I wrote last week of Noam Chomsky's interview in The New Statesman, in which he falsely attributes to an unnamed British parliamentary inquiry "the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas", and omits mention of the Racak massacre of that month. Let us see in this post how he manufactures data about the violence in Kosovo.
First, Chomsky makes the same claim about the unnamed parliamentary inquiry in his new book, Failed States (in which there is also no mention of Racak). He writes (p. 99, emphasis added):
Kosovo was an ugly place before the NATO bombing - though, regrettably, not by international standards. According to Western sources, about 2,000 people were killed on all sides in the year prior to the invasion, many by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerillas attacking Serbs from Albania in an effort, as they openly stated, to elicit a harsh Serbian response that could rally Western opinion to their cause. The British government makes the remarkable claim that up until January 1999, most of the 2,000 were killed by the KLA, and Western sources consistently report that there was no significant change until the Nato war was announced and implemented. One of the few serious scholarly studies even to pay attention to these matters estimates that Serbs were responsible for 500 of the 2,000 killed. This is the careful and judicious study by Nicholas Wheeler, who supports the Nato bombing on the grounds that there would have been worse atrocities if Nato had not bombed. The fact that these are the strongest arguments that can be contrived by serious analysts tells us a good deal about the decision to bomb, particularly when we recall that there were diplomatic options.
To this passage, Chomsky adds a footnote:
I cited the British government claim at the time but added that it is not credible because of the balance of forces. However, it has been confirmed by the British parliamentary inquiry, from the highest sources. See Hegemony or Survival, p. 56, for discussion. Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention and International Society (Oxford, 2000).
So Chomsky has an additional source for his claims, namely the book Saving Strangers by Nicholas Wheeler. This sounds promising to those of us who wish to pin down Chomsky's sources. And if you follow the reference to Chomsky's earlier book, Hegemony or Survival, you find Wheeler cited in the same context:
Serious scholarship reaches similar conclusions. Nicholas Wheeler, who does not invert the chronology, estimates that Serbs had killed 500 Albanians before the Nato bombing, implying that 1,500 had been killed by the KLA. Nevertheless, he concludes that bombing Serbia was a genuine case of humanitarian intervention because 'though only a few hundred Albanians were killed' prior to the bombing, 'intelligence points to this as a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing.'"
Chomsky then cites in a footnote p. 34 and pp. 265ff of Wheeler's book. I'm grateful to a reader, Paul Bogdanor, for drawing to my attention the fact that Chomsky has fabricated his account of Wheeler's argument. Wheeler nowhere, as Chomsky has it, "estimates that Serbs had killed 500 Albanians before the Nato bombing, implying that 1,500 had been killed by the KLA". On p. 34 of his book, Wheeler says: "What about a case where only a few hundred have been killed but intelligence points to this being a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing? This appears to have been the story in Kosovo and the justification for humanitarian intervention was a preventive one." On p. 269 he says: "It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed and 400,000 displaced in the year leading up to NATO's action, but the justification for intervention was that without it many more Albanians would have been killed and forcibly driven from their homes." Note the term Wheeler uses: he says 500 Kosovars (i.e. residents of Kosovo, both Serb and Albanian) were killed; he does not say or imply there were more Serb than Albanian casualties.
Chomsky has spun a narrative about greater violence on the part of the KLA from a source that says nothing of the kind. The phrase "though only a few hundred Albanians were killed", which Chomsky apparently quotes from Wheeler, has been made up. (If you doubt me on this question of Chomsky's polemical crudity and dishonesty, you can read page 269 of Wheeler's book on Amazon.com's "Search Inside" function; Wheeler's actual words are: "It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed..." You'll see there is also a footnote citing a Foreign Office memorandum to the effect that there was good reason to anticipate that Milosevic would accelerate repression in Kosovo - clearly the suggestion that the British government was acting for cynical reasons doesn't stand up to scrutiny.)
Let us state the dispiriting but ineluctable conclusion once more. Noam Chomsky, "the world's top public intellectual", distorts his source material in order to generate a predetermined conclusion about the iniquities and cynicism of Western policy. His fabrications and elisions are an intellectual scandal. His political writings are an affront to the notion of scholarship.