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Media's coverage of Milosevic's death ignored...
The real war criminals

By Lance Selfa | March 24, 2006 | Page 7

FROM THE moment the news that former Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic had died hit the airwaves, it was only a matter of time before you heard the tut-tutting in the organs of respectable Western opinion.

"It's hard not to feel that by dying in his cell, Slobodan Milosevic finally succeeded in his determined effort to cheat justice," proclaimed the New York Times in an editorial on March 14.

The Washington Post called Milosevic's death "unfortunate" since it denied the Hague-based war crimes tribunal a verdict against him. The Post continued: "In the long run, Serbs and Europeans generally will surely remember Slobodan Milosevic as the last of the power-craving nationalists who all but destroyed the continent in the 20th century. The sooner that understanding takes hold, the more quickly Serbia will recover.'

Certainly, no one at Socialist Worker is shedding any tears about Milosevic's death. But the real history of the breakup of former Yugoslavia and of Western dealings with Milosevic shows the willful hypocrisy of the Times and the Post.

Milosevic was a banker and Stalinist apparatchik in the old Yugoslav system. When that system collapsed in the wake of the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, he transformed himself almost overnight from a "communist" to Serbian nationalist.

Although Milosevic may have pioneered this form of nationalist politics in ex-Yugoslavia, he was hardly alone. The leaders of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina also played nationalist politics to shore themselves up as a three-cornered civil war broke out.

Even if the war crimes tribunal--itself set up by UN Security Council on dubious legal grounds--had a hard time proving that Milosevic personally ordered atrocities, there's no doubt that the climate he helped to create and the thugs he used to bolster his rule were responsible for massacres.

But the tribunal's indictment of Milosevic in 1999 had little to do with Milosevic's actual crimes or with human rights abuses per se.

If that were true, then the late Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman and the generals involved in the ethnic cleansing of more than 150,000 Serbs from Croatia would also have been indicted. In fact, the U.S. systematically withheld evidence from the tribunal that would have implicated Croatia--because the ethnic cleansing was sanctioned by the U.S. and organized by retired U.S. generals.

When the U.S. determined that it needed Milosevic to secure the 1995 Dayton Accords--an agreement that partitioned the former Yugoslavia into NATO-administered puppet states--it also withheld evidence of Milsosevic's fomenting of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Only when NATO went to war with Serbia and the U.S. needed to score propaganda points did it provide evidence against Milosevic.

This was ironic because at the very same time, NATO and the U.S. were carrying out war crimes against the people of Serbia--under the guise of protecting Kosovar Albanians from oppression.

NATO used cluster bombs, killing hundreds of civilians, and depleted uranium shells in Serbia. It targeted the main Serbian television station, the Chinese embassy, hospitals, clinics, schools--even priceless historical monuments. NATO air strikes hit oil and gas storage facilities, causing petrochemicals to spill into Serbia's air and water.

"No honest international tribunal," wrote Mark Weisbrot at the time, "could prosecute Milosevic for crimes committed in this war without also indicting the leaders of NATO."

Today, those NATO leaders--such as former President Bill Clinton and current British Prime Minister Tony Blair--are held up as visionaries willing to deploy military force for humanitarian purposes. No doubt both of them are breathing a sigh of relief that Milosevic never got a chance to reveal the extent of their war crimes in Yugoslavia.

This may all seem like something of historical interest. But the same arguments for "humanitarian intervention" that we heard about Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s are being raised today around the question of Darfur and Sudan. A future column will take a look at how the left should respond to the Darfur crisis.

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