WAR CRIMINALS: REAL AND IMAGINED
By Gregory Elich
The blare of media fanfare exhorts us to celebrate the abduction and
imprisonment of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Though
widely touted as a victory in the American crusade for human rights, the
arrest of Milosevic fits a quite different pattern when seen in the context
of post World War II history. Whether waving the banner of freedom
or waving the banner of human rights, Western leaders have consistently
sought to obscure both their motivations and the often-dreadful consequences
of their actions. Freedom was never a concern. Nor were human
rights, but such rhetorical justifications helped to engage domestic public
support for international adventures designed to serve corporate interests.
The lure of profit always takes precedence over the lives of millions.
Every year, 40 million people die needlessly of hunger, victims of a global
capitalist system that cherishes wealth, but human lives not at all.
In terms of death, this silent holocaust is the equivalent of a Second
World War - in which 55 million died – taking place every year and a half.
Yet a drop in the Stock Market evokes more concern. Such a
system is monstrous. One can gauge Western commitment to human rights
and justice by examining the record of these self-appointed judges.
History is replete with examples, so a few cases will have to serve as
As the Indonesian Army hunted down and butchered its victims, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk cabled the embassy in Jakarta that the “campaign against the PKI must continue,” and urged embassy officials to “get across that Indonesia and Army have real friends who are ready to help.” The U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Marshall Green, responded to Rusk that “we have made it clear that Embassy and USG [U.S. Government] generally sympathetic with and admiring of what army doing.”
Unable to keep up with the pace of killing demanded by Washington, the Army organized Muslim extremists and right wing death squads and set them loose in a frenzied killing spree. Indonesian generals asked the U.S. Government for more weapons “to arm Muslim and nationalist youths in central Java for use against the PKI,” and Washington responded quickly with covert shipments of arms. One former State Department official told Kadane, “No one cared as long as they were communists that were being butchered.” An internal CIA report later noted that it was “extremely proud” of its role in the coup.
As Ambassador Green remarked in a cable to Washington, “Bluntest remark was question of how much is it worth to U.S. that PKI be smashed and trend here reversed, thereby swinging big part of SEA [Southeast Asia] from communism.” Once Suharto formally assumed the post of acting president on March 11, 1966, economic aid was forthcoming and U.S. and Western European advisors helped chart economic policy in New Order Indonesia. By 1967, Indonesia had rejoined the IMF and World Bank, passed an investment law favorable to foreign corporations, and was rewarded with a large increase in U.S. aid, rising to $200 million by 1969. In the years to come, New Order Indonesia would continue to imprison, torture and execute several hundred thousand people. Only in Suharto’s last months in office did Western support for him wane, due to a people’s revolution which threatened to topple him. A shift in the West’s support was imperative in order to ensure a cosmetic change of leadership to protect their interests.
In 1983, the CIA supplied a long list of members of the communist Tudeh Party to the Khomeini government in Iran, branding those identified as “Soviet agents.” The expectation was that these people would be arrested and executed, a hope that was not disappointed. The Iranian government sprang into action, arresting and executing 200 party members and outlawing the Tudeh Party. More arrests would follow, including the entire party leadership, who were tortured and forced to make false televised confessions. The British government also supplied information on Tudeh to Iranian authorities. Eventually over 10,000 members and supporters of Tudeh would be imprisoned and tortured. In 1989 a specially appointed committee swept through the prisons and sentenced to death thousands. At least 5,000 people from various political parties were executed, including hundreds of Tudeh Party members. The U.S. concern was that a post-Khomeini Iran might move to the left. The Western assisted decimation of Tudeh aimed to forestall that prospect.
In 1975, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge; virtually the entire country was turned into a forced labor camp as they implemented a primitive agrarian economy. Over the next four years as many as two million Cambodians perished from starvation, disease and executions. Several hundred thousand people were tortured and murdered in often-brutal ways. Here was crime against humanity on a grand scale. Following a Khmer Rouge invasion of Vietnam, counter-attacking Vietnamese forces, in conjunction with an uprising of the Cambodian people, drove the Khmer Rouge from power in January 1979. A socialist government led by Hun Sen was established as Cambodia began its long road back to recovery. Khmer Rouge troops, in alliance with right-wing forces, launched a fierce guerrilla war against the new Cambodian government which lasted several years. Guerrilla leaders Prince Norodom Sihanouk and Son Sann joined the Khmer Rouge in forming a Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, which at Western insistence, represented Cambodia at the United Nations in place of the government of Cambodia. This provided a fig leaf of legitimacy for Western support of a movement dominated by the Khmer Rouge. American and British advisors and arms shipments aided Sihanouk’s and Sann’s forces, which carried out coordinated military operations with Khmer Rouge troops and were often commanded by Khmer Rouge officers. Western arms frequently found their way into Khmer Rouge arsenals as many members of Sihanouk’s and Sann’s organizations belonged to the Khmer Rouge. U.S. officials pressured humanitarian groups to supply food and aid to help sustain the Khmer Rouge.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam maintained a troop presence in Cambodia in order to help defend the fledging Hun Sen government and prevent the return to power of mass murderers. American officials were outraged, and spared no effort to reverse the situation. Western sponsored peace negotiations in 1989-1990 succeeded in obtaining the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops. The second goal of Western negotiators was to replace or weaken socialist forces in Cambodia. Under pressure, Cambodia was obliged to bring officials from Son Sann’s and Norodom Sihanouk’s organizations into the government. Cambodia was also compelled to restore the monarchy and place Sihanouk back on the throne. During the peace negotiations, American officials insisted that the Khmer Rouge be given a prominent role in the new governing coalition. As one U.S. negotiator explained, “No Khmer Rouge, no deal.” The Khmer Rouge, fiercely anti-Vietnamese, still harbored dreams of seizing territory from Vietnam. This harmonized with U.S. goals in the region, also fiercely anti-Vietnamese. A Hun Sen government in Cambodia friendly to Vietnam was impermissible. Vietnam had to be isolated, even if it meant risking the return to power of executioners in Cambodia. Only Khmer Rouge intransigence failed to bring about the realization of the Western demand for the inclusion of Khmer Rouge officials in the government. Preferring to continue the guerrilla struggle, the Khmer Rouge hoped to grab sole control of governing reins through force of arms.
As Cambodian government troops closed in on the last remnants of Khmer Rouge forces in March 1998, Khmer Rouge warlord Ta Mok communicated an offer through Thai military channels to turn the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, over to the United States. Taken by surprise, U.S. officials turned down the offer. No desire for a tribunal here. They didn’t want him. But Cambodia wanted him, so the U.S. had to act to prevent that eventuality. The U.S. needed time to structure proceedings, presumably in order to ensure that the American role in support of Pol Pot would not surface during a trial. While U.S. officials worked on arrangements for a trial on their terms, Pol Pot committed suicide.
Following the final defeat of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian government announced that Khmer Rouge leaders would be tried for crimes against humanity. Without delay, the U.S. responded by demanding that any trial be conducted solely under United Nations auspices, in other words, under terms dictated by the U.S. After lengthy wrangling, Western threats and pressure forced Cambodia to relent and seek a compromise in which the trials would be conducted in Cambodia, but with a mix of Cambodian and Western prosecutors and judges. A major sticking point is whether the controlling majority will be Cambodian or Western. In response to a hostile letter sent from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in April 2000, Hun Sen announced that the Khmer Rouge trials would not be limited to the years in which it held power, but would cover the entire period of 1970 to 1999. This touched directly on the worst fears of U.S. officials, spanning events from the CIA-backed military coup in Cambodia in 1970 through the final years of Western support for the Khmer Rouge. Only a hastily drawn American plan for evenly divided prosecution and judicial teams brought an agreement on the trial, ensuring that only the events of Khmer Rouge power would be considered. The Cambodians also had reason to worry. Their justifiable fear was that a prosecution team with a Western majority would seize the opportunity to seek the arrest of Hun Sun and other Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) leaders on trumped-up charges. The elimination of the CPP from the scene and the installation of a government more amenable to Western dictate has long been a Western goal. Clearly the U.S. motivation is to steer any trials in a direction favorable to its interests.
Despite apparent agreement, Western insistence on majority control continues. When Hun Sen announced that a draft law on the conduct of the trial would be passed by August 2001, Kofi Annan fired off a threatening letter, demanding full adherence to all Western demands. Unbowed, Hun Sen responded, “It seems to me that the UN does not want Cambodia to proceed with the trial, so I want Kofi Annan to be careful with the sovereignty and the independence of a nation, and let’s talk straight and be clear with each other. I am afraid of nobody. This is a Cambodian issue. To join us or not is up to you.”
In August 1995, Croatian troops invaded Serbian Krajina. Within days, virtually the entire Serbian population, over 200,000 people, was driven from their homes. U.S. NATO warplanes spearheaded the assault, bombing Serbian radar and anti-aircraft sites. American EA-6B Electronic Warfare aircraft jammed Serb military communications. Croatian troops, trained and supplied with weapons and satellite reconnaissance by the U.S., rampaged through the Krajina, burning down homes and slaughtering thousands who couldn’t escape in time. It was the single greatest refugee crisis of the 1991-95 Balkan civil war, and it was U.S. officials who gave the go-ahead to the Croatian government. Serbian Krajina was closely associated with Yugoslavia, the last remaining socialist-led government in Europe, and decidedly outside the orbit of Western control.
In March 1998, the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was a small force with about 300 members. Turing a blind eye to the KLA’s policy of murder and intimidation, the U.S., Germany and Great Britain sent arms shipments and provided training to the KLA, building it up into a major guerrilla army with as many as 30,000 members. Western intervention turned a small conflict into a major crisis. As a pretext, NATO relied on the crisis it had created in order to justify waging a war of aggression against Yugoslavia. Foremost among crimes against humanity is the crime against peace, and for this crime NATO and Western leaders clearly bear guilt. Every town and city in Yugoslavia was the target of their bombs. My travels throughout Yugoslavia shortly after the war confirmed that NATO deliberately targeted civilians. Entire residential areas were wiped out. Factories, schools, hospitals, bridges, apartment buildings, houses, offices and a passenger train were destroyed. Cluster bombs, anti-personnel in nature, were dropped on residential areas, tearing human beings to pieces. Over 2,000 civilians were killed and over 10,000 wounded by NATO.
Western leaders could not sell the war to their publics by revealing that it was intended to create a market friendly to Western corporate interests, so they concocted the lie of concern for Albanian human rights. When NATO bombs started falling, Serbian extremists became enraged, blaming Albanians for the bombs. Right-wing paramilitary squads formed, venting their rage on Albanian civilians in mainly border areas of Kosovo. Rogue police and criminal gangs, both Serbian and Albanian, took advantage of the chaos to loot homes and drive away occupants. Yugoslav security forces, the target of NATO bombs, struggled to stabilize the situation. By the third week of the war, they were escorting Albanian refugees back to their homes, and within two months order had been restored to most of Kosovo. Yugoslav security forces fought against the terrorism of both the KLA and Serbian paramilitaries, and by the end of the war had arrested over 800 Serbian extremists for crimes against Albanian civilians.
President Milosevic’s position was consistent. He advocated ethnic equality. His delegation at Rambouillet peace talks consisted of members of every ethnic group in Kosovo, including Albanian. Serbs were a minority in the Yugoslav delegation. At the talks, the Yugoslav delegation offered wide-ranging autonomy for Kosovo. Repeatedly, Milosevic stated his commitment to a multi-ethnic society. His words from a 1992 speech are typical: “We know that there are many Albanians in Kosovo who do not approve of the separatist policy of their nationalist leaders. They are under pressure, intimidated, and blackmailed, but we shall not respond with the like. We must respond by offering our hand, living with them in equality, and not permitting that a single Albanian child, woman, or man be discriminated against in Kosovo in any way. We must, for the sake of all Serbian citizens, insist on the policy of brotherhood, unity, and ethnic equality in Kosovo. We shall persevere on this policy.” A monumental propaganda campaign has succeeded in achieving one of the most astounding smear campaigns in history, painting a democrat devoted to socialist ideals as a racist hate-monger.
Milosevic’s offense was his opposition to privatization and foreign control of the Yugoslav economy. The U.S.-organized Balkan Stability Pact called for a region under the sway of the free market model. Yugoslavia, strategically positioned along the Danube and astride a major highway transportation route, stood in the way of the effort to place the Balkans under complete and total Western economic domination.
The common thread running through these examples is not a zeal for justice and human rights by the West, but a vindictive urge to seek the imprisonment or murder of its opponents. Nothing can stand in the way of corporate profits. As one man in Yugoslavia told me, “ I think our President Milosevic is more of a problem for imperialism than for us.”
Who can believe that Milosevic could possibly receive a fair trial at the hands of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)? He wasn’t even allowed to speak at his arraignment without having his microphone twice switched off. During NATO’s war against Yugoslavia, the Tribunal hastily composed its indictment of Milosevic and four other Yugoslav leaders in order to bolster sagging public support for the war. Created and funded by the same Western powers that carried out NATO’s war, the ICTY serves its master. The trial is widely, and rightly, seen as setting an important precedent. No longer would international law be an impediment to action. Already the war established that Western powers could wage war without authorization by the United Nations. The trial will establish their right to seize anyone without regard to borders or legal niceties. Anyone resisting Western demands would be threatened with abduction and imprisonment. It will be yet another tool for imposing Western domination over other nations, and make no mistake, it will be used. The trial of Slobodan Milosevic will be a show trial with a preordained verdict.
The real war criminals are not on trial. They act as judge and
jury. We are witnessing the outrageous spectacle of criminals judging
their victims. President Milosevic’s only crime was that he had the
courage to stand up to NATO despite overwhelming odds, to patriotically
defend his country against aggression. Shortly after the war, I was
a member of a delegation that interviewed Albanian refugees who fled to
Belgrade. Among those we interviewed was Fatmir Seholi, Chief Editor
at Radio Television Pristina until NATO troops entered Kosovo and expelled
him from the province. Unlike those in the West deluded by propaganda,
he knew a real war criminal when he saw one. “Every NATO bombing
was a big problem,” he told us. “There was no purpose relating to
the Serbian nation or the Albanian nation. Whether that was their
purpose or not, people were killed. The man who could command NATO
to bomb people is not human. He is an animal. After the bombing
at Djakovica, I saw decapitated bodies. I have pictures of that.
It is horrible, terrible. I saw people without arms, without feet.”
Seholi demanded, “Who is Clinton to accuse another? I would
like to say to Hillary Clinton that her husband is an immoral person.
That man ruined our state for no reason. What would he say if someone
bombed the United States, bombed the White House, or killed or raped his
daughter? Who is the evil man here? Milosevic, who is protecting
the territory of Yugoslavia and protecting the people of Kosovo, or Clinton,
who bombs us?”