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Posted: July 09, 2001

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Perspective

 
Even when they condemn victors' justice, the media supports it

by Stephen Gowans

The headline was promising enough. "International Law Should Not Be Victors' Justice." And  "Indicted or convicted war criminals are all citizens of small, poor countries."  Unfortunately, Richard Gwyn, the Toronto Star columnist whose July 4th column begins so auspiciously, never really got to the finish, tripped up by errors along the way.

It started out badly when Gwyn pointed out that freelance journalist Robert Scheer had argued in the Los Angeles Times that Robert McNamara, the U.S. defense secretary during the Vietnam War, ought to be tried as a war criminal.  Slobodan Milosevic may have been accused of cracking down on the civilian population of Kosovo, but McNamara, noted Scheer, had defined much of South Vietnam as a free-fire zone, where anyone could be killed, men, women, children.
 
Moreover, millions of Vietnamese civilians were killed, whereas the charges against Milosevic extend to 391 deaths. The usual defense big powers make against civilian deaths is that they were accidental -- collateral damage. We didn't mean to do it. But can you kill millions of civilians accidentally?
 
So, not only were McNamara's crimes and those Milosevic is alleged to have committed qualitatively alike, McNamara's were quantitatively greater. So why isn't McNamara under indictment?
 
Gwyn acknowledges Scheer has a point, but dismisses it as extreme. Why the point is extreme, Gwyn doesn't say. He probably means the point has uncomfortable implications for people in authority, and hence, is best not pursued by columnists who prefer to stay on the right side of traditional power structures.
 
One stumble behind him, Gwyn staggers on to the next.  "Milosevic appeared in court in The Hague to hear the charges against him - genocide and violations of human rights in Kosovo."  Except Milosevic didn't appear in court to hear charges of genocide read against him. That's because the charges don't include genocide. There are charges of persecution, of deportation, of murder, but not genocide.

Genocide charges arose from the fertile imaginations of NATO spin doctors, needing a pretext to justify a massive campaign of aerial bombing. As Paul Buteux, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba put it, "I have no doubt that whoever was putting those intelligence reports together prior to the NATO air campaign would be under pressure to put things in the worst possible light.  There was a point when the spin doctors came in."

In recent days, the NATO spin has been resurrected by the media, trotted out to be placed prominently in stories of Milosevic's appearance in the dock at The Hague.

Gwyn's third faux pas: "The case against Milosevic is overwhelming,"  he writes. This from a  man who can't get the charges straight. Needless to say, Gwyn's a little sketchy on the evidence, presenting...well, presenting none.

Those of a more pensive bent than Gwyn, might wonder just how overwhelming the case against Milosevic really is. An AFP story has chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announcing July 3rd that the trial could last 10 years. One could hardly imagine a air-tight case taking 10 years.

Meanwhile, in a June 29th report, Jane's Security warns that " obtaining a successful prosecution may prove far more difficult" than spiriting Milosevic to The Hague. "The main problem," the reports says, "is likely to be a lack of  hard evidence to connect the ousted head of state with actual crimes alleged to have been committed on the ground in Kosovo."

Hard evidence of genocide is certainly hard to come by, which may be why a genocide charge hasn't been made by the Hague Tribunal. NATO, which once issued foreboding warnings of 100,000 corpses littered throughout Kosovo, and then decided 10,000 was more believable, long ago backed away from even the 10,000 claim, acknowledging that the body count is well below 10,000. Dr. Peter Markesteyn, a Winnipeg forensic pathologist who was among the first war crimes investigators to arrive in Kosovo after NATO ended its bombing campaign, said "We were told there were 100,000 bodies everywhere. We performed 1,800 autopsies -- that's it."

Fewer than 2,000 corpses. None found in the Trepca mines. No remains in the vats of sulphuric acid. Most found in isolated graves -- not in the mass graves NATO warned about. And no clue as to whether the bodies were those of KLA fighters, civilians, even whether they were Serbs or ethnic Albanians.

No wonder then that of all the incidents on which  Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted for war crimes, the total body count is not 10,000, not even 1,800 -- but 391!

But then maybe Gwyn is privy to information war crimes investigators and, even The Hague Tribunal itself, doesn't know about it. Or maybe not. Maybe he just lives in the rich fantasy world, called the media, which exists in parallel with the real world, with only the most tenuous of connections to what really goes on. A world that doesn't threaten established authority or great powers or victor's justice.

An extreme view? Gwyn thinks so.

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

Source:

by courtesy & 2001 Steve Gowans

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