Twisted Words, False Justice

Many words – and through them, concepts – have been cheapened and corrupted by their abuse in the cause of power. “Genocide” is one, used with increasing frequency in victim politics to discredit an enemy and demand assistance. “Terrorism” comes to mind nowadays. There is also the deliberate but erroneous conflation of “liberty” and “democracy,” which a closer examination reveals are actually opposites. And the way “human rights” are construed these days, as well as their “defense,” often means a denial of life, liberty and property – the only true “rights” – for the sake of imposed obligations and forced entitlements.

Over the past decade, one institution has systematically twisted the meaning of “war crimes,” what constitutes them, and who is immune from being accused of them. The US-sponsored, self-styled “tribunal” in The Hague has recently marked its tenth anniversary, though its activities are no cause for celebration. Even more unfortunate is the fact that this Hague Inquisition has been a foundation for establishing several other “courts” of equally dubious repute, from the Rwanda tribunal to the International Criminal Court. Now comes word of an Iraq War Crimes tribunal, to be set up by the US puppet government.

Bad Seed

This latest abuse of “war crimes” as a political weapon is indicative of the degree to which the ICTY’s poison has seeped into the minds of the general public. A desire to cloak everything in the mantle of righteousness, evoking the images of the Nazis facing “justice at Nuremberg,” is a serious impediment to good judgment. How come no one recalls that the gravest crime prosecuted at Nuremberg was not the Holocaust, but the initiation of war? Maybe because under that principle, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would itself be a crime?

One doesn’t need to have observed the Hague Inquisition to know the Iraqi “tribunal” is going to be a joke. But it helps.

Bloviations of the NY Times

At the end of November, the International Herald Tribune reprinted an editorial from its parent paper, the New York Times, in support of the Hague Inquisition. Calling it “fair and thorough” was probably bad enough, but the Times editors went on to credit the ICTY with Bosnian Serb “confessions” of guilt for Srebrenica, extorted under extreme duress by Bosnia’s Imperial viceroy. Finally, the Times highlights the apologies of Serbia-Montenegro’s appointed president, Svetozar Marovic, to Bosnia and Croatia, saying that such “acknowledgments of guilt would not have happened if soldiers were not confessing to these crimes, and they are crucial to breaking the cycle of ethnic violence in the Balkans.”

So much nonsense, for so few column inches. The “cycle of ethnic violence” is a worn-out cliché, a cavalier dismissal of real issues the US intervention has suppressed. As for the use of such apologies, the NY Times/IHT editorial embodies one: to wave them about as “proof” of “Serb guilt” that can be further used in Balkans power games. How else can one interpret the ludicrous assertion that those apologies “prove” the Bosnian War was a matter of “a well-armed Serb-dominated Yugoslavia victimizing an unarmed Muslim population in Bosnia” (The Dayton Daily News)?

Nor is Marovic some modern-day Willi Brandt. He is an obedient appointee of Milo Djukanovic – a petty thug who rules Montenegro – and the moribund, quisling Dossie regime in Serbia; he represents a few hundred politicians and their coterie, certainly not the people of Serbia and Montenegro.

Most of all, though, the apologies were not prompted by “confessions” in The Hague, but rather by the ongoing sycophancy of Belgrade and Podgorica to the throne in Washington, which needs no excuse for groveling. So, what are these famous confessions the New York Times values so? As it turns out, mostly a pack of lies: par for the course at the Hague Inquisition.

The Amazing Case of Momir Nikolic

Two former Bosnian Serb officials have been the source of “confessions” that the New York Times and other media, as well as the Inquisition itself, have extolled recently: Momir Nikolic and Miroslav Deronjic. Billed as a former intelligence officer who actively partook in the Srebrenica killings, Nikolic has provided some sensational copy over the past few months. The only problem with him has been… well, a certain lack of truthfulness.

Nikolic made a plea bargain with the prosecution, pledging testimony and cooperation in exchange for a lenient sentence on a relatively lesser charge, and a new life for his family. But in his zeal to sweeten the deal and serve his new-found patrons, Nikolic outright fabricated portions of his testimony. The story broke at the end of September, when a reporter for the fiercely pro-Tribunal IWPR commented that Nikolic’s perjury casts doubt on the entire plea-bargaining system (not to mention the rest of his testimony). The story was quickly censored and replaced with a politically correct version, while the reporter himself was forced to resign under pressure from IWPR’s donors – the Soros Foundation and the British government, who also fund the ICTY.

Needless to say, Nikolic’s testimony was not disregarded in any of the cases, nor did the media who enthusiastically repeated his claims issue any retractions. The Inquisition did exact retribution for its shame, punishing Nikolic with a 27-year prison sentence earlier this month. What happened to his family is unknown, though the Inquisition probably took care of them, as an inducement to others potential collaborators.

So everyone involved could eat their cake and have it, too: the Tribunal got to use Nikolic’s testimonies, false or not, to railroad other defendants; the media got their headlines – and no one reads retractions, anyway; Nikolic got his family out of the Balkans nightmare, even if he will spend the next 27 years in jail. Who lost out? The deceived public, for one, then the railroaded defendants, as well as the IWPR reporter who lost his job for telling the truth.

Suborning Perjury

The other star perjurer, Deronjic, was a Serb civilian official in eastern Bosnia. He claimed, and the media dutifully repeated, that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic ordered him personally to kill as many Muslims in Srebrenica as possible. Not reported, of course, was that Deronjic could not provide any proof for this alleged statement – indeed, could not place himself in Karadzic’s presence at the time: no corroborating witnesses, no journal entries, no radio intercepts, nothing. Zip.

That Deronjic is not only a liar but a really bad one emerged in cross-examination by Slobodan Milosevic (as Deronjic testified at his “trial” as well). It also became apparent that Deronjic’s statements were written by the prosecution, and that he merely signed off on them. This is not the practice only for plea-bargain witnesses, either: many testimonies against Milosevic were ghost-written by the prosecution as well. If this is not suborning perjury, then what is?

Verdict and Dissent

The Inquisition is very fond of fabricating reality. Last Friday, it convicted a Bosnian Serb general to 20 years for a crime that does not exist, and claimed clear evidence for a series of deadly incidents during the siege of Sarajevo even though that was not the case.

Stanislav Galic was accused of “inflicting terror on a civilian population,” a previously unknown crime even to the Tribunal that writes its own laws and rules as it goes along. This was duly pointed out in a sharp dissent by Judge Rafael Nieto-Navia, who also said the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. What, an Inquisitor who actually cares about the law, evidence and truth? A man truly deserving of his robe! Alas, Justice Nieto is an exception that confirms the rule regarding the ICTY: political factors, power and propaganda dominate the “court,” and justice is at best viewed as a nuisance.

As for the supposed “ending the cycle of ethnic violence,” it ought to be said that the professional victims in the Bosnian Muslim establishment emphatically condemned the Galic verdict, claiming it was too lenient. Nothing short of absolutely acknowledging every allegation of theirs will do, and even daring to require evidence prompts outrage.

True Justice

If one’s goal is truth, justice, and eventually peace, “war crimes” tribunals are not the answer. Nor are the abuses of language, thought and logic. Nor the facetious apologies by insincere flunkies, offered and received as political bargaining chips. Violence cannot be stopped by clichés.

Of course, nothing else can be expected from politicians, who dwell on institutionalized violence and see people – their own as well as others – as things to be used, whether for their personal gain, “greater good” or some supposedly glorious cause.

The only real apology people on both sides of the Sarajevo frontline (myself included) can use is for being treated as things, by just about everyone, for those four years or so. Yet it’s the one apology they will likely never hear.

And if Iraqis really want to put Saddam Hussein and his followers on trial, they ought to do so in a local courtroom, on charges of robbery and murder. He was, after all, a politician and a head of government; they are in his job description.

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.