Milosevic indictment unwelcome step forward for hypocrisy

by Stephen Gowans
While there are many examples of the United States turning a blind eye to dictators and human rights repression where it suits its strategic interests, Israel's crackdown on the Palestinian uprising offers an instructive current example of a war criminal, violations of international law, and severe human rights abuses being tolerated at the same time the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic is held up as proof of the West's attachment to human rights and intolerance of war crimes.
And much of what Milosevic is accused of appears to be pure fiction, the outcome of a concerted and successful propaganda campaign to justify Nato intervention in the Balkans.
Israel represents the beneficiary of a propaganda campaign from the other side. Not of crimes that are manufactured out of whole cloth, or of legitimate police actions amplified into gross human rights violations, but of crimes cleansed, obscured, minimized and denied.
Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, is considered a war criminal by many, not the least for his connections to the infamous Sabra and Shatilla massacres. The Israeli Defense Forces have been condemned by Amnesty International for acts that border on war crimes. Israeli abuses, tolerated by the West, have been carried out in illegally occupied territory. The Serb crack down on secessionist KLA guerillas, punished by the West, occurred in sovereign territory. The Serbs agreed to an international presence in their own country, rejected by Nato in favor of bombing. Israel refuses to accept an international presence in territory it has no right to occupy, and is backed by the US.
But there are no indictments of Sharon, no official expressions of outrage at Israeli abuses, no denunciation of Israel's record of ethnic cleansing, no Western pressure on Israel to quit the occupied territories, no war crimes tribunals, and no bombing. Just US pressure on Belgrade to turn Milosevic over to the UN.
As for Nato, it has its own war crimes to confront, in private anyway, since the chances of the US-led alliance's transgressions ever being confronted in Western parliaments, legislatures, cabinet rooms, or in news rooms and editorial offices, will have to wait, perhaps forever. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over violations of humanitarian law in Nato's 78-day air war against Yugoslavia. Amnesty International goes further, pointing to possible war crimes, like Nato's bombing of the Serb Radio-Television building, a target without military significance.
Whether the UN will investigate incidents as these, let alone indict Nato for the crimes the alliance committed in Yugoslavia, is doubtful. The war crimes tribunal has too many connections to Washington, and London, and Ottawa, to be impartial. Louise Arbour, the former UN war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia, now a Canadian Supreme Court Justice, was personally selected by Madeliene Albright, US Secretary of State during the Nato bombing campaign. One of Nato's leaders during the bombing campaign, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, appointed Arbour to Canada's highest court.
Star Chamber is an apt description of the UN war crimes tribunal, breathtakingly illustrated by the audacity of its chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, in resisting Amnesty International's calls for an investigation into Nato's war crimes, by threatening to indict Milosevic for the deaths of the civilians who died in the Nato bombing of the Radio-Television building.
As for Milosevic, it's not at all clear what crimes he's committed. Confronted by pathologists' reports, Nato now acknowledges there weren't 100,000 Albanian Kosovars brutally murdered, as the alliance originally charged. Nor even 10,000, a number Nato later floated. Some 2,000 corpses have been uncovered by pathologists, not in mass graves as Nato warned, none at the bottom of the Trepca mines, most buried singly or in pairs. How many corpses were KLA guerillas, how many Albanian Kosovar "traitors" executed by the KLA, how many Serb, and how many ethnic Albanian civilians, is unclear. It was widely acknowledged that in the year before Nato's 1999 bombing campaign there were some 2,000 deaths on both sides, what you might expect of a civil war, not a systematic program of ethnic cleansing. The pathologists reports back that up.
Still, the genocide charges linger, a hangover of Nato's earlier propaganda. But they don't square with the indictment. All the incidents Milosevic is indicted for, but one, occurred after Nato's bombing campaign, and the one pre-bombing incident, the Racak massacre, cited as the watershed event that tipped the balance in favor of Nato sending bombers in droves to strike Serb targets, now appears to have been faked by the KLA, possibly with US complicity (see Sorting through the lies of the Racak massacre and other myths of Kosovo, How Racak can be called the watershed event when the war crimes tribunal hasn't adduced any incident before Racak boggles the mind.
How much substance does the indictment have? Given Nato's long track record of telling tall tales, and its apparent control over the UN Tribunal, odds are, not much. The odds Milosevic will ever receive a fair trial are similarly infinitesimal. That alone ought to be reason enough to oppose his being turned over to the Hague.
Meanwhile, Israeli bulldozers rumble through Palestinian villages, extrajudicial assassinations are carried out, and the number of dead and injured Palestinians grows. Last week the death toll topped 500.
Somewhere in Serbia, a woman is drinking a glass of water, drawn from a river polluted by the tons of carcinogens released into the water after petrochemical plants were bombed by Nato planes. A friend, a neighbor, a relative, perhaps a mother or father or child or husband, may have been among the hundreds, if not thousands, killed by Nato bombs, or among the many more permanently injured. In twenty years, she too may join the victims of Nato's war, a death statistic in a cancer ward, never attributed to the Nato bombing, but a victim all the same. Perhaps her child will one day be dismembered by an unexploded Nato cluster bomb, an indiscriminate, criminal means of killing, used by an alliance that boasted of its surgical, pinpoint precision bombing. And its humanitarianism.
As Israeli bulldozers flatten Palestinian homes, and Serbs live with the devastation of their country, the US, and much of the Western world, cheers the indictment of Milosevic, blind to the Palestinians who can't go home, oblivious to the Serb victimized by Nato bombs, unaware of Nato perversions of international law, and indifferent to something called justice.
The Toronto Globe and Mail's lead May 7th, 2001 editorial says Milosevic's being served an indictment for war crimes is a welcome step forward for Yugoslavia. Is it, or is it an unwelcome step forward for hypocrisy; more smoke to cover up Nato's own war crimes; another step to justify the unremitting encroachment of US control over another part of the world?

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

by courtesy & 2001 Steve Gowans

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