Dutch publicist Edwin Giltay reveals the scandal to cover-up photos by Dutchbat officer Johannes Rutten which prove the onset of the Srebrenica genocide.
The Netherlands as a country shares responsibility for the genocide committed in Srebrenica in 1995 [as one could interpret the ruling of the Court of Appeal The Hague in 2017; ed.] and the fact that the Dutch battalion stationed at the UN protected enclave did nothing to prevent the killing, is a trauma that faces Dutch society even two decades after the tragic events unfolded.
Inertness of Dutch soldiers was part of the Dutch military strategy, which according to Edwin Giltay, writer of The Cover-up General, ‘rendered the Bosniak population of Srebrenica’ to ‘soldiers of the Bosnian Serb Army’. In these dramatic moments, Dutch officer Johannes Rutten took photos showing nine Bosniak corpses, proving the onset of genocide, since the recordings were made on July 13, that is, just two days after the fall of Srebrenica.
Due to circumstances, Edwin Giltay was at the centre of a scandal in which military intelligence successfully sought to withhold the existence of the photos. After the revelation of this affair, his book was banned, and Giltay himself was confronted with the secret services.
In your book, you write Dutch soldiers took ‘compromising’ photos during the fall of Srebrenica. Were these photos taken on orders of the soldiers‘ superiors or on their own initiative? Are there scenes in the photos which testify to the fact soldiers of the Republika Srpska Army (Serbian forces) committed crimes of genocide?
Although Dutchbat soldiers did not protect Srebrenica, they did take their role as United Nations observers quite seriously. Many took photos later used as evidence of wrongdoings, as confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Ljiljana Piteša of the Office of the Prosecutor e-mailed me on 3 October 2017: ‘I would like to underscore that the cooperation provided by Dutchbat soldiers, including testifying in our cases, was essential to our successful prosecutions of the genocide committed in Srebrenica.’
However, only a limited number of photos ended up at the ICTY. Dutch lawyers Klaas Arjen Krikke and Michael Ruperti who represented over 200 Dutchbat veterans in a planned lawsuit against their former employer complained on 28 November 2016 in an article by Dutch news agency ANP, that a lot of photos taken by their clients were destroyed by their superiors. Other photos were taken from them by military intelligence, upon returning from Bosnia. Lawyer Krikke added ominously: ‘Dutchbat soldiers were pressured to not make this public.’
Note: Whether or not Dutchbat soldiers received orders to take photos in Srebrenica, I do not know for a fact. My book is a personal eyewitness account of an internal espionage scandal in the Netherlands, related to the cover-up of the compromising photos that were taken. Although the press describes The Cover-up General again and again as a ‘Srebrenica book’, it does not provide first-hand information about the events that took place in 1995.
You write photos were taken by Lieutenant Johannes Rutten together with two other Dutch soldiers. When were these photos taken and under which circumstances? Also, Dutch intelligence claims his photographic film was destroyed but you think otherwise. Is there a chance these films are in archives of intelligence services today? In your book you also mention a radio show in which an unnamed officer of the Dutch military testified Dutch soldiers helped the Serbian army to ‘board’ Bosniak men into buses that took them to mass killing locations...
Dutchbat Lieutenant Johannes Rutten took photos of the dramatic events in Srebrenica. According to his testimony at the Hague tribunal, he ‘observed what he believed to be a Dutchbat lieutenant and some Dutchbat soldiers assisting in the deportation of the population by helping the Muslim refugees leave the area.’
Other photos by Lieutenant Rutten would show nine bodies of Bosniaks who were murdered just before he arrived on the scene. Blood was still flowing from the corpses. While still in the area, Rutten and his colleagues were fired at by Serb forces. So, they risked their lives taking these pictures. This all happened on 13 July 1995 in Srebrenica, two days after the fall of the enclave.
What is alarming to Dutch authorities, is that the photos of these nine bodies should have been proof of the impending genocide by the Serbs, for the Dutch military to act upon. Although it was denied later on, Dutch Army top brass was very much aware at the time of the atrocities taking place, as Colonel Rutten had reported to his superiors what he had seen.
‘When the Colonel [Dutchbat veteran Johannes Rutten] ultimately returned to the Netherlands, he turned the film roll over to the Dutch army intelligence branch for developing. He was later informed that an error had occurred during the development process and that the photos were mis-developed,’ re his ICTY testimony. However, Peter Rutten (no relation) who led an official military police investigation into the photos taken by Johannes Rutten, is convinced there is a conspiracy. According to Peter Rutten, the photo roll is stored in an archive somewhere.
You say that the Ministry of Defence, Dutch intelligence and military intelligence put a lot of effort into preventing the publication of these photos. Why did they undertake such complex cover-up operations?
The covered-up photos are not only extremely damaging PR for our country. They would also support the current legal case of the Mothers of Srebrenica against the State of the Netherlands, should they emerge. I remember hearing their lawyer Marco Gerritsen complain during his plea on 6 October 2016 at the Court of Appeal in The Hague, about how essential information withheld by the Dutch State hurt his case. Ergo, enough reason for Dutch military intelligence to initiate cover-up operations and use intimidation measures to suppress these photos.
You also mention it was decided during a meeting at the secret service that all efforts must be taken to ensure the film roll would not to be published, with the excuse that soldiers needed to be protected this way. Why was such a decision made?
A military intelligence employee, while trying to recruit me as an analyst in 1998, informed me about an intelligence meeting she attended regarding the infamous film roll of photos of Lieutenant Rutten. According to her, the argument was brought forward that these photos should never be made public in order to protect Dutchbat veterans. Once published in popular magazines, veterans could be recognised by friends who then might raise difficult questions about their role in Srebrenica. This would be bothersome for the veterans...
The truth being suppressed, in a democracy: it is most shocking indeed. Photographic evidence of the start of the genocide was withheld by the Dutch government in order for ‘our boys’ to drink beer with their buddies in their local cafés without being quizzed about their failure in Srebrenica.
While the aforementioned military intelligence employee was unsuccessful in recruiting me, I discovered she herself was secretly monitored by another Dutch spy. This situation got out of hand completely. At the root of this tug-of-war within military intelligence were the infamous photos. One of the factions wanted to make public the footage wasn‘t at all lost, the other wanted to keep this information under wraps.
Your book was banned in the Netherlands, yet a year later, a higher court ruled in favour of its publication. Who prevented the publication in the first place and for what reason?
I describe the secret service scandal in The Cover-up General, published in 2014. One year after publication, the intelligence recruiter accused me of slander and started a lawsuit against me with the support of her former intelligence boss. Surprisingly, she won. My book was banned, which was a unique setback for the freedom of expression in the Netherlands. The Court of Appeal in The Hague however, overturned the verdict resolutely. Thankfully, the judges having studied all evidence recognised my book is based on facts and ruled ‘its accuracy is not in doubt’.
Hence, The Cover-up General was relaunched in 2016. I added eight chapters, describing my victory for press freedom.
One consequence of the legal battle however, is I can no longer reveal the name of the indiscrete recruiter spy. Her name is to be kept secret.
The Cover-up General received great reviews and over 40 recommendations from Members of Parliament, investigative journalists, military historians etc. Even the Minister of Defence had to come forward with a reply, once a Parliamentary committee ordered him to clarify the official point of view of the Ministry of Defence.
The Minister replied, saying my book was ‘characterised by the easy-to-read style in which it was written,’ yet he claimed it to be untruthful. Thus, the Minister fails to recognise the ruling of the Court of Appeal of The Hague and adheres to the earlier verdict which was overturned. This is highly dubious. Unfortunately, the Ministry is unwilling to resolve this scandal which embarrasses the Armed Forces no end.
Srebrenica is the biggest failure of our military, although there are numerous military scandals which have been dealt with inappropriately in the recent past. It seems to be common practise to deal with scandals in a most unprofes-sional manner.
You also write that at the time of the fall of Srebrenica, Dutch soldiers behaved irresponsibly, did not provide any resistance, nor did anything else to prevent the killings. How do you explain their behaviour and lack of empathy? Did the Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica receive an order from the Dutch army command to do nothing and were the Netherlands and the Dutch army to stay out of the conflict?
I cannot find words to describe the behaviour of Dutchbat in Srebrenica: It were Dutchbat soldiers that disarmed the Bosniaks in Srebrenica and promised to protect them. Nevertheless, when the Serbs overran the enclave, my compatriots threw them to the mercy of their arch-enemies, without a second thought. The Dutch didn‘t fire a single shot. The defence lines, dug by the Bosniaks, were handed over to Serbian troops just like that. The anti-tank weapons in the Dutch arsenal were not used.
Also note that on 10 June 1995, the day before the fall of the enclave, the French offered to support Dutchbat with sections of the Rapid Reaction Force, as well as Tiger attack helicopters and their crews. Each of these helicopters could have easily eliminated the Serbian tanks within minutes. However, the Dutch State refused to accept this offer.
Not getting involved and not doing anything was actual Dutchbat policy. Already during the training for their mission, its soldiers were instructed there were no good guys and no bad guys. They just had to bide their time. Air support was promised, in case something was to happen.
Is Srebrenica the biggest Dutch collective trauma of modern times?
The Srebrenica genocide is indeed the most painful collective trauma of our country. It is particularly hard for the Netherlands to come to terms with the shame of this dramatic episode, as so many lies have already been told by the authorities. Transparency is vital in my opinion, yet Dutch military intelligence seems to think otherwise.
On another note: It is scary that in our supposedly civilised country, it is actually legal for our secret services to intimidate Dutch citizens and disseminate disinformation, all in the interest of the State.
Source: Al Jazeera
(Note: This translation from Bosnian to English is not the work of a professional translator. It was compiled with the use of Google Translate and the answers Edwin Giltay sent to Al Jazeera by e-mail in English.)