Could a Serbian Heart Have Saved Dick Holbrooke?

By Alexander Cockburn

January 20, 2011 7 min read

Richard Holbrooke died at age 69 on Dec. 13, thus spared the annoyance of seeing one of his best-known political creations accused of supervising the killing of captives in order to slice out their organs for transplant purposes and financial gain.

In the wake of Holbrooke's sudden death, his memory was swiftly burnished with testimonials to his masterly diplomacy as the creator of a new Balkans freed from the Serbian yoke, and as Kosovo's midwife. It was Holbrooke who stood shoulder to shoulder with Albanian secessionists in the summer of 1998 and prompted NATO's bombing of Serbia until these applications of high explosives to civilian targets caused Milosevic to order the withdrawal of security forces from Kosovo.

The "freedom fighters" of the Kosovo Liberation Army — Albanian gangsters, most notably Hashim Thaci, hand-picked by Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright (her closest aide, James Rubin, acted as talent scout) at the Rambouillet talks — took over. Since unilaterally declaring independence in February 2008, the failed statelet run by heroin traffickers and white slavers, host to the vast U.S. Camp Bondsteel, has been recognized by only 72 out of 192 U.N. members, including 22 of the European Union's 27 members.

In April 2008, Carla Del Ponte — former chief prosecutor before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and no friend of the Serbs — published a memoir on her time at the tribunal. In it, she charged that in 1999, there had been trafficking in human organs taken from Serb prisoners, reportedly carried out by top KLA commanders, and that her efforts to investigate had been blocked. Del Ponte's charges originated with information she got from Western investigative journalists working for a U.S.-based documentary producer, American RadioWorks.

Following Del Ponte's accusations, the Council of Europe assigned a liberal Swiss senator, Dick Marty, to investigate. The Marty report, two years in the making, was released Dec. 15, 2010. The report names Thaci, now Kosovo's prime minister, as having exercised "violent control" over the heroin trade in Kosovo during the past decade, and accuses him of overseeing an organized crime ring in the late '90s, committing assassinations, beatings, human organ trafficking and other major crimes.

The report is being reviewed by the EU's Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, which is already probing a human body parts rip-and-ship facility — the Medicus Clinic in Pristina. Seven people have been charged with international organ trafficking, alleging poor people were hired from slums and promised payment of up to $20,000 for their kidneys. The organs were apparently sent to patients in Israel and Canada.

Marty is grimly detailed, supplying plenty of names, particularly concerning Thaci and his associates in the Drenica Group, "consistently named as 'key players' in intelligence reports on Kosovo's mafia-like structures of organized crime." Marty says he examined these reports by European intelligence agencies and the FBI "with consternation and a sense of moral outrage." He notes also the "fear, often to the point of genuine terror, which we have observed in some of our informants immediately upon broaching the subject of our inquiry."

Some Serb captives were taken into central Albania "to be murdered immediately before having their kidneys removed in a makeshift operating clinic. ... The captives ... were initially kept alive, fed well and allowed to sleep, and treated with relative restraint by KLA guards. ... When their blood was drawn by syringe for testing (a step that appears to have been akin to 'tissue typing,' or determining levels of organ transplantation compatibility), or when they were physically examined by men referred to as 'doctors,' the captives must have been put on notice that they were being treated as some form of medical commodities. ... When the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the captives were brought out of the 'safe house' individually, summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic." The kidneys were then taken to nearby Tirana airport and shipped out to the paying customers.

Marty's report made big headlines in Britain and across Europe, not least because Kosovo had an election Dec. 12, won by Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, with the results swiftly denounced as fraudulent. According to a Guardian source, at three polling stations in an area loyal to Thaci, more ballots were cast than people registered to vote. The British Daily Mail was particularly rough on Tony Blair, who traveled to Albania last year to pick up a Golden Medal of Freedom from Thaci, perhaps with the outlines of a kidney on the obverse.

The New York Times has carried a few modest stories about Marty; the Washington Post, almost nothing — this in marked contrast to the copious coverage of Belarus and Lukashenko, current Monster of the Moment, though no one has yet accused him of slicing open prisoners and making money off their kidneys or of being a white slaver and heroin trafficker. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declared in the wake of Marty's charges that the United States will continue to work with Thaci, since "any individual anywhere in the world is innocent until proven otherwise."

After World War II, the U.S. government, in the Paperclip program, made haste to protect Nazi scientists like Sigmund Rascher who had killed and sliced up Jews, Russians and Poles in Dachau to make use of their organs. Georg Rickhey, imported as part of Werner von Braun's rocket team, had worked prisoners to death in the Dora camp and the Mittelwerk complex. Drew Pearson's columns ultimately earned Rickhey a secret war crimes trial, which the U.S. Army sabotaged by withholding records.

Then as now, the United States stands by its war criminals. Thaci has nothing to fear, as Holbrooke would no doubt have assured him. Thaci would doubtless have been ready to ship him a new Serbian heart as a thank you, relabeled "Kosovar" naturally.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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