Reliable sources: Ed Vulliamy has spent his career fighting to speak honestly about the Serbian atrocities
Last month a distinguished gentleman from the English upper-middle class came as close as he could to uttering an apology. In a review of Ed Vulliamy's The War is Dead, Long Live the War (Bodley Head) John Simpson, the BBC world affairs editor, wrote: "I'm sorry now that I supported . . . Living Marxism when it was sued by ITN for questioning its reporting of the camps. It seemed to me at the time that big, well-funded organisations should not put small magazines out of business, but it's clear that there were much bigger questions involved." Simpson has at last admitted that moderate men of reasonable temperament can behave as badly as any fanatic.
Cheap recording technology, international travel and, above all, the profession of journalism are meant to ensure that those responsible for horrendous crimes are at least named, if not punished. The bitter history of the reporting of Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia shows that you can manufacture conspiracy theories as easily now as in the Middle Ages — and that journalism offers no protection against deceit.
Serbian militias intent on driving "Bosniaks" (Bosnian Muslims or ex-Muslims) and Croats out of north-west Bosnia established a network of camps during the wars of the break-up of Yugoslavia. At Trnopolje a UN report explained, "Killings were not rare . . . nor was the infliction of torture. Rapes were reportedly the most common of the serious crimes. The nightly terror of possibly being called out for rape or other abuses was reportedly a severe mental constraint even for short-term detainees."
The world learned of Trnopolje in the summer of 1992, when Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian, Penny Marshall of ITN and Ian Williams of Channel 4 persuaded Serb forces to take them on a tour of occupied Bosnia. Their escorts stopped at the camp. ITN's cameraman waited until the soldiers weren't looking, hoisted his camera to his shoulders and shot one of the most famous images of the 1990s: starving Bosniak prisoners staring blankly at the outside world from behind barbed wire.