One of our most relentless critics is Oliver Kamm, leader writer and blogger at The Times. Kamm joined the paper in 2008 having been an investment banker and co-founder of a hedge fund. In a 2006 blog, Kamm described us as “a shrill group of malcontents”, an “aggressively simple-minded lobby” guilty of “unprofessional and often comically inept exegesis” whose approach “demeans public life”. An impressive claim to make about one writer living off donations, one writer working in his spare time after finishing full-time work, and a virtually unpaid webmaster. David Cromwell, Kamm added, is “an ignoramus”.
In another blog, two years later, Kamm described us as a “curious organisation”, operating “in effect as a ‘care in the community’ scheme for numerous species of malcontent on either political extreme”.
There is an overriding theme to Kamm‘s criticism. We are, he tells anyone willing to listen, “a reliable conduit for genocide-denial”. Indeed, we are responsible for nothing less than “the denial of genocide and the whitewashing of the single greatest war crime to have been committed on European soil since the defeat of Nazism”.1
He goes on: “Genocide denial is the organisation’s orthodoxy”. We are “an extreme, unsavoury and unrepresentative organisation whose function is the aggressive and often abusive targeting of working journalists”.
Readers who have been receiving our alerts for many years — some hardy souls are into their ninth year — may be wondering what Kamm is on about. What genocide is it that we have been denying? Have we not been trying to +highlight+ allegations made by senior UN diplomats, such as Denis Halliday, of genocide in Iraq as a result of US-UK sanctions and the 2003 invasion? Indeed, when the Gandhi Foundation awarded us their 2007 International Peace Prize, the award was presented to us by Denis Halliday.
Kamm recognises the problem: “Even those who’ve heard of Media Lens may not be aware of its attitude to genocide-denial.”
True enough. He adds: “Cromwell and Edwards’s fantastic and bemused response to being exposed like this tells its own story.”
It certainly does; it indicates that we are bemused.
Kamm uses an intellectual sleight of hand. The term “genocide-denial” of course reminds one of “Holocaust denial”. Use of the former is intended to send a shudder of horror through readers. It is intended to suggest that we are comparable to the right-wing fanatics and neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust. Indeed, Kamm is quick to make the connection:
“The stuff that they find so impressive is not merely the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial: it is the methodological equivalent too, using literally the same techniques. If the bodies can’t be found, ergo, the genocide is a myth, according to this grotesque line of reasoning.”
Perhaps, then, one could slip a cigarette paper between us and Holocaust deniers. But to all intents and purposes we are the same.
Holocaust denial falls into a very special category. It is inextricably linked to anti-Semitic hatred, and has been used as a form of violence by other means — a way of continuing to demonise and attack the victims of one of history’s worst crimes. Holocaust denial is not rejected because it is wrong to question and doubt claims of genocide. It is rejected because of the extreme racism and hatred motivating the doubt in this particular instance.
Beyond this special category, it is absurd to suggest that claims of genocide should be somehow beyond debate. Who decides when it is “the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial” to challenge such claims? Oliver Kamm of The Times? The British government? Media Lens?
The absurdity becomes clear as soon as we consider some examples. Was it “genocide-denial” when the BBC, ITN, the Observer and other media rejected Denis Halliday’s claim that sanctions, rather than the Iraqi government, were responsible for genocide in Iraq? Were Amnesty International responsible for “genocide-denial” when they told us in 2003 that, in the previous decade, Saddam Hussein had been responsible for executions in the “hundreds” per year, rather than in the 10,000s or 100,000s, as some political commentators suggested? Was it “genocide-denial” when newspapers challenged the methodology and results of the 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies that found nearly 100,000 and 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion? Was it “genocide-denial” when the media favoured the Iraq Body Count study over the Lancet studies because: “If the bodies can’t be found, ergo, the genocide is a myth”?
Minding The Morons — “Srebrenica Denial”
More specifically, Kamm’s outrage centres around his claim that we promote material that argues that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”. He actually follows us around the internet to make the point. When we published an article about the BBC on The First Post website last September, Kamm popped up in the comments section to warn readers that we promote “Srebrenica denial” using methods that “match those of the denial of the Nazi holocaust”.
When the Times Higher Education (THE) published a review of our new book, Newspeak, last month, we posted a response on their website – the first comment to appear. Kamm’s was the third:
“One point relevant to assessing the credibility of Media Lens’s approach is that they maintain that reports of the Srebrenica massacre — an act of genocide, as determined by the International Court of Justice — are an example of Western corporate propaganda.”
Kamm’s claims on Srebrenica may also come as a surprise to longtime readers. According to our archive, since 2001, we have published 2,777 pages of media alerts totalling some 1,026,606 words of material. Apart from affirming that a massacre did take place, we have written virtually nothing about Srebrenica. Our most significant discussion appeared in two media alerts published in late 2005 defending Noam Chomsky against the Guardian’s claim that he had denied there had been a massacre in Srebrenica. We helped create such a stir that the Guardian brought in an external ombudsman to examine the case. The ombudsman’s final report on the progression of events was published in the Guardian. It noted:
“6. Acrimonious correspondence with Noam Chomsky continues and an e-mail campaign, largely from an organisation called Media Lens, sparks off several hundred e-mails. Their website (‘Smearing Chomsky – the Guardian in the gutter’ 4/11/05) urges readers to e-mail the Guardian editor and others.”2
We sparked off “several hundred e-mails” — perhaps as many as 500 — affirming that Chomsky had +not+ denied there had been a massacre in Srebrenica. In our alert, we recalled that in his January/February 2005 article, ‘Imperial Presidency,’ Chomsky had described the November 2004 US assault on Falluja as involving “war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to death under US law”. He added:
“One might mention at least some of the recent counterparts that immediately come to mind, like the Russian destruction of Grozny 10 years ago, a city of about the same size. Or Srebrenica, almost universally described as ‘genocide’ in the West. In that case, as we know in detail from the Dutch government report and other sources, the Muslim enclave in Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated reaction took place, it was horrendous. The Serbs drove out all but military age men, and then moved in to kill them.”3
We unearthed this comment ourselves, quoted it with obvious approval, and added:
“Clearly, then, Chomsky considers Srebrenica nothing less than a counterpart to crimes ‘for which the political leadership could be sentenced to death under US law.’”
Curious behaviour for writers arguing that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”.
Last month (October 15), Kamm wrote a blog entry, ‘The funny side of genocide.’ The entry is headed by a picture of us receiving the Gandhi Foundation’s prize. This was intended ironically — the article focused on our alleged role in “genocide-denial”. Kamm commented:
“I mentioned in my earlier post what has come to be known as ‘Srebrenica denial’. The term is apt not only because Srebrenica denial is morally similar to Holocaust denial, in depicting a documented genocide as a hoax, but because it uses literally the same methods. It holds that if the bodies can’t be found then it must be because the victims never existed. I gave examples of a couple of fringe websites that publish this sort of material. But there’s a site that I might have cited and didn’t. It’s Media Lens.”
“The pre-eminent voice in the field of Srebrenica denial… is Ed Herman, a retired American professor of finance who has co-authored several books with Noam Chomsky. This sinister and absurd figure not only denies the massacre at Srebrenica: he is one of only two or three people I’ve ever come across who construct similar fantastic arguments about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.”
The “sinister and absurd figure” is a brilliant and courageous political writer. He is co-author (indeed lead author) with Noam Chomsky of Manufacturing Consent — one of the classic works of political analysis.
With his usual civility, Kamm asks of Edward Herman, his co-author David Peterson and us: “why do I bother with these morons?”
Kamm clarified our role in helping Herman and Peterson do their dirty work. Of the Balkans, he wrote:
“Edwards and Cromwell are obviously clueless on the subject. They repeat and publicise what Herman says merely because Herman, with Chomsky, is the inspiration for their entire organisation: the originator of the so-called propaganda model of media power.”
It is certainly true that we have posted articles by Herman and Peterson discussing the massacre on our website. But it is simply false to suggest that they have argued that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”. Herman and Peterson have written:
“The Srebrenica massacre took place in the month before Operation Storm, Croatia’s devastating attack and ethnic cleansing of some 250,000 Serbs from the Krajina, with over 1,000 civilians killed, including over 500 women and children…”4
Their very rational concern is to discuss the “asymmetry in how the Srebrenica massacre and Operation Storm have entered the Western canon”.4 Their interest, then, is in precisely +comparing+ how these two horrific massacres were treated by Western politics and media. Herman and Peterson have also written:
“There is a good case to be made that, while there were surely hundreds of executions, and possibly as many as a thousand or more, the 8,000 figure is a political construct and eminently challengeable.”5
Herman and Peterson, then, are +not+ denying that mass killings took place at Srebrenica. They also do not accept the figure cited by Kamm and others, but that they are perfectly entitled to do. The point is that while critics are free to take issue with their facts, sources and arguments, it is nonsense to accuse them of sins that are the “moral equivalent of Holocaust denial”. And to associate us with Holocaust denial on the grounds that we publish their material is desperate indeed.
In reality, we have posted any number of articles by different writers taking different views on Srebrenica. We have, for example, posted links to dozens of articles by mainstream radicals like Robert Fisk, George Monbiot and Seumas Milne, who have all affirmed that there was a massacre at Srebrenica.
The Missing Quote
In a comment on the Times Online website last month, Kamm took his smears to a different level when he wrote of us and Srebrenica: “they dance on a mass grave that they claim isn’t there because Herman told them so”.
This was extreme even by Kamm’s standards. To suggest that we had treated the massacred victims of Srebrenica with such contempt, and to suggest that we had claimed there was no mass killing, was appalling. As Professor Douwe Korff, a leading European human rights lawyer, told us: “If this Kamm chap can’t provide any evidence for his claim, it really is a most damnable libel.”6 And of course we have never made any such claim regarding Srebrenica. On the contrary, as discussed, we have repeatedly affirmed that there +was+ a massacre.
In a series of exchanges on the Times Higher Education website we asked Kamm to provide a quote from us in support of his allegation. Unusually for him, he failed to reply. We then wrote to him on November 18, copying the email to the Times Online editor:
Dear Oliver Kamm
On October 18, on the Times Online website, you wrote of us regarding the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica: “they dance on a mass grave that they claim isn’t there because [Edward] Herman told them so”.
We have made no such claim. If you can provide a quote by us in support of your accusation, please do so. If not, please remove this comment from the website.
David Edwards and David Cromwell
Kamm replied the next day. He did not offer evidence in support of his claim, nor did he agree to delete the comment from the website — the reasonable response given that he had invented the claim. Instead, he refused to discuss the issue with us and asked that any further correspondence be sent to the legal department at The Times and to his personal legal advisor. An odd reaction from someone who should be able to cut and paste the evidence into an email in a matter of seconds. His difficulty, of course, is that the evidence does not exist. The Times Online editor did not respond. We wrote to the Times Online editor again on November 23 and again received no reply. The comment remains in place but not a scintilla of evidence in support has been provided.
The problem is that mud sticks. As Chomsky noted of the Guardian’s claim that he had denied there had been a massacre at Srebrenica:
“Now I’m stuck with that, even though it is a deceitful invention of theirs.”7
We, also, are stuck with Kamm’s invented smears.
Conclusion — Kamm’s Record
What of Kamm’s own record in accepting or protesting some of the great genocides of our time? As discussed, in September 1998, Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, resigned describing the UN sanctions regime as “genocidal”. Halliday, who had set up and managed the UN’s ‘oil for food’ programme in Iraq, was unequivocal that Western-led sanctions were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under five. In an interview, Halliday told us:
“Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years — it’s a deliberate ploy… That’s why I’ve been using the word ‘genocide’, because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I’m afraid I have no other view at this late stage.”8
In February 2000, Halliday’s successor at the UN, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned. In his book, A Different Kind Of War — The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, von Sponeck wrote:
“At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical or mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-For-Food programme.”9
In 1999, the year separating Halliday’s and von Sponeck‘s resignations, Kamm wrote in a letter to the Independent:
“The Clinton administration has been at pains to soften the sanctions regime… In October 1997 the US retreated from even a minor symbolic sanction — restricting travel for officials obstructing inspections — and agreed that Iraq should be allowed to sell oil to earn hard currency for food and medicine.”10
Numerous experts in international law have condemned the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq as a grave war crime. It has likely resulted in the deaths of more than one million people. And yet, in a letter to the pro-war Observer on January 26, 2003, Kamm took a different view:
“War against Saddam will uphold the integrity of UN resolutions, counteract nuclear proliferation and overthrow tyranny. All credit to you for serving as the authentic voice of liberal principle.”
In May 2003, Kamm wrote:
“Contrary to the Liberal Democrats’ depiction of it as the biggest foreign policy error since Suez, Iraq was the most far-sighted and noble act of British foreign policy since the founding of Nato. Mr Blair’s record exemplifies foreign policy ‘with an ethical dimension’.”11
In 2006, Kamm wrote an article entitled, “We were right to invade Iraq.”
The Blair War Crimes Foundation argues that Blair is guilty of serious war crimes, including:
“Deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war, causing in the order of one million deaths, 4 million refugees, countless maimings and traumas.”
By contrast, Kamm commented this week:
“I went on a Radio Five Live phone-in programme this morning and was asked by the presenter how I responded to the accusation that Tony Blair is a war criminal. The correct answer, which I gave, is: ‘With derision.’”
Presumably, if someone responded “With derision” to the accusation that Slobodan Milosevic had been a war criminal, Kamm would view that as “genocide-denial”.
In October, Kamm wrote a blog with the title: “Tony Blair is a genocidal butcher.” He was quick to clarify:
“No, not really. But if I were a Guardian reader (dammit, I am a Guardian reader), that’s what I’d know. Because, you see, according to Steve Bell, the former PM is, ha ha, exactly like Radovan Karadzic. Very droll.”
Kamm recently made a short film for the BBC’s This Week programme supporting Blair’s (unsuccessful) bid to become EU President. The film showed images of Blair pressing the flesh with various world leaders to a soundtrack of Heroes by David Bowie. Kamm said:
“Tony Blair is the dominant political leader of his generation. With Mrs Thatcher, he is one of only two British statesmen who is instantly recognised all over the world and whose name has real clout. His appointment as President of the European Council would give the institution coherence. It would be hugely annoying to the domestic constituency that accuses him of war crimes. He +should+ be President of the European Council.”
In the exchange of emails on the THE website, we made the point that, if Kamm can accuse us of “genocide-denial”, then we can certainly repay the compliment. But in fact, as discussed, we do not believe the term has any place in serious debate. Nor do we consider Kamm a “moron” or “sinister” for disagreeing with us. Reasoned discussion and disagreement — and respectful tolerance of disagreement — are what free speech and democracy are supposed to be all about.
- See comments following the Times Higher Education review of Newspeak. [↩]
- ‘External ombudsman report,’ The Guardian, May 25, 2006. [↩]
- Chomsky, ‘Imperial Presidency,’ Canadian Dimension, January/February 2005. [↩]
- Edward Herman and David Peterson, ‘The Dismantling of Yugoslavia,’ Monthly Review, October 2007. [↩] [↩]
- Herman and Peterson, ‘Milosevic’s Death in the Propaganda System,’ ZNet, May 14, 2006. [↩]
- Korff to Media Lens, November 19, 2009. [↩]
- Email copied to Media Lens, November 3, 2005. [↩]
- Halliday, interview with David Edwards, March 2000. [↩]
- Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind Of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p.144. [↩]
- Kamm, letter, The Independent, June 28, 1999. [↩]
- Kamm, ‘Help, I’m a pro-war leftie,’ The Times, May 2, 2005. [↩]