BEHIND RACAK: by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi
Years from now, when the war in Serbia is over and the dust has
settled, historians will point to January 15, 1999 as the day the
American Death Star became fully operational.
That was the date on which an American diplomat named William Walker
brought his OSCE war crimes verification team to a tiny
Kosovar village called Racak to investigate an alleged Serb massacre
of ethnic Albanian peasants. After a brief review of the town's
40-odd bullet-ridden corpses, Walker searched out the nearest
television camera and essentially fired the starting gun for the war.
"From what I saw, I do not hesitate to describe the crime as a
massacre, a crime against humanity," he said. "Nor do I hesitate to
accuse the government security forces of responsibility."
We all know how Washington responded to Walker's verdict; it quickly
set its military machine in motion, and started sending out
menacing invitations to its NATO friends to join the upcoming war
How Russia responded is less well-known. One would assume that it
began preparations for a diplomatic strategy in the event of war,
which it probably realized was inevitable. But in Russia's defense and
intelligence communities, the sight of William Walker uncovering Serb
atrocities on television almost certainly provoked a different, and
more dramatic, reaction. It probably sent a chill up the community's
collective spine, and pushed its generals into rapid preparations for
a new cold war with the United States. As connoisseurs in the art of
propaganda and the use of provacateurs, they recognized a good job
when they saw one. And, more importantly, they knew who William
Since the outbreak of war in the Balkans, most people in the West have
already read news reports raising the possibility that Russia may
commit troops, weapons, or even its nuclear arsenal to aid Yugslavia
in its war against NATO. But few people overseas are aware yet of
why Russia is talking about going to war with us.
We've been told that it's a race thing, that Russians are only upset
about U.S. policies in Serbia because their fellow Slavs are being
bombed. We've also heard that this is just another chapter in
the sore-loser syndrome, that Russians are bitter about the NATO
bombing because it has forced them to face the stinging reality of
their impotence to defend even their former satellite states. If
these reports are to be believed, Russia's military leaders are
considering war with superpower America because their feelings have
These stories overlook the fact that Russia has, or at least thinks it
has, a real reason to be considering military resistance to NATO, even
in its severely weakened state. And that reason is that much of the
military and political leadership in this country believes sincerely
that the Yugoslavia bombing is just the first chapter in an ambitious
American campaign for world domination. Even the soberest of Russian
generals is now inclined to consider military intervention on behalf
of Serbia on the purely pragmatic grounds that it would be cheaper and
easier to try to stop the U.S. now rather than later, when it might be
"The people in the Russian military believe sincerely that they need
to try to stop the U.S. now, before it goes on a real rampage around
the world," said military/defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. "That the
U.S. is striving for world domination, no one has any doubt."
Most Americans laugh off the idea of themselves as burgeoning world
dictators, and would dismiss Russian fears as paranoia. But what
most Americans don't realize is that the United States, through its
prosecution of the NATO bombing and in its foreign policy in general,
has given foreigners plenty of reasons to see conspiracy and military
ambition behind everything we do.
One good example is the role of the mysterious William Walker in
starting the war. As it turns out, even the most cursory review of the
background of our chief "verifier" would inspire almost any foreign
government to regard the entire Yugoslavia campaign as a cynical,
unabashed act of imperialist aggression. For if William Walker is not
a CIA agent, he's done a very bad job of not looking like one. Judge
According to various newspaper reports, Walker began his diplomatic
career in 1961 in Peru. He then reportedly spent most of his long
career in the foreign service in Central and South America, including
a highly controversial posting as Deputy Chief of Mission in Honduras
in the early 1980s, exactly the time and place where the Contra rebel
force was formed. The Contra force was the cornerstone of
then-CIA Director William Casey's hardline anti-Communist directive,
and Honduras was considered, along with El Salvador, the front line
in the war with the Soviet Union. From there, Walker was promoted, in
1985, to the post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
Central America. This promotion made him a special assistant to
Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, a figure whose name would
soon be making its way into the headlines on a daily basis in
connection with a new scandal the press was calling the "Iran-Contra"
Walker would soon briefly join his boss under the public microscope.
According to information contained in Independent Counsel
Lawrence Walsh's lengthy indictment of Abrams and Oliver North, Walker
was responsible for setting up a phony humanitarian operation
at an airbase in Ilopango, El Salvador. This shell organization was
used to funnel guns, ammunition and supplies to the Contra rebels in
Despite having been named in Walsh's indictment (although he was never
charged himself) and outed in the international press as a
gunrunner, Walker's diplomatic career did not, as one one might have
expected, take a turn for the worse. Oddly enough, it kept on
advancing. In 1988, he was named ambassador to El Salvador, a state
which at the time was still in the grip of U.S.-sponsored state
Walker's record as Ambassador to El Salvador is startling upon review
today, in light of his recent re-emergence into the world spotlight as
an outraged documenter of racist hate-crimes. His current posture of
moral disgust toward Serbian ethnic cleansing may seem convincing
today, but it is hard to square with the almost comically callous
indifference he consistently exhibited toward exactly the same kinds
of hate crimes while serving in El Salvador.
In late 1989, when Salvadoran soldiers executed six Jesuit priests,
their housekeeper, and her 15 year-old daughter, blowing their heads
off with shotguns, Walker scarecely batted an eyelid. When asked at a
press conference about evidence linking the killings to the
Salvadoran High Command, he went out of his way to apologize for chief
of staff Rene Emilio Ponce, dismissing the murders as a sort of
forgiveable corporate glitch, like running out of Xerox toner.
"Management control problems can exist in these kinds of these kinds
of situations," he said.
In discussing the wider problem of state violence and
repression--which in El Salvador then was at least no less widespread
than in the Serbia he monitored from October of last year until March
of this year--Walker was remarkably circumspect. "I'm not condoning
it, but in times like this of great emotion and great anger, things
like this happen," he said, apparently having not yet decided to
audition for the OSCE job.
Finally, in what may be the most amazing statement of all, given his
current occupation, Walker questioned the ability of any person or
organization to assign blame in hate crime cases. Shrugging off news
of eyewitness reports that the Jesuit murders had been committed by
men in Salvadoran army uniforms, Walker told Massachusetts congressman
Joe Moakley that "anyone can get uniforms. The fact that they
were dressed in military uniforms was not proof that they were
Later, Walker would recommend to Secretary of State James Baker that
the United States "not jeopardize" its relationship with El
Salvador by investigating "past deaths, however heinous."
This is certainly an ironic comment, coming from a man who would later
recommend that the United States go to war over...heinous
One final intriguing biographical note: Walker in 1996 hosted a
ceremony in Washington held in honor of 5,000 American soldiers who
fought secretly in El Salvador. While Walker was Ambassador of El
Salvador, the U.S. government's official story was that there were
only 50 military advisors in the country (Washington Post, May 6,
A Spooky Choice
With a background like this, it seems implausible that Walker would be
chosen by the United States to head the Kosovar verification team
on the basis of any established commitment to the cause of human
rights. What seems more likely, given Walker's background, is that he
was chosen because of his proven willingness to say whatever his
government wants him to say, and to keep quiet when he is told to keep
quiet-- about things like a gunrunning operation, or the presence of
4,950 undercover mercenaries (whose existence he regularly denied
with a straight face) in the banana republic where you are Ambassador.
The Iran-Contra incident isn't the only thing in Walker's background
which gives reason for pause. Another is his curious ability to remain
in Central and South America throughout virtually his entire
Not since before the fall of China has the State Department allowed
its career people to remain in one place for any significant length of
time. After the Chinese Revolution, the State Department enacted what
has come to be known as the Wriston reform, which dictated that
Department employees be rotated out of their posts every few years.
With this reform, the government was hoping to put an end to a
problem which they termed "quiet-itis"--the development of "excessive"
sympathies towards the culture of one's host countries.
With the Wriston act, the U.S. government eventually got exactly what
it wanted--a State Department characterized by fortress-like
embassy compounds, in or around which Americans live amongst
themselves in monolingual, isolationist bliss, counting the hours
until they're rotated out to their next job in Liberia, or Peru, or
wherever. As a result, most State employees see three or four
different posts in different corners of he world every ten years. It
is well-known among career foreign service people, though, that one of
the few exceptions to this rule are the CIA agents in the embassies.
Our intelligence people take longer to develop their contacts, and in
order to preserve these "personal relationships" (bribe-takers don't
like to change bagmen), they tend to hang around longer.
Walker was in Latin America virtually throughout his entire career,
until he arrived in Kosovo. He had no experience in the region which
qualified him to head the verification team in Yugoslavia.
Furthermore, he spent the entire 1980s occupying high-level State
positions in Central America, under the Reagan and Bush White Houses,
when the region was the source of more East-West tension than in any
other place in the world, and Central American embassies were the most
notoriously CIA-penetrated embassies we had. You can draw your
Nonetheless, one need not prove that Walker is a CIA agent to make the
case that the United States made a serious error in judgement in
appointing him. Whether or not he was sent to Kosovo to guarantee that
evidence of ethnic cleansing would be "discovered", and whether
there even exists a covert plan, of which Walker might be part, to
install a semi-permanent U.S. military force in the Balkans, it is bad
enough that other countries might identify Walker according to their
own criteria and assume the worst. And assume they will, according to
political analysts familiar with the story.
"Ambassador Walker's record in El Salvador does not a priori
invalidate his testimony on the massacres in Kosovo, but it certainly
does compromise his reliability as an objective witness," said James
Morrell, research director for the Washington-based Center for
"No question about it, they should have chosen someone else," said
Felgenhauer. "If this guy was working for Ollie North, then that's all
anyone in Russia is going to need to know, anyway."
There is a widespread belief not only in Russia, but in other
countries, that Walker's role in Racak was to assist the KLA in
fabricating a Serb massacre that could be used as an excuse for
military action. Already, two major mainstream French newspapers--Le
Monde and Le Figaro--as well as French national television have run
exposes on the Racak incident. These stories cited a number of
inconsistencies in Walker's version of events, including an absence of
shell casings and blood in the trench where the bodies were found, and
the absence of eyewitnesses despite the presence of journalists and
observers in the town during the KLA-Serb fighting.
Eventually, even the Los Angeles Times joined in, running a story
entitled "Racak Massacre Questions: Were Atrocities Faked?" The
theory behind all these exposes was that the KLA had gathered their
own dead after the battle, removed their uniforms, put them in
civilian clothes, and then called in the observers. Walker,
significantly, did not see the bodies until 12 hours after Serb police
had left the town. As Walker knows, not only can "anybody have
uniforms", but anyone can have them taken off, too.
The story of William Walker's involvement in the war is just one of a
rapidly-growing family of tales cataloguing the incompetence and
arrogance of the United States and its allies throughout the Kosovo
conflict. Even if it isn't proof of some as-yet-unreleased sinister
plan to secure a permanent military presence in the Balkans, the fact
that the United States didn't even care to avoid the appearance of
impropriety in its search for Serb atrocities says a lot about our
approach to international relations. It says, "Go ahead and think the
worst about us. We don't care. We've got more bombs than you do." If
that's the sum of our entire policy, it's only a matter of time before
a place like Russia decides to strike first. They won't wait for us to
send the next Walker.
There're only four things wrong with this Kosovo war. It is stupid,
illegal, immoral, and irrational. There are also other assorted problems
with it, of course, such as the higher taxes, and the increased budget
deficits at home...
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