CAA Mourns Passing Of Francis Xavier McCloskey
For Immediate Release
November 5, 2003
Croatian American Association
2000 Pennsylviania Avenue, NW, Box 287
Washington, DC 20006
Tel: 202-429- 5543
The Board and Membership of the Croatian American Association mourns the
passing of former Congressman Francis Xavier McCloskey, one of the true heroes of Croatian
Independence. Accounts of Frank's death on Monday November 3, 2003, after a long battle
with cancer, were carried by the major newspapers throughout the Western World. The international press
recalled him as an outspoken champion of Bosnia, and he certainly was. But even that
description understates Frank McCloskey's commitment to our Western ideal of freedom and the courage he
demonstrated as the first American politician to stand up against mass murder in Croatia and in
The Washington Post came closest to getting it right. The Post obituary said that Frank was "an
outspoken advocate for ending war in the Balkans" and "was one of the first to call for air strikes against
Serbian positions". However, both The Washington Post and other publications omitted a crucial piece of
information: that the mild-mannered Frank McCloskey was also the very first member of Congress
willing to risk his own life in a combat zone so that he could verify with his own eyes that Serb forces
were slaughtering innocent civilians. It was a massacre at the small town of Vocin, and the memory of
that particular act of genocide, that drove Frank McCloskey in his campaign
to end the mass murder of innocent people in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Post obituary reported that a "1991 fact finding trip to Bosnia grabbed
his passion and attention". But that isn't correct. Vocin is in Croatia, and that is where the war was
in 1991, not in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croatian American Association convinced McCloskey to visit
Croatia and the same organization sponsored the trip. Despite the threats and objections of the
Yugoslav lobby in Washington, Representative McCloskey decided to take that trip.
On a Sunday morning in December 1991, McCloskey got into a car along with
the CAA's Dado Lozancic and J.P. Mackley and drove to Vocin and surrounding villages, where Vojislav
Seselj's withdrawing Chetniks had murdered 53 people, most of them elderly men and women.
McCloskey had a close look at every mangled body. Some of them had been shot in head, others had been
burned to death, and at least one had been dismembered with a chainsaw. The first U.S. citizen to die in
the war was among the dead. Her name was Maria Skender and she was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. Someone
had buried an axe in her forehead.
The next morning McCloskey held a press conference at the Hotel Intercontinental in Zagreb. There were only a small number of American reporters, and about the only coverage of note was in USA Today. But
the story was big in Europe, especially in Germany. During the press conference McCloskey used the
"G" word. He called the massacre at Vocin, and all the others that had happened in Croatia, genocide.
He was the first to put it in that context and like a lot of other things McCloskey said and did, the
reference to genocide caused considerable consternation at the State Department. In fact, State did not
decide to call these murders genocide until much later, after the deaths of a quarter million people in three
It was after Vocin that McCloskey, who had never sought much national
attention, became an outspoken critic of the Serbian campaign and of his colleagues in Washington who
continued to insist the conflict in Croatia was only a "civil war", and something in which the U.S. had no
business interfering. McCloskey went immediately to Belgrade and accused Slobodan Milosevic of war crimes to his face. After that he went back to Washington, contacting State Department officials at the
highest levels to which he had access. He gave Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleberger a complete
briefing, and wondered why nothing was done. When the same Serbian units that conducted the
massacres in Croatia began tospread their grim work around Bosnia-Herzegovina, McCloskey went to have a
look for himself.
In 1992, after returning from his first trip to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina
as a guest of CAA, McCloskey held a press conference at the Foreign Press Bureau at Hotel
Split. In the presence of a State Department representative, a US Marine Corps officer, and members of the
international press corps, McCloskey called for U.S. led NATO air strikes against Serbian positions in
Bosnia-Herzegovina as a way of ending the war.
When it became clear to him that support would not be forthcoming from
either his party or Administration leaders, McCloskey broke with the mainstream Democratic party
and made history by looking Warren Christopher in the eye during a hearing on the Balkans and
demanding the Secretary of State's resignation for his conduct of policy toward Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In December 1993, at the request of Gojko Susak, the late Croatian Minister
of Defense, McCloskey went to Geneva and helped broker an uneasy peace between Croats and Muslims
fighting each other in Bosnia- Herzegovina. Once again, McCloskey was the
first, but this time the State Department followed his lead and the peace became permanent.
Sadly, when the Washington Accords were actually signed between Croats and
Muslims during the Clinton White House in 1994, McCloskey was not invited. Undaunted, he
elbowed his way into the Old Executive Office Building to witness the ceremony, and said afterwards the
President had grudgingly acknowledged his presence.
Part of the reason for his distance from his fellow Democrat may have had to
do with the fact that McCloskey had handed President Bill Clinton his very first foreign policy
defeat. But that particular battle was the beginning of a movement in Congress that transformed the
British backed Clinton policy toward the Balkans. By continually drawing attention to "ethnic cleansing"
in the villages and towns of ex-Yugoslavia, McCloskey managed to gain the support of a majority of
Democrats who, on every issue but this one, remained loyal to the Administration's position on non-intervention.
With the help of the CAA and others, McCloskey brokered a broad coalition of
Democrats and Republicans who had listened to his daily calls from the floor of the U.S.
House of Representatives to stop the genocide. They backed legislation called the McCloskey-Gilman bill,
which was intended to lift the arms embargo first against Bosnia and then Croatia. Despite tough
opposition, McCloskey-Gilman overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives.
In the U.S. Senate, McCloskey's bill was sponsored by Bob Dole, but it was
Vice president Al Gore who cast the deciding vote and ended any chance the legislation would pass
during that session of Congress.
In 1995, however, when the bill gained the support of Ranking House Member
Henry Hyde, and Bob Dole in the Senate, Frank McCloskey's bill to lift the U.N. imposed arms
embargo became law in the 105th Congress.
Unfortunately, Frank McCloskey was not part of that Congress because he had
been voted out of office by people in southwest Indiana who could not locate Croatia or
Bosnia-Herzegovina, and really didn't care. Since he had followed his conscience and broken ranks with the Clinton White House and with Lee Hamilton and Birch Bayh in the Indiana Democratic party, Frank McCloskey
failed to garner the support he needed to win a very close election.
In 1994, not long before the elections, Frank McCloskey called Hague
Prosecutor Graham Blewitt into his office. In front of several witnesses, including Pulitzer Prize winning
journalist Roy Gutman, McCloskey handed Graham Blewitt the evidence collected by CAA on Vocin,
which included postmortem photographs and personal statements from survivors, priests and doctors. For
many years after that McCloskey periodically asked the tribunal why nothing had been done
about Vocin. Finally, when the ICTY indicted Milosevic, and then Seselj, Vocin was among the first cases in the indictments.
McCloskey stood alone when he became the first member of Congress to
campaign against the genocide in disintegrating Yugoslavia. But before his career in Congress ended, he
had been joined by many other people of conscience, and their combined voices caused the Clinton
Administration to change its policy regarding the role the United States should play in the conflict between
Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. McCloskey's passionate determination to put the United States on the
right side in this conflict, and to compel the Administration to stand up against genocide, had made the
difference. In the end, the power of U.S. intervention that McCloskey had been calling for since 1991
was initiated in 1995. The Clinton Administration began its quiet support of Croatian Operation Storm
and started the bombing of Serb military targets around Sarajevo.
Frank McCloskey was a devout Roman Catholic.
Please remember to light a candle for him.
President, Croatian American Association