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2003-12-16

Wesley Clark Testifies Against Milosevic in War Crimes Trial That Could Serve As Model For Saddam’s Prosecution

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Democratic presidential candidate and former NATO commander Wesley Clark testified in the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Clark said authorities should consider a similar court to prosecute former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. We go to The Hague to speak with Serbian columnist Ljiljana Smajlovic. [include transcript]

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark ended his first day of testimony in the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic yesterday. Clarke is the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and the man who led the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

Milosevic is officially charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in a number of indictments spanning from the wars in Croatia and Bosnia to the fighting in Kosovo. He is a candidate for the Socialist Party in Serbia’s parliamentary elections on 28 December.

In an unprecedented agreement between the court and the United States, Washington will be allowed to review Clark’s testimony before it is made public. The U.S. will have two days to apply for parts of the testimony to be removed from the public record if it considers them harmful to US national interests. An edited recording is due to be made public on Friday.

Clark said before testifying that he expected to give information on more than 100 hours of meetings over four years with Milosevic during the 1990s.

Speaking outside the court afterwards, Clark told reporters that authorities should consider a similar court to prosecute former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein: "It’s the rule of law, it’s closure. It’s a very important precedent for what may be happening later with another dictator from another part of the world,"

Regarding an eventual punishment for Hussein, Clark later told an audience in a speech: "I don’t believe that any form of punishment should be off the table . . . including the death penalty."

  • Ljiljana Smajlovic, columnist for the leading Serbian news weekly NIN.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic candidate Wesley Clark has ended his first day of testimony in the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic. Clark is the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and the man who led the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Milosevic is officially charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in a number of indictments spanning from the wars in Croatia and Bosnia to the fighting in Kosovo. In an unprecedented agreement between the court and the United States, Washington will be allowed to review Wesley Clark’s testimony before it is made public. The U.S. will have two days to apply for parts of the testimony to be removed from the public record, if it considers them harmful to U.S. national interests. An edited recording is due to be made public Friday. Clark said, before testifying, he expected to give information on more than 100 hours of meetings over four years with Milosevic during the 1990’s. The two-day session in camera that began yesterday may turn out to foreshadow arrangements made for the trial of Saddam Hussein, whose friendly relations with the U.S. and British governments in the 1980’s are likely to prove embarrassing if testimony is in open court. Speaking outside the court afterwards, Wesley Clark said, For the people of the region, it’s a very important experience. It’s the rule of law. It’s closure with a man who caused the deaths or is alleged to have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands throughout Europe. We go now to the Hague to Ljiljana Smajlovic. She is a columnist for the leading Serbian weekly called NIN. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ljiljana.

LJILJANA SMAJLOVIC: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, you have been covering the trial of Slobodan Milosevic from the beginning. Can you talk about the climate there right now, what Wesley Clark — what you understand he has said, and also what Milosevic has said as well?

LJILJANA SMAJLOVIC: Well, first of all, I want to say that Wesley Clark is not like any other witness this trial has seen. Usually the judge admonishes the witness, and if the witness needs to return the next day, the judge always says make sure that you do not speak about your testimony to anyone or about this trial. Well, Mr. Clark has been speaking about both his testimony and the trial. He has made comments outside of the courtroom both days as soon as he would leave the witness stand. He would come out of the building and address reporters. Last night he made a speech about the new Atlantic Charter here at the Institute of International Relations in the Hague, but he also spoke about the trial again. So, in a sense, Mr. Clark has not acted like other witnesses, and obviously, the conditions set upon his testimony are different than the — those for any other witness, which also makes it clear that some countries’ national security is more important than other countries’ national security here in the Hague. What seems to have transpired here from what Mr. Clark told us after his testimony is that the judge had severely restricted Mr. Milosevic’s ability to cross-examine Mr. Clark on anything pertaining to the NATO bombing of Serbia and the Kosovo war in 1999. The judge limited Milosevic to Mr. Clark’s testimony about the events in Sri Banitza and the genocide that took place there in 1995.

AMY GOODMAN: For listeners and viewers who are not familiar with Sri Banitza or need to be reminded, can you describe what happened in Trebanitza.

LJILJANA SMAJLOVIC: Yes. In Trebanitza, over 7,000 Muslim men were killed by Bosnian-Serb forces after the Bosnian-Serb forces overran a Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia. And Mr. General Ratco Mladic, the Bosnian-Serb commander, is responsible for this crime and he has been indicted by the Hague Tribunal. The importance of linking General Mladic to Mr. Milosevic, who at the time was President of Yugoslavia and had no official links with the Bosnian-Serb Army Commander — the importance of Clark’s testimony is in trying to link Milosevic directly to Mladic, which would establish command responsibility on the side of Milosevic. Mr. Clark is supposed to have testified — he more or less made it clear that this is what he testified, that in a conversation with Mr. Milosevic in 1995, Mr. Milosevic told him that he had foreknowledge of Mladic’s actions to take over sleb knit zarx, and that he was unable to stop Mr. Mladic from overrunning the enclave. Therefore, this would be important if the judges took Mr. Clark’s word. This would be an important testimony in showing that Milosevic had foreknowledge and failed to stop someone that, in Mr. Clark’s testimony, was his subordinate. So, indeed, this was a significant testimony, if the judges take it for granted, and it is — that’s why it’s understandable — that Comador Ponte, who was not too pleased about the conditions that the U.S. government has imposed for the testimony — but she went along with this closed session and airing the footage of the trial 48 hours later, makes her courts look a little bit like a victor’s court and takes away from perhaps the appearance of the fairness of the trial, and the equality of arms between — in front of the judges. But this is why she has agreed, because she still has not yet properly — still has not yet properly, I believe even in the prosecution’s eyes, it has not yet been firmly established, and — that Mr. Milosevic was responsible, has been linked personally to the genocide in Sribanitza. And Ponte, the prosecutor in the Hague, only has perhaps another month to prove that most important charge in her indictments, the genocide charging for Milosevic.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Ljiljana Smajlovic, who is a columnist for the leading Serbian news weekly. She’s in the Hague, speaking to us on her cell phone, so sorry for the bad sound, but we thought it was critical to go directly to the place where the trial of Slobodan Milosevic is going on and Democratic Presidential candidate Wesley Clark has just testified. Again, Wesley Clark, not just a Presidential candidate but the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, the man who led the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Now, Wesley Clark talked about the trial of Slobodan Milosevic as a kind of model for a trial for Saddam Hussein. Ljiljana Smajlovic, can you talk about the reaction in the Hague of the capture of Saddam Hussein, and, because you’re at the Hague, what people are saying about what should happen to him now?

LJILJANA SMAJLOVIC: Well, Serbian reporters have remarked that Mr. Milosevic had been practically a political corpse after October 5 of the year 2000, when he was deposed, and when he lost an election. And he was an irrelevant man to the politics of the country until he was extradited to the Hague and until his trial, which is broadcast back to Belgrade live and started here in the Hague in 2001. And now, Mr. Milosevic is running in an election in Serbia. On December 28, there is going to be a Parliamentary election. Mr. Milosevic is heading his party list, the Socialist Party of Serbia, and he is virtually assured of being elected to the Serbian Parliament. Now, Mr. Clark is also in the middle of an election campaign, but Mr. Clark also talks about Saddam and he says that there are important lessons that he is going to offer in the coming days about this trial as an important precedent and as, possibly, a model to what will happen to Saddam, while it’s Mr. Milosevic’s trial and his political fortunes which have been revived since the beginning of the trial. If that is any indication, then perhaps Mr. Saddam’s trial could also be a not quite welcome surprise to people who expect to feel the image of Saddam as the criminal, as a dictator, and as someone who harmed his people and his nation more than anyone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Milosevic, what is the penalty he faces?

LJILJANA SMAJLOVIC: Milosevic’s penalty, the top penalty is a life sentence, if he is convicted of all of the charges. There is no capital punishment in the Hague Tribunal.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean to say that he is running for office? In terms of practicality, what can Milosevic do?

LJILJANA SMAJLOVIC: Well, why this is important to him, and now this goes into the specifics of Serbian politics, but for example, if his party gets into Parliament with, let’s say, a 10% majority, it means they would have — if the Socialists win 10% of the seats in Serbia’s Parliament, Mr. Milosevic gets some leverage over Serbian politics. He can cut deals with the ruling authorities. There are things he still wants in Serbia. He wants his wife to be able to visit him. His wife has been wanted in Serbia for a lesser crime of influencing state officials while Milosevic was President, and Mr. Milosevic will use his seat, not only his own, but his party’s seat in Parliament to negotiate with the ruling party to obtain, possibly, dropping of charges against his wife. He will be able to sell votes in Parliament for his own benefit. He’s not going to be a major player, but if he wins up to 25 deputies in the Serbian Parliament, he can influence things in Serbia to some extent.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ljiljana Smajlovic, I want to thank you very much for being with us, speaking to us from the Hague, where Wesley Clark has just finished his first day of testimony in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. And that does it from the show. Though, another piece of news from the Hague, Mexico accused the United States at an International Court of Justice hearing, in violating the International Law over its treatment of more than 50 Mexican nationals on death row in the United States, saying that the U.S. must comply with International Law when dealing with Mexican nationals on death row in the United States. That does it for the show. Our website is democracynow.org. You can get a copy of the show by calling 1-800-881-2359.

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