The Madness of Carla Del Ponte

Louise Arbour had it easy. She followed NATO’s instructions, made only as much fuss as she was told, and retired to the Canadian Supreme Court. It fell on Carla Del Ponte, her successor as the Head Inquisitor of the Hague kangaroo court, to actually put together and prosecute a case against Slobodan Milosevic and the entire Serbian political leadership. By the time Milosevic was seized and delivered to Imperial troops in chains, Del Ponte’s nerves were already frayed. By the time the “trial” began, she was unstable. As it went on, with increasingly disastrous results, she began to slip. And now as the prosecution’s farcical proceedings come to an end, she boldly leaped right over the edge of sanity.

The Plunge

The defining moment came last Wednesday, when she claimed that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the wartime political and military leaders of Bosnian Serbs, were both living in Belgrade, and that Serbia was a “safe haven for… fugitives.”

Del Ponte has specialized in making unsubstantiated allegations, in the press as well as the courtroom, and the media have become used to it. But this was so shocking, only the dedicated ICTY supporters such as the London IWPR embraced it enthusiastically. Serbian politicians laughed at the accusation. One anonymous Reuters source termed it “science fiction,” while Radical leader Tomislav Nikolic dismissed it with sarcasm: were Karadzic truly in Belgrade, he said, the “pro-American government… would rush to hand him over (and) extradite him in the blink of an eye. How can it be proven he’s not hiding here? She might as well say he’s in London.”

Given the persistent failure of NATO’s occupation troops to find either Karadzic or Mladic, and the growing frustration with the ongoing disaster that is the Milosevic trial, must have driven the Swiss Inquisitor past the brink of sanity. It doesn’t help that she was slightly nutty to begin with – in the perceptive description of Christopher Deliso, “a zealot whose statements often indicate she would like the entire population of Serbia in jail, just to be on the safe side.”

A devastated bridge in Serbia is mockingly called “Ponte di Carla” (Carla’s bridge), in a pun on the Head Inquisitor’s name implying she is a NATO puppet; from the anti-ICTY demonstration in The Hague, 28 June 2003

Don’t Rock The Boat!

Del Ponte’s histrionics got so far out of hand that the establishment felt the need to send her a message via the New York Times‘ European conduit. In the International Herald Tribune on Monday, historian and interventionist Misha Glenny complained that Del Ponte’s “often unsubstantiated public claims” have a political impact adverse to the Tribunal.

Noting that the Chief Inquisitor offered “no evidence for her dramatic claim” that Karadzic was in Belgrade, he argues that “Del Ponte’s actions reinforce another popular belief, that Serbia has been singled out for punitive treatment by the international community,” which gives political capital to the Radicals (in addition to being true, Glenny’s insinuations to the contrary notwithstanding).

After reiterating his support for the ICTY and Del Ponte, Glenny nonetheless advises the Inquisitor to revisit her style, because:

“…everybody in the international community should be engaging in a positive and encouraging manner with Belgrade in order to ensure Serbia’s continuing commitment to reform and democracy, and its long-term cooperation with institutions like the War Crimes Tribunal.

Obviously, Glenny believes (as do many others in the West) that the Empire’s stranglehold on Serbia is in real danger and that Del Ponte’s recent outburst might hurt it further. This explains a similar, though veiled, message sent this week in an editorial by Transitions Online (TOL), a media outlet established and funded by the Open Society Institute of George Soros. Many sources have claimed that Soros is one of the major contributors to the Tribunal’s perennially needy coffers, which could mean that TOL was chosen as a conduit to tell Del Ponte to calm down.

A Travesty of Pretense

But the damage may already be beyond repair. As it happens, this week marked the end of the Prosecution’s case against Slobodan Milosevic. Del Ponte predictably claimed victory, telling AFP: “We have succeeded in showing the responsibility of Milosevic.” After two years of continual embarrassments and bitter defeats, the statement has all the ring of wishful thinking, though the press took it at face value. In fact, Del Ponte and her fellow Inquisitors have done nothing of the sort.

Writing in The Guardian last Thursday, commentator Neil Clark argued that “things have gone horribly wrong for Ms. Del Ponte”:

“…not only has the prosecution signally failed to prove Milosevic’s personal responsibility for atrocities committed on the ground, the nature and extent of the atrocities themselves has also been called into question.”

It is obvious, he says, that the Prosecution has been “working backwards – making charges and then trying to find evidence.” He does not mention specific details, but there are plenty. In the last two months of the process, the Prosecution’s witnesses were seemingly random men and women, dragged into the courtroom to offer baseless allegations and fourth-hand hearsay, though one would expect a strong case to save its most damaging witnesses for the very end.

Witness Disasters

The Inquisitors’ choice of witnesses has always been poor, from the hapless Mahmut Bakalli at the very beginning, through the conman Ratomir Tanic and pompous show-off Wesley Clark, to French general Philippe Morillon, whose attempts at incriminating Milosevic got too tangled in truth.

Morillon, revered by the Bosnian Muslims for saving their troops in Srebrenica from defeat in 1993, ended up enraging them by his testimony last week. While trying to make it seem as if Milosevic could have prevented the alleged events of 1995, Morillon let it slip that the Serbs were out for blood because of Muslim massacres of Serb civilians. The enraged Muslims announced they would sue the French general as accessory to genocide.

This tragic farce aside, the twisted logic of Morillon and the Prosecutors would have someone who stopped a potential massacre in 1993 – before sanctions and threats had caused a bitter split between Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs – therefore held responsible for the alleged massacre two years later, when he emphatically lacked influence in Bosnia. And as Hague arguments go, that’s fairly typical.

Even Biljana Plavsic, whose infamous “confession” in December 2002 smeared the Serb people as a whole (which it was supposed to do) and earned her a life term in a Swedish prison, seems to have finally seen the ICTY’s true colors. It was said that she was transferred back to Holland last weekend, in preparation to testify against Milosevic – but the report was denied after she made public her refusal.

Some day, there will be a book with all the outrageous witness moments from the Milosevic trial. A lengthy one, given that there are 290 prosecution witnesses alone. It will make for fascinating reading – sordid, but fascinating.

An Endeavor in Ruins

Declaring the trial a “travesty,” Clark explains that the ICTY is a “blatantly political body set up and funded by the very [NATO] powers that waged an illegal war against Milosevic’s Yugoslavia,” and as such, cannot possibly render an impartial verdict: “political necessity dictates that [Milosevic] will be found guilty, if not of all the charges, then enough for him to be incarcerated for life.”

That actually explains the Inquisitors’ dreadful performance, which they try to cover up with bluster: the verdict has already been reached, the sentence determined – Del Ponte and the “judges” are simply going through the motions, giving lip service to the legal process which, like the truth, has nothing to do with their work.

It was known from Day One that the Milosevic proceedings would be a show trial. For all its ostensible purpose to find out the truth and punish the individual perpetrators of atrocities, thus enabling reconciliation, the ICTY has set out to conjure a grand conspiracy headed by Milosevic that would provide a single explanation for Yugoslavia’s breakup and the Succession Wars, and the justification for all Imperial interventions: no less than a wholesale falsification of history. As Deliso puts it, “…reality has to be force-fit into a costume it can’t quite wear. The point here is to stage a kind of morality play, an instructive fable to reinforce the prevalent discourse of political responsibility.”

Had Milosevic hired a lawyer and played by the Inquisition’s rules, no doubt the plan would have been well along by now. But for once he did the unexpected, and over the past two years he has made mincemeat out of the Prosecutors’ case by himself.

It is beyond embarrassing for Del Ponte and her supporters that despite their millions of dollars in funding, hundreds of zealous lawyers and investigators, cases of intelligence files, hundreds of witnesses willing to make things up as they go, the ability to make up procedures on the fly and that the three-judge panel is firmly on their side, they have suffered a defeat after defeat at the hands of an elderly man with a heart condition, imprisoned, cut off from his family and friends, under constant surveillance and lacking any money or power.

On October 6, 2000, Slobodan Milosevic was a political washout with a questionable legacy, accused of war crimes. Three years later, thanks to the Hague Inquisition, he can justifiably claim to be a champion of truth.

No wonder Carla Del Ponte went insane.

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.