Slobodan Milosevic is characterized in the obituaries as the "Butcher of
the Balkans." If that is the story you want to read about, please go to almost
any other media outlet and read it again and again. Some are now suggesting that
death is Milosevic's final revenge, that he "ended up cheating history"
by dying before judgment was passed. But the world has already passed judgment
on Milosevic, and what is being cheated by his death is history itself.
What the corporate media overwhelmingly ignores in Milosevic's death
is what they ignored in his life as well – his intimate knowledge of U.S.
war crimes in Yugoslavia. While Milosevic was undoubtedly a war criminal
who deserved to be tried for his crimes, he was also the only man in the unique
position of being able to expose and detail the full extent of the U.S. role
in the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In fact, that is precisely
what he was fighting to do at his war crimes trial when he died.
Because of the rule of victors' justice in the ad hoc tribunal system (a poor
and unfair substitute for a true international court), Milosevic's case would
have been the only international trial to potentially expose the details of
the illegal, U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999. While
the U.S.-backed court consistently tried to limit Milosevic's right to speak,
stripping him of his right to self-representation, Milosevic battled regularly
to raise U.S. war crimes. Sadly, with Milosevic will likely die the last hope
the victims of these crimes in Yugoslavia had of getting their day (if it could
even be called that) in court – a tragic and unjust reality to begin with
that speaks volumes about the twisted state of international justice.
Milosevic's cause, regardless of what one thinks of it, was a casualty of 9/11
– an event that relegated him and his trial to the annals of history before
it was even over. Most people in the world – with the exception of those
in the Balkans, where the proceedings were broadcast live, daily – probably
didn't even know Milosevic was still on trial in The Hague. It became an obscure
sideshow to the blood and gore unfolding constantly on the international stage.
Milosevic's death means that those who bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days beginning
seven years ago this month, killing thousands, will be once and for all protected
from any public scrutiny for their crimes. However opportunistic Milosevic may
have been, he would have been one of the few people to appear at The Hague who
could have – and would have – laid out these crimes in great detail.
Now, there is almost certain to be no condemnation of the U.S. bombing of Radio
Television Serbia, killing 16 media workers; the cluster bombing of the Nis
marketplace, shredding human beings into meat; the use of depleted uranium munitions;
and the targeting of petrochemical plants, causing toxic chemical waste to pour
into the Danube River. There will be no condemnation of the bombing of Albanian
refugees by the U.S., or the deliberate targeting of a civilian passenger train,
or the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Milosevic also would have
discussed how the U.S. supports a regime in Kosovo that has systematically expelled
Serbs, Romas, and other ethnic minorities from their homes and burned down scores
of churches. He would have discussed the role of the U.S. in funding and arming
the Kosovo Liberation Army, which operates like a death squad, and how the new
prime minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, is a U.S.-trained war criminal who gained
infamy in both the Bosnian war and the 1999 Kosovo conflict. And Milosevic would
have talked of the U.S. interference in the Yugoslav elections in 2000 and the
ultimate neoliberal takeover that was the aim of Clinton's sanctions and 78
days of bombing. In reality, it would have fallen on deaf ears, but it would
have been stated for the record.
It is ironic that Milosevic's last legal battle was an attempt to compel his
old friend-turned-nemesis Bill Clinton to testify at his trial. If successful,
Milosevic would have grilled the man who was U.S. president through the entire
Yugoslav war in what would have been a fiery direct examination. Clinton and
Milosevic were once pals who talked collective strategy in the 1990s. Milosevic
had many damning stories to tell and, without a doubt, uncomfortable questions
to ask Clinton. The judges in Milosevic's case clearly worked to keep those
moments from ever happening, and the U.S. government made clear its forceful
opposition to such subpoenas of U.S. officials, even considering invading a
country that would put a U.S. official on trial. With or without Clinton, Milosevic's
defense would have brought to light some serious documentation of U.S. war crimes,
but he died, muzzled, before he really got started.
Little attention, therefore, has been paid to Milosevic's long-term efforts
– which predated 9/11, the 1999 NATO bombing, and his own trial –
to expose the presence of al-Qaeda in the Balkans, from Bosnia to Kosovo. With
9/11, Milosevic's talk of al-Qaeda was easily dismissed as laughable, pathetic
opportunism. But those who followed Milosevic's career and more importantly
the events of the 1990s in Yugoslavia know it was not. Those allegations were
based on events the U.S. does not want discussed in an international court.
Following the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, many mujahedin
eventually turned their sights on Yugoslavia, where they went to fight alongside
the Bosnian Muslims against the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Once again,
the U.S. and bin Laden were on the same team. To this day, there are reports
of training camps in Bosnia, which remains under occupation. It is also a likely
training ground for future blowback.
In his opening statement, Milosevic alluded to some of the information he would
introduce during his defense.
"In 1998 when [Clinton envoy Richard] Holbrooke visited us in Belgrade,
we told him the information we had at our disposal, that in Northern Albania
the KLA is being aided by Osama bin Laden, that he was arming, training, and
preparing the members of this terrorist organization in Albania. However,
they decided to cooperate with the KLA and indirectly, therefore, with bin
Laden, although before that he had bombed the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
[and] had already declared war."
Milosevic concluded that "one day all this will have to come to light,
That, however, is unlikely, and more so now that Milosevic is dead.
To be sure, there will never be indictments of these U.S. war criminals
at The Hague: Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Jamie Rubin, William Cohen,
Sandy Berger, Richard Holbrooke, and Wesley Clark. For many of Serbia's victims
of U.S. war crimes, Milosevic's trial was a "Hail Mary" pass, as awful
an historical irony as that is, aimed at someone recognizing their forgotten
It is a sad testimony to the state of international jurisprudence that after
many attempts to find justice, the only hope for U.S. victims in the Yugoslavia
wars was the trial defense of a man many of those same victims despised. If
there was an independent international court that was recognized and respected
by the U.S., those responsible for bombing Yugoslavia would have been alongside
Slobodan Milosevic in the docks these past years instead of having their responsibility
buried with him.