War crimes only selectively prosecuted by U.S.

First the good news: Slobodan Milosevic will be tried by Yugoslav forces for an assortment of human rights violations in Kosovo in 1999. Now the bad news: The trial, as its critics accurately note, is without a doubt an exercise in selective justice. Its occurrence merely reinforces the fact that the weak will face prosecution while the strong sing paeans to their own self-proclaimed virtue.

Witness a recent front page report in this nation’s newspaper of record: Milosevic’s arraignment last week, according to The New York Times, “set the scene for what is certain to be an intense battle between opposing views of the world: nations and groups that are determined … to combat crimes (they regard]) as intolerable through the extension of international law, versus a man who sees this campaign as little more than a cloak for American imperialism.” Excuse me? Nations determined to combat intolerable crimes?

Days before Milosevic’s transfer to the Hague – and only weeks after singing the praises of Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose culpability in the destruction of Chechnya should have him living behind bars – President George W. Bush met at the White House with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli war-criminal-turned-prime minister whose present assault on the Palestinian people is matched only by the intellectual acrobatics of Israel’s American apologists. Among these moral hucksters – Elie Wiesel, William Safire, Abraham Foxman, Stephen Silberfarb, and several letter writers to The Minnesota Daily – peace and justice belong only to the Jewish people of Israel, not the indigenous Palestinian population being denied its right to self-determination.

As the just-deceased Holocaust survivor Israel Shahak would have reminded this shameful cohort, human rights, if the concept is to possess any meaning at all, must apply to all peoples.

It remains to be seen whether the United States, which finances Israeli state terror and supplies much of the weaponry used to enforce its illegal occupation, will push for Sharon’s transfer to Belgium, whose courts are investigating a possible indictment of the Israeli leader. It seems that while his oversight of the slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1982 might not be a big deal to those in the White House, Sharon’s record has not been overlooked everywhere.

Closer to home – in fact, prosecutors wouldn’t even need to deal with the extradition problem that has proved such a burden for the Yugoslavia tribunal – a good place to begin demonstrating America’s sudden intolerance for war crimes would be the overdue indictment of Henry Kissinger.

The case of Kissinger is a no-brainer. Indeed, the Justice Department would already have much of its footwork completed. In a two-part series in Harper’s magazine in February and March and since published as a book by Verso, Christopher Hitchens laid out in great detail the case against this darling of the American mass media. From Chile and East Timor to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia, Kissinger has enough blood on his hands to imprison him for life countless times over.

Although voracious readers of this nation’s press would hardly know it, Kissinger’s past, too, has not been purposely forgotten by the international community as it has here. Last month while visiting Paris, the former secretary of state was summoned before a French magistrate to answer questions about Washington’s knowledge of human rights violations in Chile around the time of the U.S.-backed Pinochet coup. Kissinger left the country the next day, thus failing to appear in court.

As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting pointed out, since that time he has been interviewed one-on-one by Charlie Rose on PBS, Wolf Blitzer on CNN and Paula Zahn on the Fox News Channel. Not one of these journalists brought up the subject of Kissinger’s record on human rights, nor did they even hint at his request to appear at the French Palace of Justice.

And if the United States were really serious about “the extension of international law” and combating “intolerable crimes,” one has to wonder about the appointment two weeks ago of Elliott Abrams as senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations on the Bush administration’s National Security Council.

Among other transgressions, Abrams previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about American support for the terrorist army invading Nicaragua in the 1980s. And as an assistant secretary in the State Department at that time, Abrams served as official apologist for U.S.-backed terror in El Salvador and elsewhere throughout Central America.

Much more could be said about the U.S. commitment to transnational justice, including a few words about Washington’s rejection of an international criminal court, but I don’t wish to move too far from the issue immediately at hand. Returning, then, to the Milosevic affair, perhaps most troubling is the triumphalism that has pervaded current media coverage, a triumphalism based almost wholly on myth and a selective reading of both the present and past.

For instance, through little more than incessant repetition, it has become truth, as the Los Angeles Times recently asserted, that the United States conducted its 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia “to protect the majority ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo region.” That numerous analysts have persuasively argued otherwise – or that the notion of “humanitarian intervention” runs completely counter to over 200 years of U.S. foreign policy – is apparently immaterial. (As for the protection supposedly afforded the Kosovo Albanians, the human rights tragedy that filled American television screens largely followed the commencement of the bombing – just as U.S. officials had predicted.)

Nevertheless, to maintain this fiction of American global benevolence, it was and is critical that a number of complicating facts be forgotten. On this count, the media has performed admirably. To cite only one example, the press almost universally failed to report that the United States rejected a negotiated settlement to the Kosovo crisis put forward by Yugoslavia prior to the initiation of bombing. In fact, the first (and only) such report in the mainstream media before the end of the 78-day aerial campaign came on April 8, over two weeks after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia on March 23, when Steven Erlanger of The New York Times mentioned, merely in passing, the Yugoslav offer of several weeks before.

It seems Belgrade was willing to allow “an international presence” in Kosovo, reportedly under the authority of the United Nations. However, Washington was adamant that NATO command the occupation party and it be allowed access to all of Yugoslavia. The United States rejected Belgrade’s offer. Thus, the outbreak of war and the human rights disaster that ensued.

In a just world, when Slobodan Milosevic is finally tried in The Hague, he would be joined by a number of his accusers. The Clinton administration, in insisting on a war against Yugoslavia, opened the door to the terror that transpired, along the way engaging in its own series of “war crimes,” as Amnesty International designated them.

And what about American actions elsewhere in the Balkans? According to a report in The New York Times just days before Washington’s Kosovo crusade began, the enormous “ethnic cleansing” campaign of Serbian civilians in Croatia in August 1995 “was carried out with the tacit blessing of the United States by a Croatian Army that had been schooled in part by a group of retired American military officers.” Will they join Milosevic in the dock?

Don’t hold your breath. So what message should be taken from the forthcoming trial of Milosevic? There is no true justice when meted out only to the weak.

Scott Laderman’s column appears monthly. He
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