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The Freezer Truck Hoax
How NATO framed the Serbs

Historical and Investigative Research - 2 Dec 2005;
by Francisco Gil-White


1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  9

  The only source for the story...denied it!


The freezer truck story broke in the Western press on 30 April, 2001. On that day the Associated Press wrote a wire with the title: "Rights Activist Says Yugoslav Army, Police Destroyed Evidence Of Kosovo Atrocities." The wire contains nothing but a string of unsubstantiated allegations by this 'human rights activist,' which she says are backed up by unnamed 'witnesses.' The last two paragraphs in the wire say the following:

“…[Natasa] Kandic [from the Humanitarian Law Center]…cited a report in a local magazine in the eastern Serbian Negotin region, describing how on the night of April 6, 1999, a refrigerated trailer truck was lifted out of the Danube near Kladovo, at the border with Romania.

The vehicle bore license plates from Pec, a western Kosovo city, and allegedly contained 50 bodies. According to Kandic’s center, the bodies were subsequently transferred to a truck with Belgrade plates and driven away. Kandic claimed local authorities knew about this.”

So, when the freezer-truck story broke, the AP was reporting that one person, Kandic, had claimed that a tiny magazine had made an allegation.

This is truly flimsy stuff, but that didn’t stop the story from exploding all over the mainstream Western press in the following days. A week later, the London Times was saying the following:

“The alleged atrocity was revealed when one of a team of police divers who helped to remove the lorry was quoted in the Timocka review of criminology, remarks that were reported yesterday in the leading Belgrade daily, Vecernje Novosti. The lorry was said to have been recovered from the Danube near the town of Tekija, close to the Serbian border with Romania, on April 6, 1999.”[2]

How charming that an "alleged atrocity" can be "revealed." Isn't it supposed to be an allegation?

We get one new piece of information here: the tiny magazine -- Timocka -- claimed that its source was a police diver, but the story is still the same. So even though all we started with is Natasa Kandic 'alerting' the press to an allegation made by a tiny magazine, which in turn apparently was claiming to have interviewed one police diver, a week later this is much bigger news because…why? Because Vecernje Novosti said the same thing (which the AP had already said anyway).

Notice that nobody was claiming that anybody had seen this truck, or the diver. Everybody was just saying (again) that a tiny magazine had made an allegation.

This is rather amazing.

But the vaporous insubstance of all this did not stop the London Times from embellishing with gusto:

“During the crackdown on ethnic Albanians by Serb forces in Kosovo between 1998 and 1999 and the subsequent Western bombing campaign, there were repeated rumors of mysterious refrigerated trucks with Belgrade registration plates being used by authorities to dispose of people who had been murdered.”

We do not have a truck. We do not have any bodies. What do we have? Nothing, because nobody has bothered to confirm anything with the diver who supposedly told Timocka, which tiny magazine was then supposedly 'discovered' by Kandic. So we have nothing.

But look: we have already found 'evidence' of a massive operation to cover-up a genocide. All that is needed to make this connection is the unsourced and unsubstantiated allegation that supposedly there were “rumours of mysterious refrigerated trucks...used by the authorities to dispose of people who had been murdered.”

This is journalism?

What the diver said, and what the media did about it

The next day someone from Deutsche Presse Agentur finally did speak to the diver, Zivadin Djordjevic. And guess what? He denied the story...!

“Belgrade newspapers last week quoted a diver, Zivadin Djordjevic, as saying he took part in the recovery of the truck and that the former authorities declared the find a state secret. Djordjevic, who has meanwhile denied some parts of the interview, said many of the bodies were in traditional Albanian clothes.”[3] [my emphasis]

Which parts did Djordjevic deny? The part about the Albanian clothes? The part about the whole thing having been declared a state secret? His role in the recovery of the truck? All of this?

If Djordjevic was denying some parts of the interview, then the Belgrade newspapers couldn't really have been quoting him. Rather, they had been quoting what the Timocka magazine had attributed to him (or else they were making things up).

This would seem to deserve a follow up. The only source for a story which made allegations of war crimes (the most serious accusation imaginable) was denying it. And yet nobody got to the bottom of this. The DPA wire above was not reported in any newspaper, and even Deutsche Presse Agentur never raised the issue again, but instead plunged into full-blast freezer-truck propaganda with the rest of the Western media.

In what universe does that make sense? Not in a universe with a free press.

A free market of information is like any other free market. One competes by putting out a better product, and by letting consumers know that your product is superior. This means that if the other news organizations make a lot of noise on false evidence about a serious accusation, the news service that demonstrates for the public this journalistic scandal will gain much prestige and at the same time will discredit its competitors, gaining the trust of the public, and as a consequence a larger audience -- i.e. a larger base of paying customers.

Moreover, any such truth-teller will have a great story -- what is called "a big scoop," the kind that sells a lot of copy and makes a lot of money. Therefore systematic, widespread, and absurd lies that remain stable over time are simply impossible in a free market for news. Just as in a free market for cars, it is inconceivable that all of the cars by the different manufacturers will all break down as soon as you buy them, and always in the same way, and year after year. And, extending the analogy, neither would we expect to see one manufacturer put out a better car, and then pull it out of the market, to be replaced with a car as useless and defective as those of the competition.

But here we see the equivalent: as soon as the news item that Djordjevic was denying parts of the story surfaced, it was re-submerged, and even DPA neither followed it up nor mentioned it again.

And the story grew and grew. Very soon they were talking about whole convoys of trucks, shipping thousands of bodies out of Kosovo and into Serbia, dumping them into rivers and lakes (truck and all). The trucks had then been fished out and destroyed, the bodies re-transported, and then buried in mass graves.


All of this without any physical evidence, and despite the fact that the only source for the story was saying that he had been misquoted!

No matter. The media moved quickly to try and convict Milosevic.

The Independent strikes again; the New York Times, the Economist, etc., follow.

By the end of May, The Independent wrote the following front-page headline: “Serb Police Reveal Proof Of Milosevic War Crime Links In Kosovo,”[4] and then another article on page three with the headline: “How Milosevic Hid The Evidence Of His Atrocities.”[5]

The first article offered nothing but content pulled straight from the Timocka magazine. That was the "proof" that the Serbian Police "revealed." Still nothing new -- still entirely based on the alleged interview with Djordjevic, and this man (did I point this out?) was denying parts of the supposed interview with him.

The Independent's second article (on page 3) is a full-blown novel describing the alleged cover-up with richness of detail, yet not one truck, not one body had been produced. This article added the unsubstantiated accusation -- made by the man in charge of the 'investigation,' one Captain Dragan Karleusa -- that Milosevic had supposedly held a meeting to order the supposed cover-ups for the supposed massacres:

"In March 1999, as the Nato bombs rained on Serbia, a meeting was held in secret at Slobodan Milosevic’s office in Belgrade. The former Yugoslav leader had summoned Vlajko Stojiljkovic, a close friend who was then Serbian Interior Minister and who, like his master, has been indicted for war crimes in Kosovo.

… He ordered Mr Stojiljkovic to get rid of the evidence, the bodies of his victims."[5]

Of course, this contradicts what the policeman Karleusa said at the Hague, where he placed the supposed meeting on March 19, 1999 (see Part 3), which is before "the Nato bombs rained on Serbia." Why the contradiction? My hypothesis: because in the absence of any actual facts that might constrain the story, it was just too tempting to reuse the novelistic bit about bombs raining down, which had appeared in an earlier freezer-truck story by The Independent (see Part 2).


The British magazine The Economist, like everybody else, showed zero skepticism toward the allegations in the freezer-truck story, but was straightforward, at least, about why the new Belgrade authorities were pushing it:

"Few people in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, have any doubt as to why these facts are coming out now. The authorities want to prepare public opinion for the eventual extradition of Mr Milosevic to the UN's war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. America wants some progress at least in that direction as the price of its attendance at a conference on aid to Serbia on June 29th. ...[It has] also served to concentrate the minds of a hardline Montenegrin party that shares power with reformist Serbs in Yugoslavia's shaky federal government - and feels protective of Mr Milosevic."[8]

There was pressure from NATO to hand over Milosevic, so the NATO-installed government in Belgrade was preparing the public for this. And the new authorities in Belgrade could also use this 'scandal' to neutralize politically all those who wished to protect Milosevic.

But that is only two-thirds of the explanation.

The Independent -- without a hint of irony -- seemed to let the cat unconsciously out of the bag when it explained the other third:

"The bodies are the evidence the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague needs to prove its charge of crimes against humanity against Mr Milosevic."

The Hague (and therefore NATO) needed this phony evidence in order to try Milosevic. Why? Because...well, because in fact there was no evidence against him, as we saw in Parts 1 and 2.[7] They had found no bodies massacred by Milosevic's forces in Kosovo, so they now told the public that the bodies had supposedly 'disappeared.' Says The Independent:

"Yesterday, for the first time, the story of how [the bodies] disappeared began to be officially revealed."

And that story became a novel, elaborate and florid, when The New York Times did its own version a few days after The Independent's.[6] This was an extended narrative without one iota of material evidence (but lots of unnamed sources). There could be no reference to material evidence, of course, because the Serbian police of the new, NATO-installed government had yet to claim to have produced any. But a clairvoyant newspaper such as The New York Times hardly needs evidence to decide that there has been a genocide followed by cover-ups.

And -- may I remind you -- all of this was based entirely on the supposed statements of one man, Zivadin Djordjevic, "who has meanwhile denied some parts of the interview."


Up next, I will show you why nobody followed up on Djordjevic, and what exactly he was complaining about. Indeed, he had not been properly quoted. In fact, his statements had been altered by people who meant to frame Milosevic for political gain.

ğğ Continue to part 6:

Footnotes and Further Reading

[1] AP Worldstream,  April 30, 2001; Monday,  International news,  552 words,  Rights activist says Yugoslav army, police destroyed evidence of Kosovo atrocities,  KATARINA KRATOVAC,  BELGRADE, Yugoslavia

[2] The Times (London),  May 7, 2001, Monday,  Overseas news,  573 words,  ‘Bodies were dumped in the Danube’,  Dragan Petrovic in Belgrade and John Phillips

[3] Deutsche Presse-Agentur,  May 8, 2001, Tuesday,  International News,  374 words,  Police investigate possible war crimes find in Serbia,  Belgrade

[4] The Independent (London),  May 26, 2001, Saturday,  TITLE PAGE; Pg. 1,  381 words,  SERB POLICE REVEAL PROOF OF MILOSEVIC WAR CRIME LINKS IN KOSOVO,  Vesna Peric Zimonjic In Belgrade And Justin Huggler In Skopje

[5] The Independent (London),  May 26, 2001, Saturday,  FOREIGN NEWS; Pg. 13,  803 words,  HOW MILOSEVIC HID THE EVIDENCE OF HIS ATROCITIES,  Vesna Peric Zimonjic In Belgrade And Justin Huggler

[6] The New York Times,  June 1, 2001, Friday, Late Edition - Final,  Section A; Page 10; Column 4; Foreign Desk,  1153 words,  A Dark Secret Comes to Light in Serbia,  By CARLOTTA GALL,  KLADOVO, Serbia, May 29

[8] The Economist, June 9, 2001 U.S. Edition, EUROPE, 293 words, The noose tightens






















































































































































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