The rape charge

One charge against the Serbs has aroused the anger and shaped the view of millions of people who previously had little interest or involvement in the Balkans. The charge is rape—rape as a systematic weapon of war, a planned deliberate strategy. The media asserts that rapes were a conscious policy and the responsibility of the Bos nian Serb leadership.

Between the fall of 1992 and spring of 1993 sensational news reports claimed that at least 20,000 and up to 100,000 Muslim women were raped by units of the Bosnian Serb Army. This crystallized the view that the Serbs were the aggressors and the Muslims the victims.

Women are the first victims in every war. Rape and the degrading abuse of women are all too often carried out as a stamp of conquest by invading armies imbued with patriarchal possessive attitudes. But the charge of rape has many times been consciously used as an essential prop of war propaganda. The purported defense of women is used to mobilize armies and galvanize blind hatred.

The sensational charges of rape were used to a cynical extent by the major corporate media, especially in the U.S., with no attempt to examine the sources. The foreign minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic, first raised the charge at peace talks in Geneva that 30,000 women and girls had been raped. Ms. magazine ran a cover story that accused Bosnian Serb forces of raping for the purpose of producing pornographic films. No such films were ever found and the charges were not supported by the findings of Helsinki Watch or Human Rights Watch.

In January 1993 the Warburton Report, authorized by the European Community, estimated 20,000 Muslim women had been raped as part of a Serb strategy of conquest. This report was widely cited as an independent, authoritative source. No coverage was given to a dissenting member of the investigative team, Simone Veil, a former French minister and president of the European Parliament. She revealed that the estimate of 20,000 victims was based on actual interviews with only four victims—two women and two men.

According to the New York Times of Oct. 19, 1993, the Croatian Ministry of Health in Zagreb was the main single source upon which the Warburton Report based its figure of 20,000.

The Jan. 4, 1993, issue of Newsweek reported that up to 50,000 Muslim women had been raped in Bosnia. Tom Post, a contributor to the article, explained that the estimate of 50,000 rapes was based on interviews with 28 women.

This estimate was the result of an extrapolation—multiplying each charge of rape by a certain factor because historically rape has been and continues to be an under-reported crime.

French television reporter Jerome Bony explained the problem. "When I was 50 kilometers from Tuxla, I was told: `Go to the Tuxla high school grounds. There are 4,000 raped women.’ At 20 kilometers this figure dropped to 400. At 10 kilometers only 40 were left. Once at the site, I found only four women willing to testify."

The Jan. 15, 1993, New York Times, carried a photo story with the caption: "A two-month-old baby girl born to a teen-age Muslim woman after she was raped in a Serbian detention camp." USA Today of Jan. 13, 1993, told the story of a five-month-old baby, presumably the product of systematic Serbian rape. At that time, the war was not yet nine months old.

Women’s organizations understandably outraged by these lurid reports demanded that the U.S. and the European powers take action. However, many of these same women ought to be aware that U.S. troops do not protect women. In every U.S. military operation an entire sex industry is created and tens of thousands of women are forced into sexual slavery and prostitution. Consider the experience of Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and the Philippines. Even U.S. women in the military experience rape and sexual abuse, then cover-ups and denial, as the Tailhook scandal so graphically demonstrated.

Control through division in Bosnia

The divisive U.S. role in Bosnia, the most multi-ethnic of the regions, raises other questions. Does the U.S. seek, through the breakup of Yugoslavia, not only to position itself in the region but to advance a more complex, hidden agenda? Certainly U.S. conduct has involved many maneuvers that have prolonged the war and increased the rivalry among Britain, France and Germany. Turkey, Greece and Italy have also historically been involved in the region and are again maneuvering.

On March 18, 1992, a negotiated agreement for a unified state brokered by the European Community was reached in Lisbon among the Bosnian Muslim, Croatian and Serb forces. This agreement of all three parties would have prevented the disastrous civil war that began that same year. It would have saved the hundreds of thousands of refugees whose lives have been destroyed by war.

Washington sabotaged this original agreement by telling the Bos nian regime of Alija Izetbegovic that it could get much more—possibly domination of the whole region—with U.S. backing. The U.S. role in destroying this carefully crafted agreement is acknowledged by all sides. Even the June 17, 1993, New York Times described Washington’s role. The U.S. government officially encouraged Izetbegovic, the head of the right-wing Party for Democratic Action, to unilaterally declare a sovereign state under his presidency.

Muslim groups in two separate areas of Bosnia have challenged the government led by Alija Izetbegovic. They dispute Izetbegovic’s claim that he represents the interests of the Muslim community. They want a policy of cooperation and trade with the other nationalities of the region. Both groups have condemned Izetbegovic for right-wing nationalist policies and reliance on U.S. military aid.

The elected Bosnian Muslim government in the city of Tuzla, one of the wealthiest industrial centers of old Yugoslavia, claims that the U.S.-supervised rewrite of the Bosnian constitution gave power only to the most extreme right-wing nationalist forces of Izetbegovic’s Party for Democratic Action and neo-fascist Franjo Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union. Other political forces even among Muslims were excluded.

A Bosnian Muslim group in the northwest Bihac area led by Fikret Adbic declared its autonomy from the U.S.-backed government based in Sarajevo. In retaliation, the Izetbegovic government launched a military attack against these Muslim forces that wanted peace with their Serbian and Croatian neighbors. This attack on an elected Moslem Bosnian government was organized by the U.S. As was reported in November 1994 in Britain in such newspapers as the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent as well as newspapers in France and Germany, six U.S. generals took part in planning the offensive in June 1994. The attack violated the cease-fire and a UN-declared safe area.

The Izetbegovic government’s U.S.-backed offensive was at first successful in the Bihac region. But the Bosnian Serbs, in alliance with Serbs in Croatia and Bosnian Moslem forces led by Fikret Adbic, reorganized and began a strong push back. U.S. bombers under NATO command came to Izetbegovic’s defense.

In the U.S. media, neither the U.S. role in planning the offensive nor the fact that the U.S.-backed forces were the ones to violate the cease-fire was examined. The Bosnian Muslim forces opposing the Izetbegovic government based in Sarajevo have received only scant mention as "renegade forces."

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles G. Boyd, the deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command from 1992 to 1995, wrote in the September/October 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that Adbic’s government in Bihac was "one of the few examples of successful multi-ethnic cooperation in the Balkans." Further, Boyd writes, "Abdic, a powerful local businessman, was a member of the Bosnian collective presidency. He outpolled Izetbegovic in national elections and had been expelled from the government when Sarajevo [Izetbegovic’s headquarters] rejected an internationally brokered peace agreement."

U.S. backing of Izetbegovic’s attack on other Bosnian Muslim forces exposes just how cynically the Pentagon is using right-wing Muslim forces in order to prolong and widen the war. Those who call on the Pentagon to come to the defense of Muslim people should recall the U.S. role in the Middle East. The U.S. government has demonized Muslim people and made war on the people of Palestine, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Somalia. Muslim people in Bosnia will be the greatest losers in this war-torn region as a result of the alliance of the narrow, right-wing Izetbegovic grouping and the Pentagon.

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