a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Nuhanovic’s choice — and his son’s question

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th February 2007

It occurs to me that the ICJ decision acquitting Serbia of genocide in the case of the 1995 Srebrenica massacres simply bookends the international commmunity’s deep involvement — even complicity — in those atrocities. The senior officers of a Dutch “peacekeeping” battalion assigned by UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) to safeguard the town decided they didn’t want to be a tripwire and stood aside as Ratko Mladic’s forces occupied the doomed town. In their defense, it’s not clear what higher levels of UNPROFOR would have done, if anything, had the Dutch forces actually engaged the larger and better armed Bosnian Serb forces advancing into the enclave, bent on killing any men or boys left there. As David Rohde wrote in “Endgame“:

The international community partially disarmed thousands of men, promised them they would be safefuarded and then delivered them to their sworn enemies. Srebrenica was not simply a case of the international community standing by as a far-off atrocity was committed. The actions of the international community encouraged, aided and emboldened the executioners.

A survivor recounts what happened to his father, who had taken refuge with hundreds of other Srebrenicans on the grounds of the Dutch compound in Potocari, just north of Srebrenica:

My case is one of the most terrible in terms of the international community’s role. The Dutch major Robert Franken told me to explain to my father that he can remain on the base. My father asks what will happen to his younger son and my mother. Franken tells me: “Hasan, tell your father that if he does not want to stay, he can go too. And there’ll be no further discussion.” My father had three seconds to decide whether he wants to stay on the base, to go on living with his elder son, or go and die with his younger son and his wife. He chose to leave. A month ago, at the court in The Hague, Major Franken coolly states that he gave him a choice. What sort of choice?

— Hasan Nuhanovic, 15 July 2005, to the Croatian newspaper Globus, as cited in a 2005 article by Guido Snel.

It’s true that the blame for Srebrenica belongs belongs mainly with Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, and their followers; they are the ones who compelled Srebrenicans to make the bitter choices they did. But it’s also true that the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica and their superior officers in Sarajevo and at the United Nations in New York had a duty to the world and their own honor to do better than they did. We’ll never know how much difference more courage might have made.

Likewise, now we’ll never know how much difference a little judicial courage might have made — only that thirteen judges failed to do their duty to the world and their own honor; far from assisting human progress, they have thwarted it. And not even at gunpoint, but in a comfortable courtroom in what were presumably well paid and (until now) highly honored positions.

Those judges may coolly reply that at they have done what international law and international justice demand. But Hasan Nuhanovic may well ask: what sort of law? what sort of justice?

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ICJ: Srebrenica was genocide. Serbian police were involved…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th February 2007

…yet Serbia cleared of genocide, failed to stop killing (Alexandra Hudson, Reuters):

ICJ President Judge Rosalyn Higgins said the court concluded that the Srebrenica massacre did constitute genocide, but that other mass killings of Bosnian Muslims did not.

But she said the court ruled that the Serbian state could not be held directly responsible for genocide, so paying reparations to Bosnia would be inappropriate even though Serbia had failed to prevent genocide and punish the perpetrators.

A summary of today’s rulings can be read at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) web site, along with detailed verdicts and dissents and a recording of Judge Higgins’ reading of the decisions.

Tuzla women react to ICJ ruling. Photo by Damir Sagoli - Reuters
This photo accompanied the Washington Post paper edition of the linked story.
Its caption: “Surrounded by photos of victims of the 1995 massacre of Muslim men
and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnian women in Tuzla react to television news reports
from The Hague, where the International Court of Justice ruled that the Serbian
government, which had helped arm and finance the Bosnian Serb forces, was not
responsible for the genocide.”
(Photo by Damir Sagoli – Reuters)

Fifteen select judges took a long time to come to these decisions, and did so by fairly sizeable margins (13-2 against Serbian responsibility for genocide, 10-5 for having jurisdiction, 11-4 not even complicit in genocide, for crying out loud, etc.).

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that they came to the best decision they could in accordance with international law and specifically the international law of genocide — despite being aware that Serbian police units were videotaped participating in Srebrenica killings; that the International Criminal Court had enough evidence to put the Serbian head of state Slobodan Milosevic on trial for genocide; and that one of the chief architects of the Srebrenica massacres, “General” Ratko Mladic, remains at large and has been acknowledged to have been on the Serbian military payroll after going underground.

We may therefore provisionally conclude that either that body of law or its application by the worthy jurists of the ICJ is so limited as to be useless. This seems like a black day for justice as mere laypeople like me or those waiting for justice in Bosnia will understand it.

Useless? Useless at best. Between them, Serbia and the ICJ have now apparently identified the level of deniability and legal hocus-pocus needed to dodge a genocide verdict and the reparations that might have entailed. I wonder whether that’s what the ICJ’s judges, creators, and supporters intended, but I think that’s what they got. In the future, the piety that “if you want peace, work for justice” will have a bitter, fraudulent ring if you’re from Sarajevo, if it didn’t already. To say nothing of Srebrenica. You’d be much better off praying for close air support, or taking up arms with a fury yourself. Darfurians will be justified to take note. In fact, they’d better: the Sudanese government certainly will.

ADDENDA: From Judge Vice-President Al-Khasawneh’s dissenting opinion:

…the Judgment considers two documents presented by the Applicant, in which there is reference to the “Scorpions” as “MUP of Serbia” and a “unit of Ministry of Interiors of Serbia”. The paragraph notes that the authenticity of the documents was disputed by the Respondent presumably because “they were copies of intercepts, but not originals”. But it is plain that if the Court insisted on original documents, it would never be able to render any judgments. Be this as it may, the other reason advanced to undermine the importance of these documents is that they are not addressed to Belgrade, the senders being “officials of the police forces of the Republika Srpska”. But this in itself does not deny their probative value. When an official of the Republika Srpska sends a telegram to his superior in which the Scorpions are described as “MUP of Serbia” or “a unit of Ministry of Interiors of Serbia”, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of this statement.

From Judge ad hoc Mahiou’s dissenting opinion as translated by ICJ (emphases added):

I cannot subscribe to most of the substantive findings reached by the Court by way of what I believe to be: a timorous, questionable view of its role in the evidentiary process, a deficient examination of the evidence submitted by the Applicant, a rather odd interpretation of the facts in the case and of the rules governing them and, finally, a method of reasoning which remains unconvincing on a number of very important points. […] In my view, the Respondent’s responsibility appears clearly established in respect of Republika Srpska’s actions, either because of the very close ties between that entity and the Respondent, resulting in the Respondent’s implication in the ethnic cleansing plan carried out between 1992 and 1995, or because of the relationship of subordination or control between the Respondent and those who played a crucial role in that ethnic cleansing, which extended to the commission of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

EDIT, 2/27: Photo, caption added.

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Judgment at Nuremberg

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th September 2006

Marty Lederman has been right about just about everything on the topic of the administration’s misguided aims and policies regarding its prisoners. So it’s only with great hesitation that I’ll say I think Lederman is wrong when he says providing legal immunity for past misconduct is not a major point of the current legislative proposals:

To the extent officials violated the standards of Common Article 3 with respect to Al Qaeda prior to June 29, 2006 (the date of Hamdan), they could not be prosecuted for such violations of CA3 (as incorporated in the War Crimes Act), even without the Administration’s amendment, because the President had determined that CA3 does not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda, and due process would prevent any prosecutions for conduct undertaken in reasonable reliance on that presidential determination.

Lederman believes the main point is to keep options open for future cold cell/long time standing/ etc practicioners, not to shield past ones, arguing that reasonable people would assume that a presidential directive was ipso facto a legal directive.

The problem, I think, is that Lederman is thinking about the wrong war criminals. I can’t argue with Lederman about the prospects of some ethically challenged waterboarder at the CIA being tried for war crimes.

No, it’s the people at the OLC like John Yoo, and the people in the Pentagon like William Haynes II who need to be worried — they gave the criminal advice, they greased the skids by suppressing the countervailing views. It’s the civilian commanders who knew they ordered that advice a la carte who need to be worried — they reflected that advice right down the chain of command. I think this debate is at least in part about the very real prospect of indicting John Yoo and David Addington and Alberto Gonzales and William Haynes and Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes.

One important precedent might be USA vs. Josef Altstötter et al, 1947 — better known as the Judges Trial or Justice Trial, and best known as Judgment at Nuremberg. It was about whether judges and — more to my point — civilian justice officials could be held criminally liable for the reprehensible advice they gave and the criminal actions they took under color of law.

Back when there were still happy endings to questions like this, they could. From the verdict:

  • Paragraph 13 of count two of the indictment charges in substance that the Ministry of Justice participated with the OKW and the Gestapo in the execution of the Hitler decree of Night and Fog whereby civilians of occupied countries accused of alleged crimes in resistance activities against German occupying forces were spirited away for secret trial by special courts of the Ministry of Justice within the Reich; that the victim’s whereabouts, trial, and subsequent disposition were kept completely secret, thus serving the dual purpose of terrorizing the victim’s relatives and associates and barring recourse to evidence, witnesses, or counsel for defense.
  • Von Ammon is chargeable with actual knowledge concerning the systematic abuse of the judicial process in these cases. […]
    We find the defendant von Ammon guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity…
  • Rothenberger not only participated in securing the enactment of a discriminatory law against Jews; he enforced it when enacted and, in the meantime, before its enactment, upon his own initiative he acted without authority of any law in denying to Jewish paupers the aid of the courts. […]
    He participated in the corruption and perversion of the judicial system. The defendant Rothenberger is guilty under counts two and three of the indictment.
  • By way of summary we may say that Schlegelberger supported the pretension of Hitler in his assumption of power to deal with life and death in disregard of even the pretense of judicial process. By his exhortations and directives, Schlegelberger contributed to the destruction of judicial independence. It was his signature on the decree of 7 February 1942 which imposed upon the Ministry of Justice and the courts the burden of the prosecution, trial, and disposal of the victims of Hitler’s Night and Fog. For this he must be charged with primary responsibility.
  • Etcetera…

The charges and circumstances of the “Judges Trial” were specific to their time and place. But the principles established were broad: the legal profession could and would be held culpable for its facilitation of war crimes and crimes against humanity. I think these cases show a a real resemblance to the methods of the current administration: law twisted into an instrument of wrongdoing, via loyalty to the commander in chief and all manner of subterfuge as long as necessary, and the cover of legal Latin, memoranda, gavels, and robes.

Not only do the “Night and Fog(Nacht und Nebel) decree, the directives it spawned, and other decrees like it look eerily familiar, but as Senator Durbin once pointed out, the outcomes of many of these “legal” efforts bear a very strong resemblance to eachother as well. Interestingly, the one charge the Nuremberg tribunal seems to have generally thrown out — conspiracy — may be quite appropriate as well in the current case.

In my (inexpert) opinion, it’s this as much as anything else that has been, shall we say, strongly motivating Bush et al ever since the Hamdan ruling this summer. That ruling raised Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions back to its rightful status as the supreme law of this land — and in so doing basically raised the question what to do about people like John Yoo and others who had provided patently weak legal cover for acting in definace of that supreme law.

Hence, after a lot of filing, sanding, and polishing, the latest, greatest administration — woops, McCain/Warner/Graham bill — has some key provisions every current and future Republican president can agree on. Jack Balkin points out :

It is still a very bad bill, eliminating judicial review and habeas corpus, and limiting criminal enforcement of Geneva Common Article 3 under the War Crimes Act (apparently Geneva CA3 is still law, but only “grave violations” of Geneva are criminally enforceable). Additionally (p. 82), the new bill says that “no foreign source of law can be used in defining or interpreting” America’s obligations under title 18 of the U.S. Code– i.e., the U.S. criminal code, which would include, presumably, the War Crimes Act and the anti-torture statute.

Thus are the Geneva Conventions to be officially rendered quaint — a museum piece, interesting to historians, but of no legal relevance to American conduct. Thus is America’s solemn word rendered forever suspect if it ever ratifies future human rights treaties — we’re Lucy with the football, the world is Charlie Brown running up to kick it.

But above all else, to the Bushies, thus are Bush loyalists to be immunized from the consequences of their devotion to their homeland and their divinely inspired leade. The administration’s preferred language. Notice the date:

This Act shall take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act and shall apply retroactively, including to any aspect of the detention, treatment, or trial of any person detained at any time since September 11, 2001, and to any claim or cause of action pending on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

The McCain/Warner/Graham bill is more obfuscating, but looks like it accomplishes much the same thing for acts through December 30, 2005.

Thus will 9/11 change everything after all. For if no war crimes can be charged against the physical perpetrators of torture, I’m afraid none can be charged against those who gave the order, and none can be charged against those who developed the legal cover for that order.

I call on any vertebrate Democrats and Republicans to oppose any bill that immunizes anyone from war crimes of any definition since September 11th. The Lynndie Englands of this travesty shouldn’t be the only ones to have to take responsibility for what has happened to us. The John Yoos and David Addingtons should as well.

NOTE: My first introduction to the USA vs. Josef Altstötter et al case was from listening to British human rights lawyer and University College London law professor Phillippe Sands’ October 2005 debate with John Yoo. Sands’ remarks on this score begin around 14:00 minutes into the program.

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Department of followups

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd August 2006

Organ harvesting in China: postscript and followup, 7/19/2006; The perfect crime against humanity?, 7/16/2006 — Respected South China Morning Post (SCMP) reporter Mark O’Neill picks up the Falun Gong organ transplant charge (his piece begins at 5:55 minutes into the podcast), and finds the Kilgour-Matas report “lends extra weight” to the allegations, as an SCMP anchor puts it. O’Neill’s print article is quoted on a China studies listserv:

The report, mainly based on testimony provided by Falun Gong practitioners outside China, concludes that the government and its hospitals, detention centres and courts have since 1999 put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong members, removing their hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas and other vital organs for sale at high prices to local and foreign patients. […]

Three pieces of evidence are the most persuasive. One is official statistics that show a sharp rise in organ transplants since 2000. From 1994 to 1999, there were 18,500, and, from 2000 to last year, 60,000. A tripling of these operations does not prove the allegations, but the harvesting of Falun Gong organs would provide an explanation.

The second is the transcript of an interview by Mr Kilgour in the US with the ex-wife of a surgeon who said that, between the end of 2001 and October 2003, her husband removed corneas from 2,000 Falun Gong patients. […]

The third piece of evidence pointing to the possibility of the harvesting is material from websites offering organ transplants.

Makin’ an honest living, 6/8/2005— Last year the Justice Department suddenly reduced damages it was seeking in a high profile lawsuit against the tobacco industry from $130 billion to — ahem — $10 billion. On July 20, Justice Department political appointee Robert McCallum was deposed about the incident after a June ruling compelling McCallum to do so. Former Justice Department official Sharon Banks — now working for the winner of that ruling, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — charges McCallum misled Congress:

Eubanks said McCallum mischaracterized a court order in his statements to Capitol Hill, making it appear that U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler criticized the government’s embrace of smoking cessation as a remedy in the lawsuit. McCallum cited the judge’s order in explaining why he reduced the government’s request.

Eubanks pointed out that the judge later rejected the tobacco industry’s arguments and allowed Eubanks’ expert witness to testify that the companies should pay $130 billion for smoking cessation.

McCallum claims an appeals court ruling requiring “forward looking” damages dealt a “body blow” to the Justice Department’s case. The DOJ’s Office of Professional Conduct says McCallum was not influenced by political motivations.

Race to save the Lord God Bird, 5/09/2005 — The Chicago Tribune’s Annie Bergman reports (“Birders find no new confirmation of rare woodpecker in Arkansas,” 5/18/2006):

Search teams exploring an Arkansas swamp for better evidence of the ivory-billed woodpecker said Thursday they had no new confirmation of the bird’s existence, and wildlife managers said there was no longer a reason to limit public access to the region.

“Certainly we’re somewhat disappointed,” said Ron Rohrbaugh of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. “We’ve had enough of these tantalizing sounds and we still have a lot of hope that there might be a pair, especially in the White River area.”

Srebrenica, 11 years on, 7/11/2006 — Accused Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic is still at large. But Serbia’s bid to join the EU is stalled until Mladic is arrested, and Serbian officials are scrambling to come up with an approach to do so. Even Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte seems to think this time it’s for real:

Facing pariah status, Serbia presented EU officials with an “action plan” for Mladic’s arrest earlier this month, hoping that a serious show of effort would placate del Ponte and persuade the EU to restart talks.

“Since the action plan was adopted, I think the political will to arrest Mladic exists for the first time,” del Ponte said. “I would like to see the operational plan and be involved.” […]

The plan has not been made public but it is said to include a media campaign to convince Serbs that it is necessary to arrest Mladic, who is accused of orchestrating the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. A government survey published on Thursday showed 51 percent of those polled opposed Mladic’s extradition, 34 percent supported it and 15 percent were undecided.

To me, this seems more like a way to look like you care about catching Mladic than a way to actually catch Mladic. But what do I know.

NOTES: Follow title links to earlier posts on this blog backgrounding the followups above. The McCallum items are from the AP and the Washington Post’s Pete Yost, respectively. The Mladic item is via a Reuters 7/29 article.
EDIT, 8/27: Listserv name deleted by request.

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Srebrenica, 11 years on

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th July 2006

505 caskets of Srebrenica victims reburied yesterdayZdravko Ljubas, published at Monsters and Critics:

Mourners gathered Tuesday in the eastern Bosnian village of Potocari, near the town of Srebrenica, for the burial of 505 victims of the 1995 massacre in that town.

During a commemoration titled ‘Do Not Forget!’ which marked the 11th anniversary of the massacre, 505 caskets wrapped in green were laid in fresh graves next to nearly 2,000 victims of the Srebrenica massacre buried in the Potocari Memorial Centre during the last three years.

Here’s my post last year on the subject. Another year on the lam for Mladic and Karadzic; basically, they’re getting away with it. But Serbia? Not so much — talks to join the European Union have ended. I guess holding on to a couple of raggedy thugs must be worth it to the whole country.

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Too late for Haditha

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th June 2006

…General Casey and his folks are putting a lot of pressure on the terrorists and on the enemies of the government. I — we frequently call them insurgents. I’m a little reluctant to for some reason.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, November 29, 2005

“They didn’t even want to say the ‘i’ word,” one officer in Iraq told me. “It was the spectre of Vietnam. They did not want to say the ‘insurgency’ word, because the next word you say is ‘quagmire.’ The next thing you say is ‘the only war America has lost.’ And the next thing you conclude is that certain people’s vision of war is wrong.” […]

The refusal of Washington’s leaders to acknowledge the true character of the war in Iraq had serious consequences on the battlefield: in the first eighteen months, the United States government failed to organize a strategic response to the insurgency. Captain Jesse Sellars, a troop commander in the 3rd A.C.R. [Armored Calvary Regiment — ed.], who fought in some of the most violent parts of western Iraq in 2003 and 2004, told me about a general who visited his unit and announced, “This is not an insurgency.” Sellars recalled thinking, “Well, if you could tell us what it is, that’d be awesome.”
— from “The Lesson of Tal Afar,” George Packer, New Yorker, April 2006

The refusal to recognize the conflict for what it was meant that established doctrines about fighting insurgencies — roughly, invest most of your effort in political work and establishing local ties, and much less in military operations — were not followed systematically. Instead, different units adopted different improvised approaches. Packer:

In the absence of guidance, the 3rd A.C.R. adopted a heavy-handed approach, conducting frequent raids that were often based on bad information. The regiment was constantly moved around, so that officers were never able to form relationships with local people or learn from mistakes. Eventually, the regiment became responsible for vast tracts of Anbar province, with hundreds of miles bordering Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria; it had far too few men to secure any area.

Gladiators versus Hajis
Haditha does not appear to have been a model of counterinsurgency work, either, to put it mildly. And the combat experience, strain, and mind-set of the company involved did not bode well.

In advance of Falluja, according to Newsweek magazine, men of Kilo Company – the one in Haditha – held a chariot race. They rounded up local horses, wore togas, played heavy metal music and made a “ball and chain studded with M-16 bullets.”

A company commander shouted a line from the film Gladiator in which the Romans declared before battle against the barbarians: “What you do here echoes in eternity.”

Now there is nothing new about warriors psyching themselves up for war. The issue is whether such attitudes became a mind-set for the marines fighting a less intensive, drawn-out and increasingly frustrating anti-guerrilla war. Some were on their third tour in as many years.

The wife of one unnamed sergeant in the unit has said there was “total breakdown” in discipline, with “drugs, alcohol, hazing [initiation ceremonies], you name it”. An American soldier jailed for refusing to return to Iraq has said that Iraqis were routinely called “Hajis” as the Vietnamese were called “gooks”.

Such a breakdown (of the “soldiers snap in battle” type) might explain an action by a particular unit, but it does not adequately put into context what appears to have been a lack of a proper counter-insurgency philosophy among the US Marine Corps. There was a vacuum in which such incidents were more likely to happen.
Haditha blow to new doctrine, Paul Williams, BBC (emphasis added)

It may seem odd and off-putting to dwell on a choice of military doctrine, of all things, after a sickening event like this one. There is much more than this that should be said about Haditha, and others already have: the human loss, the moral failure, the added stain on our country’s reputation. But the Haditha Kilo Company mind-set — seemingly similar to a street gang’s creed: revenge for the fallen brother — may also fit within the story of the hubris and incompetence of this war’s civilian leadership: their refusal to see their war for what it would be.

“It’s impossible to believe they didn’t know”
The other day I was asked why I hadn’t written about Haditha yet, given all my past posts about Abu Ghraib. The answer was partly that I hadn’t figured out how to think about what had happened. Unlike Abu Ghraib, there seems no evidence of specific policies leading to the (alleged) crime, at least not yet, as far as I know. (Barring the specific policy of invading Iraq in the first place, of course.)

On the other hand, the military’s response to Haditha now appears to have been lackadaisical at best, and a coverup at worst. And that is very similar to the glacial progress in investigating and punishing prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib to Bagram to Gardez. There’s no interest in it, because there’s no future in it. That’s ominous, of course, because it means there may well be other Hadithas out there, initially buried in reports as “collateral damage” or “firefights with terrorists,” relying on the lack of interest back home. Indeed, reports of similar alleged crimes are now surfacing, e.g., the Ishaqi incident.

Speaking to the New York Times, an anonymous Marine general familiar with the investigation said of some officers in the chain of command, “It’s impossible to believe they didn’t know… You’d have to know this thing stunk.” As Michael O’Hare (“Reality Based Community”) points out,

…it’s not about the tiny percentage of troops who do bad when all the others are doing good; it’s about the high percentage of the management structure that’s learned to hide, lie, and cover up the work that needs doing, and the repeatedly, doggedly, incompetent leadership that made it that way.

Fixing failure
The failure to understand the kind of conflict we were fighting might be a fundamental cause of the shame of Haditha. If just saying the word “insurgency” was a no-no, then it wasn’t likely many officers would lead and train units to properly fight a counterinsurgency, instead of leaving individual units to figure out their own methods — or just relying on firepower and getting even. Reporting the truth about the enemy, their tactics, and our own soldiers’ mind-sets could easily seem useless at best, when those issues were recognized at all. After all, some officers in the Haditha chain of command may have also shared the street gang mind-set of Kilo Company — or the “insurgency? what insurgency?” mind-set of their civilian leadership.

Packer writes that American combat officers are now learning how to wage a counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, despite the slow start their superiors in the Pentagon gave them. That’s good, I guess; better a sensible approach than a random or senseless one, barring getting out altogether.

The question is whether it’s good enough. The subtitle to Packer’s New Yorker article is “Is it too late for the Administration to correct its course in Iraq?” If that’s supposed to mean “correct the course to fight and win in Iraq,” I suspect the answer is yes, it’s too late.

But I’m sure it’s too late for Haditha.

NOTES: “impossible to believe” quote via Mark Kleiman; “similar alleged crimes” leads to Gary Farber’s valuable weekend roundup of Haditha/Ishaqi/related news.

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Department of followups: Serbian war crimes edition

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th October 2005

Video from Srebrenica massacre surfaces, 6/4/05 — Serbian news agency B92 reports that “Slobodan Medic, Pera Petrasevic, Aleksandar Medic, Aleksandar Vukov and Branislav Medic have been indicted for war crimes against civilians allegedly committed on July 17, 1995.” I wonder whether any of these were the “Scorpion” paramilitary policeman who shouted at a victim, “What are you trembling for?” shortly before helping kill him.

Srebrenica, ten years later, 7/12/05 — In late September, Serbian foreign minister Vuk Draskovic acknowledged that his country’s failure to capture Srebrenica war criminal Ratko Mladic was “jeopardising Serbia’s bid for closer ties with the European Union and Nato and its position in forthcoming talks on Kosovo’s status.” (BBC).

There’s been a recent flurry of activity on this front. First, US diplomats seem to be renewing pressure on Serbia to produce Mladic — on Friday Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns announced he would be visiting Belgrade next week to demand the captures of Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Reuters:

Burns’ pressure comes despite an EU move last month to back opening talks with Belgrade on its eventual membership in the wealthy bloc that had long been held up due to the fugitives. … Defiance would keep Serbia excluded from NATO and could prompt the United States to again suspend aid to Serbia, which it resumed this year after Belgrade handed over lower-profile fugitives, Burns said. The two men are indicted for genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnian war including the massacre 10 years ago of up to 8,000 Muslims in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica. “It’s a lack of political will on the part of the Belgrade authorities,” Burns told reporters. “It does not stand to reason that these people cannot be found.” “They ought to be able to do this and until they do this they will not have a normal relationship with the United States,” he added.

Meanwhile, Yugoslavian war crimes chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte seems to be nearly a kingmaker in Serbian politics, strongly urging the selection of a defense minister who has pledged his cooperation. Focus 1 reports:

Zoran Stankovic has promised the chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Carla Del Ponte that he would, as future SCG Defense Minister, extradite Ratko Mladic in the following two months, the Serbian Blic newspaper reports citing a source close to Serbia Government. […] Immediately after meeting with Del Ponte, both Vujanovic and Djukanovic said to be ready to make … Stankovic new Minister of Defense and [yield] the post of SCG Army HQ Chief-of-Staff to Montenegro/.

But it’s not at all clear whether Stankovic — the former chief of a military medical academy — has the juice to deliver what he’s promising. Vukovic, Kostunice et al may be willing partners with Del Ponte — and still relatively weak assets in the hunt for Mladic and Karadzic. The European Union should be strongly on its guard with Serbia as that country’s nominal leadership seeks to join its ranks. The real power still seems to be elsewhere.

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Srebrenica, ten years later

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th July 2005

Ten years ago, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II took place in and around the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica. The civilized world dithered, did nothing, and let it happen. Almost worse yet, that civilized world often seemed to believe that dithering, inaction, and forlorn, toothless “peacekeeping” missions were in and of themselves civilized behavior to be proud of.

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces under Ratko Mladic, despite its nominal defense by 600 Dutch peacekeepers. Men and boys — in uniform or civilian — were separated from the female inhabitants. A Wikipedia account describes what happened when this group attempted to head towards the Bosnian town of Tuzla:

They were estimated to number about 12,500 in total. In their attempt to escape, they were surrounded by Serb forces who opened fire on them, using anti aircraft cannons and heavy machine guns. Hundreds were killed in the ambush, with many more wounded being systematically executed later on. Those who chose to surrender or were captured were later taken away by Serb forces and executed as well. Serb forces continued to pursue what remained of the group, killing hundreds more until they had escaped to Bosnian government held territory. Of the 12,500 men who attempted the escape, about 5,000 made it to safety.

The two leaders most directly responsible for the massacres, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are said to have carefully planned the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, right down to the number of buses needed to transport Muslim men to their deaths, according to a review of a Dutch book on the atrocities.

As brutal as this story is, a recent broadcast — on Serbian TV — of portions of a ‘training’ video shot during the events made Srebrenica inescapably horrifying to many Serbs. In the video, members of a paramilitary Serbian police unit, the so-called “Scorpions,” abuse and eventually execute six Bosnian Muslim men. According to one translation, one of the Serbs shouts at a victim, “What are you trembling for?” The broadcast had an effect on at least one Serbian, judging by this Newsweek account comparing the reactions of victims and perpetrators:

While Nura watched her son killed by the man identified as Medic, the accused killer sat in Serbia watching his past unfold before him, with his own daughters sitting at his side. “The police will come,” he told his family. “I might not be back.” He fled but was arrested a few days later. His teenage daughter, shocked into silence, has been unable to speak since.

Sadly, many of those responsible for the massacres — most notably Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic — have not been captured and brought to trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. May they be apprehended, convicted, rot in jail, and then in hell.

I remember how enraged I was as it became clear that thousands had died after the fall of Srebrenica, right under the *@# noses of their supposed protectors: Janvier, Akashi, Chirac, Clinton, Major, Annan, Voorhoeve, Karremans. I can only imagine how those affected must have felt and still feel.

The United Nations all but died for me then — an unworthy, worthless tissue of pettifoggery, unable to back up words with deeds or even deeds with words, not merely useless but literally harmful to those who counted on it, its administrators and personnel more wedded to process and protocol than human rights or the simple concept of honor.

That may have been an overreaction, or at least an insufficient one. The bitter truth is that the U.N. may well be the best available political alternative for many of the jobs it tries to do, but it was either poorly designed or has become poorly staffed for the one job so many once hoped was its raison d’etre: world peace.

Even ideals as grandiose as a United Nations or as simple and right as the human rights of a besieged minority will ultimately go undefended and unrespected, if people aren’t allowed to actually fight for them when necessary. If it can’t answer the “you and what army?” question, a United Nations that purports to be the authority for legitimate military force should probably drop that pretense, stick to issues it can resolve, and concede that it will take men and women with blood in their veins to settle the greater ones.

Srebrenica: A Cry From the Grave (PBS)
Timeline: Siege of Srebrenica (BBC)
Srebrenica massacre (Wikipedia)
Srebrenica: A ‘safe’ area (Netherlands Institute for War Documentation)
Women of Srebrenica (Bosnian NGO; many eyewitness accounts).
Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica: Europe’s Worst Massacre since World War II (David Rohde; Pulitzer prize, 1996).

EDIT, 7/12: wording rearrangements for clarity in final paragraphs, link to ‘trembling’ post added.

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"Scorpions" answered to Belgrade, active in Kosovo

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th June 2005

More background to the Srebrenica massacre video from the Austrian newspaper “Der Standard”: it was brought to light by the Belgrade Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and its executive director, Natasa Kandic. From Der Standard:

[Ms. Kandic] got on the trail of the video during a Kosovo war crimes trial in Belgrade. Albanian children who had survived a massacre were called as witnesses. Shortly thereafter, Kandic says, a former member of the “Scorpions” contacted her and informed her of the video. The “Scorpions” had committed misdeeds [Unwesen] in Kosovo as well. Like his colleagues, the ex-paramilitary man [Exmilizionaer] had denied the crimes of the unit under oath. Kandic waited until the “traitors” were in safety with the help of international organizations, and then gave the film to the UN tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. […]

The “Scorpions” were trained, armed and financed by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian intelligence service, Kandic says. Uniforms and troop membership would change, but the commanders stayed the same and had Serbian intelligence service identification papers. The few former “Scorpions” who wanted to talk said that they always thought of themselves as a unit of the Serbian intelligence services commanded from Belgrade.

A February, 2005 HLC newsletter (“Dealing with the Past: Serbia is Sleeping on Bodies“) charged that Serbian officials were helping cover up the incineration of Kosovar victims of Serbian military and paramilitary units:

‘There are strong indications that Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic and Security Information Agency Director Rade Bulatovic are protecting the State Security agents and police chiefs in southern Serbia and preventing the truth on the burning of bodies of Kosovo Albanians in industrial plants and mines in Serbia from coming out,’ [HLC director] Kandic said.

Citing UN estimates, the newsletter suggests the deaths of as many as 2,000 Kosovar Albanians might have been covered up in this way — a far cry from the tens of thousands estimated in the runup to the Kosovo intervention, to be sure, but certainly bad enough all the same.

One general, Vladimir Lazarevic, is already on trial for Kosovo war crimes after turning himself in. In a passage illustrating how support for such crimes still lurks just below the surface in Serbia, the newsletter reports:

Allegedly, the mayor of Lazarevic’s hometown of Nis organized a cocktail party in his honour, thanking the general for his decision to ‘help his nation in peace as he helped it in war’.

TIME Magazine profiled Natasa Kandic in 2003; the human rights organization “Speak Truth To Power” has another good profile. She is an incredibly brave woman. She and her Center deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, and the admiration of us all.

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"Why are you trembling?"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th June 2005

The Austrian newspaper “Der Standard” reports that the Srebrenica execution video shown at the Milosevic trial on Wednesday was used for training purposes during the war in Bosnia, and could be borrowed from a video store by a “select” audience in the town of Sid for years after the war. There are 5 copies; the original is at the Hague where the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) hearings are taking place.

“Der Standard” also reports that chief ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte says she will be showing additional videos in the near future.

A June 3 “Der Standard” report describes the video and provides some translation of what was said:

Soldiers with Serbian flags and insignia on their berets pull six swollen faced men in shabby civilian clothes, hands tied behind their back, from a military truck. The faces of the Serbian soldiers are distinct. They pose for the camera. “Why are you trembling?” one screams at the prisoners. “That one just pissed his pants,” says the other soldier. Two men lying face down in the grass are shot one after the other. The third stands completely paralyzed until he too gets a salvo in the back. “The battery is out,” the cameraman curses, “but keep working.”

I should say, however, that it’s not yet clear from reports I’ve read whether the priest noted in the prior post was aware of the specific purpose of this particular Scorpion mission.

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