September 15, 2004

The Milosevic Trial
Up Against These Laws, International Law (And Milosevic) Haven't A Chance

By Stephen Gowans

It would be naïve to expect there can be anything other than a guilty verdict in the Milosevic case, if only because the trial its wheels set in motion by the same parties whose interest in dismembering Yugoslavia eventually led to a Democratic President's drive to war in the spring of 1999 -- has served a patently political purpose from day one.

Everything about the tribunal, from its genesis to its legal status to the prosecution's failure to adduce evidence or testimony that Milosevic ordered war crimes, much less a genocide stinks.

But then what do you expect?

The tribunal comes gift wrapped courtesy of the same fabulists who surpassed Bush in the lying department by claiming hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian Kosovars had been exterminated by the demonic equivalent of the Nazis the allegedly blood-thirsty, ethnic cleansing Serbs.

The claim was pure political theater, a point attested to by the reality that the barest thread of evidence of a genocide, like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, was never found.

For years now, mainstream newspapers have regularly carried accounts of police officers, journalists and forensic pathologists who went to Kosovo to document a genocide and left embittered by being played for fools and at the unwillingness of NATO and tribunal officials to hear of anything that challenged the carefully scripted lie.

What's more, despite having a whole year to prepare its case against Milosevic, and two years to call hundreds of witnesses, the tribunal has failed to produce a smoking gun some evidence or testimony that the former Yugoslav president had ordered crimes of war or against humanity.

Still, this hasn't sunk through the craniums of the political Left, which continues to think sneering at Milosevic is equal to mounting a high horse, rather than, at best, a display of gross ignorance, or worst, an act of political pusillanimity.

But then expecting much from the US section of the Left now preoccupied with getting the vote out for a Democrat who promises to make up for Bush's failure to deal militarily with the two remaining members of the Axis of Evil is like expecting a not guilty verdict in the Milosevic trial: it's a sure fire route to disappointment.

The latest affront to justice at The Hague is the decision of the presiding judge, Patrick Robinson, to impose counsel on Milosevic, Robinson being keen to show he too has learned the lesson of the Milosevic case.

I say he too because the first to claim to have drawn an important lesson was Salem Chalabi, nephew of Ahmad Chalabi, the latter being the once in-favor, now out-of-favor, now trying to worm his way back into favor, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, and scion of one of Iraq's once richest families.

Salem, the nephew, was put in charge of setting up a war crimes tribunal to try Saddam Hussein, which, he said, would be designed to "show we learned the lessons of the Milosevic trial", namely, not to let the defendant speak, there being too many embarrassing revelations that could slip from the defendant's tongue to skewer whatever carefully elaborate case for war serves as the pretext du jour.

This problem evident in the Milosevic case by complaints the defendant was using his time to make political speeches -- has now been taken care of by Judge Robinson, not so much a judge as a political operative with a leading role in a political theater troupe.

Imposing counsel on a defendant is a violation of customary international law and indeed of the tribunal's own statutes (see "International Tribunal or Star Chamber? The ICTY's decision to impose counsel on Slobodan Milosevic".) Robinson himself even ruled against an earlier prosecution motion to impose counsel, citing international law and the tribunal's own rules.

That Robinson has reversed himself, and pushed the tribunal into a legally untenable position, is hardly surprising. The tribunal is backed by NATO, which violated international law and its own charter to attack Yugoslavia, and the tribunal why aren't there war crimes tribunals in connection with US wars on Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq? is itself illegal. Law hasn't been a deterrent before. Why should it be now?

The only laws that matter here not to sound too much like a crazed tatterdemalion spouting off about socialism on a busy street corner -- are the laws that impel advanced capitalist countries to extend their economic domination as far and wide as they can, regardless of whatever barriers of national sovereignty or international law happen to stand in the way.

"We will act multilaterally where we can, unilaterally where we must," remarked Clinton's Secretary of State Madeline Albright once, offering a fair description of the Bush administration's and every other US administration's -- standard operating procedure.

For completeness, she may have added:
 

We will also act legally where we can, illegally where we must, but we will act at all times, legally or illegally, in the interests of opening markets, securing investment opportunities, and providing access to raw materials, including oil, because we are compelled to do so.

This isn't written into US law, but it is a law all the same, which all capitalist countries, including the United States, must obey, whether led by conservatives, liberals or social democrats.

To fail to do so would mean we would be crushed and overtaken by our competitors, who are also acting to open the same markets, secure the same investment opportunities, and secure access to the same raw materials, including the same sources of oil.

We will not be crushed or overtaken. Therefore, where there are closed economies to be opened and annexed, oil-producing regions of the world to be dominated, pipeline routes to be secured, and mining concessions to be laid claim to, we will act, using all means at our disposal.


With the demise of socialism in Europe, a Yugoslavia left to stand alone against a stalking NATO never had a chance.

Milosevic -- himself pretty much left to stand alone, including by some who developed a telling attraction to failed Democratic presidential nominee Wesley Clark, the real Butcher of Belgrade -- hasn't much of a chance either. Indeed, he has no chance.

It was an implicit recognition of this, along with the fact that the trial is a sham, and that it should therefore be hurried along and spared the risk of being turned into a political platform for Milosevic -- that council has been imposed, the defendant gagged, his case sabotaged.

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Stephen Gowans