Milosevic is dead. Hooray?*

by John Quiggin on March 12, 2006

Like John Howard, I won’t be shedding any tears over Slobodan Milosevic, whose death in prison, apparently from natural causes, has been announced.

An obvious question raised by his death is whether (and how) his trial on a variety of war crimes charges could have been accelerated. The fact that he will never be properly convicted is certainly unfortunate. Even if it would have had no short run impact on opinion among Serbian nationalists, it would have helped to set the historical record straight. Milosevic’s death increases the urgency of capturing his main instruments, Mladic and Karadzic, whose connection to the crimes of the Bosnian war is more immediate, and whose trial could drive home the evil of Milosevic’s policies.

Still, the long, and now abortive, trial in The Hague is better than the alternative on offer in Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein, whose wars cost millions of lives, is being tried, and may be executed, for a comparatively minor crime, but one which is politically convenient for the purposes of victors’ justice.

  • An adaption of the headline of the Sydney Telegraph on the good news of 5 March 1953.

{ 42 comments }

1

Katja 03.12.06 at 5:27 am

Well I can’t say that I am shedding any tears over the death of Slobodan Milosevic, I do think it’s a bad thing he died just now. There are too many who did not see justice done.
Then again, maybe a verdict would not have convinced the people who most vehemently support him either.
I’m left with the feeling he’s left to God’s justice, Earthly justice was at no point up to the task!

2

fish 03.12.06 at 5:44 am

Calling a war crimes trial a “trial” always make me feel uneasy. I don’t doubt the fairness of the trials or of the punishments. For every war criminal convicted, however, there are many more who are publicly known to have comitted the same crimes and who will never face trial. This is often for good reasons – for example they may be unable to be arrested – and sometimes for bad reasons of political convenience. Regardless of the reasons, I think that to describe them as trials draws a bad analogy with Western countries’ criminal trials. In a Western criminal trial there is an expectation that most people who are known to have committed a similar crime will also be brought before a court.

Don’t get me wrong – war crimes trials serve a valuable purpose, especially in setting the historical record straight as John says. I just don’t feel that they’re trials in the usual sense of the word.

3

Anthony 03.12.06 at 6:26 am

The murder of about 100 people is a minor crime? It is quite clear that this case has been chosen because it has his signature over the documents; not to mention the fact Saddam has held his hand up in court. I’m sure those who suffered in Dujail will see it as justice, not victor’s justice.

Still, as always, let’s make this about ourselves and not about Iraqis.

4

Louis Proyect 03.12.06 at 8:04 am

What baloney. Milosevic was kidnapped and hauled off to the Hague in violation of Yugoslavian law. Furthermore, the real war criminals are those who were persecuting/prosecuting him: NATO, the imperialist financial institutions that were so anxious to remove the last element of state ownership in the East from the face of the earth, the Soros-funded NGO’s, and the Cruise Missile left. These war crimes tribunals are inevitably orchestrated by the victors, who in this age inevitably salute the Stars-and-Stripes, the swastika of our age. Milosevic’s real sin was not being enough of a socialist. The same steamroller that flattened Gorbachev flattened him. Someday a reinvigorated socialism, now beginning to take root in Latin America, will have the power to not only make history on a world scale but enact true justice. The kidnappers and their lackeys in the media will then have their day in court.

5

ab 03.12.06 at 8:21 am

It just shows that you can’t put politics or history on trial. You can judge politics only politically, not legally.

Yes, for the Western public the Milosevic trial in The Hague is much better than the Saddam trial in Baghdad. But for the domestic publics concerned, it’s just the opposite.

The Milosevic trial had a huge negative impact on domestic politics in Serbia, and an external judgement somewhere in The Hague only contributed to that. For Serbia at least, it would have been much better if he had been put on trial in Belgrade first (and then later perhaps in The Hague).

Likewise, it’s one of the very few stabilizing factors in Iraq that Saddam is on trial in Baghdad rather than abroad because opposition to Saddam is one of the few things that unites a majority of Iraqis.

Try not to see the Milosevic and Saddam trials only from a Western angle; try to imagine what Serbians and Iraqis feel about it.

6

Don Quijote 03.12.06 at 8:48 am

The murder of about 100 people is a minor crime?

When you have murdered thousands and caused the death of hundreds of thousands, 100 people is a minor crime.

7

Tad Brennan 03.12.06 at 9:51 am

louis proyect–

Thank you for vividly illustrating the political outlook of Milosevic supporters.

He was a monomaniacal moral monster, and you have clearly caught more than a touch of his monomania.

8

Andrew Reeves 03.12.06 at 11:04 am

Louis Proyect’s post is interesting in that it points out something that I have found particularly amusing, namely that both extreme right and extreme left loved Slobo. The former, because he slaughtered Muslims. The latter, because he was supposedly a Marxist and the Bosniacs and Kosovars were agents of international capitalism.

Few things are more weird than to read right wingers singing the praises of a Marxist dictator.

9

abb1 03.12.06 at 3:42 pm

So, the Sydney Telegraph cheered (even if cautiously) when the Father Of Peoples died. How did the Leader and Teacher of Mankind manage to enrage Australians this much? Weird.

Apparently the Genius of Humanity is as popular as ever.

10

Kenny Easwaran 03.12.06 at 5:44 pm

What did the Sydney Telegraph have against Sergei Prokofiev?

11

Louis Proyect 03.12.06 at 7:21 pm

Did the extreme right love Milosevic? Well, who knows. All I know is that a rogue’s gallery of Democratic Party politicians in the USA, German Greens and social democrats, New Labour politicians et al were eager to demonstrate that they could punish “fascists” in the same way that previous generations did. I would say that this disgusting Orwellian turn had a lot to do with the rush to war in Iraq, which was promoted by the ultraright wing now in power. Lesson? The enemy of world peace is liberal and conservative politicians acting on behalf of multinational corporations.

12

djw 03.13.06 at 1:28 am

My Marx-Engels reader must be missing the page about how the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

13

ajay 03.13.06 at 6:17 am

ab: For Serbia at least, it would have been much better if he had been put on trial in Belgrade first (and then later perhaps in The Hague).

Hmm. So, if a Serbian court had found the hero of the last decade innocent, the Serbian government would have promptly rearrested him and shipped him off to be tried again in the Hague? Pardon my scepticism.
Not guilty would have been the most likely outcome. Next most likely – a conviction on some petty charge (corruption, say, or some minor abuse of power), followed by, say, two years in a comfortable prison or in “house arrest”.
For the sake of soothing Serb feelings, were we supposed to risk letting him get away?

14

ab 03.13.06 at 10:29 am

In response to #13 ajay:

(1) If Serbia is a sovereign state, you might run this risk (though I think you overstate the risk). If you don’t trust Serbia, then don’t allow Serbia to be a sovereign state and impose some kind of imperial rule over it (e.g. like the UN rule of Kosovo or Allied rule of Germany after 1945).

(2) If you already know that Milosevic is guilty, why bother to have a trial; especially if the possibility of a no-guilty verdict is unacceptable for you.

I personally think that Milosevic was guilty of war crimes (and I think many Serbians would agree, but they need to come to this conclusion for themselves). In the end it just shows again my point that this is a political process that cannot be formalized in legal terms.

15

abb1 03.13.06 at 11:03 am

To formalize this thing in legal terms, you’d prbably have to make acts of whipping up nationalist hysteria by national leaders illegal, make it an international crime. Yet this has probably been one of the most reliable tools in politics for the last 5000 years.

16

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.13.06 at 11:52 am

The murder of about 100 people is a minor crime?

When you have murdered thousands and caused the death of hundreds of thousands, 100 people is a minor crime.

This partially illustrates the ridiculousness of “trial” format for war crimes. The reason he is being tried for this particular crime and not others is because this particular crime has lots of easily accessible documents which can be used as proof in a trial. It kind of worked in the Nazi example because they meticulously documented everything. But it doesn’t work for most war crimes. Take the genocide in Sudan for instance. There aren’t going to be documents and the best witnesses are all going to be dead. The trial format isn’t well suited for these type of problems.

17

Dan Simon 03.13.06 at 3:44 pm

Still, the long, and now abortive, trial in The Hague is better than the alternative on offer in Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein, whose wars cost millions of lives, is being tried, and may be executed, for a comparatively minor crime, but one which is politically convenient for the purposes of victors’ justice.

Looks like we have a new irregular verb:

I try a monster for war crimes.

You start a politically convenient proceeding.

He imposes victors’ justice.

18

abb1 03.13.06 at 4:15 pm

Try a monster, huh. Why would anyone want to try a monster? You slay your monsters.

19

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.13.06 at 4:33 pm

“You slay your monsters.”

Well you ought to anyway.

20

james 03.13.06 at 6:55 pm

Strangly enough louis is right but for the wrong reasons. In any armed conflict, the victor sets the conditions and establishes the law. Has there been any time in history where this has not been the case? Might does not make right, but it certainly sets the rules.

21

Louis Proyect 03.13.06 at 7:40 pm

I am not sure what are the “wrong reasons”. Is it wrong to insist on the imperialist character of the war against the Serbs? Is it wrong to point out that the West is very selective about which “monsters” it goes to war against? Turkey has killed far more Kurds than Albanians were killed by the Serbs, but Turkey is extolled as a friend of democracy. Chomsky once pointed out that there is no inconsistency about all this. The USA is highly consistent in choosing who it decides to go to war against. The targets are universally perceived as threats to US strategic and economic interests. All the bullshit about human rights and stopping fascism is merely public relations of the sort that every side adopted in WWI, with the dastardly Hun, etc. What sticks in my craw, however, is the tendency of liberal media whores to treat this bullshit as if it were Faberge jewels.

22

John Quiggin 03.13.06 at 7:41 pm

Contrary to Dan and Sebastian, Saddam is not being tried for war crimes, even though there is ample documentary evidence that he gave the orders to engage in aggressive war that caused millions of deaths in the Iran-Iraq war. The reason is not lack of evidence, but the complicity of the victors.

The actual crime for which he is being tried is one that, if he were still on the victors’ side, would be regarded as merely a regrettable excess in the war against terrorism: compare Fallujah, Grozny etc.

23

Dan Simon 03.13.06 at 10:11 pm

Saddam is not being tried for war crimes, even though there is ample documentary evidence that he gave the orders to engage in aggressive war that caused millions of deaths in the Iran-Iraq war. The reason is not lack of evidence, but the complicity of the victors.

Far be it from me to defend Saddam Hussein, but “[giving] the orders to engage in aggressive war”–even a terrible, cruel one “that caused millions of deaths”–isn’t a war crime, John, and you know it. No doubt there were war crimes committed during that conflict, but tracing those to Saddam Hussein himself might well be a difficult legal task–hence, the choice of one particularly well-documented atrocity as the focus of Saddam’s trial.

Of course, you could have mentioned a great many other of Saddam’s large-scale atrocities that really were war crimes or crimes against humanity. But you chose instead to pass off a nonsensical non-example as evidence of “victors’ justice”. The reason is not lack of evidence, but rather (I assume) the desire to attempt a lame cheap shot at the US, even at the cost of your last shred of logical coherence.

The actual crime for which he is being tried is one that, if he were still on the victors’ side, would be regarded as merely a regrettable excess in the war against terrorism: compare Fallujah, Grozny etc.

Yes, Saddam is on trial, while many other war criminals and assorted monsters go free. Likewise for Milosevic, whose crimes pale in comparison with those of, say, Saddam Hussein (whose being brought to justice you bitterly opposed), and who, like Saddam Hussein himself, was brought to justice thanks to the American military, and no thanks at all to the UN.

But when suitably anti-American (and obviously incompetent) UN jurists are allowed to control the (botched) prosecution of a war criminal, you choose the first-person form: “I try a monster for war crimes”. Only when an Iraqi tribunal, part of an Iraqi government that was freely elected (although scandalously lacking in anti-American credentials), looks to be successfully bringing a world-class butcher to account for his crimes, do you pick the third-person form: “he imposes victors’ justice”.

What an irregular verb, indeed!

24

Andrew Reeves 03.13.06 at 11:27 pm

…suitably anti-American (and obviously incompetent) UN jurists…

But they have such fantastic wigs!

25

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.13.06 at 11:55 pm

“Likewise for Milosevic, whose crimes pale in comparison with those of, say, Saddam Hussein (whose being brought to justice you bitterly opposed), and who, like Saddam Hussein himself, was brought to justice thanks to the American military, and no thanks at all to the UN.

Now there is a point routinely ignored on Crooked Timber.

26

abb1 03.14.06 at 3:01 am

Interesting, though, that thanks to the American military a lot of American, Israeli and other asserted ‘monsters’ are operating with total impunity and will never see any kind of justice.

Not only that, but many of them are heralded (quite surreally and grotesquely) as greatest men of our times, the men of peace, etc.

Which, of course makes travesty of this whole idea of justice being served to any other ‘monster’.

Unless, of course, you choose to view an incident of one mob boss whacking another as ‘justice’.

27

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.14.06 at 3:18 am

Sure, if you won’t see distinctions you won’t see distinctions.

28

Zephania 03.14.06 at 4:12 am

This article begins with “Slobodan Milosevic was a distasteful man with authoritarian Communist ideals” but goes on to say:

“In March 2002, Milosevic presented the Hague tribunal with FBI documents proving that the United States government and NATO provided financial and military support for Al-Qaeda to aid the Kosovo Liberation Army in its war against Serbia.”

29

abb1 03.14.06 at 5:15 am

Obviously if you are an Iraqi baathist, Serbian nationalist, Zionist or American exceptionalist, you’ll see distinctions. But that’s why lady justice is supposed to be blind.

30

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.14.06 at 10:17 am

You certainly are blind, but that doesn’t mean you would recognize justice if it bumped into you.

31

abb1 03.14.06 at 11:22 am

I’ll only say that when former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review is writing:

…The numerous civilians killed by US interventions are just as dead as the ones killed by heads of state attempting to hold on to their countries. Why are the latter deaths war crimes but not the former?

…it becomes quite clear who’s representing an eccentric and fringe view of justice here.

32

Uncle Kvetch 03.14.06 at 4:53 pm

Sure, if you won’t see distinctions you won’t see distinctions.

Of course. We kill out of love, and that makes all the difference.

33

John Quiggin 03.14.06 at 8:24 pm

““[giving] the orders to engage in aggressive war”—even a terrible, cruel one “that caused millions of deaths”—isn’t a war crime, John, and you know it.”

“Conspiracy to wage aggressive war” was the main charge at the Nuremburg trials. It is the crime that makes war crimes a category distinct from “crimes committed in the course of war”

“was brought to justice thanks to the American military, and no thanks at all to the UN. Now there is a point routinely ignored on Crooked Timber.”

Perhaps because it isn’t true. Milosevic was arrested by the Serbian government on a UN warrant.

34

Dan Simon 03.15.06 at 2:35 am

“Conspiracy to wage aggressive war” was the main charge at the Nuremburg trials. It is the crime that makes war crimes a category distinct from “crimes committed in the course of war”

This is incorrect.

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War

This count helped address the crimes committed before the war began, showing a plan to commit crimes during the war.

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or “Crimes Against Peace”

Including “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

Count Three: War Crimes

These were the more “traditional” violations of the law of war including treatment of prisoners of war, slave labor, and use of outlaws weapons.

Count Four: Crimes Against Humanity

This count involved the actions in concentration camps and other death rampages.

Needless to say, the focus of the trials was the latter two counts, not the first two. And “war crimes” are distinct from “crimes committed during the course of war” in that they refer to violations of the specific laws governing the conduct of war–regarding treatment of prisoners, for example, or use of weapons. “Conspiracy to wage aggressive war” obviously isn’t a war crime, or it wouldn’t have been listed as a separate charge from “war crimes”. Nor is it normally even considered in the same category–that’s why, for instance, there were no calls (outside Argentina) to bring the Argentine generals to justice after their defeat in the Falklands War.

But, hey–if you want to believe that the Nazis’ real crime was invading and occupying Poland….

Perhaps because it isn’t true. Milosevic was arrested by the Serbian government on a UN warrant.

Actually, no–he was arrested by the Serbian government on a Serbian warrant, in the hope that that would placate the US, which had threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid unless Milosevic was turned over to the UN tribunal.

So, not even counting the enormous role the 1999 NATO (that is, overwhelmingly American) military campaign played in Milosevic’s military defeat and subsequent electoral defeat, even his actual arrest can be directly attributed to US pressure.

Frankly, John, I think it’s time to pack it in on this one….

35

John Quiggin 03.15.06 at 2:47 am

This is bizarre, Dan. Read the first two counts in the Nuremburg indictment, which you’ve helpfully quoted. Then read what you said above.

36

abb1 03.15.06 at 3:28 am

What was the Nazis’ real crime?

37

Dan Simon 03.15.06 at 4:17 pm

Bizarre indeed. You complained that “Saddam is not being tried for war crimes, even though there is ample documentary evidence that he gave the orders to engage in aggressive war that caused millions of deaths in the Iran-Iraq war.” I pointed out that that wasn’t a war crime, you cited the Nuremberg trials, and I noted that the Nuremberg indictments explicitly distinguished “waging aggressive war” from “war crimes”. Why are you having trouble understanding this?

(On the plus side, at least you’re no longer contesting my point that Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic were both brought to justice thanks to the US, with no help from the UN.)

38

Kevin Donoghue 03.15.06 at 6:17 pm

Dan Simon tells us that the U.S. “threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid unless Milosevic was turned over to the UN tribunal.”

He supports this with a link which tells us the U.S. was threatening to suspend aid, but: “The aid was not conditional on Milosevic’s arrest and there has been no official U.S. reaction to the arrest.”

I have no idea just what American diplomats were actually saying to the Serbs back then; but if I want to find out, I certainly won’t consult Dan Simon. A man should be able to read his own links.

39

John Quiggin 03.15.06 at 10:59 pm

Dan, I give up absolutely on you. Your claim was that Saddam couldn’t be tried for waging aggressive war. I pointed out that this was the principal charge at Nuremberg, and you’ve responded with a semantic quibble about whether this was a war crime or a crime relating to war.

After that I couldn’t be bothered with your other point, though Kevin has kindly picked it up.

Life is too short to waste arguing with people who are determined never to admit error.

40

Dan Simon 03.16.06 at 1:31 am

Your claim was that Saddam couldn’t be tried for waging aggressive war.

I never said any such thing. I did say that “waging aggressive war” is not a war crime, and that it is not normally considered in the same category as war crimes. If you can give a post-WWII example of a serious proposal to try anyone for “waging aggressive war”, I’d like to hear about it. (Proposals to deal with monstrous world leaders by trying them for war crimes or crimes against humanity, on the other hand, are legion these days.)

Life is too short to waste arguing with people who are determined never to admit error.

Nonsense–in fact, I’m finding it most invigorating.

41

Dan Simon 03.16.06 at 1:46 am

He supports this with a link which tells us the U.S. was threatening to suspend aid, but: “The aid was not conditional on Milosevic’s arrest and there has been no official U.S. reaction to the arrest.”

Sorry about that, Kevin–the explanation of events in the CNN article I linked to was, I admit, a little oblique. Here are some more explicit accounts….

From Jane’s:

As the US Congress-imposed 31 March deadline approached, it became obvious that Kostunica would stubbornly resist allowing Milosevic to be arrested under any charge. However, barely two weeks before the deadline Djindjic visited Washington – and decided to take action despite Kostunica’s opposition and obstruction.

From the Washington Post:

At stake is $50 million in U.S. assistance that has not yet been disbursed. The Yugoslav government had sought to appease Washington partly by arresting Milosevic on domestic criminal charges — laying the groundwork for his eventual extradition to the tribunal, some officials said.

From Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Carko Kovac, interviewed on CNN:

SESNO: As you know, and as we have reported, there was a deadline of sorts imposed by the United States of tomorrow to see some progress made toward bringing Mr. Milosevic to justice, that being tied to about $100 million of U.S. aid. How much did that influence the events of today?

KOVAC: Well, frankly we are completely aware of the realities of this world, and obviously no government can function in some vacuum; you have to understand that many things in this world are interconnected. But basically, I must emphasize this, basically he’s been arrested when we had sufficient evidence against him.

42

abb1 03.16.06 at 3:35 am

So, what was the Nazis’ real crime, Dan?

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