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Open Letter to Amnesty International Regarding Chomsky’s Invitation to Speak, By Ed Vulliamy

October 29, 2009


Update: For those of you visiting from Counterpunch, National Review, and Media Lens, I have replied in part to Herman and Peterson here.  Additionally, regarding the ITN/LM/Knightley issue, as Owen points out in the comments, there is further commentary about the issue at David Campbell’s site that you can find here and here.

Background on this post is here with email contacts from Amnesty International for letter writing.  Letter writing guide is here.  For those of you joining the campaign to protest Amnesty International’s invitation to Chomsky – feel free to cut and paste the letter into your own blogs or to past into emails for distribution.  I have updated the letter, as it seems that I posted a draft earlier.

Open Letter to Amnesty International 

To whom it may concern: 

I have been contacted by a number of people regarding Amnesty International’s invitation to Professor Noam Chomsky to lecture in Northern Ireland. 

The communications I have received regard Prof. Chomsky’s role in revisionism in the story of the concentration camps in northwestern Bosnia in 1992, which it was my accursed honour to discover.

As everyone interested knows, a campaign was mounted to try and de-bunk the story of these murderous camps as a fake – ergo, to deny and/or justify them – the dichotomy between these position still puzzles me. 

The horror of what happened at Omarska and Trnopolje has been borne out by painful history, innumerable trials at the Hague, and – most importantly by far – searing testimony from the survivors and the bereaved. These were places of extermination, torture, killing, rape and, literally “concentration” prior to enforced deportation, of people purely on grounds of ethnicity. 

Prof. Chomsky was not among those (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like Fred Leuchter’s questioning whether the thermal capacity of bricks was enough to contain the heat needed to burn Jews at Auschwitz.  But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them the credibility and energy they required to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings. Chomsky comes with academic pretensions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists have revelled in his endorsement. 

In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”. Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992 (I didn’t see him there)? Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons? 

These people pretend neutrality over Bosnia, but are actually apologists for the  Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic plan, only too pathetic to admit it.  And the one thing they never consider from their armchairs is the ghastly, searing, devastating impact of their game on the survivors and the bereaved. The pain they cause is immeasurable. This, along with the historical record, is my main concern.  It is one thing to survive the camps, to lose one’s family and friends – quite another to be told by a bunch of academics with a didactic agenda in support of the pogrom that those camps never existed. The LM/Novo/Chomsky argument that the story of the camps was somehow fake has been used in countless (unsuccessful) attempts to defend mass murderers in The Hague. 

For decades I have lived under the impression that Amnesty International was opposed to everything these people stand for, and existed to defend exactly the kind of people who lost their lives, family and friends in the camps and at Srebrenica three years later, a massacre on which Chomsky has also cast doubt. I have clearly been deluded about Amnesty. For Amnesty International, of all people, to honour this man is to tear up whatever credibility they have estimably and admirably won over the decades, and to reduce all they say hitherto to didactic nonsense. 

Why Amnesty wants to identify with and endorse this revisionist obscenity, I do not know. It is baffling and grotesque. By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst – Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead.  Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for.  I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq – it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with. 

There is no concern at all with the victims, which is, I suppose, what one would expect from a bureaucrat. In any event, the letter goes nowhere towards addressing the revisionism, dispelling what will no doubt be a fawning, self-satisfied introduction in Belfast and rapturous applause for the man who gives such comfort to Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and their death squads.  How far would Amnesty go in inviting and honouring speakers whose views it does not necessarily share, in the miserable logic of this AI official in Belfast?  A lecture by David Irving on Joseph Goebbels?

Alistair Campbell on how Saddam really did have those WMD? The Chilean Secret Police or Colonel Oliver North on the communist threat in Latin America during the 70s and 80s?  What about Karadzic himself on the “Jihadi” threat in Bosnia, and the succulence of 14-year-old girls kept in rape camps? 

I think I am still a member of AI – if so, I resign. If not, thank God for that. And to think: I recently came close to taking a full time job as media director for AI. That was a close shave – what would I be writing now, in the press release: “Come and hear the great Professor Chomsky inform you all that the stories about the camps in Bosnia were a lie – that I was hallucinating that day, that the skeletons of the dead so meticulously re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons are all plastic? That the dear friends I have in Bosnia, the USA, the UK and elsewhere who struggle to put back together lives that were broken by Omarska and Trnopolje are making it all up? 

Some press release that would have been. Along with the owner of the site of the Omarska camp, the mighty Mittal Steel Corporation, Amnesty International would have crushed it pretty quick.  How fitting that Chomsky and Mittal Steel find common cause. Yet how logical, and to me, obvious.  After all, during the Bosnian war, it was the British Foreign Office, the CIA, the UN and great powers who, like the revisionists Chomsky champions, most eagerly opposed any attempt to stop the genocide that lasted, as it was encouraged by them and their allies in high politics to last, for three bloody years from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. 

Yours, in disgust and despair, 

Ed Vulliamy,

The Observer.

On the heels of its announcement of the Chomsky lecture Amnesty published a report on the ongoing search for justice by the victims of rape in Bosnia.

Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe Programme Director, acknowledges that “During the war, thousands of women and girls were raped, often with extreme brutality. Many were held in prison camps, hotels and private houses where they were sexually exploited. Many women and girls were killed. To this day, survivors of these crimes have been denied access to justice. Those responsible for their suffering – members of military forces, the police or paramilitary groups – walk free. Some remain in positions of power or live in the same community as their victims.”

Alisa Muratcaus of the Association of Concentration Camp Torture Survivors, Canton Sarajevo, insists that people who deny that the mass rape of Bosnian women was a strategic element of the war are talking “nonsense”. Her Association, composed of Muslim, Croat, Serb, and Romani members, many of them victims in camps and prisons throughout Bosnia of atrocities including rape and other forms of sexual torture, works closely with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague which has established beyond doubt that rape was used in Bosnia as a weapon of war.


Prelude to an Open Letter to Amnesty International

October 29, 2009

This is background information regarding the Open Letter to Amenesty International by Ed Vulliamy.  Owen, a commentor that often contributes additional information and discussion here has emailed me the background and letter to post on the blog.  I greatly appreciate the background information since I am so pressed for time and could not possibly have written a background post.  Thank you, Owen.

For those of you that are planning on taking action in this matter, I have a guide to writing letters here.  The open letter by Ed will be posted after this post and you can find it here.

Noam Chomsky has been invited to give the annual Amnesty International Lecture in Belfast. This is second time in four years that Chomsky has been invited to give an Amnesty International Lecture (following Dublin in 2006). To celebrate Chomsky’s forthcoming Lecture appearance Amnesty gives him a respectful and uncritical platform for his views over three pages of the latest Amnesty (UK) Magazine. 

Amnesty appears oblivious to the controversies that surround some of Chomsky’s views on human rights, and in particular the support that he has offered and continues to offer to polemicists who deny the substance, scope and authorship of the worst atrocities perpetrated during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. 

In recent years Chomsky has caused particular controversy through his support for the author Diana Johnstone, known for her “revisionist” views on Bosnia concerning the Prijedor concentration camps, the Srebrenica genocide and the existence of the Bosnian rape camps.  Chomsky salutes her “outstanding” scholarship and defends her “serious, honest work”. 

He represents his support for Johnstone as a defence of her right to freedom of speech while at the same time he denigrates the eyewitness testimony of The Guardian’s reporter Ed Vulliamy whose account of the reality of the Omarska and Trnopolje camps forced the horror of what was happening in Bosnia onto the attention of the rest of the world and in so doing saved the lives of many of the prisoners detained in them. 

Without explanation Chomsky characterises Ed Vulliamy’s description of Omarska and Trnopolje as “probably” wrong while at the same time he endorses the claim by Thomas Deichmann and LM magazine that Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams gave a false account of the situation in the Prijedor camps as “probably” correct.  Chomsky disregards the finding of a High Court libel action which – following the evidence of a doctor detained in one of the camps – confirmed that Vulliamy and his colleagues had told the truth. 

When asked why Amnesty offers a platform to a man who challenges the reporting of human rights abuses that Amnesty itself substantiated and champions the seriousness and honesty of individuals who try to deny those abuses, Amnesty’s response was to observe that invitees are not representatives of Amnesty International nor expected to deliver an Amnesty International policy position within their lecture, but rather they have been invited as having something interesting and thought-provoking to say about human rights in the world today and Amnesty International does not necessarily endorse all their opinions.

When Ed Vulliamy was asked to comment on Amnesty’s invitation to Chomsky he wrote the open letter below.  The language expresses his depth of feeling, not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of the friends forced to suffer “the ghastly, searing, devastating impact” of Chomsky’s denial of their experience. 

Anyone who shares these concerns can express their views for the attention of Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, at

or Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK (AIUK), at

Letter Writing Campaigns for Action Alerts

October 29, 2009

I have a few forthcomming posts that ask readers to email an organization in order for the organization to take corrective action.  I am not posting a sample letter, but may post links to sample letters as guides at a later time – and I do encourage readers to post links to samples for this purpose.

What many people do not take into account when composing an email campaign that requests corrective action is how these organizations view these email campaigns.  For example, in some organizations, any messages that are received with the same subject line and in some cases even the same body are considered to be 1 complaint – even if hundreds or thousands of complaints have been sent.

For this reason, I am posting a best practices guide for readers to use when constructing a message of action.  This is a bare bones basics of what I know.  Please feel free to add to the list by posting your suggestion in the comments area and I will update the content of the post with suggestions I feel will be beneficial to the best-practices guide.  Thank you!

  • Subject lines should be unique, concise and include key words.
  • Subject lines should be written in lower and uppercase letters – never use all caps.  All caps is the equivalent of yelling and hostility and therefore the recipient may disregard it.
  • The body of the email or letter should be unique and concise.  For example if someone has a personal experience that makes this situation hurtful, they should include that experience in their letter without making their experience overtake the intended message.  The experience can be one or two sentences but should not be one or two paragraphs.  The latter is appropriate for op-eds in news papers but does little to get the message across in letter writing campaigns.  
  • The letter should explain why the sender is writing the letter in the first paragraph. 
  • It should include positive statements as well as address the issue. (this is more often possible than we think) 
  • It should include actions that the sender would like to see take place (reasonable actions – include your best-case action and your at the very least recommendation).   
  • It should conclude with bridge building, positive, forward looking statements. (when possible)

Blog Highlight: Dancing to the Lambada

October 27, 2009

Enchi has her first post up on her Dancing to the Lambada blog.  She gives some background on Plavsic and ends with some scary quotes by Plavsic.  Give it a read.

Judging by her first post and her description of herself:

“Well what can i say, i’m a gyspy at heart 😉 Bosnian-muslim-atheist daddy, bosnian-serbian-agnostic mummy. Born in a land that now ceases to exist. Currently residing down under. Raised secular and socialist!”

I think we’re in for some interesting reading in the future.

Disclaimer:  No, I am not promoting socialism – that would be so un-capitalist pig of me 😉  I am being global.

Radovan Karadzic Truancy and Biljana Plavsic Release: Bosnia Struggles

October 27, 2009
Genocide, Endurance, Compassion, and Beauty: Vedran Smajlovic Playing his Cello in the Partial Ruins of the National Library

A Collision of Genocide, Endurance, and Compassion: Vedran Smajlovic Playing his Cello in the Partial Ruins of the National Library

I’m disgusted.  I would almost rather not add to Karadzic’s dramatic court absence and Biljana Plavsic’s release so as not to validate their moment in the spot light, but at the same time these events need to be documented and we need to remember how all of this plays out.  The situation is rapidly deteriorating, not only in justice not being served, but in the world’s playhouse of diplomacy.

Plavsic’s release is more than just disturbing for the reason that six years of jail (reduced from 11 years) seems to be a fitting punishment for genocide, it rather bluntly puts into perspective the climate in Bosnia.  The New York Times has a Reuters article that describes the quaint release:

“She wore a fur coat and at one point threw a kiss to the crowd upon arrival in central Belgrade with current Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.”

Although the article misses the mark by failing to mention in that statement that Milorad Dodik is currently the Bosnian Prime Minister, the article does goes on to point out the significance of Dodik flying out to meet Plavsic upon her release:

“Dodik’s visit from Bosnia to welcome his mentor’s return highlights continued divisions in the country where 100,000 died during the war. European Union and U.S. diplomats have in recent weeks sought to bring together political leaders in the still divided country, yet have not seen any immediate success.”

Which brings me to the next issue, why are the EU and the U.S. fighting for an agreement that once again would benefit the smaller Bosnian entity within Bosnia?  The terms that have been recently drafted are reverting back to old stipulations that Milosevic wanted placed into the Dayton Accords which the main Bosnian entity could not accept because they favored encroaching Serb extremist agendas – divide and conquer.  Senator Bob Dole explains the flaws within the proposal in his Wall Street Journal article:

“First, it proposes that almost all state property be given to the two ethnic-based entities in the country (Serbian and Federation, a coalition of Muslims and Croats). This would weaken the state and strengthen these entities. Slobodan Milosevic, the architect of the Bosnian genocide, had sought to do this very thing in the Dayton Agreement, but was rebuffed. Second, the proposal preserves “entity voting”—a provision in the Dayton Agreement that allows the Serbian parliamentary minority of 22% the power to veto almost anything in parliament they deem to be against their “entity’s interest.” Invoked by the Serbs hundreds of times, this veto has prevented Bosnia from passing basic laws regulating commerce and agriculture, and even generating tax revenue. On Oct. 14, the European Commission’s 2009 Progress Report on Bosnia identified “entity voting” as a key obstacle to Bosnia’s development. Yet European negotiators in Sarajevo are making no effort to alter or end it. “

Although it is a fallacy to assume that Hillary Clinton would oppose such a proposal based on former President Bill Clinton’s efforts to end the war in Bosnia – I still find myself perplexed.  Then what about Biden’s accomplishments regarding the situation?

I guess in some ways it makes sense.  The Dayton Accords were always a band-aid that were signed under heavy pressure.  No phone calls, no faxes, no outside influences – an agreement was crucial and the bullying ensued after a failed diplomatic effort between Israel and Palestine.  Diplomacy.  No.  Politics.

I wonder how Obama’s book will read in terms of Bosnia.  I can’t imagine that it would be very flattering as he pushes a proposal that rewards genocidal maniacs.  Diplomacy.  No.  Politics.  No.  Failure. 

I guess there is still an inkling of hope that a viable proposal might be drafted.

Al-Azhar’s Intolerance: Some Thoughts on The Niqab Ban

October 5, 2009

Early this morning I received a link in my email to an article whose title implies that an Egyptian cleric is “banning niqaab”.  The article goes on to state that the cleric will issue an edict regarding niqaab.  A few issues presented themselves in this article.  Is niqaab being banned in Egypt?  What is meant by “edict”?  Whether or not the niqaab has been banned in Egypt, a struggle between conservatives and moderates is manifesting itself through the trampling of Muslim women’s rights.

After seeking out answers, it is my understanding from several articles, here, here, here and here, that Egyptian cleric Sheikh Tantawi has issued a fatwa stating that the niqaab is un-Islamic.  I admit my understanding of Egyptian law is limited (so please feel free to address this in the comments section), but a fatwa is generally only supposed to be an opinion.  There can be several different and conflicting fatwas regarding an issue within the different schools of thought, within institutions (ie. Al-Azhar), within communities and countries.  Most often, a fatwa can be respected and followed by community members or it can be discarded.  Fatwas form the basis for discourse on any given topic.

While other predominantly Muslim countries have also banned the wearing of niqaab, burqa or any form of head covering, this has always been done in the name of secular democracy. Sheikh Tantawi’s fatwa, on the other hand, is historically, religiously and politically important because as I write this it is reported that he  is taking steps to implement a ban that would prevent women from wearing the veils in Al-Azhar institutions.  In this particular case, a woman’s Islamic right to gain knowledge is being discarded at an Islamic university, unless she complies to policies that circumvent traditional Islamic jurisprudence that Al-Azhar has once prided itself on.  In this manner, this is not just a step backward for Muslim women’s rights, it seriously questions the credibility of the institute which already faces criticism for getting into bed with state politicians.

It is discouraging enough to watch countries impose laws that promote “secular democracy” while flippantly grinding out religious freedom with a steel boot as though it were only a cigarette, but to now witness Islamic religious intolerance within an acclaimed Islamic university is frightening.  For years now, all discourse about what is and what is not considered hijab has been overcast by freedom of religion infringements.  We’ve watched France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Turkey, Tunisia etc. all take on the issue of hijab through religious symbol laws.  While it can be argued that these laws apply to all citizens, these laws have discriminatorilly placed the heaviest burden on Muslim women.  A woman should be allowed to choose her form of dress in a public setting; she should not be chided for the moral value judgements that help her make that decision.

The fact is, it’s our hair, it’s our face and we should have the right to make our own decision on whether we would like to show it to people or not.  We should neither be forced to cover them, forced to uncover them, or forced to make a decision between an education or our perceived duty to our religion.

This forced covering and uncovering doesn’t make us Muslim or not-Muslim – we are who we are.  However, this whole pursuit to force us to submit to governmental and institutional standards of conformity are dehumanizing by forcing submission to an abusive authority.

Sadly, until these forced uncoverings stop taking place, we will be slaves to the debate of religious freedom and tolerance.  For Muslim women, contemporary thought regarding the hijab, niqaab, and burqa expressed through texts with formal logical expression of these opinions will be on the back-burner.  As long as this contemporary thought is left there, we’ll remain subjects of outdated rulings, peer-pressure, and forced coverings in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

Perhaps the sheiks could offer us the varying opinions (through translations) about head covering being sunnah or fard.  Perhaps they could explain the basis for their opinion that covering the face is not Islamic.  Perhaps they could educate us rather than contribute in oppressing us.  As for the “secular and democracy” loving authorities, perhaps they could learn to stay out of our hair and contribute to freedom and tolerance.

Ageist Question .. (post open for discussion)

May 12, 2009

I’m taking a class in Business Communication and I had a test question that went a little something like this – I’m changing it up so as not to copy an actual question:

Though Jane is 80, she is still a ski enthusiast.  She says there are still many slopes she hasn’t skied.

Okay, skiing might not be the best replacement activity so picture something more strenuous than walking, not as much impact on the joints as running nor as cardiovascular and there is nothing between your feet and the ground besides your socks and hiking shoes 🙂

So, I stated that her age is unnecessary information.  I based my answer on information in my textbook which states that the only characteristic that older people have in common is their age (based on negative comments) and another section which encourages us to not stereotype a person or group even if we believe that the stereotype would be a compliment.

I got the answer wrong … grrrrrrrrr …

The reason given for my answer being wrong (by an automated test scoring system) is that “Though Jane is in her 80’s” is a compliment to her as an individual and not meant to be demeaning to older people in general.

Well, I’m disputing that…

I’m a bit of a stickler for word choice.  In my opinion, the word though in the sentence makes Jane an exception to her age group, as though she has overcome her age and thereby might offend someone in that age group.  I know at least my ancestors who would farm their fields and scour their woods for herbs until disability or death would be offended.  We have people close to this age completing the iron man. 

If  “though Jane is 80”preceded the second sentence it would not make the statement offensive but I think that the way it stands makes it ageist even if that isn’t the intent of the writer .. errrrr.. or should I say test preparer. 

So, what say the rest of you?  Am I all riled up over nothing?