Michael Dobbs: Could Bill Clinton Have Prevented The Srebrenica Massacre?

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael Dobbs is a prize-winning foreign correspondent and author.

The photograph above is a unique historical image. It captures a massacre actually in progress near the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica around 17:15 on July 13, 1995. What makes this image even more remarkable -- and worth studying by anyone interested in the subject of genocide prevention -- is that it became a public document one day after the massacre, on July 14. It was part of a video reportage on events in Srebrenica aired by a Belgrade television station.

Granted, the photograph is initially difficult to interpret. If you look closely, however, you can identify bodies piled outside a warehouse, guarded by a soldier. In the video from which the image was taken (shown below), you can hear shots, and a reporter talking about "dead Muslim soldiers." Combined with overhead reconnaissance collected by the United States, intercepts, and eyewitness accounts, the fleeting image displayed on Belgrade Studio B was clear evidence that terrible events were taking place in eastern Bosnia.

Of course, it is easy to pull all this evidence together now and analyze exactly what it means. The challenge for the American intelligence community back in 1995 was the same as it was during the run up to 9/11: "connecting the dots." An additional problem, in the case of Srebrenica, was that preventing genocide in a faraway country ranked low on the list of U.S. intelligence priorities. At the time, the U.S. government was more interested in the military/strategic aspects of the three-and-a-half-year Bosnia war...

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