Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kamm's Bamboozling

More news from the world of Kamm, with the latest phase in his obsessive anti-Chomsky campaign.

Long-term Kamm watchers will recall that well before he got space in the The Times, and even before his chief occupation was spewing entirely predictable “reviews” of Chomsky's books into Amazon's servers, he was trolling Usenet on the same subject.

Since 1998 he's been searching for new ways to repeat the same discredited charges against his great enemy, so it's no surprise that he joyously seized on Emma Brockes's “perceptive” interview with Chomsky last October. To complement his endlessly regurgitated Faurisson and Khmer Rouge smears, he now had a new one: Chomsky was an apologist for Serbian atrocities in former Yugoslavia.

Having precipitately grabbed at another dubious stick with which to beat Chomsky, Kamm was stuck defending a false and defamatory interview. As detailed previously, his superficial, long-winded complaint about the interview's withdrawal, co-signed with fellow Blair fans Aaronovitch and Wheen, did not even allege to support Kamm's gloss. It did not dispute that Brockes had misattributed a quotation to Chomsky. It quoted nothing on Bosnia by Chomsky. All they'd managed was a forlorn suggestion that Brockes was “entitled” to her “interpretation” of Diane Johnstone's work (which they ineptly attempted to suggest was indicative of Chomsky's own views).

But Kamm can't let it go. He continues to maintain that he was right to praise Brockes's interview. It was all down to inadequate appellate facilities at the newspaper, you see. The Guardian's refusal to look at more than procedure in its appeal process left him with the nebulous case that, had he not been denied a substantive appeal by a technicality, he would somehow have won out with his dull, pedantic list of half-accusations. He naturally took refuge in this haziness.

As part of the effort to cover for his error he continues to fling out whatever Bosnia-related slurs he can manage. The new allegation is that Chomsky misrepresented Phillip Knightley in a bid to “bamboozle on the Balkans”. Kamm quotes Chomsky in an earlier interview talking about how Knightley investigated a photograph at issue in the Living Marxism/ITN libel trial – a picture of an emaciated man, Fikret Alic, behind barbed wire at Trnopolje:

“He did a detailed analysis of it. And he determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted and, near the thin man was a fat man and so on, well and there was one tiny newspaper in England, probably three people, called LM which ran a critique of this, and the British (who haven't a slightest concept of freedom of speech, that is a total fraud)… a major corporation, ITN, a big media corporation had publicized this, so the corporation sued the tiny newspaper for [libel].”

This characterisation of Knightley's views is false, according to Kamm, because it isn't supported by a Guardian report Nick Cohen told him about – a report that he appears to think reveals “what Knightley really said about the case”. Its summary of Knightley's views refers more to the Spanish Civil War than Bosnia, and Kamm's precis is accurate: Knightley is seen only arguing that “it's dangerous for people to form their opinions about a war from a single image”.

On the strength of this, Kamm delivers a grave pronouncement:

“According to Chomsky's telling of this case for the defence, Knightley argued something rather different: that "it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire", and not Fikret Alic and the other victims. From being a defence witness for LM in a libel case brought by ITN, Knightley has been miraculously transmuted into a supporter of precisely the revisionist case that LM mounted in accusing ITN of trickery.” (Kamm's emphasis)

The only problem is that the article he quotes was not “the case for the defence”. Kamm is promoting a minimal, partial, pretrial summary of Knightley's views as encompassing the entirety of what he said. Firstly, a pretrial newspaper report can hardly be credible evidence on which to found his accusations. Why would anybody believe Chomsky must have invented something just because it didn't appear in a single newspaper report?

As it is, Kamm is wrong. Knightley did not confine himself to the generalities that the Guardian reported. In response to Brockes's interview, Alexander Cockburn quoted Knightley's testimony at length, as Kamm would have found if he'd been capable of conducting a Google search. Among other things, Knightley said this:

The most likely explanation is that Trnopolje was both a refugee camp and a detention camp--there were at least two different groups of people there--and that this is what has confused the issue. Refugees had come there of their own free will and could leave at any time. But there were also Bosnian Muslims like Fikret Alic who had been transferred there from other camps, who were awaiting identification and processing, and who were not free to leave

But even this group was not confined by barbed wire. The out-takes show them in the main camp, outside the agricultural compound, and the main camp was not surrounded with barbed wire, as the War Crimes Tribunal agrees, but by a low chain-mail fence to keep schoolchildren off the road. As well, the barbed wire fence was no deterrent to anyone determined to escape because it was poorly constructed with wide gaps. What confined the Bosnians at Trnopolje, the War Crimes Tribunal says, was the presence of armed Serbian guards. So ITN was right in that the men in the film were detained in Trnopolje, but the image used to illustrate that was misleading because it implied that they were detained by the barbed wire. The barbed wire turns out to be only symbolic.

Were all the inmates starving? No. Fikret Alic was an exception. Even in Marshall's report other men, apparently well-fed, can be seen, and the out-takes reveal at least one man with a paunch hanging over his belt. Phil Davison, a highly-respected correspondent who covered the war from both sides for The Independent says, "Things had gone slightly quiet. Suddenly there were these death camps/concentration camps stories. They were an exaggeration. I'm not excusing the Serbs but don't forget that there was a blockade on Serbia at the time and there not a lot of food around for anyone, Serbs included.”

If we believe him, the “symbolic” barbed wire was not confining anybody, and Chomsky could indeed point to Knightley's opinion when suggesting “it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire". Kamm did not examine what Knightley “really said” at all.

Of course, the feebleness of Kamm's evidence is never a restraint on his pomposity. He describes Chomsky's accusation of “tacit acquiescence to horrendous crimes” in these terms:

“Coming from a man who obfuscates and denies the crimes at Trnopolje, who believes the barbed wire enclosing the camp was a piece of Western media trickery, this type of accusation is quite some compliment”.

Yet according to the same Knightley whom Kamm recruits in his campaign against Chomsky, there was no wire “enclosing the camp”, and this was accepted by the War Crimes Tribunal. Kamm is leaning on a witness whose testimony demolishes his own case, and most particularly this final surge of bumptiousness. He accuses Chomsky of misrepresenting evidence based, not on facts, but at best his own ignorance. It is hard to believe he didn't know better, if he looked at all at what Knightley said – surely something worth doing in a posting claiming this was misrepresented.

He tells us “[i]t is a reasonable bet that viewers of Serbian television, still less readers of the 'Chomsky info' site, will not trouble to check Chomsky's empirical claims, which is why it's important that others do.”

This after demonstrating his total lack of ability, or honesty, or both, on this count.

All of which is why Kamm's words apply most appropriately to himself:

“Every claim he makes, every reference he cites, needs to be checked independently. The further you penetrate, the greater are the evasions, short cuts and falsehoods, which form an interlocking structure.”


Anonymous TimP said...

Really useful, detailed rebuttal of Kamm, Stuarta. The sort of thing I'd like to bookmark - any chance of adding permalinks?

4:22 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Thanks Tim. The link at the bottom displaying the time is a permalink.

4:51 pm  
Blogger Owen said...

Knightley's analysis of the construction of the Marshall/Williams images refers unambiguously to Fikret Alic as "exceptional" in his emaciated condition. But he makes no mention of the fact that Ron Haviv's photos of Trnopolje also show some skeletally emaciated inmates. Nor does he consider explanations for the variation in the physical condition of the inmates. (I don't think it was Knightley but others have ascribed Alic's condition to TB without mentioning the relationship between Trnopolje and the death camp (no apologies for that description) at Omarska from which Alic had been transferred).

Apologists for the LM case don't mention that after the interview Alic was hidden by his brothers but others seen talking to the reporters were executed. What destroyed the LM case was the evidence of a Muslim doctor detained in the camp.

Alic himself has expressed his gratitude to Penny Marshall for telling the world about Trnopolje.

Pick an argument with Kamm about the perhaps cavalier way in which he summarises arguments, but credit him for the essential, which is that he refuses to condone obfuscation of the truth, which is what LM, Deichmann and Johnstone are all about. If Chomsky is unable to take an unambiguous stance on the issue of their mendacity his reputation deserves to live with the consequences.

10:34 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

See my post

1:40 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

A better link:

1:43 pm  
Anonymous Tim Holmes said...

Hi Stuarta - nice to see someone's thinking along the same lines on this one! I noted exactly the same thing on my blog a while back:

Also noted this rather telling piece of intellectual dishonesty more recently:

He's a slippery character is our friend Ollie Kamm (to put it generously).

11:34 pm  
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