Sunday, March 12, 2006

Murder at The Hague?

Here is a piece I wrote in 2004 examining the claims that Slobodan Milosevic was being slowly murdered at The Hague. Since then of course, the trial has become even more of an embarrassment to the Western powers, particulalrly when Times journalist Eve-Ann Prentice testified that she had witnessed Osama bin Laden leaving the Sarajevo office of the U.S. backed Bosnian separatist leader Alija Izetbegovic. In addition Milosevic had shown the court a video of Paddy Ashdown inspecting a KLA weapons cache in 1998 and promising the terrorist group he would "do his best" to procure them assistance from 'the international community'.
We know that the court turned down Milosevic's request for his serious heart condition to be treated in Moscow, even though the Russian Government guaranteed his return to The Hague.
'Milosevic's death is custody would clearly solve a few problems' I wrote in 2004. Doesn't it just?


Slobodan Milosevic is being slowly murdered at The Hague. So claims Sloboda, or ‘Freedom’ the Serbian pressure group at the forefront of the international campaign for the release of the former Yugoslav President. Many will dismiss their allegations as the paranoid fantasies of conspiracy theorists. Others will believe it is all part of a plot engineered from his prison cell by Milosevic himelf, anxious to evade charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. I am not so sure. A closer examination of recent events at The Hague reveal that the claims may not be so outlandish as they first appear. To say that the trial of Milosevic has not gone well for the NATO powers who support and finance the Tribunal would be the understatement of the Millenium. The prosecution opened its case in February 2002 in a fanfare of publicity, with Chief Prosecutor Carlo Del Ponte gleefully announcing 66 charges against the ex-Yugoslav President and accusing him of 'crimes of medieaval savagery'. But despite the cajolery, intimidation and bribery of witnesses, Ms Del Ponte's team of prosecutors have failed to produce a single shred of convincing evidence linking Milosevic to the crimes he is accused of. 'Star' witness Ratomir Tanic was exposed as being in the pay of Western security forces, whilst ex-Yugoslav secret police chief Rade Markovic, the man who was finally going to spill the beans on Milosevic and reveal how his former master had ordered the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, in fact did the opposite and testified that he had been tortured to tell lies and that his written statement had been falsified by the prosecution.

> Milosevic, in carrying out his own defence, has, as even his enemies concede, been quite brilliant in rebutting the charges against him and in cross-examining witnesses. His demeanour in court has shattered the traditional Western image of him as a crazed, comic book tyrant: the 'Butcher of the Balkans' of popular mythology. Milosevic has also made some highly damaging revelations in court, about the extent to which Western security forces collaborated with groups in the Balkans linked to al Qa'eda. He has quoted the testimony of J.T. Caruso, the assistant-director of the FBI counter terrorism division who confirmed that Osama bin Laden's organisation had supported 'Islamic fighters' in Bosnia and Kosovo. He has revealed how CIA money was diverted via Geneva, to fund the operations of these 'Islamic fighters' in the Balkans and how SAS units set up training camps in Northern Albania to train the terrorists of the Kosovan Liberation Army to shoot Yugoslav state officials. Not surprisingly, with facts like these emerging at the trial, its television coverage - which had been wall-to-wall at the start, was soon scaled down and now the plug has been pulled altogether. It seems that CNN regards details of how the CIA and MI6 assisted the al-Qa'eda sponsored drug traffickers of the K.L.A. 'too shocking' for its viewers.

> The authorities at The Hague now have a major dilemma. Clearly a guilty verdict against Milosevic on the basis of the 'evidence' so far would be such a blatant miscarriage of justice that all but the most dim-witted would see it as a politically motivated verdict. Yet acquitting Milosevic and allowing him to return home to Yugoslavia a hero and able to rebuild his political power base would be a disastrous outcome for those politicians in the West, like Tony Blair, who are so happy to pin the blame on Slobo for all the bloodshed in the Balkans this past decade.

Milosevic's death in custody would clearly solve a few problems. In his defence, Milosevic plans to call over 1500 witness, including Bill Clinton (who brokered the Dayton Agreement with the Serb leader in 1995), President Chirac of France and Britain's Lord Owen in an attempt to reveal the full extent of the West's involvement in the break-up of Yugoslavia. For many powerful figures in the West, the sooner Milosevic can be removed from the court room, the better. There is no doubting that Milosevic's health has seriously deteriorated during his time at The Hague. The demands of the trial, plus the enforced separation from his wife and family have had a damaging effect on the physical well-being of a 62 year old prisoner confined to a 9ft by 15ft cell. But despite suffering from high blood pressure and complaining of fatigue, it was only in July 2002 that the Tribunal finally permitted doctors, albeit non-specialists, to examine Milosevic. The doctors' medical report described Milosevic as 'a man with severe cardiovascular risk which demands future monitoring'. The recommendation was that the patient's workload be reduced and he be given more opportunity for rest. The Tribunal did not carry out the doctors' advice. Instead they did exactly the opposite. Milosevic's workload was not reduced, but increased, with an extra three hours being added to the trial each day. Lunch break for the ex-President of Yugoslavia was sitting in a basement with only a sandwich for nourishment. Arriving back to jail so late in the evening, he was given a choice of either a dinner or a walk in the fresh air, but not both. Instead of being given the vegetarian centred diet recommended for heart patients, he was fed low quality, greasy food. The window in his cell was hermetically sealed, depriving him of fresh air. As if all this were not damning enough, a Dutch newpaper, NRC Handelsblad revealed that during this period, Milosevic was actually being given the wrong drugs for his medical condition. Drugs which instead of reducing his blood pressure, in fact caused it to rise very quickly. This astonishing revelation, which went almost unreported in the British media, was subsequently confirmed by sources within the jail. The Tribunal though refused to discuss the issue on grounds that it was ‘about the privacy of the defendant'. It is very difficult to escape the conclusion that the authorities at The Hague were deliberately trying to give Milosevic a heart attack. They very nearly succeeded. In October 2002, Milosevic was taken ill, with an attack of unusually high blood pressure. The trial was then postponed, and finally on 15th November, over a fortnight later, Milosevic was allowed to be examined by a cardiologist for the very first time. Dr Van Dijkman found 'essential hypertension with secondary organic damage'. He reported that in recent weeks, there had been 'steep increase' in Milosevic's blood pressure- to around 220/130mm Hg. He concluded that 'with a combination of sufficient rest and medication the level of Milosevic's blood presure will be an acceptable one'. Having brushed off the concerns about Milosevic's health from an independent team of German physicians, Judge Carlo Jorde, the President of the Tribunal stated, in a letter to the Freedom Foundation of Belgrade, that Milosevic was receiving 'close medical attention of a high quality from the medical staff of the UN Detention Centre'. But what actually does Mr Jorda mean by 'close medical attention of high quality' ? The truth is, not very much. At The Hague 'close medical attention' amounts to a weekly visit of a prison doctor and a daily visit of a nurse who brings the pill (but as we know not necessarily the right one). The nurse incidentally doesn't come at weekends. In 2003, albeit belatedly, Milosevic’s trial burden was lessened, with the number of weekly sessions reduced. But to counter balance this, the volume of material produced by the prosecution has increased from the already existing 500,000 pages of A4 by another 400,000- all of which Milosevic was expected to deal with in the three months he was given to prepare for his defence. This would be a Herculean and stressful task for a young man in the prime of health, let alone a sexagenarian with a serious heart condition. Not surprisingly, with the workload placed upon him, Milosevic’s condition continues to worsen. Last week, Milosevic’s illness caused the start of his defence to be postponed- until the 16th July.

If Milosevic were to die at The Hague, as seems increasingly probable, he will not be the first Serb inmate to do so in suspicious circumstances. Five years ago, there was the 'unfortunate' suicide of Slavko Dokmanovic. Dokmanovic died just a week before he was due to be sentenced and had every reason to be optimistic of an acquittal, so weak had been the prosecution's case. The Hague Tribunal have to this day not satisfactorily explained why a man who they later said had been on 'suicide watch' had been left in his cell with a tie and manual razor. Also in 1998, there was the death in custody of Dr Kovacevic, accused of war crimes in Bosnia. Although having a heart condition Kovacevic received similar treatment to Milosevic in jail, leading the prominent cardiologist who examined him to warn 'the UN won't have time to judge him because his heart will go beforehand if he remains in prison'. Sure enough, Kovacevic, like Dokmanovic died shortly before he was to receive his sentence. Despite complaining about stomach pains and in his agony wailing so loudly that all the other inmates could hear him, Kovacevic remained unattended in his cell for a full five hours before the prison guards eventually arrived to find his corpse. Like Milosevic, Kovacevic had no doubt been assured of The Hague's 'close medical attention of a high quality'. There are those who will no doubt question whether it matters if the Hague authorities are deliberately trying to kill Milosevic: that he is a man who does not deserve too much of our sympathy. But they are missing the point. Some terrible crimes were committed in the Balkans over the last decade, and it is only right that these crimes should be thoroughly investigated and those responsible, of whatever nationality, should be held accountable. However, all men are innocent until proven guilty, and Slobodan Milosevic is no exception. Tony Blair described the war against Yugoslavia as a war for 'civilised values'. If trying to kill a prisoner in custody because you lack evidence to convict him and it is politically inexpedient to release him is an example of 'civilised values', then surely we are all in trouble.

Copyright Neil Clark 2004


grapesofplenty said...

The autopsy results have been postponed. They must be in a real quandary as to what to do. My guess is that try and claim it was suicide- but no-one will believe them. Their lies are now so transparent a kid of five could see through them.

gbm said...

I said that Carl Davidson was the author of "Yankee Cowboy Wars". Old SDS confusion. It's Carl Oglesby.