Swans Commentary » swans.com May 22, 2006  



Open Letter To Democracy Now!
Milosevic's Trial and Death


by Dimitri Oram





(Swans - May 22, 2006)   I sent the following letter to Democracy Now! (DN!) two months ago following their piece on Milosevic's trial and death on March 13, 2006. I never received an answer from DN! and more importantly they have not, as far as I know, offered any corrections to the misinformation aired in the piece. It should be noted that DN! covered the trial and the demolition of the prosecution's case about as little or less than the mainstream, corporate media.


Dear Amy Goodman & Democracy Now!,

I heard your roundtable discussion (March 13) on Milosevic's death and his trial at the Hague tribunal and felt it important to write to you. While the piece had some good material you only presented your audience with a small part of the truth and unfortunately even that truth was mixed with some very misleading claims. Indeed, the piece was flawed from the beginning.

Ignoring the Context of Milosevic's Death

In the beginning when you discussed Milosevic's death you missed the fact that he was the second ICTY suspect in custody to die within a week and also failed to mention that at least 10 other ICTY suspects have either died in ICTY custody or been killed during apprehension. (1) The fact that these deaths occurred in connection with a UN institution (and one alleged to be advancing the rule of international law no less) is an outrageous scandal. Strangely, neither you nor any members of your roundtable discussion mentioned Milosevic's request to go to Russia's Bakulev Institute to get treatment for his heart condition. (Chris Hedges did, however, put in the claim that Milosevic was trying to be his own doctor providing no supporting evidence for this amazing assertion.) Despite assurances from the Russian authorities that he would return to the ICTY the tribunal judges denied his request and he died in prison.

Guilty from the Start

You say early on, before the roundtable that "some of his [Milosevic's] victims said the ex-Serbian leader had escaped justice" and then cut to a woman from Srebrenica stating that Milosevic should have suffered more. By stating "his victims" you give the impression that Milosevic was guilty and that this is a commonly accepted fact. You neglect to inform your audience that the Dutch report on Srebrenica stated as one of its conclusions that as far as indications went "There are none pointing to political or military liaison with Belgrado. The involvement of the then president Karadzic (Republik Srpska) is unclear." (2) There are numerous other pieces of evidence which demonstrate Milosevic had nothing to do with the events of Srebrenica including the testimony of both prosecution and defense witnesses at the tribunal. You also do not mention that the standard story on Srebrenica is riddled with bias and inconsistencies or that it has been strongly challenged by an independent research group. (3) The impression given by the phrase "his victims" combined with emotional testimony from a Srebrenica widow and your opening statement that Milosevic "had been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity" and that "Prosecutors called nearly 300 witnesses" all give the impression of guilt although they provide no hard evidence. Unfortunately, your roundtable continued in much the same manner.

Trial by Media

The speakers you selected were smart and capable people with a background in the region but it was obvious that they (and you) were unfamiliar with the trial proceedings. Instead of a critical examination of the ICTY and its methods of operation or a look at the actual evidence that emerged during the course of the trial your audience was treated to a rehash of hearsay and casual assertions of Milosevic's guilt or Serbian war crimes without the slightest documentation. Indeed, despite their opposition to the NATO bombing your two guest journalists repeated a lot of the propaganda that was used to justify it and/or lower opposition to it. The most outrageous claims were made by Chris Hedges. He claimed for instance that Milosevic "was able through his Serbian allies to take over the airwaves and pump forth this sort of vitriol and hate propaganda against other ethnic groups," that there was a lot of "complicity by many elements of Serb society," and that he doesn't "want to lose sight of the fact that 90-plus percent of the victims of the war, the people who were killed, were Bosnian Muslims." He also used the term "genocide" several times, even invoking Elie Wiesel and the Holocaust and bewailing the alleged US and European "failure to respond." At times Scahill was no better when discussing Kosovo referring to "all sorts of killings and disappearances and systematic human rights abuses" under Milosevic followed by "the real slaughter" after the NATO bombing began and "paramilitary forces" "tak[ing] out whole villages." He says he was told this by Albanians and members of the Serbian military. For most listeners this sounds convincing because they have heard it repeated at least a thousand times before. It does not, however, bear any resemblance to the truth. Those who care to examine Milosevic's speeches, particularly when placed in proper historical context, will see that they are hardly an incitement to genocide or racial hatred. Indeed, in his most famous speech delivered in 1989 on the 600th anniversary of the 1389 battle of Kosovo Polje he stated that "Socialism in particular, being a progressive and just democratic society, should not allow people to be divided in the national and religious respect... Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity." (4)

Likewise, the claim that Bosnian Muslims made up over 90% of the deaths during war has long since been refuted both by a demographers report from the ICTY itself (which claimed the number of deaths came out roughly proportionate to each group's percentage of the population) and even by a Muslim led Bosnian group, the Sarajevo Research and Documentation Center, which gave a higher percentage for Muslim deaths but nowhere near the 90+ percent claimed by Hedges. (5) Hedges cites no sources for his numbers or his ridiculous claim that the problem was a lack of foreign intervention (on which see below). Scahill's Serbian atrocity claims are also not supported by the tribunal's proceedings in which thousands of military orders and documents were shown (along with witness testimony) proving that the Yugoslav Army soldiers and police were told repeatedly to respect national and international law, that those caught committing crimes were court martialed and that the army had orders to disband any paramilitary unit it came across. The prosecution was not able to produce a single military order or document showing that war crimes were ordered by the Yugoslav government. Documentation from the OSCE produced during the mission's time and revealed at the tribunal does not corroborate Scahill's statements about "all sorts of killings and disappearances" by the Yugoslav army. Substantial evidence showed that Kosovo Albanians fled primarily due to the NATO bombing and the KLA but that Albanians did not flee due to a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Many witnesses spoke of this both from the defense and prosecution including British journalist Eve Ann Prentice. The prosecution was not able to produce a single document showing that Milosevic controlled the Bosnian or Croatian Serbs or their military forces although the prosecutors did manage to prove that he supported just about every peace plan that came along. Besides, do you really believe that if the tribunal had produced serious evidence or a reasonable case against Milosevic that the proceedings would have been in virtual media blackout or that the trial would have dragged on for over four years? (The Nuremburg trials ended in less than 1 year.)

The Other Guys

Shockingly, neither you nor your guests discussed the role played by Germany, Austria, and the Vatican in backing Croatia's secession. You did not discuss the role played by secessionist Croat leaders such as Franjo Tudjman and Stipe Mesic or by Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic. You did not mention the WWII genocide conducted against Serbs by Croat and Muslim fascists and clearly a key factor in Serbian fears of living in an independent Croatia or Bosnia. You did not talk about the Yugoslav constitution which forbade UNILATERAL and UNNEGOTIATED secession. No one discussed Muslim crimes against Serbs or the fact that Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic rejected both the Belgrade initiative of 1991 (a plan which would have allowed heavy concessions to the Muslims in order to keep Bosnia in Yugoslavia) and the Lisbon Accords also known as the Cutiliero plan of 1992 (which would have allowed for the cantonization of an independent Bosnia) instead opting for war.

Most importantly no one discussed the US role in continually vetoing peace plans, in encouraging the Bosnian Muslims to hold out for more and in covertly sending arms to the Bosnian (Muslim) Army. (6)

I realize I may sound angry and critical but I mean this criticism to be constructive. This is a good start IF it is one of a number of pieces that you will do on the Milosevic trial and other guests more critical of the NATO line and more familiar with the trial will be included. I have recommended several to you in a previous story idea. I realize you doubtless feel pressured by many supporters of the official line but there are plenty of people who will back you in a more critical examination of the official line and you should set the record straight.


Dimitri Oram



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1.  Milan Bibic, former leader of Republika Srpska Krajina died in his cell on March, allegedly a suicide. This despite the fact that "There was nothing unusual in his demeanor" and "like all detainees, Mr Babic was subject to regular monitoring." according to Tribunal spokeswoman Alexandra Milenov.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4778498.stm  (back)

2.  http://www.srebrenica.nl/en/ see the summary section. Point 10 -- "There are none pointing to political or military liaison with Belgrado. The involvement of the then president Karadzic (Republik Srpska) is unclear."  (back)

3.  See the finding of the Srebrenica Research Group.  (back)

4.  For a look at the 1989 speech see
Whatever else one says about it it can be hardly be seen as promoting "vitriolic hatred," or racist nationalism let alone plans for war or "Greater Serbia."

For a full look at Milosevic's speeches and interviews see
http://www.slobodan-milosevic.org/speech-interview.htm  (back)

5.  See for example:

http://antiwar.com/malic/?articleid=8179 also note the following news article:

Bosnian war "claimed 100,000 lives" Deutsche Presse-Agentur - November 21, 2005, Monday

Oslo/Sarajevo - The confirmed death toll in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia appears to be closer to 100,000 dead than the often- quoted figure of 200,000, a Norwegian news agency reported Monday, quoting the head of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center (RDC).

"In October we had 93,000 names on our lists and the numbers are increasing slightly. But the final tally will likely be around 100,000," Mirsad Tokaca was quoted as saying.

The centre was set up in April 2004 "to investigate and gather facts, documents and data on genocide, war crimes and human rights violations, regardless of the ethnic, political, religious, social, or racial affiliation of the victims."

It has received funding from among others the Norwegian government.

A similar estimate has also been used by population statisticians at the United Nations war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The estimate published by researchers Ewa Tabeau and Jacub Biljak was 102,000.

All of the casualties listed by Tokaca and his co-researchers have been identified by name.

"Our research suggests that about 70 per cent of those killed were Bosniacs (Bosnian Moslems), 25 per cent of the killed were Bosnian Serbs and 5 per cent were Bosnian Croats," Tokaca said.

Tokaca said the number of 250,000 or even 300,000 dead has "never been based on research".  (back)

6.  This was noted in the Dutch report; see below:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,688229,00.html  (back)


Internal Resources

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About the Author

Dimitri Oram is a writer and researcher based in Western Massachusetts. He was born and raised in Northampton and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 2000. He woke up to the realities of the U.S. Global Empire back in 1999 during the NATO bombing campaign.



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Published May 22, 2006