harold Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, called the leaders of several US human rights groups to a hastily arranged meeting at his offices in Foggy Bottom. Koh started the session by telling the groups’ leaders, who included Amnesty International-USA’s head Dr. William Schulz, that he was sorry that the administration could not support the extradition of Pinochet. He stressed that while Madeleine Albright cared deeply about human rights matters, the Defense Department had quashed the idea. But, Koh said, there was good news. Albright had convinced the Defense Department and Clinton that human rights concerns should be the driving force behind the bombing of the Serbs. Koh said he hoped the human rights groups would enthusiastically support the mission and promised that if they did, Albright might even meet with them in person in the near future.

Amnesty International has obediently hopped to State’s tune, saying in a press release “violations of human rights lie at the heart of the current conflict in Kosovo, and have done so ever since it developed during the 1980s. It is therefore essential that the effective protection and promotion of human rights should be the centerpiece of any agreement to be reached on Kosovo.” On March 29, the group called for increases in military intelligence operations on the ground in Kosovo. Human Rights Watch has also pressed the cause of military intervention, using their Kosovo Human Rights Flash to draw attention to Serbian abuses. After a week of unrelenting missile attacks in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, none of the Human Rights Watch reports included any tallies of civilian casualties from the NATO bombings. Care Yugoslavia, an Australian humanitarian aid group, said that over the first week, NATO bombing raids had killed at least 15 ethnic Kosovars, when its bombs hit a refugee camp

A person who attended the meeting tells CounterPunch he was shocked that many of the leaders endorsed Koh’s rationale. “Human rights is just another affinity cause to be used by Clinton and Albright when it suits them, rather than consistently and broadly”. he said. “Indeed, human rights concerns could be used as an excuse for extra-legal military actions that bypass the Security Council and/or Congress.”

Readers may recall that one particularly successful propaganda campaign against Iraq saw US government operatives using Amnesty International to advance the false and easily disprovable story that Iraqis had murdered over 300 Kuwaiti babies in August, 1990, by tossing them out of their incubators and letting them die on the floor. It’s not at issue here whether or not Iraqi or Serb forces are brutal. It’s a matter of how human rights organizations willingly become instruments of state policy. Somalia offers a particularly vivid example of this.

NATO, Sieg Heil!

It’s bracing to see the Germans taking part in NATO’s bombing. It lends moral tone to an operation to have the grandsons of the Third Reich willing, able and eager, to drop high explosive again, in this instance on the Serbs. To add symmetry to the affair, the last time Serbs in Belgrade had high explosives dropped on them was in 1941 by the sons of the Third Reich. To bring even deeper symmetry, the German political party whose leader, Schroeder, ordered German participation in the bombing is that of the Social Democrats, whose great grand-fathers enthusiastically voted credits to wage war in 1914, to the enormous disgust of Lenin, who never felt quite the same way about social democrats ever after. Whether in Germany or England or France all social democratic parties in 1914 tossed aside previous pledges against war, thus helping produce the first great bloodletting of our century. Today, with social democrats leading governments across Europe-Schroeder, Blair, Jospin, Prodi-all fall in behind Clinton. This is, largely, a war most earnestly supported by liberals and many so-called leftists.

There’s been some patronizing talk here about the Serbs' deep sense of “grievance” at the way history has treated them, with the implication that the Serbs are irrational in this regard. But it’s scarcely irrational to remember that Nazi Germany bombed Belgrade in the Second World War, or that Germany’s prime ally in the region, Croatia, ran a concentration camp at Jasenovac where tens of thousands of Serbs—along with Jews and gypsies—were liquidated. Nor is it irrational to recall that Germany in more recent years has been an unrelenting assailant of the former Yugoslav federation, encouraging Slovenia to secede and lending determined support to Croatia, in gratitude for which Croatia adopted, on independence in 1991, the German hymn, “Danke Deutschland.”

So much for Serb feelings about Germany. Serbia has some reason to feel similar resentment towards the United States. The biggest single ethnic cleansing of the mid-1990s in the former Yugoslavia was conducted by Croatia under the supervision of the United States, whose military generals and CIA officers issued targeting instructions to Croatian artillery for the ethnic clearing. The targets were Serbs, living in Serbian territory, in the Krajina. Heading the Croatian cleansers was president Franjo Tudjman, who has rehabbed Nazi war criminals. Yet somehow it is Serbia’s Milosevic who is demonized here as Hitler.

In 1999 Bill Clinton more or less left the UN's secretary general, Kofi Annan, to find out from CNN about NATO’s decision to bomb. The US game, abetted chiefly by Blair’s UK, is to make NATO the arbiter of Europe’s borders and “security”, and to boycott the UN as a forum.

The twentieth-century illusion of air power is once again being exposed. Now come demands for ground troops and a route march into deeper madness, wider killing and misery. The only chance is rising protest from Americans, from the world community, from dissident countries in NATO with calls for a cease-fire and a genuine, UN peace-keeping force in Kosovo with no troops from the contending parties and their allies. Absent that, why not a drive for impeachment of Bill Clinton, on serious grounds at last, for abusing Congress’s war-making powers and also his sworn duty to uphold the international treaties to which the US has set its name.”

Pick the Warmonger

A quiz: Which US rep said: “At this point I support the NATO sponsored air-strikes that are currently taking place.” And which US rep said: “This is not a proud moment for America...as bad as the violence is towards the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, our ability to police and stop all ethnic fighting around the world is quite limited, and the efforts are quite simply not permitted under constitutional law.” Yes, the first is from the brass-lunged armchair bomber of Vermont, Bernard Sanders and the second from Ron Paul, libertarian from Texas. How long will the long-suffering progressives of Vermont tolerate their hypocritical rep without rebuke?