Posted Friday, July 2, 1999

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Surprise: Clinton and Blair lied over Kosovo

"In order to justify this thing, they needed to tap that memory of the Holocaust."--Andrew Bacevich, professor of International Relations at Boston University.

Crisis in Kosovo

Numbers were best available, officials say

by Steven Komarow

Many of the figures used by the Clinton administration and NATO to describe the wartime plight of Albanians in Kosovo now appear greatly exaggerated as allied forces take control of the province.

"Yes, there were atrocities. But no, they don't measure up to the advance billing," says House intelligence chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla.

Instead of 100,000 ethnic Albanian men feared murdered by rampaging Serbs, officials now estimate that about 10,000 were killed.

600,000 ethnic Albanians were not "trapped within Kosovo itself lacking shelter, short of food, afraid to go home or buried in mass graves dug by their executioners" as President Clinton told a veterans group in May. Though thousands hid in Kosovo, they are healthy.

Kosovo's livestock, wheat and other crops are growing, not slaughtered wholesale or torched as widely reported.

Kenneth Bacon, spokesman for Defense Secretary William Cohen, says the best estimates available were used.

He says Cohen was right to compare Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic to a World War II Nazi. His forces burned houses and made 800,000 Albanians flee for their lives, he says.

And if other war crimes turn out less than expected, "I don't think you can say killing 100,000 is 10 times more morally repugnant than killing 10,000," Bacon says.

Then why exaggerate? "In order to justify this thing, they needed to tap that memory of the Holocaust," says Andrew Bacevich, professor of International Relations at Boston University.

Meanwhile, food and medical aid programs in Kosovo are taking a back seat while the United Nations rushes to assemble a police force.

The "missing men" -- young Albanians who were believed killed -- are home with no jobs. NATO forces are struggling to keep them from seeking retribution.

The changing numbers in the province raises questions. Goss, who opposed the bombing campaign, says the administration deliberately emphasized the most dire reports. "There is a credibility question with President Clinton and his administration on these matters," he says.

Mike Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council, says there was no effort to mislead. The administration found that "as you go through a campaign like this, there is a great deal of uncertainty."

Even lower numbers justify action, he says. "We needed to move because of the campaign of ethnic cleansing that could not be allowed to stand."

Paul Risley of the U.N. tribunal that indicted Milosevic says the portrayal of Kosovo as a wasteland shows the lack of good information during the war. "This was a trip-up of the Western media and the Western governments."

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