Justice? Or its antithesis?

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, under detention at the Hague in connection with murder, deportation and genocide charges, says he’s under drastically increased pressure to recognize the Hague Tribunal.

In three appearances before the tribunal, Milosevic refused to plead to the indictments against him, and refused to appoint lawyers, arguing the tribunal, and his detention, are illegal.

And now Milosevic’s Belgrade lawyer, Dragoslav Ognjanovic says that strong spotlights have been left on all night in Milosevic’s cell, a subtle form of torture.

Why is Milosevic being deprived of sleep?

And why is the former Yugoslav president denied access to the media? After doing an interview with American media, Milosevic was reprimanded by Hague authorities, and warned against further breaches of rules that prevent the former president from talking to the press.

Why won’t the Hague Tribunal allow Milosevic to conduct his own defense?

And why is Milosevic’s microphone cut-off when he appears before the tribunal?

The usual reply is that Milosevic would make a mockery of the proceedings. And if given access to the media he would have a platform to spout nonsense. But surely, if it’s nonsense he’ll spout, let him. Nonsense will be obvious for what it is, and the press will soon grow tired of it. But another answer seems more likely: Maybe it’s not nonsense Milosevic has to speak. And maybe Milosevic’s being allowed to conduct his own defense would expose the tribunal for what it is — a mockery of justice.

Augusto Pinochet, dictator, murderer, goes free. Ariel Sharon, architect of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, ethnic cleanser, and war criminal, presides over the commission of fresh war crimes as prime minister of Israel. War criminals Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton make a king’s ransom from speaking engagements. Meanwhile, we’re showered with absurdities from the US foreign policy establishment connected Human Rights Watch about war criminals having nowhere to hide, Milosevic being the signal case.

The hypocrisy is plain, if the case is made, but who makes the case? People on the margins, heard by few. But what if someone like Milosevic, who, if allowed to speak to the media, reached countless numbers? He’d have a platform to make the case, if the tribunal’s rules didn’t gag him. And maybe that’s why he’s gagged.

Washington and London have always been afraid of their own people hearing the other side. During NATO’s 78-day terror campaign against Yugoslavia, Serb Radio-TV, which carried a different view of the bombing than delivered by the complicit and tightly controlled Western press, was deliberately bombed, a blatant war crime. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Milosevic’s propaganda machine had to be taken out. What he meant was that NATO had to control the public relations agenda.

Weeks ago, US bombers took out Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, for the same reason — it threatened Washington’s control over what the public saw and heard and understood. Al Jazeera offered something other than the tightly controlled and scripted US take on the war against Afghanistan. Control the story, and you control the hearts and minds of the public. Give people like Milosevic and the Afghans carried on Al-Jazeera a platform, and the carefully crafted complex of lies may fall apart.

As to the nonsense about war criminals having nowhere to hide, they do. Behind a Security Council veto, for one. And behind a compliant press, whose deafness, dumbness and blindness owes much to Chauvinism, and the fact that letting the White House, State Department, and Pentagon write your copy is a good business model. Keeps cost down.

Up to now, Milosevic has been under indictment for murder and deportation, in connection with events in Kosovo. The White House and State Department and Pentagon, and yes, the media too, tried, and convicted Milosevic of committing genocide in Kosovo. There were 100,000 missing and presumed dead. Then 10,000. Then forensic pathologists turned up only 2,000 corpses, none in mass graves, their identities (were they ethnic Albanian Kosovars?) uncertain. Then doubts arose about the authenticity of the Racak massacre, the casus belli for terrorizing Yugoslavia with bombs for 78 days. And then the indictment came, and with it, no charge of genocide.

Now, in new indictments, Milosevic is charged with genocide in connection with earlier wars in Croatia and Bosnia. It’s as if the tribunal had come up with the charge first and has worked backwards from there. Now that we’ve made the charge, we’ll need the evidence to make it stick.

Genocide? In what connection has that word been uttered before? East Timor. That genocide was carried out by a pal of Washington’s, the dictator Suharto, right under Washington’s nose and with its full approval. Nothing as insignificant as genocide was going to stand in the way of US businesses turning handsome profits in an Indonesia known as an “investor’s paradise,” “hell” being more frequently uttered by those who have to work there. And yet there was no indictment. Earlier, Suharato had arranged for the systematic killing of between 500,000 and one million communists, while Washington checked off the names. No indictment for that crime either.

Iraq. Over the last decade, US enforced sanctions of mass destruction have killed over one million Iraqis. That’s a genocide. Will the perpetrators be held accountable? No. They wield a Security Council veto.

The Security Council set up the Hague Tribunal, which means Security Council members, some of which committed brazen war crimes in their 78-day terror campaign against Yugoslavia, will never be indicted, unless you assume the tribunal’s prosecutors are going to indict their bosses who appointed them.

An International Criminal Court, which would obviate the Security Council striking tribunals, and allow anyone to be indicted, won’t do the trick either. Washington won’t agree to it, unless Americans are given blanket immunity from prosecution, or Washington controls who’s indicted.

And it also means that war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides, committed by permanent members of the Security Council and their allies, will never be the subject of a tribunal. Handy, isn’t it?

So, this is what we get as justice. Washington backs fascist elements in Croatia and Islamists in Bosnia and Kosovo connected to Osama bin Laden, the Yugoslav federation spins apart under the pressure of the centrifugal forces nurtured by Security Council members, and the Serbs, at the center of the opposition, are branded the new Nazis, and are brought before a Security Council created tribunal to answer for crimes against humanity by the very forces that set in motion the descent into war and terrorism and chaos, and now, growing poverty.

Justice? How about its very antithesis?

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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