February 13, 2001

A Mockery of Justice

Having exonerated NATO of war crimes charges, Carla del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, has decided that NATO’s notorious bombing of Serbian state television station and the death of 16 of its employees may have been a war crime after all. The perpetrator, however, was not NATO, but former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. According to her, "Milosevic had been warned of the airstrike on the television station, but…he had chosen to disregard the information so that the employees would be killed and NATO potentially smeared." "Sentence first – verdict afterwards" – the legal principle of the court in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – is a model of sanity next to del Ponte’s Tribunal. Yet the law as interpreted by del Ponte is current NATO doctrine. It is not the bully but his victim who is the real bully. By refusing to accede to the bully’s demands the victim brings his own fate upon himself. He also commits a crime against his attacker who may suffer psychological damage as a result.

Thus Milosevic victimized NATO. NATO was forced to murder 16 innocent civilians and made to weather two hours of bad publicity. Indeed, the entire 11-week bombing campaign was a war crime perpetrated by Milosevic. By refusing to accept the US ultimatum at Rambouillet, he provoked the bombing of Yugoslavia. Every hospital destroyed, every housing estate reduced to rubble, every bridge crashing into the Danube, every petrochemical plant going up in flames was Milosevic’s war crime – not NATO’s. Most horrifying of all, NATO – that repository of all that is finest, most honorable and decent in men’ hearts – was "smeared." The Serbs must be made to pay for this violation of the global moral order. The current dispute between the regime in Belgrade and Carla del Ponte as to who gets to put Milosevic on trial first is largely a sideshow. We know the outcome already. Indeed, the outgoing Clinton Administration had already suggested a solution. Milosevic does not have to be shipped off to The Hague. He can be put on trial in Belgrade, but the prosecutors will be from The Hague. After his inevitable conviction of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Yugoslav courts can try him. The prosecutors will be representatives of the new regime who clearly have their own reasons for wanting to purge Yugoslavia of every vestige of the pre-Kostunica/Djindjic era. The trials will, of course, be a mockery of justice. Is there anyone in the world who seriously doubts how del Ponte’s "court" will rule? Is there anyone who doubts the outcome of the Yugoslav domestic trials? Milosevic will be convicted of every crime under the sun from "vote stealing" to embezzlement to double parking and spitting on the sidewalk.

The fairness of the trial Milosevic can expect at The Hague is to be gauged from the fact that the Court had indicted him on the basis of a few interviews with Kosovo Albanian refugees. Yet Louise Arbour, del Ponte’s predecessor, knew immediately that Milosevic was personally responsible for any atrocities that may have been committed. The flimsiness of the evidence against him was evident from the beginning, as NATO repeatedly revised downwards its estimates of Kosovo Albanian casualties. Just the other day, OSCE investigators were forced to acknowledge that they had found no evidence to substantiate an NPR report that Yugoslav forces had burned the bodies of 1500 Albanians in the Trepca blast furnace as they were pulling out of Kosovo.

The fairness of the trial Milosevic can expect from the Belgrade authorities is to be gauged from the remarks of Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic. "Milosevic’s place is in jail," he declared, "It would be just for him to stand trial here because he committed all those crimes here…. Our prosecutor should accept The Hague’s indictment, add the local charges, and trigger the proceedings in front of our courts…. The war crimes definitely existed…and there is no dilemma who is responsible: Milosevic as the former supreme commander." Milosevic has not even been charged with anything yet. But we already know that "his place is in jail." During his recent visit to Washington, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic announced that an investigation into Milosevic’s activities would start "within a few days." The former leader will be put on trial "in two weeks." "His place is in jail," even though there has as yet been no "investigation." One would have thought an investigation into the activities of a man who ruled a country for over a decade is likely to be extremely complicated. Sifting through and amassing evidence would surely be immensely time-consuming. Yet, according to Djindjic, it should take no more than "two weeks." Carla del Ponte for one was not buying any of this. "We cannot wait for years" for the outcome of domestic legal proceedings, she thundered, "For crimes against humanity… Milosevic will stand trial in The Hague. For other [crimes] he may answer in Belgrade." Note the casual and repeated references to "crimes" before even any evidence has even been collected, let alone presented before any court of law.

But then today’s courts of law have very little to do with law or with justice. Courts of law are simply the mechanism for enforcing the US-led New World Order. These courts have nothing to do with establishing individual responsibility or criminal intent. They serve to intimidate, to punish, to provide a fig leaf of legitimacy for the raw assertion of power. The issue is no longer whether people are to be tried in domestic or international courts. What matters is that the "judicial process" be directed against officials of countries who refused to accept US diktats. The Hague Tribunal has no right to put anyone on trial. According to international law, nations can only cede their sovereignty voluntarily. Yet the Tribunal was imposed by order of the UN Security Council. There is therefore no reason whatsoever for the states of the former Yugoslavia to cooperate with del Ponte. By accepting the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, by repeatedly promising full cooperation with it, by accepting the term "war crimes" to describe Serb resistance to NATO aggression, the new regime in Belgrade has effectively declared that Serbia is now the vassal state of others.

By insisting on putting Milosevic on trial the Belgrade regime is not asserting any kind of independence. The US Government does not care two hoots whether Milosevic goes to prison in The Hague or in Belgrade. What is important is that the man who defied the will of NATO be publicly humiliated, that the Serbs enact a script prepared in Washington. By convicting Milosevic of "war crimes" and corruption the Serbs would thereby be acknowledging their own guilt in asserting their "nationalism." They would be acknowledging their crimes just as NATO had asserted all along. And they would be acknowledging the justice of NATO’s cause. The "good" NATO was up against the "evil" Milosevic. The trial and imprisonment of Milosevic would serve as lesson to anyone else who would seek to defy the will of the West.

A Russian official Pavel Borodin sits in prison in New York. He is state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union. He is wanted for questioning in Switzerland about an alleged crime committed in Moscow. The crime – kickback payments by Swiss companies to win a contract to refurbish the Kremlin – is hardly the most serious. The Russian authorities say there is no evidence of crime. The Swiss claim they know better. And the US Government will have us believe that it is simply following international law in holding Borodin without bail pending a Swiss request for extradition. Borodin is being denied bail even though the Russian Ambassador, Yuri V. Ushakov, had assured the court that Borodin would be prepared to wear an electronic monitor on his ankle and even to pay for a federal agent to watch him around the clock. Ushakov promised that, if released, Borodin would make all his court dates. Yet the US Government treats the Russian Ambassador as if he were representative of some Godforsaken banana republic. Once again, the United States is using a spurious judicial procedure to intimidate other countries. Anyone can be arrested anywhere at any time and held indefinitely, on the basis of warrants that are kept secret.

Speaking of Godforsaken banana republics, the del Ponte Tribunal is not the only international court meting out "justice" as defined by the United States. There is also something called the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Its Chief Prosecutor is also Carla del Ponte. It too operates on the basis of secret indictments and international kidnappings. Where the Hague Tribunal mainly targets the Serbs, the Rwanda Tribunal goes after the Hutus, deemed to be the villains of the Rwanda civil war. The United States threw its weight behind the Tutsis in Rwanda, and particularly their leader Paul Kagame, and decided that only Hutus committed war crimes. The Tutsis, like the Moslems of Bosnia, were victims. Again the UN Security Council established the Rwanda Tribunal, with the UN General Assembly having no say in the matter. A UN tribunal is especially odd in this case, since it is claiming jurisdiction over a civil war. The Tribunal concerns itself exclusively with crimes committed in 1994. It resolutely ignores pre-1994 Tutsi crimes against Hutus as well as the Tutsi massacres of Hutus in Eastern Congo since 1994.

Meanwhile, the new rulers of the Philippines, having overthrown a popularly-elected President last month amidst much congratulation from the Bush Administration and the IMF, are promising to put on trial former leader Joseph Estrada ("a drunken, womanizing, film star who was kicked out of high school for brawling," in the horrified words of The Economist.) There was a constitutional way to remove Estrada – by impeachment. It failed. However, rather than wait for an election, the military, aligned with the mob and the business elites, seized power. Estrada was popular among the poor and had challenged the dominance of the elites that have run the Philippines into the ground. He is likely to be charged with plundering the economy – a crime potentially punishable by death. Corruption charges are extremely nebulous. They are always trotted out, since people believe them so readily. Stories of billions salted away in secret Swiss bank accounts are as much a staple of the media as tales of evil dictators torturing little children for the fun of it.

In a recent article in The Times, Simon Jenkins wrote: "I cheered when I heard that a Chilean judge had ordered the arrest of General Pinochet. I cheered not because I regard the general as a villain (although I do). I cheered because the judge was Chilean, the court Chilean and the crimes Chilean. A nation is never so mature as when it holds its own past to account." Now, Jenkins is a sensible fellow, but in his desperate attempts not to wander off too far from mainstream opinion, he concedes almost everything to his opponents. He knows perfectly well that the Chileans would never have dreamt of putting Pinochet on trial had they not been put pressured to do so by the "international government." Jenkins would never dream of applying the same standards to British or American leaders. After all, he is not calling for the arrest of Clinton or Blair on war crimes charges. Would he be in favor of Margaret Thatcher standing trial for the sinking of the Argentine ship, the Belgrano, during the Falklands war in 1982 in which 700 sailors died? Would he favor putting former Prime Minister Edward Heath – like Pinochet 85 years old – on trial for the death of 13 demonstrators in Northern Ireland in January 1972? Would he favor putting Henry Kissinger on trial for the deaths of civilians in Vietnam? Would he favor putting Janet Reno on trial for the murders at Waco? Of course not. Jenkins accepts the same double standards of our imperial masters. Trials are for lesser species, the means by which obstreperous nations make themselves acceptable to the rulers of the New World Order.

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George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Friday.

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