From: Vaso Todorovic 
Newsgroups: soc.culture.bosna-herzgvna,soc.culture.yugoslavia,
Subject: [News] The Picture That Fooled The World!
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 97 16:48:37 GMT
Organization: Serbian American Voters Alliance

For Fair Use Only

The picture that fooled the world
'A Serbian concentration camp?'
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 97, February 1997

This image of an emaciated Muslim caged behind Serb barbed wire,
filmed by a British news team, became a worldwide symbol of the war in
Bosnia.  But the picture is not quite what it seems. German journalist
Thomas Deichmann reveals the full story.  The picture reproduced on 
these pages is of Fikret Alic, a Bosnian Muslim emaciated and stripped 
to the waist, apparently imprisoned behind a barbed wire fence in a 
Bosnian Serb camp at Trnopolje. It was taken from a videotape shot on 
5 August 1992 by an award-winning British television team, led by 
Penny Marshall (ITN) with her cameraman Jeremy Irvin, accompanied by 
Ian Williams (Channel 4) and the reporter Ed Vulliamy from the
Guardian newspaper. 

For many, this picture has become a symbol of the horrors of the
Bosnian war - 'Belsen '92' as one British newspaper headline captioned 
the photograph (Daily Mirror, 7 August 1992). But that image is
misleading. The fact is that Fikret Alic and his fellow Bosnian 
Muslims were not imprisoned behind a barbed wire fence. There was no 
barbed wire fence surrounding Trnopolje camp. It was not a prison, and 
certainly not a 'concentration camp,' but a collection centre for 
refugees, many of whom went there seeking safety and could leave 
again if they wished.  The barbed wire in the picture is not around 
the Bosnian Muslims; it is around the cameraman and the journalists.  
It formed part of a broken-down barbed wire fence encircling a small 
compound that was next to Trnopolje camp. The British news team filmed 
from inside this compound, shooting pictures of the refugees and the 
camp through the compound fence. In the eyes of many who saw them, the 
resulting pictures left the false impression that the Bosnian Muslims 
were caged behind barbed wire.

Whatever the British news team's intentions may have been, their
pictures were seen around the world as the first hard evidence of 
concentration camps in Bosnia. 'The Proof: behind the barbed wire, the 
brutal truth about the suffering in Bosnia,' announced the 'Daily 
Mail' alongside a front-page reproduction of the picture from 
Trnopolje: 'They are the sort of scenes that flicker in black and 
white images from 50-year-old films of Nazi concentration camps.' (7 
August 1992) On the first anniversary of the pictures being taken, an 
article in the 'Independent' could still use the barbed wire to make 
the Nazi link: 'The camera slowly pans up the bony torso of the 
prisoner. It is the picture of famine, but then we see the barbed wire 
against his chest and it is the picture of the Holocaust and 
concentration camps.' (5 August 1993)

Penny Marshall, Ian Williams and Ed Vulliamy have never called
Trnopolje a concentration camp. They have criticised the way that 
others tried to use their reports and pictures as 'proof' of a 
Nazi-style Holocaust in Bosnia. Yet over the past four and a half 
years, none of them has told the full story about that barbed wire 
fence which made such an impact on world opinion. 

It was through my role as an expert witness to the War Crimes Tribunal
that I first realised that something was wrong with the famous 
pictures from Trnopolje. As a journalist with a track record of 
reporting on Bosnia, I was asked to present the tribunal with a report 
on German media coverage of Dusko Tadic, a Bosnian Serb accused of war 
crimes. Reviewing press articles and video tapes which had been shown 
on German TV, I became aware of the major importance of the Trnopolje 
pictures. The picture of Fikret Alic behind the barbed wire, taken by 
Penny Marshall's team, could be seen again and again.

One night, while I was going through the pictures again at home, my
wife pointed out an odd little detail. If Fikret Alic and the other 
Bosnian Muslims were imprisoned inside a barbed wire fence, why was 
this wire fixed to poles on the side of the fence where they were 
standing? As any gardener knows, fences are, as a rule, fixed to the 
poles from outside, so that the area to be enclosed is fenced-in. It 
occurred to me then that perhaps it was not the people in the camp 
who were fenced-in behind the barbed wire, but the team of British 

My suspicions were heightened by a conversation I had with Professor
Mischa Wladimiroff, Dusko Tadic's Dutch defence advocate at the War 
Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. The main witness against Tadic, Dragan 
Opacic (later exposed as a trained liar), had told the court about the 
barbed wire fen=ce surrounding the camp at Trnopolje and had even made 
a drawing of where it was. But when Professor Wladimiroff went to 
Bosnia to investigate for the defence, it became clear to him that 
Opacic had lied in the witness box; he could find no evidence of a 
barbed wire fence surrounding Trnopolje camp (see interview below).

I decided to go back to Bosnia, and to review the British news team's
coverage of Trnopolje, in order to unravel the real story of how those
pictures had come about. 

The British news team's trip to Bosnia in the summer of 1992 took 
place against a background of mounting hysteria, as the first reports 
claiming that the Bosnian Serbs were running brutal internment camps 
were published in the West. On 19 July 1992, the American journalist 
Roy Gutman wrote in 'Newsday' about the camp at Manjaca, and Andre 
Kaiser's pictures of prisoners with shaven heads at Manjaca were shown 
around the world.  On 29 July in the 'Guardian', Maggie O'Kane quoted 
eye-witnesses who claimed that Muslims had been crammed into cattle 
cars and shipped off from Trnopolje station. On 2 August Roy Gutman 
published another article in which he called the Bosnian Serb camp at 
Omarska a 'death camp'.  Gutman's and O'Kane's articles drew heavily 
on hearsay and unconfirmed claims.  Nevertheless, they caused an 
international sensation. 

When Marshall, Williams and Vulliamy arrived in Bosnia at the end of
July 1992, they were under intense pressure to get the story of the 
camps. Roy Gutman's article about the 'death camp' Omarska, published 
while the British team were in Bosnia, had further raised expectations 
in the London editorial offices. After her return Penny Marshall told 
how she and Williams had received orders from the managing editors of 
ITN and Channel 4 to do nothing else before they had the camps story 
in the bag: 'They had set Ian Williams and myself loose with an 
open-ended brief to find and visit the detention camps, and with 
orders to file nothing until we had come up with the story.' (Sunday 
Times, 16 August 1992). 

As the end of their trip approached, however, the British news team 
had been unable to find the camps story they were after. Their final 
stop was to be the refugee camp at Trnopolje, next to the village of 
Kozarac which had been overrun by Bosnian Serb units a few months 
earlier in May 1992. This was to be their last chance to get the story 
which their editors wanted.

The pictures they shot at Trnopolje camp on 5 August were edited in
Budapest the next day, then sent to London and broadcast the same 
night. The broadcast centred on shots of the journalists talking to 
Fikret Alic and the group of Bosnian Muslims through the barbed wire. 
These were the pictures which were widely interpreted as evidence that 
the Muslims were penned behind a barbed wire fence, and which the 
international media seized upon to make a symbolic link to the Nazi 
camps. But how did the British team get them?

I have looked through the rest of the team's film from Trnopolje, at
the pictures which were not broadcast. They reveal a lot more about 
the story.

The camp at Trnopolje consisted of buildings that had previously been 
a school, and a community centre which housed a medical centre and a
public hall, alongside a large open area that had been a sports 
ground. The only fences around parts of the camp were little more than 
a metre high, of the kind you might find around any school or public 
building. The British news team were able to enter all areas of the 
refugee camp. They shot some pictures in the buildings. Their 
attention, however, focused on a group of Muslims who had just been 
brought from the camps in Keraterm close to Prijedor, who were waiting 
in the open air to be registered and given food and somewhere to 

To film these refugees, Marshall and her cameraman Irvin entered a
compound next to the camp area. Inside this small compound were a kind 
of garage shed, an electricity transformer station, and a brick barn. 
Before the war, horticultural products could be bought there and 
tractors and construction machinery had been housed in the barn. To 
protect all this from thieves, the compound area of approximately 500 
square metres had been fenced-in with barbed wire a couple of years 
before. The erection of the barbed wire fence had nothing to do with 
the refugees, the camp or the war. The poles to which this barbed wire 
was attached are still standing today, and traces of the wire can be 
found on the west side of the compound.

When Marshall, Williams and Vulliamy entered the compound next to the
camp, the barbed wire was already torn in several places. They did not 
use the open gate, but entered from the south through a gap in the 
fence. They approached the fence on the north side, where curious 
refugees quickly gathered 'inside' the camp, but on the 'outside' of 
the area fenced-in by barbed wire. It was through the barbed wire 
fence at this point that the famous shots of Fikret Alic were taken.

The unused footage shows how cameraman Irvin zoomed through the
compound's barbed wire fence from various angles, apparently searching 
for the most dramatic shot. Most of the refugees in the camp were 
marked by their experience of the war, but few looked as emaciated as 
Fikret Alic. Yet he captured the camera's attention. 

On her return, Penny Marshall wrote in the 'Sunday Times' that
'Jeremy Irvin, our cameraman, knew he had come away with powerful 
images from Prijedor, but only when we screened them in our Budapest 
editing suite did we begin to sense their impact'. Ed Vulliamy 
summarised this impact in his book, Seasons in Hell: 'With his 
rib-cage behind the barbed wire of Trnopolje, Fikret Alic had become 
the symbolic figure of the war, on every magazine cover and television 
screen in the world.' (p202) Mike Jeremy, foreign editor of ITN, later 
called the picture 'one of the key images of the war in former 
Yugoslavia' 'Independent', 5 August 1993)

Yet an important element of that 'key image' had been produced by
camera angles and editing. The other pictures, which were not 
broadcast, show clearly that the large area on which the refugees 
were standing was not fenced-in with barbed wire. You can see that the 
people are free to move on the road and on the open area, and have 
already erected a few protective tents. Within the compound next door 
that is surrounded with barbed wire, you can see about 15 people, 
including women and children, sitting under the shade of a tree. Penny 
Marshall's team were able to walk in and out of this compound to get 
their film, and the refugees could do the same as they searched for 
some shelter from the August sun.

Trnopolje, Bosnia Herzegovinia 2 August 1992
Site plan of Trnopolje, based on US satellite photo, 2 August 1992,
three days before British journalists arrived.

Another unpublished sequence on the tape shows Fikret Alic and the
other refugees who had just arrived from a different angle. The 
cameraman is nolonger inside the barbed wire area, but about 20 metres 
to the west of it. From here it is obvious that the refugees are not 
caged behind barbed wire. While they wait to be registered and told 
where to go, they are standing behind an ordinary wire mesh fence 
which is little more than a metre high, adjacent to the barbed wire. 
But these pictures did not make it on to the world's TV screens and 
front pages.

When I visited Trnopolje last December I asked local people about the
camp and  the barbed wire. Dragan Baltic, 17, went to school in 
Trnopolje until the spring of 1992. He is certain that, apart from the 
one around the small compound, 'there has been no other barbed wire 
fence'. His 19-year old sister Dragana now works in a refugee centre 
in the school. Dragana confirms her brother's account. She adds that 
there was a metal fence about one metre high in front of and around 
the school building, to prevent the children from running on to the 
road. That fence can be seen on the ITN tapes. Refugees lean on it, 
others jump over it to enter the camp area Dragana also remembers a 
small wire mesh fence about 1.2m high, 'as is used for keeping hens', 
running from the road up to the community centre and adjacent to the 
barbed wire fence. This wire mesh fence, which stood before the war, 
can also be clearly seen on the ITN pictures.

I met Pero Curguz in his office in Prijedor. He manages the regional
Red Cross, and was stationed in Trnopolje during the operation of the
refugee centre. He was interviewed by the British journalists in 
August 1992. He says he told them that the people had come to the camp 
of their own free will for protection. He told me that, during the 
entire time of the operation of the camp, no fence had been erected. 
On the contrary: when the other camps in Keraterm and Omarska were 
closed, and Trnopolje became over crowded with up to 7500 people, the 
refugees had pulled down fences antaken all other available materials 
to build shelters. Curguz stressed that this was no internment or 
prisoner camp; it was a collecting camp for exiled Muslims. Everybody 
I spoke to confirmed that the refugees could leave the camp area at 
almost any time. 

When I showed the picture of Fikret Alic behind the barbed wire to
people in Trnopolje, I saw always the same reaction: anger and
disappointment. They had expected fair treatment from the Western 
journalists and had welcomed them. Veljko Grmusa and his family were 
exiled from Bosanska Bojna near Velika Kladusa and were assigned the 
house of an exiled Muslim in Trnopolje. In the middle of August 1992 
he worked as a guard in the refugee centre for a couple of days, 
before he was sent to the front. He was glad when I told him that 
Fikret Alic had survived the war, but angry about this image. His wife 
Milica told me that she assisted in the camp by order of the local 
authorities during the war: 'We wanted to help the journalists at that 
time, we had no idea how the Western newspapers work. Later we 
received orders not to talk any more with reporters who could not
produce a special authorisation.'

Misa Radulovic, 68, was a teacher in Kozarac and Trnopolje. Now he
walks with a stick and is nearly blind. But like all other men 
considered able-bodied, he was enlisted in the army during the war and 
stationed as a camp guard in Trnopolje for three days. 'We protected 
the Muslims from Serbian extremists who wanted to take revenge', he 
said. 'The people could leave the camp without papers, but this was 
dangerous. A barbed wire fence existed only at this corner around the 
barn, this little shop for rural products and the electricity 

Without doubt most of the refugees in Trnopolje were undernourished.
Civilians were harassed in the camp, and there were reports of some 
rapes and murders. Yet the irony is that, if this collection centre 
for refugees had not existed under the supervision of Bosnian Serb 
soldiers, a far greater number of Muslim civilians might have lost 
their lives.

The collection centre was spontaneously created by refugees when the
civil war escalated in the Prijedor region. In May 1992 Bosnian Serb 
forces took the town of Kozarac and drove its Bosnian Muslim occupants 
out, just as Serb and Croat civilians had been driven out of their 
homes elsewhere in the war zone. Many of the fleeing Muslims sought 
refuge on the school grounds at Trnopolje. They congregated there in 
the hope of avoiding being picked off by Bosnian Serb militia or 
press-ganged into the war by Bosnian Muslim forces. Many of the 
Bosnian Serb guards sent to the camp were local civilians, mobilised a 
few days before, who knew the refugees. And there was a permanent Red 
Cross presence under Pero Curguz, who told me that he too had met many 
old acquaintances in the camp.

For all that, in the middle of a bloody war zone, the camp could never
be completely safe. But many refugees preferred to stay there rather 
than risk their lives outside. There are reports of refugees who left 
the camp briefly to visit their fields and homes, hoping to find food 
and belongings, and were never seen again. 

Paddy Ashdown, the British Liberal Democrat leader, visited the camps
in Manjaca and Trnopolje a few days after Penny Marshall's team. 
Ashdown is no ally of the Bosnian Serbs, and had been a loud advocate 
of British military intervention in the conflict. Yet his impressions 
of Trnopolje, described in the 'Independent' on 13 August 1992, struck 
a more sober note at a time of widespread hysteria about the camp: 
'They have gathered here because they have to go somewhere. Their 
houses have been burnt and their lives threatened. Muslim extremists 
pressurise the men to join up with the guerrillas, so they have come 
here for safety. But on most recent nights the unprotected camp has 
been raided by Serbian extremists who beat them, rob them of what 
little they have left and, it is claimed, rape the women. Things are 
better now.'

In the eyes of the world, however, the dramatic pictures of Fikret 
Alic apparently imprisoned behind barbed wire in Trnopolje had left 
the impression that the Bosnian Serbs were running Nazi-style camps. 
This set the tone for the coverage that followed. Misa Radulovic told 
me that, after the British team visited Trnopolje, other Western 
journalists came to the camp: 'Every one of them wanted to see only 
the front part of the camp area and take pictures of the most 
emaciated bodies. I had a dispute with a journalist and requested him 
to take his pictures somewhere else, for example in the school 
building. But he did not want to enter it.'

Ed Vulliamy's first article on Trnopolje was published in the
'Guardian' on 7 August 1992, the morning after the ITN pictures had 
been broadcast for the first time. Vulliamy had probably not seen the 
edited ITN broadcast when he wrote it. This article did not mention 
the barbed wire fence, and stated that Trnopolje should not be called 
a concentration camp. Vulliamy presented quite a balanced view of the 
situation in the camp, quoting Muslim refugees who reported that no 
force had been used against them, that the place offered them a 
certain security, and that they would not know where to go otherwise.

However, by the time Vulliamy came to describe his impressions of
Trnopolje in his 1994 book, Seasons in Hell, the 'Guardian' reporter's 
tone had changed. The barbed wire which he had not considered worth
mentioning in his first article had now become the focus of attention. 
In his book, Vulliamy described his first impressions of Trnopolje in 
these terms: 'More dirt tracks, more burned villages, and finally what 
was formerly a school in its own grounds, and another startling, 
calamitous sight: a teeming, multitudinous compound surrounded by 
barbed wire fencing.' The tone of some of Vulliamy's discussions with 
local people also seemed to have changed between his original report 
and his later writings on Trnopolje. For instance Inar Gnoric, a 
Bosnian Muslim, told Vulliamy that she had come to Trnopolje of her 
own will, seeking safety. In the 'Guardian' article of August 1992, 
Vulliamy quoted her as saying that 'The conditions are very hard here, 
but there was terrible fighting and we had no food at all. It is safer 
here, but we don't know what kind of status wehave. We are refugees, 
but there are guards and the wire fence'. What fence she was talking 
about is not clear. In Vulliamy's book, however, Gnoric clearly talks 
of a barbed wire fence around the camp.

Penny Marshall did mention the barbed wire fence in the first report
she wrote after returning from Trnopolje, published in the 'Sunday
Times' (16 August 1992). About her first visit to the camp she simply 
wrote that 'Outside was barbed wire'. Describing her second visit to 
the camp in the same article, she noted that 'Outside, the camp had 
changed in the week since our original report. The barbed wire fence 
had been removed and the Serbians had left building materials for the 
prisoners to make shelters.'

This was true; the barbed wire fence (and the ordinary wire mesh
fences) which Marshall's cameraman had shot during the first visit had 
indeed been removed before her return. But Penny Marshall had left 
open the question of precisely whereabouts 'outside' the barbed wire 
fence had been located. She thus failed to correct the false 
interpretation which so many people had placed upon the pictures. 
Similarly, Ed Vulliamy wrote in his book that 'Four days after our 
visit to Trnopolje, the fence came down' (p113). This left untouched 
the impression which had settled in the public mind - that the camp 
had been fenced-in with barbed wire.

A year after the ITN pictures were first broadcast, Penny Marshall
reacted to the suggestion that her report might have been 
sensationalist: 'I bent over backwards, I showed guards - Bosnian Serb 
guards - feeding the prisoners. I showed a small Muslim child who had 
come of his own volition. I didn't call them death camps. I was 
incredibly careful, but again and again we see that image being used.' 
'Independent', 5 August 1993) Despite her plea of objectivity, 
however, she did not explain how 'that image' of Fikret Alic behind 
barbed wire had been produced by her team.

In a German television programme 'Kozarac - Ethnically Cleansed',
broadcast on 11 October 1993, Marshall told German movie producer 
Monika Gras about the impact of the Trnopolje picture: 'That picture 
of that barbed wire and these emaciated men made alarm bells ring 
across the whole of Europe. I believe that the report would not have 
caused such a reaction had it been transmitted without that picture, 
although the facts would have been the same.' Marshall said that the 
Bosnian Serbs did not know how to deal with the Western press: 'It was 
a PR mistake in the Bosnian Serbs terms.' She did not mention her team 
making any mistakes in their presentation of the Trnopolje story.

The notion that there was a barbed wire fence around Trnopolje camp,
and the comparison with Nazi concentration camps, have been widely 
accepted as matters of fact. 'When the first journalists had arrived 
there a few days earlier, barbed wire surrounded the place and there 
was no welcoming banner', Peter Mass wrote in 'Love Thy Neighbours: A 
Story of War', about his visit to Trnopolje in the late summer of 
1992. (London, 1996, p41) 'I walked through the gates and couldn't 
quite believe what I saw. There, right in front of me, were men who 
looked like survivors of Auschwitz' Marshall, Williams and Vulliamy 
have not used such language themselves. But neither have they 
corrected the false interpretation of the picture of Fikret Alic 
apparently imprisoned behind the barbed wire.

When the ITN pictures of Trnopolje were broadcast around the world,
they sparked widespread calls for the Bosnian Serbs to close the 
camps. Sir John Thomson, head of a CSCE investigation committee in 
Bosnia, warned the West against leaping to premature conclusions: 'If 
some camps were just opened, I have the impression some of the 
prisoners would not get very far - there would be nearby graves.' 
'Guardian', 5 September 1992) But the international pressure on the 
Bosnian Serbs had already had its effect. 

Omarska camp, which the ITN team had also filmed, was shut down in
August 1992, and most of the refugees from there along with other 
Muslims from Keraterm and Manjaca were taken to Trnopolje, which was 
transformed from a refugee camp into a transition camp in a couple of 
days. The International Committee of the Red Cross complained that, 
thanks to the global excitement caused by the ITN reports, every 
chance had been lost to attaina solution which would allow the Muslims 
to remain in the region. On 1 October 1992, the first big Red Cross 
convoy set off from Trnopolje to ship 1560 refugees over the border 
into Croatia. In a sense, the exile of thousands of Muslims from their 
home in Bosnia Herzegovina was thus inadvertently facilitated by the 
international reaction to the ITN reports from Trnopolje.

Roused by the pictures, British prime minister John Major summoned
cabinet colleagues back from holiday for an emergency meeting. Shortly
afterwards, his government announced that British troops would be sent 
into Bosnia. In the USA, where the 1992 presidential election campaign 
was in full swing, Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton and running 
mate Al Gore used the ITN pictures to demand that president George 
Bush should take military action against the Bosnian Serbs. In 
Brussels, meanwhile, Nato staff responded by planning a military 
intervention in the Balkans. 

The pictures of Fikret Alic in Trnopolje were also to influence the
work of the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, set up by the UN 
Security Council to prosecute those accused of atrocities in the 
former Yugoslavia. The tribunal has relied heavily on the report of an 
expert commission, led by Frits Karlshoven, who was later replaced by 
Cherif Bassiouni. The report, published in the summer of 1994, 
mentions the barbed wire fence in Trnopolje in several places. 
Although the report is full of contradictions, it does state clearly 
in Annex V, 'The Prijedor Report', that 'The camp was surrounded by 
barbed wire, and a number of camp guards watched the detainees'. The 
same chapter describes Trnopolje as a Serbian concentration
camp: 'Albeit Logor Trnopolje was not a death camp like Logor Omarska 
or Logor Keraterm, the label 'concentration camp' is none the less
justified for Logor Trnopolje due to the regime prevailing in the 
camp.' As a source for this chapter, Ed Vulliamy's book 'Seasons in 
Hell' is referenced several times. 

'Dragan Opacic's draft of the camp'

Dragan Opacic's draft showing the barbed wire fence he claimed
surrounded the camp, given in evidence against Dusko Tadic at the War 
Crimes Tribunal. The story of the barbed wire fence played a prominent 
part in the trial of the Bosnian Serb Dusko Tadic, the first case 
heard before the War Crimes Tribunal. Tadic was accused by witness 
'L', later revealed as Dragan Opacic, of committing atrocities at 
Trnopolje. On 15 August 1996, Opacic made a drawing in the courtroom 
to show how the barbed wire fenced-in the camp area. Questioned by the 
British defence attorney Stephen Kay, he insisted that the barbed wire 
fence had enclosed the entire camp.

By the end of October 1996, however, the accusations against Tadic 
with regard to Trnopolje had been dropped; the prosecution's main 
witness Opacic had been exposed as a liar trained to make false 
statements by the Bosnian authorities. Opacic finally broke down and 
admitted his deceit when confronted by his father, whom he earlier 
claimed had been killed in the war. Tadic's Dutch defence advocate, 
Professor Wladimiroff, told me that he interviewed Dragan Opacic the 
day after he was exposed as a liar. Opacic said that the police in 
Sarajevo had schooled him for the witness box by repeatedly showing 
him videotapes of Dusko Tadic and of Trnopolje, which he scarcely 
knew. Prominent among these tapes were the pictures from ITN which 
were supposed to show Muslims imprisoned behind the barbed wire

Thomas Deichmann was a witness who testified at the Tadic trial.
Thomas Deichmann can be contacted on e-mail at: