In the great film with Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, the "Witness for the Prosecution" appears in court and gives exactly the opposite testimony from what was expected. You would not know it from our media which passed over the event in silence but the same thing happened at The Hague recently, in the most important war crimes trial since Nuremberg, that of the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic. One of the prosecution’s star witnesses said precisely the opposite of what he was supposed to say, dealing what seemed like a fatal blow to a prosecution case which was already reeling from several previous blunders.
The star witness in question was Rade Markovic, the former head of the Yugoslav secret services. Before he appeared in the witness box, the media universally hailed him as the insider who would finally give the clinching testimony that Milosevic had personally ordered the persecution of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. This is the single issue which NATO uses to justify its otherwise illegal attacks on Yugoslavia: without it, the moral justification for NATO’s war in 1999 completely disappears.
The urge to hear Markovic’s testimony was all the greater because the prosecution’s last “star witness” had been a severe embarrassment. Ratomir Tanic had presented himself as another “insider”, and had claimed that he had actually been present when Milosevic gave the genocidal order. Under cross-examination, however, Tanic was shown to be an agent of the secret services of various Western countries, and to be so unfamiliar with the corridors of power that he could not even say what floor in the presidential palace Milosevic’s office had been on.
The embarrassment over Tanic was equalled only by that caused when an Albanian witness produced a list of names, which he alleged was of Albanians whom the Serb police were to execute. On closer examination, the list turned out to be a fake: the spelling mistakes were so numerous that only an Albanian could have written them.
Enter, therefore, Radomir Markovic, the secret police chief who knew more about what was going on in Yugoslavia than anyone else. But, in painstakingly detailed testimony lasting nearly three hours, he told the court that Milosevic had never ordered the expulsion of the Albanian population of Kosovo; that the former president had repeatedly issued instructions to the police and the army to respect the laws of war, and to protect the civilian population, even if it meant compromising the battle against Albanian terrorists; and that the mass exodus of Albanians during the Nato bombing was caused not by Serb forces but instead by the Kosovo Liberation Army itself, which needed a constant flow of refugees to maintain the support of Western public opinion for the Nato campaign.
“Did you ever get any kind of report,” Milosevic asked him,”or have you ever heard of an order, to expel Albanians from Kosovo?” “No, I never heard of such an order. Nobody ever ordered for Albanians from Kosovo to be expelled,” Markovic replied. “Did you receive any information about any plan, suggestion or de facto influence that Albanians were to be expelled?” asked Milosevic. Reply: “No, I never heard of such a suggestion to expel Albanians from Kosovo.” “At the meetings you attended, is it true that completely the opposite is said, namely that we always insisted that civilians be protected, and that they not be hurt in the process of anti-terrorist operations?” “Certainly,” said the witness. “The task was not only to protect Serbs but also Albanian civilians.” “Is it not true that we tried to persuade the flow of refugees to stay at home, and that the army and police would protect them?” the former president asked. “Yes, that was the instruction and those were the assignments.” “Do you know that the Kosovo Liberation Army told people to leave, and to stage an exodus?” “Yes,” said Markovic. “I am aware of that.”
The media greeted this stunning evidence with complete silence. Indeed, it even failed to report the most extraordinary assertion of all made by Markovic, namely that he had effectively been tortured by the new pro-Western authorities in Belgrade, in order to make him testify against Milosevic. Markovic claimed that the new Minister of the Interior in the Western-backed government in Belgrade had taken him out to dinner and offered him release from prison where he has been incarcerated for over a year now and a new identity in a country of his choice, if only he would agree to testify against his former boss at The Hague. As Slobodan Milosevic tried to point out in his cross-examination until he was interrupted by the judge, that is it clearly falls under the terms of the United Nations’ definition of “torture” to imprison someone in order to force them to co-operate. Markovic also alleged that the Tribunal’s own prosecutors had falsified and embellished the written statement he had given them.
These were amazing allegations. With them, the whole prosecution case seemed to crumble. But even more stunning was the reaction of the British presiding judge, Sir Richard May. A judge is supposed to be a neutral arbiter between the prosecution and the defence: May, by contrast, has distinguished himself throughout the trial by his belligerence towards Milosevic, who is conducting his own defence, and in particular for his habit of interrupting Milosevic, even sometimes switching off his microphone, whenever the former Yugoslav leader’s cross-examination shows up inconsistencies in a witness’ evidence.
As May listened to Markovic, he tried desperately to stop him making these allegations against the Prosecutors and their allies in Belgrade. When Markovic began to describe his ordeal at the hands of the new Yugoslav government, May silenced him, saying to Milosevic, "This does not appear to have relevance to the evidence which the witness has given here. We are not going to litigate here with what happened to him (i.e. Markovic) in Yugoslavia when he was arrested.” And when Milosevic insisted that the Tribunal’s own investigators had falsified Markovic’s written evidence, May interrupted him tartly by saying, “That is not a comment which it is proper for you to make.” In Judge May’s book, therefore, it is irrelevant if the prosecution is lying, or if it is an accomplice to torture.
Judge Richard May is no stranger to political activity, like the prosecutor, Geoffrey Nice, he is a committed Socialist: he stood as a Labour Party candidate for Finchley in the general election in 1979, where his Conservative opponent was none other than Margaret Thatcher. As a judge on the Midlands Circuit in the 1980s, he would dine out on this story, for which he enjoyed the admiration of his left-wing colleagues. But even this happy admission of political bias could not have prepared anyone for the way he would react to Markovic’s shocking claims.
It gets worse. The Tribunal’s priorities now seem so distorted that they see Milosevic’s “political crime” of resisting NATO as worse than the crimes of physically torturing people to death. On 31st July, the Tribunal ordered the release from custody of a man called Milojica Kos. Kos had served four years of a six-year sentence for murder, torture and persecution as a guard at the notorious Omarska camp in Bosnia, which was compared at the time to a Nazi concentration camp. But the president of the Tribunal, Claude Jorda, said that Kos would be released early because of “his wish to reintegrate himself into society, his determination not to re-offend, his irreproachable conduct in detention, his attachment to his family, and the possibility of exercising a profession again.” No such tolerance will be shown to Milosevic.
These events have provided spectacular proof of what critics have always said that the International Criminal Tribunal is a political kangaroo court in the hands of the West. But political manipulation can work both ways. Tony Blair has been a vigorous supporter of a clone of the Yugoslav tribunal, the new International Criminal Court. But why shouldn’t the new court be as politicised as the present one? Plenty of anti-Western countries, like Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe, have signed the new ICC treaty. If they decided to prosecute Tony Blair for attacking Iraq, say, there is little to stop them especially since the ICC defines “aggression” as a war crime. On his next trip abroad, therefore, Mr. Blair might be wise to pack his toothbrush.