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Chomsky’s Implication with Revisionism Regarding Bosnia: A Response to the Edward S. Herman and David Peterson Article “Smearing Chomsky” – Part I

November 24, 2009

Perhaps it was easier for Herman and Peterson’s article Vulliamy’s Smears at Counter PunchMonthly Review, and Media Lens to link to a blog that receives little attention from its creator because they just might pass under the radar in that manner or perhaps it was due to the post’s Google rank, but either way it has come to the point where I cannot ignore the attempt to dismiss the valid issues that Ed Vulliamy raises in his open letter.  Also, I am perplexed that Herman and Peterson would go so far as to have everyone believe that through my blog Vulliamy’s Open Letter to Amnesty International was started and further circulated.  I doubt that my semi-moribund blog, which receives occasional spurts of informational CPR, has that much influence. 

More importantly though, the real issues within the letter are being circumvented with ad hominem attacks and fallacies as well as being used to propagate revisionist views.  Through this analysis (and another to follow) I hope to dispel some of these fallacies and revisionist views and hope that some common ground or resolve can finally be reached.

First, let us discuss the issue of Brockes’ Guardian article that Ed Vulliamy refers to in his open letter.  While it is true that article was retracted and The Guardian issued an apology to Chomsky for the misrepresentation within the article, the issues regarding Chomsky’s support of revisionist views and his opinion that Ed Vulliamy was “probably wrong” in regards to the Trnopolje have not been dispelled by Chomsky in his formal complaint to The Guardian (however, it should be noted that Chomsky did object to the whole article based on the one misrepresentation that he does defend).  Nor are the issues solely based on the Brockes’ article, but are also based on Chomsky’s own confirmations about defending Johnstone’s free speech. 

Certainly, Chomsky has the right to defend Johnstone’s freedom of speech.  He has the right to agree with her and reflect that agreement in his public opinions, which he certainly does as will be demonstrated later.  However, Chomsky cannot be afforded the luxury of having opinions that go both ways.  In Chomsky’s formal complaint, located on Chomsky’s own site, he states:

“In the open letter, readily available on the internet (and the only source), I went through the charges one by one, checked them against the book, and found that they all ranged from serious misrepresentation to outright fabrication. I then took — and take — the position that it is completely wrong to withdraw a book because the press charges (falsely) that it does not conform to approved doctrine. And I do regret that “I didn’t do it strongly enough,” the words Brockes managed to quote correctly. In the interview, whatever Johnstone may have said about Srebrenica never came up, and is entirely irrelevant in any event, at least to anyone with a minimal appreciation of freedom of speech.”

Further, The Guardian states in its own retraction:

“Both Prof Chomsky and Ms Johnstone, who has also written to the Guardian, have made it clear that Prof Chomsky’s support for Ms Johnstone, made in the form of an open letter with other signatories, related entirely to her right to freedom of speech.”

 Interestingly, Chomsky’s own site which offers several hyperlinks in his reprint of the Brockes’ article offers no link to the “readily available on the internet” open letter which is at the heart of the issue.  It is 2009, 4 years later, and through extensive digging I came up with no open letter defending Johnstone on my own, but was forwarded this link.  These are some highlights with my commentary from what I am told is the formal complaint to Ordfront (italics bold: Chomsky; italics: commentaries; normal font: Samaha):

 “I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.”

In my personal opinion that statement goes above and beyond defending Johnstone’s freedom of speech and is an introduction to endorsement of Johnstone’s work which is highlighted in other portions.

“(1) ‘According to her it cannot be a matter of genocide when women and children are spared. But to me it is obvious that genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed in Srebrenica…’”

“Reference is apparently to Johnstone’s statement (p. 117) refuting the claim that the charge of “genocide” is demonstrated by the fact that the Serbs who conquered Srebrenica offered safe passage to women and children. In response to this absurd claim, she writes: “However, one thing should be obvious: one does not commit `genocide’ by sparing women and children.

I do not see how her entirely appropriate comment justifies the charge in (1)”

Can someone explain to me how Johnstone’s comment does not justify the charge in (1)? It certainly appears to me that Johnstone is at the very least insinuating genocide denial and that Chomsky’s referral to Johnstone’s quote as “appropriate comment” has the appearance of supporting that insinuation. 

Furthermore, I am not aware of any definition of genocide that exempts an action from genocide because one gender was spared.  Instead, an act of genocide has taken place if one gender of the target population is specifically targeted for extermination and the other is left alone.  The reason for this is: if one gender is eliminated procreation amongst the target group is hindered which is part of a systematic plan and recognized by the UN.  Furthermore, Lemkin, who coined the word genocide further details that complete destruction of a group does not need to take place.  This faulty logic of genocide being exempt because women and children have been spared has been attempted at the Krstic genocide trial and has failed.  The court has ruled that the females and children being spared has no bearing on whether or not genocide took place.

 “3) ‘Johnstone asserts that more effort has gone into exaggerating the number of dead than into identifying and caclulating the actual number of victims, that there was never any real wish to find out how many were killed and who they were. She suggests that several thousand hade fled and survived.’”

“I read that section too. I am aware of no evidence — of course, meaning evidence available to her at the time she wrote — that the statements she actually made in this regard (as distinct from those attributed to her) are incorrect.”

Chomsky should have the academic integrity to distinguish the actual statements that Johnstone made as opposed to the statements that were “attributed to her”.  We should keep in mind that these statements are made in November of 2005.  If Johnstone has suggested that thousands fled and survived, then the onus is upon Johnstone to prove those allegations since during the time of her writing thousands of bodies had already been discovered in mass graves.  Evidence and trials have already established the contrary.  At this point it is not a matter of innocent until proven guilty since a record of the event has been established.  The burden of proof lies with Johnstone – it is simply not acceptable to place this burden of proof on others and reflects poorly on the academia that insists otherwise.

“’… the revisionist author Diana Johnstone, foreground figure in the slander-convicted magazine “Living Marxism”. She insists that the Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda. That is also what Slobodan Milosevic and his ilk profess. Thus the Ordfront left is suddenly travelling in the same compartment as postcommunist fascism.’”


“But putting that aside, let’s now consider his reasoning. Johnstone argues — and, in fact, clearly demonstrates — that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication. For van Reis, this is outrageous.”

Again, this certainly appears to be a clear endorsement of Johnstone’s revisionist views.

“A final comment on “genocide.” People are free to use the term “genocide” as they please, and to condemn Racak and Srebrenica, say, as genocidal if they like. But then they have a simple responsibility: Inform us of their bitter denunciations of the incomparably worse “genocide” carried out with the strong backing of the US and UK at the very same moment as Racak. Say, the massacre at Liquica, with perhaps up to 200 civilians murdered, one of many (unlike Racak), in a country under military occupation and hence a grave war crime (unlike Racak), and in this case simply a massacre of civilians, without even a pretext of resistance (again unlike Racak).”

This is circumstantial rhetoric that has no place within the defense of freedom of speech.  More so, I find it extremely disturbing that an academic would use sarcasm by saying that the term “genocide” can be used liberally, to refer to Racak and Srebrenica as  “say, as genocidal, if they like”, implying otherwise, and then refer back to “200 civilians” and imply that Liquica does qualify as a genocide. 

Mr. Chomsky, I have lost friends and family due to Serb aggression on Bosnia and I am not an academic, however I have always been careful in the way I use the term genocide in terms of the aggression that took place on the Bosnian population.  This is not a term to be taken lightly, nor is it a term that should lose all meaning due to academic inclinations or political tactics.  Perhaps the 200 civilians that were killed in Liquica qualifies as a genocide, to be honest I am not informed of the matter to the same extent that you are informed, but myself and the whole of Bosnia are aware of the over 8,000 that lost their lives at Srebrenica.  Perhaps you feel the need to incorporate Srebrenica into your global power and media package, but realities usually have no perfect boxes to fit into.  Instead we are left to sorting the pieces and trying to make sense of it all.

Certainly, the examples and quotes provided here demonstrate that the issues Ed Vulliamy presents in his Open Letter to Amnesty International are valid regardless of the lack of citations and quotations within his letter.  It should also be noted that I do not believe that the letter was intended to read as a new media format with hyperlinks. 

To conclude part I, Chomsky claims to be simply defending freedom of speech on one hand and supporting revisionist views on the other; this is problematic.  Perhaps though, common ground lies in the very issue of revisionist views.  Chomsky clearly demonstrates his own dislike of misrepresentation and fabrications in his own open letter to the Guardian regarding the Brockes article.  In this case though, the accuracy or inaccuracy puts history at issue, which in turn discourages or facilitates future atrocities on the Bosnian population.  I can’t imagine that anyone would want to facilitate another “massacre” (quotes are mine for emphasis – I consider the worldview of Srebrenica as genocide to be acceptable).

Although, I feel that the issue of Trnopolje, one of many camps of the war, and the ITN/LM/Knightly fiasco brought up by Herman and Peterson with all of its misrepresentations and fabrications is a red herring which has repeatedly been debunked and is irrelevant to the issue of Amnesty International inviting Chomsky to speak at a human rights event – I will focus on the issue for the purposes of personally recording the continued propagation of these fallacies, along with the facts that disqualify the argument for my blog in part II.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Vincent permalink
    November 25, 2009 6:02 am

    I think a lot of these attacks on Chomsky are unreasonable and unfair. For example, I know Chomsky has called Srebrenica genocide and used the term decisively in an interview with David Barsamian. He refers to Srebrenica as genocide because the Serbs trucked out the women and children so they could indiscriminately kill as many men as possible; this he calls genocide unequivocally.

    In the quote you cite you try to portray Chomsky as minimizing or denying Serbian brutality. That’s simply not true. I have heard and read him repeatedly refer to Serbian atrocities. As a point he at the same time refers to other atrocities that go unnoticed, not to deny Serbian atrocities but to bring attention to the atrocities we ignore. It seems you intepret this as a denial of Serbian crimes, but that’s incorrect and missing the point. Chomsky has never denied Serbian atrocities but has disagreed that the NATO bombing of Serbia prevented ethnic cleansing; he claims the bombing did the opposite and intensified the Serbs’ atrocities.

    Anyway, it’s quite clear you’ve misinterepreted and mistated Chomsky’s positions so your article is highly unconvincing. It would be better to expend your energy and outrage in more constructive ways.

  2. November 25, 2009 6:44 am

    I’ve said once. I’ve said twice. And I’ll repeat my self here- Chomsky’s idiocy is fueled in part by everyone treating him as expert on any topic he happens to sound off about. With regard to the Balkans, I’ve never seen him learn the historiography, file a FOIA request, visit an archive, or conduct an interview. I did see him cite a Guardian review of the Dutch government report on the Srebenica Massacre rather than read the book himself. However, since its Noam Chomsky, he gets away with it- despite doing the same thing with the other topics he pokes around.

    Chomsky came into the field with a fixed idea of how things worked and applied it. Unfortunately for everyone, it wasn’t even close to reality.

  3. November 25, 2009 8:09 am


    I am extremely proud of your stance against the Srebrenica genocide denial. No words can express my gratitude for your honorable response, which I did not expect. Your part I response is excellent. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson are dellusional conspiracy theorists who have NATO-phobia. In their mind, the western media is part of larger conspiracy and in the service of demonization of Serbs. This type of reasoning brings Herman/Peterson’s reasoning into question.

  4. November 25, 2009 4:53 pm

    Anyone who subscribes to the “my enemies enemy is my friend” philosophy is an absoulte idiot. To be honest I don’t know much about this Johnstone lady, I’ve never read her works (I should get around to that), but is seems to me that if she’s writing for “living marxist,” then thats exactly what she is doing. She probably doesn’t agree with US economic/foreign policy and thus tries to claim that any charges against Milosevic and his ilk are a western conspiracy. while i no doubt think the break up of yugoslavia played into many different(capitalist) interests, downplaying or denying crimes because you agree with the perpetrators economic theory is seriously flawed and very dangerous. chomsky should also know better!

  5. November 26, 2009 7:07 am

    Vincent, firstly I think Samaha is expending her energy in a very constructive way. What is more constructive than taking the time to speak up when you see inaccuracy and injustice?
    Secondly, her post was very well written and logical, not “outraged.” And thirdly, if you experienced atrocities in a war and some ‘intellectual’ who wasn’t there tries to deny or downplay those experiences, try and tell me that you wouldn’t be outraged.

    Also, Chomsky has not only focused on the NATO/Kosovo issue. In an interview on his own website he has decribed a very famous picture of a concentration camp as ‘fake.’ In his own words, “it was a refugee camp and people could leave when they wanted.” Considering my own uncle was there, I can say with certainty it was not a “refugee camp.” Chomsky claims to only defend the freedom of speech of Johnstone, but as Samaha pointed out he also praises her work-thereby supporting it. Would he suppor the views of a holocaust denier like David Irving as he does hers? I doubt it.

    Samaha, I’ve just gotten around to reading both Vulliamys and Chomskys letters in full, and what struck me was how passionate Vulliamy’s was while Chomsky’s was cold and didactic in his response. He seems so non-chalant about Vuliamys claims of denial-if someone had wrongly accused me of downplaying genocide, I would be a lot more stirred up about it. And as Vulliamy points out in his letter: he was there reporting the massacre going on in the Prijedor region, he saw it with his own eyes, and Chomsky never having been there goes on to say he “got it wrong.”

    Another journalist, David Campbell, has also written to Chomsky about the same topic and he recieved a very similar response. If you want to check it out, heres the link:

  6. Prometeus permalink
    November 26, 2009 3:06 pm

    Samaha, you respond to Chomsky is right on point. Thank you for you effort.

    Let me mention here one totaly forgotten atrocity at the beginning of genocide in Bosnia.

    It is killing of all prissoners of the Karakaj concentration camp, near Zvornik, East Bonsia. In one day Serbs killed around 700 people. They tied them in groups of 10 and, take them from the concentration camo, the factory storage area, to the killing site. They shot them, ang bring other ten. Only one man survived. He was in the 40th group. His name was Fedahija Smajlovic. Can you, Bosnians abroad do anuthing that this attrocity becames known. Bosnian government is of no help. It seems that thay cooperate in the Serbian project, in the creation of the “Serbian republic”.

  7. Owen permalink*
    November 26, 2009 3:27 pm

    Vincent, Chomsky is not an easy person to pin down.

    Sometimes he is unequivocal, when he agrees with the assertion that the Fikret Alic photograph is fraudulent, when he maintains that inmates at Trnopolje were unconfined refugees and when he acknowledges raising doubt concerning the “horrible atrocity” of Fikret Alic’s image (so Emma Brockes ‘s interview wasn’t the complete fabrication he has described it as after all).

    But often enough his statements are vague, ambiguous, conditional, balanced by a throwaway comment (Bosnia – “Awful things happened and so on and so forth”).

    You hear him refer to Serbian atrocities. Have you ever heard him condemn those atrocities in the way he criticises the shortcomings of the Western media and the “herd of intellectuals”?

    Chomsky’s interest in the detail of Serbian atrocities in the Prijedor area appears to extend about as far as describing Fikret Alic as “the thin man”. His interest in Omarska, the main focus of the ITN broadcast, is minimal. Chomsky is interested in Trnopolje because it provides him with the opportunity to pursue his political agenda.

    Chomsky and his supporters like Herman and Peterson spuriously challenge the accuracy of the ITN reporting in conveying the reality of Trnopolje. The real substance of the atrocities that were being perpetrated in the camp system of which Trnopolje was part is of no interest, nor the fact that it was thanks to those reporters that the camps were closed and many lives saved.

    Chomsky dismisses the substance of the picture of Fikret Alic. Alic had just arrived at Trnopolje from Keraterm, where the inhumane conditions were very similar to those at Omarska. The starvation of the prisoners at Omarska was referred to in the ITN footage which showed numerous gaunt and intimidated prisoners.

    According to evidence given to the ICTY many prisoners at Omarska lost 20 to 30 kg of body weight, some more. The ITN footage and other evidence from Trnopolje shows numerous prisoners, not just Alic, who had been brought from Keraterm and Omarska in a state of advanced emaciation.

    Dr Merdzanic’s evidence confirmed that the inmates of the camp were under constant threat of brutalisation, torture, murder and rape from the camp’s armed guards.

    Vincent, do you really believe that Chomsky’s trivialisation of the reality of Trnopolje really is consistent with a genuine acknowledgment of and concern for Serb atrocities?

    In his famous interview with the Serbian RTS Online Chomsky was happy to endorse the LM attack on the Western media for misrepresenting the camps as Nazi-style concentration camps. He fails to comment on the reality of camps under the control of a political organisation with prominent members who believed for example that children of ethnically mixed marriages “were good only for making soap.”

    What is said informs us. What is left unsaid also informs us. As Chomsky said, Trnopolje was a refugee camp. Chomsky chose not to say that it was part of a murderous system of camps that were intended to concentrate the local Bosniak and Croat population, murder any potential opposition, and secure the ethnic homogenisation of a strategically important region. This was a concentration camp system.

    Eager to condemn the Western media for its intervention, when has Chomsky ever turned his critical eye on RTS’s own complicity in murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide in north-western Bosnia? Or examined his personal complicity in RTS’s denial of its own role?

    When he gave that interview to a propaganda organisation that had deceived its own audience about what was being perpetrated in their name in the Prijedor camps, Chomsky must surely have surely have had some idea of the message he was communicating to his Serbian audience by his misleading criticism of the Western reporting of those atrocities.

  8. Owen permalink*
    November 26, 2009 4:06 pm

    Prometeus, both Seselj and Karadzic indictments include charges of responsibility for some of the deaths at Karakaj in 1992.

    You should follow the example of Srebrenica Genocide Blog and Visegrad Genocide Memories in setting up a blog to promote public awareness of what happened at Karakaj in 1992.

  9. November 26, 2009 8:46 pm

    Thank you all for your support and kind words and for all of the information that has been added to this post!

    Vincent – please feel free to post any links of video or post excerpts of Chomsky that you feel are appropriate. However, I feel the need to say once again – as I have stated in my post – Chomsky wants to have it both ways. He cannot on one hand say that genocide and atrocities occured and on the other hand say or support views which attempt to portray a minimized version of the atrocities commited.

    I’m sorry if you saw this as my displaying outrage – I do feel that I need to say that I don’t necessarilly feel outraged but very perplexed about how an academic could allow these contradictions to continue and take no responsibility in taking corrective action. Outrage though is not the way I’m feeling about this – disturbed, perplexed, amazed …

  10. Prometeus permalink
    November 28, 2009 5:14 pm


    thank you very much for the explanation. I feel relaxed knowing that it will be remembered and studied in the future, so that deniers of genocide will slowely but surely loose ground for their dishonest deeds.

  11. Prometeus permalink
    November 28, 2009 5:20 pm

    It looks like my short respond to Owen was lost. I will repeat it. I appologise if I am sending two responds.

    Owen thanks for the information. I feel relaxed that it was recorded and that it will be remebred in the future. That way, the deniers of genocide will slowely but shurely run out of steam for their dishonest deeds.

  12. Prometeus permalink
    November 28, 2009 10:23 pm

    Two kinds of concentration camps

    I realized that there were different kinds of concentration camps in Bosnia. Some of them like Batkovici and Omarska were concentration camps where people actually lived for some time. Some people were later exchanged for Serbian soldiers captured by the Bosnian army, and some were even later released to go abroad. In these camps, a reporter might have been allowed to take pictures for the rest of the world, as it was the case with ITN and Newsday. However, there were camps that I would call “liquidation camps”, which were set only for several days while Serbs organized mass killings of the captured people. Such camps were in Karakaj, in Bratunac, in Brcko, in Prijedor, etc. in 1992. There were also camps where women were held as sex slaves, and then murdered (Vilina Vlas, Kod Sonje etc). Therefore, there was not merely random killing of individuals. The multiple kinds of camps point to systematic planning, which characterizes genocide.

    Many people also were killed on the spot, in their homes as the Serbian army entered the city like in Visegrad, Foca, Zvornik, Vlasenica by specially trained units, such as “Arkanovci” or “Beli Orlovi”, and other special units from Serbia presented to the world by Serbs as paramilitaries.

  13. Owen permalink*
    November 29, 2009 10:02 pm

    Samaha, there’s a very easy explanation why Herman and Peterson chose to reference your relatively inactive (but honest and courageous) blog.

    They knew very well that if they referenced another blog where Ed Vulliamy’s Open Letter had been published, Srebrenica Genocide Blog,, all those curious people who don’t yet know where the truth lies would be exposed to a wealth of information about the campaigns of disinformation conducted by various groups of deniers and apologists including Radovan Karadzic’s own defence team.

    On the one hand I suspect they are less than keen to have too much evidence of the reality of the crimes perpetrated in Bosnia laid before the uncommitted eye. On the other hand they may actually have the grace to be embarrassed to be linked up with the company they regularly keep.

  14. Srebrenica Genocide Blog permalink
    January 1, 2010 12:22 am

    Happy New Year 2010 to all of you!
    Chomsky and his cronies (Ed Herman et al) are not authoritative sources on anything. They are deliberate liars and propagandists.

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