Godfatherly Global Justice: Milosevic, Sharon and Suharto


by Edward S. Herman

The politicisation of the system of global justice has reached new heights over the past decade, with the U.S. Godfather asserting his firmer hegemonic position with an arrogance that is a throwback to Secretary of State Richard Olney's statement back in 1895 that "the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition." Today, by U.S. fiat, a U.S. target anywhere on the earth is almost automatically put under the siege of sanctions, bombing and/or invasion, and possible incarceration of the demonised leader (Manuel Noriega and Panama, Saddam Hussein and Iraq, Slobodan Milosevic and Yugoslavia). On the other hand, a U.S. ally can commit really massive human rights violations and war crimes and be entirely free from penalty, receive economic and military aid and diplomatic support and be treated as an honoured leader (Suharto, until May 1998, Croatia's Franjo Tudjman till his death in 1999, Ariel Sharon today), and can retire in comfort (Haiti's Cedras, El Salvador's Guillermo Garcia, Indonesia's Suharto).


The new system reached its post-Orwellian peak of politicised "justice" on May 24, 1999, when the prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Louise Arbour, announced the indictment of Yugoslav president Milosevic and four associates, for their role in the Racak massacre of January 1999 and the expulsions of thousands of Kosovo Albanians and killing of some 350 of them following the beginning of NATO's bombing on March 24, 1999. The indictment was cobbled together hastily, Arbour mentioning that the investigation was still in process, and expressing her gratitude to the NATO powers for their generous provision of information on Serb war crimes. The indictment was timed perfectly to offset the growing criticism of the NATO bombing, which was increasingly attacking the civilian infrastructure of Yugoslavia in order to hasten that country's surrender. As this NATO policy was in clear violation of the Nuremberg principle barring targets not dictated by "military necessity," the Arbour-ICTY action offered the amazing spectacle of a war crimes tribunal literally servicing the commission of war crimes.


The NATO powers had arranged a cease-fire in Kosovo with Yugoslavia in October 1998, but NATO not only failed to limit the activities of the KLA in the ensuing period, it is now known that the United States had been busily training and arming the KLA and in effect underwriting KLA provocations that would induce the Serbs to attack the KLA and its supporters (Peter Beaumont et al.,"CIA's Bastard Army Ran Riot in Balkans' Back Extremists," Observer [London], March 11, 2001). The German Foreign Office described the Serb actions in Kosovo prior to the NATO bombing as not a case of "ethnic cleansing" but rather brutal policies targeting the KLA and its support base. The numbers killed on all sides in the year before the NATO bombing were in the order of 2,000, and would have been fewer if the NATO powers had put in place their allowable quota of international observers and had not supported the KLA's provocative actions. The one pre-bombing incident mentioned in the indictment, the Racak massacre, has been called into serious question; and at present the most credible among the competing claims is that the "massacre" was a KLA-staged event organised following a fire fight, and quickly accepted as authentic by William Walker, the U.S.-head of the OSCE, and his NATO allies. (Up to this day, the OSCE has refused to release the forensic report on Racak which it hastened to arrange in January 1999). The other events listed in the indictment followed the NATO bombing and were a consequence of the war, hence of the NATO decision to resort to war.


It is also clear that the numbers killed and expelled in Kosovo before March 24, 1999 were not in the same league with the numbers victimised in Turkey's counterinsurgency war against the Kurds in the 1990s (over 30,000 killed, several million made refugees) or the East Timorese victimised by Indonesia in 1999 (probably over 6,000 killed, several hundred thousand made refugees). But Turkey and Indonesia have been U.S. allies and clients, so not only were no tribunals called for or put in place, Turkey was even mobilised as a participant in the war against "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, and both Turkey and Indonesia have continued to receive economic and military aid from the Great Power(s). Ariel Sharon, under whose authority over a hundred civilians were slaughtered at El-Bureig and Qibya in 1953, many thousands were killed in the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, with between 700 and 3,000--mainly women and children--butchered at Sabra-Shatila in that year, is the Israeli head of state today, treated as an honoured statesman. (The civilian casualties at Qibya, El-Bureig and Sabra-Shatila alone, are conservatively estimated at more than ten times the lifetime killings of the feared terrorist Carlos the Jackal, now housed in a French prison).


It goes without saying that the Godfather's own war crimes and support of genocidists are exempt from punishment, and in recognition of global "realities" they are rarely even mentioned. He may be responsible for a million Iraqi deaths from "sanctions of mass destruction," but he will not be troubled by any threats or even audible accusations from the New Humanitarian keepers of the global conscience like Vaclav Havel, Bernard Kouchner, Susan Sontag, David Rieff, or Michael Ignatieff. In the Yugoslavia case, he is safe from any charges for bombing hundreds of civilian targets, or for his failure to prevent a massive REAL ethnic cleansing in Kosovo under NATO authority after June 10, 1999, by his de facto control of the ICTY agenda. Not only is his collaboration with the Croatian army in the killing of hundreds of Krajina Serbs and expelling 200,000 of them beyond prosecution, his refusal to supply information on the Croatian army's actions precluded any ICTY prosecution of these U.S.-supported killers (Raymond Bonner, "War Crimes Panel Finds Croat Troops 'Cleansed' the Serbs," New York Times, March 21, 1999). The Tribunal did, however, bring two indictments for misconduct in Krajina, but both of them, Radoslav Brdjanin and Momir Talic, were Serbs, indicted back in 1991.


In the case of Indonesia and East Timor, there has been no pressure from the Great Power(s) or "international community" to establish a tribunal to bring General Wiranto to book for his crimes in East Timor in 1998 and 1999 that were more serious than those spelled out in the May 24, 1999 indictment of Milosevic, or to deal with the triple genocidist General Suharto. This was to be left to the Indonesian authorities, partly on the ground that external intervention might "destabilise" Indonesia! The Godfather and his loyal cronies knew that this was tantamount to granting impunity to the Indonesian war criminals, but these were OUR war criminals and impunity was the aim. By contrast, Milosevic is to be brought to book at all costs, and there is no concern that blackmailing the Yugoslav government into turning him over to the ICTY might destabilise Yugoslavia. Having virtually destroyed the country, why would there be any worry over political destabilisation?


The Great Power(s) use of money and bullying tactics to manipulate the affairs of small states is hardly new. The United States intervened in the Nicaraguan elections of 1984 and 1990 with financial and technical aid to the side it favoured, and in 1990 it also used a blackmail threat,  warning that only a Sandinista defeat would end sanctions and proxy warfare via the contras. Similarly, the United States intervened with financial aid in the Yugoslav election that ousted Milosevic, and in a rather crude process it and its allies have made economic aid contingent on turning Milosevic over to the Hague Tribunal. The sums that Yugoslavia will get will be tiny in relation to the damage the NATO bombings and sanctions caused that country, the action violates the Yugoslav constitution and due process ("cannot be considered legal or  “constitutional," as President Kostunica himself stated on June 24 {he allegedly favoured a trial within Yugoslavia, but was overridden), and it represents a humiliating and unwarranted admission of national guilt, but the politicians funded by NATO were determined to please the Great Power(s) at any legal and moral cost.


And the illegal methods employed in bringing Milosevic to The Hague fit well the new system of global justice, with Sharon treated as a respectable leader and Suharto exempt from prosecution for war crimes, and only the Godfather's targets subject to New World Order "law." There is a small debate on the left as to whether we are dealing here with a "double standard" or single standard. Actually, it is both: it is a double standard in the sense that the theoretically applicable principles are applied differently to friends and enemies, with enemies held to a standard that the Godfather himself as well as his allies could never meet and never have to meet. It is a single standard in that the Godfather is very consistent in dealing with his friends one way-- granting them immunity for crimes--while treating targets with unrelenting hostility.


Beyond the selectivity in target, it should be recognised that the ICTY is a kangaroo court that has not performed much more judicially than the Stalinist courts of the 1930s. Its hyper- politicisation was dramatically displayed in the rush indictment of Milosevic to meet the  pressing public relations need of NATO in May 1999, as well as in its followup blanket exemption of NATO's numerous war crimes. But there have also been numerous detailed demonstrations that in its day-to-day legal work the ICTY has violated virtually every accepted Western standard of good judicial practice--among other things, accepting hearsay evidence and the testimony of anonymous witnesses; permitting double jeopardy; dispensing with juries; and rejecting the notion of innocence till proven guilty (for summaries and details, Christopher Black and Edward Herman, "An Unindicted War Criminal: Louise Arbour and the International Crimes Tribunal," Z, Feb. 2000; Mirjana Skoco and William Woodger, "War Crimes," in Hammond and Herman, Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis).


Some have argued that as Milosevic is a bad man we should not be troubled by his being brought to The Hague and tried. If we can't get all the bad guys, why shouldn't we be satisfied with some? This is a seriously mistaken argument. For one thing, biased justice is no justice at all. Apart from making a fair trial for the bad man extremely unlikely, this biased process is the counterpart of exoneration of the NATO villains and others within Yugoslavia that they favour (e.g., the Croatian managers of the Krajina massacres and expulsions). Clinton, Albright, Blair, Schroder and company bear very heavy responsibility for the breakup of Yugoslavia, having done this is a manner that encouraged ethnic cleansing instead of seeking modes of conflict resolution, and in Kosovo resorting to war instead of working out a negotiated settlement. This was a war of aggression and vengeance by imperialist bullies that culminated their destabilising interventions in Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s, with no constructive end or result. (See David Chandler and Diana Johnstone in Degraded Capability; Robert Hayden, Blueprints for a House Divided.)


As a supposedly independent tribunal has honed in on their targeted villain, the indictment and trial of Milosevic vindicates a false NATO-apologetic view of Balkan history as a product of a demon out of control, and it helps portray Clinton, Blair and company as humanitarian warriors, managing a humane imperialism. It also deflects attention from the Godfather's support of equally or more murderous allied villains in Indonesia, Turkey, Colombia, and the Middle East, and his own criminal operation in Iraq, all of which are tribunal free. In short, it provides the moral basis and sets the stage for further imperial interventions under the guise of protecting human rights. (See David Chandler, Human Rights and International Intervention: The Ethical Assault on Democracy, forthcoming from Verso; Noam Chomsky, The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo.)


 This article originally appeared as a Z-Net Commentary on July 4, 2001. Z-Net Commentaries are sent to Sustainer Donors of Z/ZNet. To find out more about the project, consult ZNet or the ZNet Sustainer Pages here