March 21, 2005

Getting Away with Murder

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As we walked out of Hotel Rwanda, my teenage son asked me, “So why did we go into Iraq, but not Rwanda?” This youngster was horrified that the United States not only sat on the sidelines during the genocide that killed 800,000 Rwandans in 1994, but then prevented the United Nations from acting to stop it.

What was a little genocide, after all, when the U.S. powers-that-be had no strategic interest in intervening to stop the Hutu from massacring the Tutsi in Rwanda? Bill Clinton, still smarting from the public relations disaster that followed the deaths of 18 American soldiers in Somalia, didn’t want to get involved in Rwanda.

Clinton did, however, engineer NATO’s war in Kosovo five years after the Rwandan genocide. He called it a “humanitarian intervention,” to prevent ethnic cleansing of the Albanians by the Serbs.

Four years later, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush started a war in Afghanistan, justified as “self defense” against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

After Bush ousted the Taliban and installed former Unocal consultant Hamid Karzai to protect U.S. interests in Afghanistan, he went after Iraq, two years ago yesterday.

Billed as necessary to save us from “weapons of mass destruction,” Bush replaced Saddam Hussein with a U.S.-friendly regime, one that would welcome the 14 permanent military bases we are constructing in Iraq. When the dreaded weapons didn’t materialize, Bush’s rationale morphed into “bringing democracy to the Iraqi people.”

All three wars – Clinton/NATO’s war in Yugoslavia, and Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Canadian law professor Michael Mandel – were unlawful. None was undertaken in self-defense, or approved by the Security Council, the only two instances in which the United Nations Charter permits the use of armed force.

In his new book, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes against Humanity, Canadian law professor Michael Mandel argues that NATO’s Kosovo war set the precedent for the United States’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It broke a fundamental legal and psychological barrier. When Pentagon guru Richard Perle ‘thanked God’ for the death of the UN,” writes Mandel, “the first precedent he could cite in justification of overthrowing the Security Council’s legal supremacy in matters of war and peace was Kosovo.”

The 1999 war in Kosovo and other parts of Yugoslavia was not a “humanitarian intervention,” but rather a crime against humanity, in the judgment of Mandel. He notes that “of the 385 murders in the original ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] indictment of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, 340 were alleged to have occurred after the bombing started.”

In support of his claim that NATO’s bombing constituted a crime against humanity, Mandel cites its use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and the targeting of civilians. Between 500 and 1800 civilians of all nationalities were killed during the 78-day bombing campaign, which used “about 25,000 of the world’s most devastating non-nuclear bombs and missiles,” according to Mandel.

A year after the bombing, I visited Belgrade as a participant in an international conference on humanitarian intervention. Between meetings, we toured the surrounding area and saw the bombed out rubble of what were once apartments, schools, bridges, and a television and radio station. As I walked through the rubble, I was cautioned, much to my dismay, that the soil could contain depleted uranium.

Joining together with other Canadian law professors and lawyers and the American Association of Jurists, Mandel filed a complaint against NATO leaders with the ICTY. Although Amnesty International concurred that NATO had committed war crimes, the tribunal dismissed the complaint without serious investigation.

Mandel documents why this tribunal was created and functions in the service of United States interests. “For the first time in history,” writes Mandel, we had “an international criminal tribunal established prior to the war whose criminals it was putting on trial, and therefore capable of playing a role in that war.”

“The point is not that Milosevic was charged with atrocities in Kosovo, it’s that Clinton wasn’t too,” writes Mandel.

NATO intervened militarily in Yugoslavia to assist the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in its struggle against Milosevic. A year before, the United States government had listed the KLA, which had received assistance from Osama bin Laden, as a terrorist organization. After Milosevic’s forces were defeated by NATO, the KLA moved into Kosovo and began a reign of terror against non-Albanians, which Mandel calls “reverse ethnic cleansing.” When I was in Belgrade, I saw documentation of the destruction of 25 of Kosovo’s medieval Serbian Christian Orthodox monasteries.

Mandel points to the Security Council Resolutions passed before the NATO bombing, which “were even-handed in their condemnation of ‘the use of excessive force by Serbian police forces against civilians and peaceful demonstrators in Kosovo,’ and ‘all acts of terrorism by the Kosovo Liberation Army.'”

The “Racak massacre,” widely viewed as the event that precipitated NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, is the subject of considerable controversy. According to the Serb version, all 45 of the dead ethnic Albanians “were either KLA fighters or civilians caught in the crossfire. There was no massacre of civilians, but the KLA had plenty of time to dress their dead fighters in civilian clothes.” A team of Finnish forensic investigators sent by the European Union to perform autopsies on the Racak bodies “confirmed the Serb version in most respects, though the change-of-clothes hypothesis was discounted,” writes Mandel. In his opinion, Racak was a pretext to begin the bombing.

On the day before the bombing began, Clinton declared, “If we’re going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world, Europe has got to be a key. That’s what this Kosovo thing is all about.” Supreme NATO Commander Wesley Clark admitted one month into the bombing campaign that it “was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing.”

I wrote in a 2002 article that the NATO bombing was about economic hegemony, access to Caspian Sea oil, and the promotion of a global free market economy, not ethnic cleansing. Milosevic’s socialist government, which had tried to stop the market reforms imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, was in America’s sights early in the 1990s.

Mandel describes “the history of the West’s complicity in the ‘Balkan tragedy,’ which,” he writes, “is a story of the rich countries of Europe and America taking advantage of the sad state of the post-Soviet economies to impose solutions (sometimes known as ‘Shock Therapy’) through powerful credit institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. Part of the goal was to encourage the fragmentation of the old Soviet bloc to create in its place ‘hub and spoke’ arrangements dependent on the West.” This resulted in “the West’s economic strangulation of Yugoslavia.”

Against this backdrop, Milosevic was elected President in 1989. The Albanians employed a campaign of non-violent opposition to Serb rule, boycotting Serb institutions and setting up parallel ones. “The turn to violence came only in 1997, and appears to have had nothing to do with Serb repression,” writes Mandel, but rather with the rise of the KLA.

In the year before NATO’s bombing campaign, “violence dramatically increased in Kosovo, though the 2,000 dead on both sides combined were no more numerous than in many contemporary conflicts where the U.S. chose not to intervene,” in Mandel’s opinion. Rwanda is a prime example.

The key to the U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslavia can be found in a 1992 draft of the Pentagon Defense Planning Guidance on post-Cold War Strategy, prepared under the direction of Paul Wolfowitz. It advocated discouraging other advanced industrialized nations “from challenging our leadership” or “aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” The document declares, “Our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in [the Middle East and Southwest Asia] to preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.”

Bush’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq are consistent with this strategy, as are his appointments of Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war and “preemptive war” doctrine, as head of the World Bank, and John Bolton, avowed U.N.-hater, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

After NATO conquered Yugoslavia, Halliburton’s Brown and Root constructed Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, the largest foreign U.S. military base built since the Vietnam War. Besides the Great Wall of China, the only other earthly thing visible from outer space is Camp Bondsteel. Brown and Root is also building the 14 permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.

Mandel’s indictment of the United States’ policies in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Rwanda does not ignore the complicity of the other dark forces in those conflicts. He writes, “The fact that the Americans and their allies have been the supreme criminals in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq does not mean their enemies are innocent. The fact that the Americans and the Europeans were directly and indirectly complicit in the atrocities of Rwanda, and the fact that their Tutsi clients in the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] committed them too, does not mean that the Hutu government and militias did not.”

The Nuremberg Tribunal found the greatest sin to be the waging of aggressive war, or war as an instrument of national policy. Mandel characterizes the U.S. wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq as wars of aggression. “Humanitarian intervention,” he notes, (which violates the U.N. Charter anyway) “is forever doomed to be an ‘asymmetrical right, the right of the powerful to intervene in the affairs of the weak and not vice versa.'” United States support for Croat soldiers in their 1995 ethnic cleansing of 200,000 Serbs from Krajina belies America’s humanitarian motives four years later in Kosovo.

Michael Mandel’s book is finally an indictment of international criminal law, of “victor’s justice,” in which only the vanquished are put on trial. “Exactly like the other elements of ‘globalization,’ the globalization (‘universalization’) of human rights is just a euphemism for the strong calling the shots.”