Power and Justice

The strange visit of Serbian president Boris Tadic to Washington, less than a week after his inauguration, became a backdrop Monday for a new U.S. policy toward Serbia: absolute insistence on extradition of war crimes suspects to the Hague Inquisition.

Demands for extradition have featured prominently in U.S. policy toward Serbia since October 2000, and indeed dominated that policy at times, but they have never before taken it over completely. All the talk of multi-ethnic Kosovo, democratization, stabilization, reform, human rights, rule of law and other such boondoggles seems to have disappeared altogether, in favor of repetitive invocations of the ICTY.

This latest one-note policy is driven less by any interest in justice, and more by a power agenda. It could be that the Bush administration is trying to outflank its Democratic challengers by assuming an even harder line on the Balkans. Whether it is so or not, "war crimes" politics plays a crucial role in legitimizing Imperial intervention in that corner of Europe. This is not about justice. It’s about power.

A Growing Obsession

U.S. and Inquisition demands focus on the two wartime leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, president Radovan Karadzic and general Ratko Mladic. Wire services persistently repeat it is "widely believed" that Karadzic is hiding in eastern Bosnia and Mladic in Serbia, without establishing what "widely believed" actually means. Head Inquisitor Carla Del Ponte certainly believes so, but she is just one person – and short, rather than wide. Also, she is somewhat delusional: her spokeswoman recently accused NATO of deliberately failing to arrest Karadzic.

Nor is Del Ponte the only one obsessed with Karadzic and Mladic. Time magazine reports that Mladic is negotiating his surrender, prompted by U.S. and EU pressure – which sounds like wishful thinking aimed at becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Osama bin Serb"

Karadzic and Mladic have become "the world’s most wanted war crimes fugitives" (AP). The search for them has eclipsed even the search for Osama bin Laden, the alleged architect of 9/11. It is a bizarre situation, in which chasing two Bosnian Serbs who never attacked America or Americans is more important than tracking down the alleged mastermind of a major terrorist attack against the U.S. Then again, the very meaning of absurdity has been redefined by the invasion of Iraq

Consider, though, that bin Laden’s organization actually participated in a jihad against the Bosnian Serbs, with the tacit or even overt support of the U.S. For instance, Khaled al-Harbi, a senior Bin Laden associate who surrendered to Saudi authorities last week, was "paralysed [sic] by a piece of shrapnel which hit him in the back as he was fighting in Bosnia." (The Daily Telegraph)

Though no doubt some accusations of al-Qaeda involvement in the Balkans made over the past three years have been self-serving and exaggerated, much more so are the strident denials of such involvement, made by supporters of Imperial intervention partial to Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians (both alleged to have al-Qaeda ties).

An Absurd Bargain

Speaking to the press on Monday, Tadic acknowledged that Mladic’s arrest "is the main issue with the international community." However, according to Reuters, Washington offered Tadic a deal: hand over Mladic "in exchange for possibly being allowed to try other key figures at home."

Two questions immediately arise from this. How exactly is the U.S. competent to offer deals on behalf of the supposedly "independent" ICTY? And, by what right does Washington assume the authority to "allow" any country to put its own citizens on trial or not? The obvious answers render the questions rhetorical. The ICTY is evidently answering to Washington and Brussels, not the UN, while the U.S. authority to impose its will on others comes mostly from the barrel of a gun.

All the Wrong Reasons

Further cementing the political nature of the demanded extraditions is the fact that the Empire is not arguing for them on grounds of serving international – or any other kind of – justice, but uses purely utilitarian arguments.

"NATO considers it of great importance to have this region reach stability and to have it integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said while visiting Belgrade this week. But "chances of establishing closer ties with the alliance depend on [Serbia’s] willingness to arrest and hand over top war crimes suspects…" (AP).

In other words, the motivation for extraditions is the possibility of eventually joining NATO and the EU. Lack of arrests and extraditions of men wanted by the Empire would "block" this integration. But given the true nature of NATO and the EU, why would anyone want to join either?

Bad Prospects

Indeed, why is joining these two institutions considered a pinnacle of human achievement in the Balkans? Why does just about every politician think this is an issue beyond debate?

The European Union evolved from a common market into a bloated bureaucratic monster. A super-state seeking to control every aspect of its subjects’ lives through legislation, reliant on heavy taxes and massive subsidies, the EU has little regard for personal freedom or private property. Contrary to popular belief, the EU is also an enemy of free trade, a key ingredient in economic prosperity.

Originally established to counter the perceived "Soviet aggression" at the dawn of the Cold War, NATO outlived its purpose in 1991. Its intervention in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s was a desperate attempt to redefine its raison d’etre. It was also a crime against peace (specifically in Kosovo) and involved aiding and abetting of atrocities (committed by its local allies in Bosnia and Kosovo). There is absolutely no valid argument to show that NATO’s intervention in 1999 was not an illegal act of naked aggression; but since today’s world is ruled by power, not law, there is also no court that would dare indict NATO for this.

In a very real sense, NATO has become a "joint criminal enterprise," with the goal of imposing by force political objectives of the United States and its European satellites on unwilling nations. Is this not precisely what the world order established after 1945 declared a crime, and at least nominally endeavored to prevent?

A Nation on Trial

Amidst the furor about Karadzic and Mladic, last Friday the Hague Inquisition issued one more indictment – against Goran Hadzic, leader of the Krajina Serbs (in today’s Croatia). He managed to evade arrest over the weekend, prompting another hysterical outburst by Del Ponte. Yet no one seemed to note that the indictment against Hadzic had far greater implications.

At this point, every single Serb leader of the 1990s, military and political, has been indicted by the ICTY. Every single one! Whether these soldiers and politicians are actually responsible for any crimes against peace or humanity is absolutely irrelevant to the Hague Inquisition; its purpose is to establish the official history of the 1990s in the Balkans on the notion of "Serbian guilt."

Only in this context does the theory of "joint criminal enterprise," which underlies every single indictment of Serbian military and political leaders, make any sense. Also, the "joint criminal enterprise" clearly contradicts the claim that ICTY seeks to establish "individual responsibility" for Balkans atrocities, both legally and semantically. So do the charges based on "command responsibility," self-evidently.

Serb leaders charged by the ICTY are not on trial as individuals, but as representatives of the entire nation. There is no doubt about it any more.

A Tale of Two Lawsuits

Another demand by NATO, hidden amidst the talk of "war criminals," illustrates the mockery that international justice has become in this Age of Empire. In addition to extraditions, De Hoop Scheffer has demanded that Serbia-Montenegro drop its 1999 lawsuit against NATO for aggression. It does stand to reason that Yugoslavia’s successor cannot sue the Alliance and hope to join it at the same time. But dropping the lawsuit would mean accepting the 1999 aggression as legitimate, along with any and all of its consequences. Are the people of Serbia and Montenegro willing to do this, or – more likely – are they entirely unaware of the issue?

Meanwhile, nobody is pressuring Bosnia-Herzegovina to drop its lawsuit against then-Yugoslavia, for aggression and genocide. Initiated by the Izetbegovic regime (whose legitimacy was dubious at best) in 1993, it has been pursued unilaterally by the Muslim members of the joint government after the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, in direct violation thereof.

Manufacturing Consent

That the Empire seeks to conquer the Balkans is self-evident. Its motivations remain shrouded in mystery, probably because different factions within the establishment are driven by different things. They are, however, united in purpose. Crucial to that purpose is the effort to define the wars of the 1990s as a consequence of "Serbian aggression," thus legitimizing Imperial intervention on "humanitarian" grounds. It is of utmost importance that the Serbs themselves accept this "war guilt," seemingly of their own free will, as the Empire needs at least a pretense of consent of its subjects. Through force, occupation, tyranny, indictments and threats, the Empire has endeavored to shape a political climate among the Serbs favorable to their acceptance of war guilt. It appears that this effort has been successful; Serb leaders of 2004 have convinced themselves, and now seek to convince their people, that there is no other choice but to obey the Empire’s demands.

They have come to love Big Brother.

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 Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.