James Bissett, who served as Canada's ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1990 to 1992, thinks the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, is hardly impartial. And he thinks del Ponte's predecessor, Louise Arbour, now a Justice of Canada's Supreme Court, was no less partial. The tribunal, he says, "has displayed more the characteristics of a medieval Star Chamber, than an independent judicial body."
Arbour's appointment, Bissett points out, was contingent upon approval by Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State, the same woman who declared the deaths of over half a million Iraqi children from want of food and medicine -- effects of the US led sanctions against Washington's Middle Eastern foe -- as worth it. The sanctions are still in place, ushering some 4,000 children off to an early grave every month, while Albright has shuffled off the political stage, now in her twilight years, suffering from neither hunger nor want of medical attention nor imminent death.
No stranger to statements that endear her to those who have a soft-spot for the cruellest among us, Albright is also reported to have said that the bar was deliberately raised too high at Rambouillet, demanding that Milosevic give Nato forces (read, the US) free rein over the entire country -- something Albright knew any leader would reject. "Milosevic needs a little bombing," she was reported to have confided. And a little bombing Milosevic, and millions of innocent Yugolsavs, got. At least five hundred died horribly, thousands more were maimed, and thousands more will die from cancers induced by the despoliation of the air and water by the toxins that spilled from Nato-targetted petrochemical plants. An environmental catastrophe, the Russians called it. No doubt, Albrght thought it was well worth it. But then, the bombs weren't falling on her head. And come to think of it, she doesn't get her drinking water from the Danube, either.
Albright was in the habit of saying that Americans had no beef with ordinary Serbs, or with ordinary Iraqis for that matter. Maybe if they did, things would have gone a lot better. It certainly couldn't have been worse.
Inevitably, denouncing one party in a conflict will be seen by some as an apology for the other side. It's the enemy-of-my-friend-must-be-a-friend-of-my-friend's-enemy thinking. But Bissett is no apologist for Milosevic. He thinks Milosevic should be prosecuted. But at the same time, he and others think the tribunal should also prosecute Nato leaders for equally heinous -- and obvious -- war crimes. To turn a blind eye to Nato's excesses is to make a mockery of the Tribunal's impartiality.
So far the Tribunal has been doing a lot of blind eye turning.
Take, for example, the Nato bombing of Radio-TV Serbia, which killed 16 Serb civilians. Nato doesn't deny the target was civilian. US, British and other Nato planes had bombed other civilian targets too -- automobile factories, power stations, oil refineries, fertilizer plants, bridges -- but Nato always claimed dual-use. That is, automobile factories could be used to manufacture tanks, oil refineries could produce oil to make tanks run, fertilizer plants could be used to make explosives, bridges could be used to move armies, so all these targets could be declared legitimate military targets, if you wanted to unceremoniously throw the truth on a medieval torture rack and stretch it mercilessly. And Nato's PR flacks turned out to be no slouches when it came to torturing the truth.
Of course, by the same dodgy reasoning, you could destroy food plants and farms on grounds that armies need food, but lay that aside. Here was a bombing for which it was impossible to claim in any convincing way that there was a military justification. In other words, it was a war crime.
No one knew better that the bombing warranted investigation than Amnesty International, whose secretary-general, Pierre Sane, called on del Ponte's tribunal to break with its inglorious see no Nato evil, hear no Nato evil, speak no Nato evil past.
del Ponte, sitting on the same panel as Sane at last week's Davos World Economic Forum, reacted to Sane's challenge with gobsmacking audacity. It seems that in the estimable del Ponte's view, Nato isn't guilty of a war crime at all -- Milosevic is!
Lest you think Milosovic was really a double agent, calling the shots from Nato headquarters, while hoodwinking Serbs into believing he was really at the helm of the Yugoslav state, be assured, he wasn't.
How then could Milosevic possibly be implicated?
Because, says del Ponte, Milosevic was warned of the attack in advance but did nothing to alert the civilians working in the building, wanting to use the deaths to score a propaganda victory.
Apparently, del Ponte has access to an International Law no one else knows about. It seems it's perfectly acceptable to attack civilians, as long as you tell them -- or tell some reliable person in charge, like Milosevic -- that you're going to send a cruise missile hurtling their way.
"Hey, judge. I told him I was going to shoot. If he didn't get out the way, that's his problem."
In this manner, you could avoid charges of murder and arson, with the del Ponte defence: "I told her I was going to fire bomb her house and if she failed to alert the other people inside, the deaths are on her hands, not mine. She should be prosecuted."
As a paragon of chutzpah, this has few equals.
But when you have a war criminal approving the appointment of a prosecutor looking into war crimes, is it any surprise that the prosecutor might be selectively deaf, dumb and blind?