Hold the Hague accountable (WashingtonTimes)
Jeffrey T. Kuhner
Since ancient Greece, one of the central questions in Western political life is: "Who guards the guardians."This is especially pertinent regarding the international criminal
tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague. The tribunal was
created in 1993 by the UnitedNations Security Council; it was charged with the responsibility of
bringing to justice those who committed war crimes during the violent
break up of Yugoslavia. Sadly, The Hague has been a disappointment: The prosecutor's office has engaged inabuses of power and issued flawed indictments that pose a threat to U.S.
national interests. The most obvious example of the tribunal's incompetence is the
current trial of former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. This has been
a public relations disaster for The Hague, as Mr. Milosevic has put the prosecutor's office on the
defensive, charging that he is the victim of a Western smear campaign.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the Butcher of Belgrade masterminded the ethnic-cleansing campaigns in Croatia, Bosnia andKosovo, the prosecution has so far failed to document Mr. Milosevic's numerous crimes. These includethe destruction of Vukovar, the massacre of more than 7,000 civilians atSrebrenica, the savage shelling of Sarajevo, and the murder of countless ethnic Albanians,whose graves are now being discovered all over Serbia.The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte — like mostEuropean leftists — is uncomfortable with the notion of moral absolutes. She refuses to acknowledge thatMr. Milosevic in particular, and the Serbs in general, bear the brunt of responsibility for the war crimes committed in the Balkans. Hence,she is looking for an ethnic scapegoat to offset the complaints from Belgrade that her office isdemonstrating "bias" against the Serbs. Mrs. Del Ponte believes she has found it in the Croats.In June 2001, the prosecutor's office issued an indictment for Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina on charges that he exercised "command
responsibility" over a 1995 military operation in which Zagreb recovered territories seized by rebel Serbforces during Croatia's successful drive for independence in 1991. The
operation resulted in the mass exodus of 150,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia. The United Statessupported the offensive because it rightly concluded that Croatia was
pivotal to altering the strategic balance of power in the Balkans. The operation not only restoredCroatia's territorial integrity, but also paved the way for the Dayton
peace agreement that ended the war in neighboring Bosnia.
The Gotovina indictment is deeply flawed; it is also revolutionary in its implications for international criminal law. Thetheory of "command responsibility" violates the
basic tenet of the definition of a war crime — the principle of personal responsibility for one's actions. The Croatian general is notaccused of individually committing or ordering atrocities; he is simply guilty of being in "command" whenalleged war crimes were committed. The ultimate goal of the indictment is not only to punish the Croatsfor exercising their legitimate right to self-defense, but to make war itself a crime. Rather than dropping the charges against Gen. Gotovina, Mrs. DelPonte's office is now examining whether to expand the indictment to
include high-ranking U.S.officials — such as former President Bill Clinton — on the grounds thatthey exercised ultimate "command responsibility" for the operation. Troubled by the implications of the Gotovina indictment, theState Department has asked the prosecutor's office to transfer cases involving Croatian military officialsback to the domestic courts in Zagreb. But Mrs. Del Ponte continues to thumb her nose at the United States, demanding that Gen. Gotovina bearrested and sent to The Hague to face trial. Furthermore, the prosecutor's office is abusing its powers. ICTYspokesman, Florence Hartmann, has directly lobbied journalists and media outlets in Croatia,demanding that pro-Gotovina coverage be dropped. She has sought to bully and intimidate reporters asking about the ICTY's basis for the
Gotovina indictment. Mrs. Del Ponte is now requesting that her mandate as chief
prosecutor be extended past its September 2003 expiration deadline until
Mr. Milosevic's trial is over.Instead of renewing her mandate, the Bush administration should demandan independent investigation of Mrs. Del Ponte's office for its abuses
of power, its unethical indictment of Gen. Gotovina and its utter incompetence in prosecuting
the greatest mass murderer of the late-20th century. At the very least, the United States should use its veto at theU.N. Security Council next year to block Mrs. Del Ponte's reappointment.
Washington must hold The Hague accountable for its actions. If it doesn't, who will?
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is an assistant national editor at The Washington Times.