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Tuesday, January 4, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Thatcher, Reagan Wanted in Genocide Court in...
2000-01-04

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Completes Report on NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia

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The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has completed an internal report on NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo that looks into allegations that the U.S. dominated military alliance committed war crimes during its 78-day attack, a move that has received condemnation from the Clinton administration. [includes rush transcript]

The report was prompted by information presented to the chief U.N. prosecutor Carla Del Ponte by legal experts and Russian lawmakers.

The allegations include lists of cases in which scores of civilians were killed by NATO bombs, such as the attack against a bridge as a passenger train was crossing it, the bombing of a refugee convoy and the targeting of the Serbian television building in Belgrade.

However, Tribunal and Clinton administration officials have said that there is virtually no possibility that charges would be brought against American military personnel. The Tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Del Ponte, went to lengths to emphasize in a statement last week that there is "no formal inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict in Kosovo."

The U.S. has long objected to having its troops or officers be held accountable to anyone but their own military brass, a stance that has isolated Washington in its opposition to the creation of a permanent war crimes tribunal.

Guest:

  • Prof. Robert Hayden, Director of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has completed an internal report on NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo that looks into allegations that the U.S.-dominated military alliance committed war crimes during its seventy-eight day attack, a move that has received condemnation from the Clinton administration.

The report was prompted by information presented to the chief UN prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, by legal experts and Russian lawmakers. The allegations include lists of cases in which scores of civilians were killed by NATO bombs, such as the attack against a bridge as a passenger train was crossing it. the bombing of a refugee convoy, and the targeting of the Serbian television building in Belgrade.

However, tribunal and Clinton administration officials have said there is virtually no possibility that charges would be brought against American military personnel. The tribunal’s chief prosecutor went to lengths to emphasize, in a statement last week, that there is "no formal inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict in Kosovo."

When we come back from our break, we’ll be speaking with Professor Robert Hayden, who is Director of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, to talk about U.S. responsibility, to talk about what is happening in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, and also the latest developments on Croatia. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Professor Robert Hayden, Director of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

The U.S. has long objected to having its troops or officers be held accountable to anyone but their own military brass, a stance that has isolated Washington in its opposition to the creation of a permanent war crimes tribunal.

Professor Hayden, can you talk about what seems to be a bit of a turnaround, or at least a backing off, on the part of the head of the war crimes tribunal in Yugoslavia? Can you tell us what she said originally and then what it changed to over these past weeks?

ROBERT HAYDEN: Yeah, sure, Amy. Like you said before the break, there had been materials presented to the prosecutor, Mrs. Del Ponte, about NATO actions during the Kosovo war, not only by Russians, but by lawyers in England, the United States, Greece, and Canada. And it’s quite clear that NATO committed violations of the Geneva Conventions. And, also — and I can get into this later — NATO people clearly did things that — for which other people, Yugoslavs, have been indicted by the tribunal.

Now, on the 26th of December, the prosecutor gave an interview to the British newspaper, The Observer, and she said that a dossier had been prepared on investigating these claims, that she was going to read it over the break, and that if she concluded that NATO broke the Geneva Conventions, she would indict those responsible. And she said, quote, "If I’m not willing to do that, I’m not in the right place, I must give up the mission. I must do my job, because, otherwise, I’m not independent, and the independence of the prosecutor is the most important element." Now, that was on the 26th of December in a British newspaper.

The New York Times had a story on December 29th, headlined "UN Tribunal Investigating NATO’s War in Yugoslavia." It was an AP story. The next day, Steve Erlinger had a story in the Times, "How the UN Tribunal Plays Down its Scrutiny of NATO Acts." So that suddenly Mrs. Del Ponte is no longer saying that she is going to go through with this. Quite to the contrary, she and tribunal spokesmen are saying that there is virtually no chance whatever that the tribunal prosecutor will indict NATO people. Mrs. Del Ponte issued a press release to that effect on the 30th of December. And, of course, then we had a story in yesterday’s Times saying, of course, that it’s not even a remote possibility. There is no chance of this.

But this is a very interesting turnaround in a period of four days, from saying that she would be an independent prosecutor and pursue NATO actions that are clear violations of the Geneva Conventions and that are also actions for which others have already been indicted by the tribunal, and all of the sudden saying she is not going to do this. This is interesting.

The U.S. government, of course, was very upset with the original statement, and, one suspects, they’re no longer upset.

AMY GOODMAN: Although, as the New York Times article yesterday points out, neither the White House nor Pentagon officials disputed the tribunal’s legal authority to review American and Allied involvement in the bombing.

ROBERT HAYDEN: Well, they can’t, you see. Remember that the tribunal was largely set up at American insistence. Now, it was done at a time when the U.S. was not openly involved in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, but — and certainly not at a time when NATO was mounting a massive military campaign against people in Yugoslavia. So this is one of those things that, you know, the U.S. government started this thing, which turned around and then seemed to be in a position to bite them.

Now, let me be very clear on this. I mean, I’m also a lawyer, at least an academic lawyer. And by the standards of the prosecutor’s office as already set up, there is no question but that they should be prosecuting NATO personnel, absolutely no question, because all they have to do is apply the same standards they’ve already used to indict several actors in the Balkans and from the Balkans themselves. They clearly are not prepared to do this.

Now, when the possibility was first raised, which was while the NATO bombings were going on, the question was raised to Jamie Shea — remember him, NATO’s spokesman? — and whether anyone in NATO feared indictment by the International War Crimes Tribunal, and he said, at open press conferences on the 16th and 17th of May — you can find them on the NATO website — no, NATO countries pay for the tribunal, NATO countries are the primary financiers of the tribunal, and that he did not expect anyone who was not of Yugoslav nationality to be indicted.

AMY GOODMAN: And we also have to put this in the context of not just looking back, but looking forward at something that many nations in the world have been pushing for, this international criminal tribunal that would no longer be ad hoc for particular cases, but a longstanding tribunal.

With the Pentagon leading the way, the administration contends that American soldiers could be subject to frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions in such a court. And American negotiators have demanded provisions in the court’s charter that would, in essence, give the U.S. veto power over any prosecution through its seat on the Security Council.

And even country’s allies, like Germany, have countered that the American provisions would undermine the court, and delegates have rejected them. So the U.S. has really led or been the major obstacle to setting up any kind of international court for any situation.

ROBERT HAYDEN: Well, not for any situation, just for any situation that would conceivably involve the United States. Now, the United States uses — it likes the idea of tribunals. It likes the rhetoric of law, the rhetoric of justice, and tribunals sound wonderful, right? I mean, you just had the idea of the Cambodian tribunal. You know, we’re going to go out there, we’re going to pursue evil, and since we’re a democracy, we’ll do it by law. But since that would require it being impartial — right? — they’re not really interested in this.

I mean, there’s a marvelous inconsistency between the United States saying that, you know, the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia is not a political institution, it’s a legal institution. And yet, it is afraid that an international court that might look at its own actions would be politicized. Well, they have a good reason for that. I mean, the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia is a highly political organization, and it’s directed by the United States. They can see the uses to which the rhetoric of law, the rhetoric of justice can be put, and they do not want anybody but the United States to be using them or in a position to use them.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor Robert Hayden, who directs the Russian/Eastern European Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh, as we talk about the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal. But, also, what about what’s happening in Russia and Chechnya right now and comparisons to the bombing of Chechnya by Russia with the Allied bombing of Kosovo?

ROBERT HAYDEN: Well, yeah. The Russians, of course, who were heavily opposed the to Kosovo action by NATO, said before they mounted their own operations in Chechnya that they were taking their playbook from NATO.

Now, what the Russians have done is, I think, largely because they do not have quite the sophisticated weapons. They have been much more indiscriminate in their attacks than NATO was, although NATO’s "discrimination," quote/unquote, caused massive damage. But again, it’s only in Congress that NATO has the right to do these things, but the Russians don’t. And now, let me be clear about this. I mean, what the Russians are doing is as culpable as anything that NATO did. But there is an interesting difference in response to it.

One of the interesting differences comes from human rights organizations, specifically Human Rights Watch, which in December issued a letter, public letter, to the Security Council demanding that an independent inquiry commission be set up to investigate Russian actions in Chechnya with the aim of prosecuting people responsible for them. Now, what’s interesting about that is that although Human Rights Watch has pointed out that NATO has violated the Geneva Conventions, it has never called for an independent investigation of this, to my knowledge, much less has it issued calls for prosecution of those responsible. Now, that’s interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to move on to Croatia now, Professor Hayden. The party that led Croatia to independence conceded defeat today in the first parliamentary elections since the death of President Franjo Tudjman. An opposition coalition led by an ex-communist and a former dissident seems poised to beat Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union in a landslide, leading handily in nine of eleven districts with eighty-four percent of Monday’s vote counted, this according to Croatian state television. The opposition has pledged to shift power from the presidency to the parliament. Tudjman had really centralized those powers during his party’s tenure. Can you talk about this?

ROBERT HAYDEN: Oh, sure. You know, I’m not, by predisposition, an optimist. I’m a Balkanist, right? But this is actually the first good election result that we’ve seen since the fall of communism in the former Yugoslavia. It’s an interesting result because the guy who’s leading this coalition, a guy named Ivica Racan, was actually the last president of the League of Communists of Croatia and lost the elections to Tudjman in 1990. Had Racan won those elections in 1990, we may not have had the wars that we’ve had in Yugoslavia since then.

Now, the Croatian Democratic Union, which has lost the elections, came to power in one of these nationalist euphoria things. They were going to have a Croatia by, for and of ethnic Croats, and they were always threatening towards minorities, specifically Serbs, and did, in fact, resolve that problem, which we can talk about. But they were also a very anti-democratic party, one that was an oligarchy in which a very few families became phenomenally rich and really robbed the country blind, and this has come back to haunt them. I mean, they became wildly unpopular, and with good reason.

Mr. Racan is a very serious politician. He was actually the Croatian politician who was responsible for permitting the free elections in Croatia in 1990 and ensuring that they were free elections. Once Tudjman was freely elected, he and his Croatian Democratic Union government immediately made sure that there would not be free elections as long as Mr. Tudjman was alive. He is no longer alive, and we’ve had what seem to be fairly free elections, and they produced a very interesting result.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk a little more about this idea of Croatia for Croatians?

ROBERT HAYDEN: Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, this is the standard European configuration of nation and state, in which the nation, which is an ethnic group, in American terms, gets the state, which is the territory and the government. The Croatian Democratic Union was explicit that Croatia belonged to ethnic Croats. You could see this in their speeches, in their documents and in their constitutional structures. As soon as they took power, they amended the constitution so that it defined Croatia as the state of ethnic Croats, who, by the way, do not have to be in Croatia. In the Croatian elections — I’m sitting in Pittsburgh — I’m sure Tudjman’s party carried Pittsburgh. I’m sure there were voting ethnic Croats, who don’t even need to be Croatian citizens necessarily, who were voting in the Croatian Democratic — the fraternal organization here in Pittsburgh — throughout Bosnia.

It gets very interesting in Bosnia, because the part of Bosnia that is under Croatian control, while officially part of a Croat-Bosnian or Croat-Muslim federation of Bosnia and Herzogovenia, as opposed to the Serbian Republik Sprska, the Croats there have had no interest whatsoever in being part of Bosnia, and, in fact, that part of Bosnia has been de facto Croatia. What will happen now in that regard is going to be very interesting. The local Croats in Bosnia have no interest whatever still in being part of Bosnia, but they are losing their patrons in Zagreb, and I’m not sure how that will play out.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Hayden, I wanted to switch gears a little bit. We are now moving into the 2000 presidential campaign. There is almost no discussion about what happened in Yugoslavia, though it certainly dominated for seventy-eight days with the U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Maybe the reason there’s not much discussion of it among the leading political contenders for president is that they all agree.

ROBERT HAYDEN: Yeah, it’s also — maybe that, but it’s also probably that they regard it as over. And, of course, as practical people, they are going to be looking at what they do now. And, of course, it’s interesting to see where the U.S. is now on the Balkans.

If you look in the last ten years, the United States has expanded its military capacity enormously into the Balkans, precisely into the area, by the way, that many of the scenarios for a start of World War III during the Cold War had them start with a Soviet invasion of Yugoslavia or with an American attempt to take over parts of Yugoslavia. Well, the United States now owns big chunks of Yugoslavia. The base in Kosovo, the American base in Kosovo, is huge. It’s enormous. There is no reason, in regard to a humanitarian mission in Kosovo, that there should be such a huge base, but America now has a string of bases throughout the Balkans, and I would think that the major political parties are now dealing with or preparing to utilize that circumstance. And, of course, no one is going to want to go deeply into what it took to bring about that expansion of American power into an area that it had not been in earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: What about oil?

ROBERT HAYDEN: Oh, yeah. Oil is certainly there, but not there in the Balkans. There is two connections with oil. One of them is clearly in the Middle East. Remember that America defines its state interest, its most vital state interest in the Middle East, as being in oil in the Arabian Peninsula, and there need to be American military bases in Europe that let American power be exercised there.

As a result of the unification of Germany, Germany becoming a dominant power in Europe, the American military forces in Germany have been drawing down. The backlash of the Kosovo war within Europe means that the European Union countries have less and less interest in having American forces on their soil and out of their control. You can ask the Italians about this.

So it’s very useful for the U.S. to have military bases in Europe but outside of the European Union. And we have them now in Croatia, in Hungary, in Bosnia and Macedonia, and in Kosovo — a nice string of bases. And that can be used in regard to the Middle East. It can be also used towards projecting American power through Turkey and into the Central Asian region, the Caspian region, where huge oil reserves have been reported. So this is highly strategic terrain.

You know, in 1989-1990, with the fall of communism — and I was a Yugoslav specialist, and I kept being told by State Department people that nobody cares about Yugoslavia, it’s not important. I never believed it. The terrain is too important. And that’s been taken over.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, finally, Slobodan Milosevic today, where does he stand? Stronger than ever, or what?

ROBERT HAYDEN: Well, stronger than ever, but also a man with no place to go, I presume intentionally, because I don’t think they’re that stupid. The American administration has worked very hard to produce a situation in which the only conceivable way that there can be a political change in Serbia is through violence. Milosevic could not possibly resign. He couldn’t do what Yeltsin did on New Year’s Eve, because there would be no place for him to go. I mean, the United States has all these arrest warrants out for him, etc., etc., in regard to the marvelous legal, non-political institution, the International Criminal Tribunal. So there’s no place Milosevic can go, and this makes him, of course, dangerous.

The level of open repression that we now see in Serbia is unlike anything that’s been seen in that part of the world since 1947, 1948, the consolidation of Tito’s rule right after World War II, and it’s really quite, quite scary, people being killed, people being arrested, people being beaten, journalists being threatened and newspapers being shut down.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Hayden, on that note, we have to also shut down. Professor Hayden, Director of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

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