Charges against Milosevic reveal NATO's larger crimes

by Stephen Gowans

George Orwell once said that a lot of journalism is like prefabricated hen houses -- ready-made phrases and ideas slapped together without a lot of thought. Orwell's ghost must have smiled knowingly, reading media reports of Milosevic's abduction and transfer to The Hague. Drawing from a warehouse of ready made fallacies, one journalist noted there was an estimated 10,000 deaths related to Milosevic's crackdown in Kosovo. Passed from journalist to journalist, this canard spreads like a virus. After at time, it becomes part of the zeitgeist, accepted by all, because it's accepted by everyone else, even though it has no roots in reality, like people believing the earth is flat in the face of plenty of opportunities to see it isn't. Alan Freeman, a correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail, dragged out the 10,000 dead myth, even though his own newspaper has run articles on forensic pathologists failing to turn up the 10,000 dead NATO warned darkly of. That is that NATO once warned darkly of.  NATO long ago backed away from the 10,000 dead figure. But once a virus starts to spread, it's difficult to stamp out.

So it is that media reports can be built around a myth, despite internal inconsistencies in the report that surrounds it. Freeman, for example, lays out the charges against Milosevic: deportation, murder, persecution. Nothing about genocide. Ten thousand deaths surely ranks as genocide. But Freeman doesn't ask why the genocide charge is absent, doesn't even seem to know that his prefabricated hen house is askew, its angles all wrong.
The charges against Milosevic involve the murder of 391 individuals, not 10,000, something Freeman might not even know. If he does, he's not saying. Nor does he know, or mention, that by the most conservative estimate -- that of Human Rights Watch -- NATO killed 500 civilians in its 78-day aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia, a bombardment that, without the backing of the UN, was illegal. That's in excess of a hundred deaths more than Milosevic is accused of. Other estimates put the civilian death toll higher. Yet NATO said it had to bomb Yugoslavia to stop a genocide.
Of course, the NATO death toll was accidental, NATO-supporters, and journalists, will object.  NATO didn't mean to kill those civilians, so killing them was excusable.  They were unfortunate collateral damage, the phrase Timothy McVeigh, ex-US serviceman, invoked to explain away the hundreds he murdered.  He learned well.
Journalist haven't always had such an exculpatory attitude to aerial bombardment and its inevitable toll of "accidental" civilian casualties. Consider this, from the New York Times, May 10, 1940.
"(Three bombers) whipped down to the valley, whirled around and came back again...They knew what they were doing.  They knew they were destroying private houses in a helpless village...and people in those houses if they were not quick enough.
The story of air warfare of this sort has been told and retold...It is not an accidental atrocity'...It is an attested, studied, boasted method of attack.  These are the gangsters of the air."
It could have been a comment on NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia, or,  in particular, on the attack on the quiet Serb town of Varvaran, well away from the fighting, where, one day, two years ago, a NATO jet fighter swooped down on a bridge filled with civilians, fired a missile, and then came back for a second attack while rescuers were pulling the dead and wounded from the rubble. But it wasn't. It was a comment on a Nazi air raid in Norway. The Nazis were the last to bomb Yugoslavia...that is, before  NATO decided to see what cluster bombs, depleted uranium, cruise missiles and high-altitude bombing could do to embassies, radio-television buildings, trains, factories, refugee convoys, hospitals, bridges and...people.
If you're going to be gangsters of the air for 78 days, in violation of international law, killing hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, destroying civilian and economic infrastructure in contravention of the articles of war, then you'd better be able to show that you have a compelling reason. The murder of 391 people, by most standards, is hardly compelling. Which is why it's handy that the media is willing to trot out the myth about 10,000 deaths in Kosovo. It makes the NATO assault seem worth it, even necessary.
It's handy too that the media raises no embarrassing questions about the timing of the bombing. All of the murders of which Milosevic is accused, but one, happened after the NATO bombing commenced. And the one pre-bombing incident, the Racak massacre, is now believed to have been faked by the KLA, an organization which has since been revealed to have been trained, funded, and encouraged by Washington, to oust Milosevic. Before the bombing the State Department denounced the KLA as a terrorist organization. The KLA has since transmuted into the NLA, another terrorist organization, this time bedevilling the Macedonian government.
And what of the deportation charges? The mass exodus from Kosovo, like the massacres Milosevic is accused of ordering, happened  after the bombing. In other words, Milosevic is in The Hague to answer for crimes that could not have been the reason for NATO's bombing, unless, somehow the universe has become disordered and cause follows effect. So why did NATO trample international law, don the cloak of humanitarianism, and reduce a country to rubble?
Stratfor, the strategic forecasting organization, warns that Americans may be hoisted on their petards. If you can send Milosevic to The Hague on charges of deportation, persecution, and murder, you can send scores of leaders, political and military, to The Hague, including Americans, Stratfor warns. Imagine how many Israeli leaders could be sent to The Hague. Imagine how many NATO leaders could stand in the docket on more serious charges: crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes.
The reality, however, as Stratfor is quick to point out, is that "No court in the world has the ability to coerce China, Russia or the United States to hand over a current or former leader."  Or to hand over leaders of strategic allies, like NATO partners.
Carla del Ponte, Chief UN Prosecutor, told a news conference that, "Nobody is above the law or beyond the reach of international justice." And yet asked why the Tribunal isn't pursuing others who are alleged to have committed war crimes, del Ponte replied, ""The primary focus of the Office of the Prosecutor must be on the investigation and prosecution of the (leaders of Yugoslavia) and Serbia who have already  been indicted." By a most curious logic, "nobody", in del Ponte's reasoning, is equivalent to "all but the Serbs."
And so the second NATO campaign begins. The first was a campaign of bombs, missiles, and civilian deaths, explained away, Timothy McVeigh-like, as unfortunate accidents. The second is a bombardment of lies.

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


by courtesy & 2001 Steve Gowans

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