February 25, 2002Share this story by E-mail
In December of 2001, Harper's Magazine published a transcript from the late President Franjo Tudjman's meetings and his plans for Croatia. (1) It gave some graphic elucidations about how the Serbian minorities in Croatia would be dealt with under the Tudjman regime.
Three months later, the magazine published an impassioned letter (2) to the editor from Croatian Consul General in the United States. According to this missive, Mr. Tudjman should be "commended, not condemned;" the transcripts in question illustrate the fact that he was "forced to use the military...in the face of Serb intransigence." The Consul General concludes, "If the horrors of 9/11 justify America's pursuit of Al Qaeda's terrorists into Afghanistan and the destruction of the Taliban regime protecting them, then surely Croatia cannot be denied the right to do likewise on its own territory, to put a stop on the daily occurrences of such atrocities?"
In today's volatile atmosphere, a direct appeal to 9/11 will whitewash anything at all -- but there are a couple of things that the Consul General conveniently fails to bring into the public eye in his letter. There is, for example, the Croatian "ethnic cleansing" of the Krajina of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom in their eighties, who had been living there for generations; these civilians were turfed out by Croatian armed forces aided by tacit and sometimes not so tacit Western complicity. If we are to allow Croatia the right to deal with those it has tarred with the "terrorist" brush in, as the Consul General puts it, "its own territory..." then WHY IS SERBIA THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE KNOWN WORLD TO WHICH THAT INALIENABLE RIGHT WAS DENIED?
If, indeed, America can pursue those it calls terrorists to another continent and into another sovereign country with which it is not at war, and if this does indeed serve to justify Croatia's slaughter and cleansing of its Serb population, then why were Serbian activities in Kosovo the only thing that stuck in the craw of the pompous and arrogant Western world? When, in fact, is a terrorist not a terrorist? Only, it would appear, when he operates on Serbian territory and against Serbs.
The American defense on the score of more than 3000 dead Afghans during the bombardment of that country is that "in wars, collateral damage is unfortunately unavoidable," and that it does not constitute a "war crime" because it was "unintentional." In other words, if someone the Americans tagged as a "bad guy" went into a village full of civilians, and the Americans wiped out the village in order to make sure that the "bad guy" was snuffed, this does not constitute a war crime. They, after all, did not WISH to kill all those civilians. It's the fault of the "bad guy" for choosing "human shields" -- that, or the village was in its entirety a "sympathiser" and therefore it was a "legitimate target."
This shifting morality and the slippery use of language appears to hold only so long as we don't start talking about the propensity of the KLA to hide from the Yugoslav army units in the houses and barns of the local Kosovo population -- making no compunction about hiding behind a woman's skirts and then screaming murder when their "shield" was hit.
Franjo Tudjman died before he could be brought for trial for his crimes. The American leadership will never be brought to trial for theirs, unless the world changes radically, and soon. But, since the Serbs are the only nation which is by definition guilty of anything at all, none of that matters, because the bombers of Yugoslavia finally got their man in the dock -- Slobodan Milosevic was sold to the "tribunal" in The Hague for thirty pieces of Western aid silver by the traitorous current Prime Minister of Yugoslavia.
One of the best summaries of what is going on at that "tribunal" right now was written by John Laughland in the February 9, 2002 issue of the UK Spectator magazine, in an article entitled "Victor's Justice." It is difficult to imagine "a more perfect paradigm of injustice" than what is being perpetrated in The Hague in the guise of the "trial" of Slobodan Milosevic; by its actions in this matter, whatever the outcome, the Tribunal has already condemned itself, Laughland states.
This is a court where the judges act as if they were attorneys for the prosecution, and the prosecution is acting in a manner which would not be acceptable in any other court, any other proceeding, anywhere in the so-called civilized world today. In an unprecedented move the original indictment on which Milosevic was brought to trial, the "genocide" of Kosovo, has been bundled up with matters arising out of the earlier Yugoslav Wars of Secession, those in Croatia and Bosnia. This means only one thing -- the original indictment was so flawed, so impossible to prove even under the skewed "justice" system of The Hague where the indictee is guilty until proven innocent in a flagrant reversal of the underlying cornerstone of the Roman law under which modern American and British law operates, that the prosecution desperately needed to bring in other accusations, ANY other accusations. The correct procedure would have been to demand that they prove their original case first -- and if they could not, it should have been thrown out of court. Only then could the defendant be rearrested on other charges. Stop any lawyer leaving any courtroom anywhere in the United States today and give him a "putative" case without naming names, and that lawyer will tell you the same thing. Mention the name of Milosevic, however, and all changes. Of course the man is guilty.
If he were innocent, then it would be the West which would be on trial, for its war against Yugoslavia in 1999. And that, of course, must never be allowed to happen. For this not to happen, Milosevic must be convicted. Milosevic must die. Only by his blood can the guilt be washed from the hands of the leaders of those Western governments who colluded in the destruction of Yugoslavia.
The American-led 78-day bombing blitz on Yugoslavia, which started on March 24, 1999, was justified by the claims of genocide being perpetrated on the Albanian population of Kosovo. This genocidal 'plan', in the manner so dear to American war planners who like to give their campaigns high-flying names like "Desert Storm" and "Infinite Justice," was even named: "Operation Horseshoe." Unfortunately for those who 'brought it to light', "Operation Horseshoe" has been shown up to have been a complete fabrication, and has indeed been formally dropped by the Tribunal in The Hague. Far from genocide, the original indictment on which Milosevic was hauled off to The Hague lists the names of 577 dead people, mostly men of fighting age and likely combatants. The famed 'mass graves' yielded only some 3,000 bodies in two years, many of them Serbs, a number of them suggesting casualties of war, not victims of genocidal execution.
America can haul off young men to Guantánamo Bay and hold them there under bestial conditions, and slaughter whole villages for the sin of existing in a country very far from the United States and linked only loosely, if at all, to the activities of these young men. Yugoslavia is accused of genocide on the basis of 577 dead men who took up arms against the legal authority in the country in which they were living at the time. What's wrong with this picture?
Carla del Ponte, the fire-eating chief prosecutor of the Tribunal, said herself in a Le Monde interview in 2001 that there was "no evidence" for bringing up a charge of genocide in Kosovo. Yet, "genocide" was the claimed basis for NATO's war of destruction against Yugoslavia. This is the reason why Milosevic's trial has suddenly been widened to include the other Yugoslav wars -- they are wool to be pulled over the eyes of the international community, because if the original trial had been allowed to go ahead in its originally envisaged form, it would have been NATO on trial, not Milosevic. This could not be allowed to happen. There is only one small hurdle -- the events in Croatia (for which Milosevic is now being tried) occurred in 1991/1992. Those in Bosnia have been logged in the years 1992-1995. A formal investigation into the Bosnian war was opened as far back in 1995... and it found no evidence to indict Milosevic (although it did indict the Bosnian Serb leaders of that time).
Far from rallying to his defense, the Bosnian Serb leadership and the Bosnian Serb population at large believes that Milosevic's real crime has nothing at all to do with what was going on in Bosnia at the time of the wars in question. Instead, they believe that he sold them out when he signed the Dayton accords on their behalf. Mrs. Biljana Plavsic, herself indicted for Bosnian "genocide," has apparently been released pending her "trial" and allowed to return home to Belgrade. She is in an excellent position for payback. She can provide the "testimony" required for Milosevic's conviction, and in exchange her own indictment could be set aside by the Tribunal. This is not justice. It is betrayal upon betrayal upon betrayal. And yes, it is internecine betrayal -- but it could never have happened if the Tribunal was not in the thick of it, paying for favors, exchanging one person's freedom for that person's contribution in another person's incarceration. The West is shamefully playing people against one another. In the position that the Serbs currently find themselves, there is no real way out other than death or dishonour. This is one of the biggest black marks to be put into the indictment of the Western governments themselves in this matter. They have turned a proud people into alley cats fighting for survival.
In a 1998 address at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, David Scheffer, then Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues, sheds some uncomfortable light on the issues which he purports to represent. He gave a speech entitled "Human rights and international justice," on United Nations Day, October 23, five months before NATO's airplanes would attack Yugoslavia.
"We live," Mr. Scheffer stated, "in a world where entire populations can still be terrorized and slaughtered by nationalist butchers and undisciplined armies." However, he goes on to state in the very next sentence that "internal conflicts dominate the landscape of armed struggle today." In other words, the "nationalist butchers" and "undisciplined armies" have crossed no borders and declared no war, least of all against the United States of America. But, Scheffer says, "If we allow them to act with impunity, then we will only be inviting a perpetuation of these crimes far into the next millennium."
But the United Nations was itself built upon an issue of sovereignty. Yes, there are times when a sovereign country's behaviour could be said to be unacceptable -- but the touchstone in the modern era appears to be that such behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable not to the United Nations, but to the United States. The Office of War Crimes Issues was created at the United States State Department in August 1997, and its brief has apparently been couched in terms of bringing to justice "war criminals or, more precisely, those suspected of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes." In the United States' opinion, it would seem; and even this would hang on the word "suspected." Even here it's the idea of innocent-until-proven-guilty that holds sway -- unless we are talking about Slobodan Milosevic, that is, in which case all bets are off.
What does Scheffer have to say about the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal? Amongst other things:
This is a healthy incentive to slant justice in the way that paymaster wishes it slanted. Even if it involves severe castration of the very international law on whose tenets it has purportedly been based.
Scheffer goes on to touch upon Cambodia. The Clinton Administration has not, he says, "forgotten the Pol Pot era." Scheffer states that he is pleased to see "renewed activity at the United Nations" as far as Cambodia is concerned. But the United Nations and Cambodia have been in the news more recently than Sheffer's 1998 address. In February 2002, United Nations pulled out of the negotiations with the Cambodian government aimed at giving the UN a role in a joint tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity. According to the UN's chief legal counsel, Hans Corell, the reason behind the UN's withdrawal was the inability of the Cambodian government to guarantee "the independence, objectivity and impartiality that a court established with the support of the United Nations must have." (It remains astonishing to me how one UN court must have such guarantees, but a court such as The Hague Tribunal, also run under the auspices of the UN, has no such requirements in order to be sanctified by the UN with its continued presence there). The Khmer leaders who would have been indicted by such a court in Cambodia are all ageing and ailing men. The discontinuation of any work on an international tribunal to try them for the killing fields of Cambodia - for which, incidentally, there is far more evidence than The Hague kangaroo court could have dreamed of finding for the non-existent "crimes" in Kosovo -- means that they are being given the same opportunity taken by Pol Pot himself. He died before any court could be convened to bring him to justice for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. Naturally, there has been an instant amen-chorus of academics who "warn against" holding the UN responsible for any such stalled process. Steven Ratner, professor of law at the University of Texas and a member of a 1998 U.N.-appointed committee of experts to study the situation, is on record as saying, "If the Cambodian government wants to conduct a trial on its own terms, under their own laws, they're welcome to it. I don't think it's right for the U.N. to be participating in a justice process that does not meet international standards."
I would be more than interested to hear the learned gentleman's comments on how The Hague Tribunal meets such standards. But, back to Cambodia: a key sticking point to continued UN participation was the insistence that the proposed tribunal be subject to Cambodian laws. Astonishing, that a country should wish to try its own war criminals for crimes committed upon its own people, under its own laws. But such a tribunal could not be controlled and slanted according to the necessary political dictates of the day, and therefore it could not be allowed to happen. The UN, according to one of its spokesmen, "is in no mood to be used for political ends." At least not in Cambodia. It continues to be acceptable to be so used in the Balkans.
International law, sovereign law, which should apply in cases of war crimes?
America appears to wish to play both ends against the middle.
That is to say, for any other country in the world, it is "international law" that applies, so long as the United States has a hand in the proceedings (like staffing courts, paying salaries, and having vested interests in judgments). When it comes to Americans, however, things look very different. Always ready to act as judges on the conduct of others, Americans are very loath to submit to the judgment of others themselves. The somewhat spurious argument that American law is better than any other law seems to apply.
In the summer of 1998, more than 160 nations met in Rome to put together a treaty leading to an International Criminal Court. The objective of this court would be to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and serious war crimes. "At the diplomatic conference in Rome," Scheffer says, "we deliberated as to how that objective could be accomplished in a world comprised of sovereign governments, each with its own penal system but each bound together with the cords of customary international law, reflected both in international treaties and in common practice."
After these deliberations were completed, the United States came to the conclusion that the treaty that was good for 159 other countries could not possibly apply to themselves, and pulled out of a treaty it had helped draft but which it now described as "unacceptable."
Scheffer says, "Consider this scenario: A State not a party to the treaty launches a campaign of terror against a dissident minority inside its territory. Thousands of innocent civilians are killed. International peace and security is imperiled. The United States participates in a coalition to use military force to intervene and stop the killing. Unfortunately, in so doing, bombs intended for military targets go astray. A hospital is hit. An apartment building is demolished. Some civilians being used as human shields are mistakenly shot by U.S. troops. The State responsible for the atrocities demands that U.S. officials and commanders be prosecuted by the international criminal court. The demand is supported by a small group of other states. Under the terms of the Rome treaty, absent a Security Council referral, the court could not investigate those responsible for killing thousands, yet our senior officials, commanders, and soldiers could face an international investigation and even prosecution. Clearly, such a scenario is not acceptable to a country such as ours with its unique responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security."
This bears a depressing resemblance to the "scenario" enacted in Yugoslavia, and naturally the United States is not going to accept the fact that any of its personnel could be liable for anything at all. Notice the language finesse in that paragraph -- the unnamed State which performs all these atrocities "kills thousands" (but nowhere is it required that evidence for such slaughter is presented); "international peace and security is imperiled" (how?); the United States "intervenes" and then things start going wrong -- the State is an evil entity which goes on the rampage and slaughters at will but the United States' bombs "unfortunately" go astray, and only civilians used as "human shields" by the bad State are "mistakenly" shot by the United States personnel. Hidden between the lines of Scheffer's "scenario" is in effect an invasion of a foreign country by a US-led coalition, which then expects to be held responsible for nothing that it does.
Ergo, we have Slobodan Milosevic in the dock, and the United States paying the judge, jury and the executioner.
If he was not, and they did not, it is they who might find themselves in the role of the accused. And woe to anyone who dares to whisper that the United States could ever, under any circumstances, have ever been wrong... and even if it was, it doesn't matter because they didn't "mean" it.
In the meantime, there is a scapegoat.
They already have him.
If they do not convict him, they indict themselves.
"Operation New Justice" has begun.
1. "Planning Croatia's Final Solution," Readings, December 2001, Harper's Magazine (back)
2. "Letters," March 2002, Harper's Magazine (back)
Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans.
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Aleksandra Priestfield 2002. All rights reserved.
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Essays published in 2002 | 2001 | 2000