Milosevic Begins Criminal Defense by Assailing NATO

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Thu Feb 14 21:47:34 MST 2002

February 15, 2002
New York Times

Milosevic Begins Criminal Defense by Assailing NATO

THE HAGUE, Feb. 14 - A driven and indignant Slobodan Milosevic today laid blame
for a decade of carnage in the Balkans on everyone but himself, waving away
charges that he was responsible for war crimes in four words: "It is all lies."

"The real crime," he added, "was the killing of Yugoslavia and crucifying me

In a dramatic and tense four-hour statement, Mr. Milosevic, largely unpopular at
home, seemed to seize a new political mission in his trial here: to defend
himself, and fellow Serbs, by attacking NATO and casting himself as an
antiglobalist hero resisting the double standards of the world's powers. He even
turned President Bush's epithet - "evil- doers" - back onto the West.

"The Americans go right to the other side of the globe to fight against
terrorism - Afghanistan a case in point," Mr. Milosevic told his judges, with
finger jabs and a confidence that left no doubt that this is a man used to his
authority. "And that is considered to be logical and normal. Whereas here the
struggle against terrorism, in the heart of one's own country, in one's own home
is considered to be a crime."

The first head of state to be tried for war crimes, Mr. Milosevic today also
turned much conventional history on its head. He denied that his troops killed
thousands of civilians in Kosovo in 1999, as prosecutors in the United Nations
tribunal allege, saying they only fought a war against Albanian separatist

Civilian killings in Kosovo, he said, were carried out by ethnic Albanian rebels
or by NATO planes, which bombed Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days in 1999.

He also engaged in a duel of images, producing photographs and videos even more
ghastly than those shown by prosecutors earlier this week, this time of the
victims of NATO airstrikes. At his request, courtroom monitors flashed images of
bombed sites, charred and mangled bodies and severed human limbs and heads.

"The bombing of civilian targets was merciless," he said solemnly. "The more
suffering of civilians, the better."

For his indictments accusing him of crimes in three wars, he showed only
contempt, describing them variously as a "terrible fabrication," a "nebulous
construction" and a "miserable opus."

Court officials said they had expected Mr. Milosevic to focus on NATO, since
that had been the underlying theme of earlier outbursts in the court. During Mr.
Milosevic's speech, which was well-prepared, delivered in Serbian and is to
continue on Friday, Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor, occasionally shot a
smile at other prosecutors in apparent incredulity. Ms. Del Ponte's spokeswoman,
Florence Hartmann, said that however awful the civilian deaths caused by NATO,
"what he presented today was not a defense."

In the spectators' gallery, Nekibe Kelmendi watched, pale and tense, appalled at
Mr. Milosevic's version of the truth. Her husband, a prominent human rights
lawyer, and their two sons were found dead in Kosovo at the start of the war
after being arrested by Serbian secret police.

"I feel sick to my stomach listening to all his lies," said Ms. Kelmendi, a
judge who served as minister of justice for Kosovo after the war. "When I look
at Milosevic, I see a killer."

Mr. Milosevic, the leader of the Serbs for 13 years, is charged with genocide
against Bosnian Muslims in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, from 1992 to 1995, and
with other crimes from the wars in Croatia in 1991 and Kosovo in 1999. The first
part of the trial is devoted to Kosovo - an order that gave Mr. Milosevic the
opportunity to focus his own attack on NATO.

In earlier court appearances, he said he did not recognize the tribunal and
therefore would not appoint lawyers to defend him. But after his speech today, a
more immediate reason emerged: he clearly wanted to speak for himself.

With today's session, the third day of a trial that may last two years, he also
achieved what had been his goal since his arrival in The Hague in June: the
transformation of the courtroom into his political platform.

Seated in a navy suit and a tie with the red, white and blue colors of the
Serbian flag, Mr. Milosevic made his case by working his way down a stack of
papers several inches high.

Almost surely aware that his trial is drawing a fascinated television audience
at home among admirers and victims, Mr. Milosevic seemed to be largely
addressing Serbs, casting himself as fighter and victim against forces far
larger than himself, a recurring theme in Serbian history.

"There is not a single element of a fair trial or of equality between these
parties," he complained. "There is an enormous apparatus on one side," he said.
"Everything is at your disposal. What is on my side? I only have a public
telephone booth in the prison."

The trial is being covered extensively in Yugoslavia, and even his opponents in
Serbia may be pleased with his outrage against the widely resented NATO

More than that, he seems to be looking to his place in Serbian history, linking
his fate at the tribunal with that of all Serbs by tapping into what he called
the "sensitive" question of collective guilt.

"In all the indictments, they are accusing a whole nation," he said. "Such dirty
crimes cannot be ascribed to an army, a police, a people, a nation, their

It is unclear if he believes it possible to be found innocent, but he spent much
time rebutting specific accusations and snipping the connections that
prosecutors made in their opening statements between him and the atrocities
across the Serbian border in Bosnia and Croatia.

One man alone, he ridiculed, could not possibly do all the things prosecutors

"He probably thinks that I am superhuman, having these superhuman powers of
influencing people and responsibility and accountability outside the territory
of my country," he said. "He has ascribed to me some magical, God-like powers."

While he did not address the worst atrocity of the war - the massacre of 7,000
Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica - he specifically distanced himself from other
serious accusations.

He said he regularly condemned the shelling of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs, which
claimed an estimated 10,000 lives. He also said he was lied to about the
existence of concentration camps in northwestern Bosnia in 1992.

"When I heard there were some camps, I asked for an explanation: `Is it possible
Serbs were setting up any camps?' " he said. "The explanation I received was the
following: `There were no camps. There were only prisons for prisoners of war.'"

>From his stack of papers, he showed dozens of photographs, of bombed factories,
houses, bridges, a train and a convoy of Albanians to make his case that NATO
was equally responsible for civilian deaths in the Balkans.

While some 4,000 corpses have been unearthed in Kosovo, most of them Albanian,
Human Rights Watch estimates that NATO bombings killed at least 500 civilians,
acts which it said violated the Geneva Conventions but did not rise to the level
of war crime. Mr. Milosevic disagreed, asking when NATO would be tried for the

"This aggression shows that the NATO pact was not an alliance but an appendage
of the American administration, which used it as it deemed when it deemed fit,"
he said.

The reason, he said, "was the geo- strategic spreading of NATO's interests and
its areas and also to create a precedent for using force."

And he asked to be set free, at least during the trial, so he could prepare
himself properly.

"You know full well I am not going to escape," he said. "Let me go free so that
as a free man I can take an active stand in this regard. You want us to engage
in a swimming competition - 100 meters - but you want to tie my hands and feet
and let me swim that way and you consider that to be a fair trial."

Macdonald Stainsby
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