Illusions of Truth and Justice

After a month-long hiatus, Slobodan Milosevic’s show trial before the Hague Inquisition reopened last week. As expected, no one looked back on the prosecution’s fiasco just before the recess, when their star witness turned around and exonerated Milosevic. Rade Markovic, former head of Serbian State Security, also accused the new Belgrade authorities of abuse and suborning perjury.

But there was no talk of forced testimonies when the "trial" resumed. Markovic was disappeared down the memory hole, and no one in officialdom seems concerned about his fate. Yet that would be a legitimate concern, given the propensity of Inquisition’s prisoners to end up dead or worse.

Having failed to bully Markovic into fingering his former president, the Inquisition finds itself running both out of time and out of lies. With only a week or so remaining for the Kosovo stage of the process, they have opted to recycle old, debunked accusations in a last-ditch effort to sling enough mud so some of it would stick.

The Impossible Prison Massacre

Much of last week’s proceedings revolved around the allegation, brought forward by two KLA members, that Serbian police massacred the inmates of Dubrava prison near Istok, just after NATO bombed the penitentiary. The media had a field day with this. Not only did they describe Musa Krasniqi, the first KLA witness, as a "physics teacher" and buried the references to his KLA membership elsewhere in their dispatches, they also presented his allegations as factual. Similar treatment was given the other witness, Gani Beqaj, though his peacetime profession was never mentioned. Perhaps it lacked that "instant credibility" of teaching physics…

According to Krasniqi and Beqaj, the prisoners were rounded up in the courtyard, then machine-gunned. Those who escaped (how?) were hunted down with hand grenades for two days. Yet both of them, and many other prisoners, stayed alive and unharmed. They were later transferred to other prisons and "told to say all prisoners were killed by NATO."

One can be forgiven for thinking this story somewhat less than plausible, and it’s obvious as to why. Even the dumbest criminal out there would never tell his intended victims they were about to be killed as part of a frame-up, then leave many of them alive and unharmed. And Milosevic is accused of being a criminal mastermind who "covered up his crimes" so well that the Inquisition can’t find any evidence of it!

Wisdom of the BBC

The triumphant Inquisitors next referred to a Human Rights Watch report about the incident. The report was, naturally, based on interviews with "NATO and former Dubrava inmates," and not those evil, deceptive Serbs, so it must be true, right?

The highlight of the show was Jackie Rowland of the BBC, who volunteered to testify even as many of her colleagues were protesting the decision to subpoena (Western) journalists against their will. In a passionate recounting of her testimony for the Guardian, Rowland reveals her arrogance and ignorance. She mistook sarcasm for praise, proudly spouted inaccurate "history," and provided the entire sordid affair with a delightfully quotable but utterly meaningless "expert opinion":

"If I look at you now, Mr Milosevic, I can see that you have both your arms. I can see the features on your face. I can see that your body is intact. If however, you were hit by a bomb – heaven forbid – I think I would be able to tell by looking at your body whether that was the manner of your death."

But neither Milosevic, nor anyone in the Serbian government, ever claimed that each and every prisoner at Dubrava was killed by a direct hit of a NATO bomb. Fewer people are killed by direct bomb hits than by lightning. When a building is bombed, people are killed by debris, shockwave, shrapnel, even airburst. Rowland was making a dumb statement and being snooty about it.

Absent Men and Albanian Songs

The process continued this week with a witness who claimed only Albanian houses in his town were burned. Behar Haxhiavdija told a sordid tale of arson in his home town, but no one seemed to correct his geography: "Gjakova," the town mentioned in agency reports, is the Albanian name for occupied Djakovica. Language aside, one glaring inconsistency found its way to an AP report of Haxhiavdija’s tale:

"Most of the victims were dragged from the basement and shot, but his 5-year-old son was put in a cupboard and burned alive, said a witness who was hiding in a house nearby." [emphasis added]

Was this Haxhiavdija speaking, or another witness? The indefinite article suggests him quoting someone else, i.e. hearsay evidence. If he was present, how did he survive? Such questions are not expected to come up, given the shocking image of a 5-year-old burning in a cupboard.

Another testimony featured a bereaved Lirij Imeraj, who claimed Serb soldiers "singing in Serb-Croat language and Albanian," came to her house in March 1999, and shot her husband and six children. Imeraj and her three children survived and ran off to Montenegro (part of Yugoslavia).

Why would soldiers on a murder spree spare a woman and three children, but kill her husband and the other six? More to it, why would they be singing in Albanian? Milosevic asked the same question, but Imeraj said it was "impossible, not at all possible" that the killers were KLA. She claims the murderers were Serbs, and that she knew them – yet she named no names, at least none that appeared in the AP story covering the testimony.

The Incredibly Elusive Fridge Trucks

Finally, this Tuesday, the prosecutors resurrected the accusation used to abduct Milosevic and send him to The Hague: refrigerator trucks filled with Albanians’ bodies.

One Caslav Golubovic, whose position in the Serbian police hierarchy agency reports never properly clarified, said a truck with 30 bodies was pulled out of the Danube river in April 1999 (during the bombing). Golubovic claimed the truck was blown up and the bodies removed under orders from Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Serbia’s Interior Minister. He also said the orders came to him through General Vlastimir Djordjevic.

There are several problems with Golubovic’s story. It conveniently blames people who can’t be questioned: Djordjevic has disappeared, and Stojiljkovic publicly committed suicide in April. Then there is an exhaustive study by an American scholar, showing that the "refrigerator truck" story was never more than a malicious, unsubstantiated rumor: there has been no evidence to it whatsoever.

But the Inquisition certainly doesn’t care. Lack of evidence is by itself evidence of Milosevic’s criminal mastermind, right? As long as they can find some patsy to say the lines, they don’t need no stinkin’ evidence!

Perhaps one shouldn’t be so harsh on Golubovic. It’s hard to tell what he actually said, given the agencies’ habit of printing out-of-context snippets in a sea of drivel. But that doesn’t change the fact that the refrigerator truck story is bogus.

Burden of Proof

In a recent interview with a pro-NATO journalist and a leader of the International Committee to Defend Milosevic (ICDSM), a BBC journalist claimed the war crimes have been "proven." But where is the evidence? All the world has heard so far have been the testimonies of dozens of coached Albanian villagers, KLA leaders and sympathizers, NATO officials, pro-NATO diplomats and journalists, and the Inquisition’s own "experts". The "evidence" they produced would have been thrown out of any American court any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

Systematic Crimes

Now no one even remotely sane would dispute that the Yugoslav Succession Wars (1991-95) and the conflict in Kosovo were rife with atrocities. The real question is, were those atrocities systematic?

It is obvious from the Inquisition’s indictments that the "international community" (the Empire and its allies) believes that Serb atrocities were systematic, while others were random. Only Serb government leaders, in Bosnia as well as Serbia, stand accused of war crimes. Only Serbs are charged with genocide – by definition, a systematic crime. Only Serbs are accused of a "joint criminal enterprise."

Methods employed, or allegedly employed, by Milosevic’s government or the Bosnian Serbs are routinely deemed genocidal and criminal, but when employed by NATO, there is "no need for investigation." Same with the U.S., Croatians, Bosnian Muslims or the KLA.

This makes sense only if seen through the logic of total war, where the "righteous" can employ any means necessary to defeat the "evil." Naturally, the definition of "righteous" and "evil" depends on who has more bombs and better press coverage.

Monsters’ Ball

Of course, the state itself is a criminal institution, using coercion to deprive its residents of their liberty, property and life (when it fights wars, as most states do). So essentially, every head of state is a criminal. From that standpoint, Slobodan Milosevic is clearly guilty of being head of state, and doing what any head of state would do in his place. And those persecuting him are no less guilty, of the same infractions and then some. Yet they claim absolute innocence and the right to judge others, as some sort of über-government.

Milosevic’s regime at least prosecuted several hundred soldiers and militia who were accused of looting, murder, arson and other atrocities. The world is yet to see any Imperial troops answer for their deeds: not because there weren’t any – for there were, and plenty – but because the Empire considers itself above the law. The Hague may be a monster’s ball, but the monster is not Milosevic.

A Factory of Lies

Power needs no justification to act as it wishes, just as its "courts" need no evidence to proclaim guilt. It does need, however, to manufacture consent for its continued survival by creating perceptions of righteousness and legitimacy.

An amazing number of people still misguidedly believe that the Hague Inquisition is a legitimate court, staffed by impartial prosecutors and judges, which seeks to punish perpetrators of war crimes for the sake of peace, justice and individualized guilt.

But as real, not manufactured, evidence shows each day the charade continues, the so-called "court" in the Netherlands is nothing more than Empire’s vicious factory of lies.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.