NATO's Home Free
George Szamuely
New York Press


Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), announced the other day that she would not be opening an investigation into NATO. "I am very satisfied," she explained, "that there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or unlawful military targets by NATO." This was hardly shocking news. Back in December she had already reassured an anxious Clinton administration that "NATO is not under investigation." The tribunal is what it has always been: an obedient creature of the United States. In clear violation of Article 32 of its statute it gets funding from the U.S. government. Prosecuting NATO would thus have brought about its swift demise.

Yet NATO's violations of international law were so blatant and outrageous that fat Carla had to make at least a show of "investigating." Her report exonerating Clinton, Blair, Schroder and the rest of last year's band of heroes is so laughably implausible that only the dim bulbs of the Wall Street Journal editorial page could find comfort in it. Take cluster bombs, resorted to with some frequency by NATO. "There is no specific treaty provision which prohibits or restricts the use of cluster bombs," del Ponte's report announces cheerfully. Well, yes. But the tribunal has not always taken this view, at least not when it came to the Serbs. In 1995, the tribunal indicted Milan Martic, president of the now-defunct Serb Republic of Krajina, charging him with "violating the laws and customs of war" for ordering a missile attack on Zagreb. What made it a war crime was that the missiles were fitted with cluster bomb warheads. According to the indictment, a missile can be "fitted with different warheads to accomplish distinct tasks: either to destroy military targets or to kill people. When the [missile] is fitted with a ‘cluster bomb' is an anti-personnel weapon designed only to kill people." Martic was a war criminal because he launched an "unlawful attack against the civilian population and individual citizens." So how is he different from NATO? Ah, Martic's missile "landed in an area with no military objectives nearby... [It] was not designed to hit military targets but to terrorize the civilians of Zagreb. There is no indication cluster bombs were used in such a fashion by NATO." Really?

Here is how U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Short explained NATO strategy last May to The Washington Post: "If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?''' Sounds like terrorizing civilians to me. NATO's strategy was directed at civilians and at nothing else. Hospitals, buses, retirement homes, schools, markets, town centers, apartment buildings, refugee convoys all went up in smoke. Yugoslavia's military, however, remained intact.

Yet del Ponte, her voice resonant with insincerity, insists that NATO only went after legitimate military targets. Take the bombing of the Grdelica railroad bridge, which led to the destruction of a passenger train and the death of at least 12 people. Nothing wrong with that, she cries. The bridge was being used as a resupply route by Serb forces in Kosovo. The pilot simply did not see the passenger train coming. "Realizing the bridge was still intact, the controller picked a second aim point on the bridge at the opposite end from where the train had come and launched the second bomb." So the pilot knew that he had hit a passenger train, yet he came back to dump a second bomb on the dead and injured. Carla del Ponte has no problems with that. Nor is she concerned that the attack was carried out in broad daylight when "collateral damage"–NATO's beloved phrase–was likely to be at its highest. Del Ponte is evidently unaware of Articles 51(4) and (5) of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention I. These prohibit indiscriminate attacks. Such attacks would include "(a)…bombardment by any methods...which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives [and] (b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life." As for that brave pilot, who completed his mission, he was clearly in violation of Article 57 (2b) of Protocol I: "An attack shall be cancelled or suspended if it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or is...expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life."

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Del Ponte also exonerates NATO from any blame for the destruction of the headquarters of Serbian state television and radio (RTS), which killed 16 civilians. "The bombing of the TV studio," her report explains proudly, "was part of a planned attack aimed at disrupting and degrading the C3 (Command, Control and Communications) network." Yet another legitimate military target. Trouble is, Carla, that is not what NATO claimed at the time. It is not even what it is claiming today. According to the recent Amnesty International report, NATO believed RTS a legitimate target because of its use as "an instrument of propaganda and repression." NATO demanded that Milosevic provide "equal time for uncensored [sic] Western news broadcasts for two periods of three hours a day," to make Serb radio and television "an acceptable instrument of public information." He refused, and 16 people died. Just the other day, at the Brookings Institution, the demented Wesley Clark was defending the bombing. Serbia's state media, he raved, was "a crucial instrument of Milosevic's control over the Serb population and it exported fear, hatred and instability into neighboring regions... So it was a legitimate target of war." Wesley Clark, Carla del Ponte, Madeleine Albright–some day surely they will just be a dim memory.

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