Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Florence Hartmann’s ‘Peace and Punishment’

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is the first senior official of the ICTY to have written a book discussing its inner workings (Paix et chatiment: Les guerres secretes de la politique et de la justice internationales, Flammarion, 2007). She has used her eyewitness’s insight into the inner workings of the ICTY to support her blistering critique of the failure of the Western alliance to support the cause of justice for the former Yugoslavia. Her book paints a portrait of Western powers, above all the US, Britain and France, stifling the ICTY and preventing the arrest of war-criminals through a combination of obstruction, manipulation, mutual rivalry and sheer inertia.

One of the best parts of the book concerns what Hartmann terms the ‘fictitious pursuit’ of the two most prominent Bosnian Serb war-criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, involving repeated failures to arrest them. Hartmann gives various reasons why the Western powers might have behaved in this manner, among them the alleged agreement in 1995 between Milosevic, Mladic and French President Jacques Chirac, that in return for the release of two French pilots shot down by the Serbs over Bosnia, Mladic would never be prosecuted by the ICTY; the similar alleged agreement between Karadzic, Mladic and the US’s Richard Holbrooke in 1996, for Karadzic to withdraw from political life in return for a guarantee that he would never be prosecuted; and the readiness in 2002 of Bosnia’s High Representative, Britain’s Paddy Ashdown, to sabotage the attempts of Bosnian intelligence chief Munir Alibabic to track down Karadzic, out of rivalry with the French intelligence services with which Alibabic was working.

Hartmann has done an admirable job in compiling a comprehensive account of all these rumours, and in reminding us of just how much may have been going on behind the scenes. The problem is that they remain only rumours, ones that often originated from Serb officials themselves. The merciless portrait of the failure of international justice is one that we should all recognise; Hartmann has brought a welcome dose of hard-headed cynicism to discussions of the topic, marking a refreshing change from the rose-tinted view of too many liberal commentators. But it is in her attempts at interpreting this failure that Hartmann’s book becomes more problematic. That the US under Clinton was unwilling to risk the lives of its troops in attempts to arrest war-criminals; that the US under Bush was unsympathetic to international courts in principle and unwilling to allow the war-criminals issue to become a distraction from the War on Terror; and that the US was in general unwilling to allow sensitive classified information of its own to be used in prosecutions of war-criminals, thus putting its own ‘national security’ before international justice – all this seems uncontroversial. But Hartmann does not stop at such observations; she portrays a comprehensive policy of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to sabotage international justice, in order that the Western powers’ own prior collusion with Serb war-criminals not be brought to light. And while such a thesis does not in principle sound unlikely, Hartmann has a) failed to provide any real evidence to support it; b) attempted to explain too much through it; and c) failed to resolve the paradoxes that it necessarily gives rise to.

It is unclear how Western powers that have been applying very real if inconsistent pressure on Serbia to hand over war-criminals to the ICTY, and that acquiesced in Milosevic’s deportation to and trial in the Hague, can have been pursuing such a single-minded policy of sabotaging international justice motivated by an overarching concern to keep their own complicity hidden. A more convincing and nuanced interpretation would be that the Western powers were pursuing a contradictory policy toward Serbia and the ICTY, with different individuals and institutions in Britain, France and the US acting at variance with one another – the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. But such an interpretation could only with difficulty be reconciled with Hartmann’s thesis, which is really something close to a conspiracy theory: that the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers of Britain and the US are all-powerful puppet-masters in control of events and pursuing an entirely consistent and uniform policy.

The concept of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ is one that Hartmann uses liberally, and it suggests a peculiarly French perspective. Hartmann is ready to point out French complicity in the failure of international justice, but she nevertheless allows a degree of nuance in her interpretation of French policy that she is unwilling to recognise for the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. Treating the US and Britain as if they were a uniform bloc with regard to the former Yugoslavia is, in fact, problematic: for most of the Bosnian war it was the British and French who generally stood together in opposition to American calls for a tougher policy vis-a-vis the Bosnian Serb rebels; it was France, not Britain, that was the first to break ranks and move closer to the US position; and more recently the British and French have stood together in supporting the International Criminal Court, which the US has refused to recognise. So the concept of a uniform ‘Anglo-Saxon’ policy with regard to the ICTY is already questionable. But Hartmann goes further, and accuses ‘Anglo-Saxon’ employees of the ICTY in general – i.e. Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans – of being agents of this same ‘Anglo-Saxon’ policy. And this is where Hartmann’s thesis does become simply a conspiracy theory.

I myself worked as a Research Officer at the ICTY’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for seven months, and many of the quirks and flaws of the ICTY’s organisation that Hartmann describes are ones that I recognise. The predominance of officials from the white Anglophone countries, particularly in the more senior ranks, was very marked, and was something I interpreted at the time simply as an expression of an unfortunate preference of officials to work with others speaking the same native language and sharing a similar cultural background. The division of OTP investigators into different teams investigating the crimes of different groups of former Yugoslavs, with several different teams devoted to Bosnian Serb war-criminals but only one to Serbia’s crimes in Bosnia – contributing to there being numerous indictments of Bosnian Serbs but very few of members of the Belgrade leadership or Yugoslav army for war-crimes in Bosnia – was also apparent. Hartmann attributes to the OTP’s Australian deputy prosecutor, Graham Blewitt, an unwillingness to ascribe blame to Belgrade for war crimes in Bosnia; indeed, a reluctance to work on the prosecution of Milosevic at all, on the assumption that it was a waste of time as he would never be deported to the Hague.

I do not know whether this accusation against Blewitt is correct or not; Hartmann may have garnered enough inside information to be able to support it. But it is unclear how she can then jump to the conclusion that the OTP under Blewitt and Chief Prosecutor Richard Goldstone, one of del Ponte’s predecessors and a South African, ‘rejected any attempt to overstep the obstacles put up by the Great Powers that at Dayton had de facto distributed impunity to their principal suspect. The Westerners did not wish for the Tribunal to interest itself too closely with the orchestrator of the policy of ethnic cleansing that ravaged the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 89) – it was, after all, Goldstone who originally indicted Karadzic and Mladic, who Hartmann then argues were precisely the ones whom the Western powers did not want to face justice. Or the conclusion that she comes to regarding the resistance of the Blewitt faction in the OTP to del Ponte’s attempts to indict Milosevic for genocide and for war-crimes in Srebrenica and Sarajevo: ‘Srebrenica, the genocide charge and, secondarily, Sarajevo were not only the cause of perpetual friction within the Office of the Prosecutor, but also between the ICTY and the Great Powers. Hence the question of the impact of the strategy of the Anglo-Saxon governments and their enmeshing of the Prosecution, too insidious to be quantifiable but that could not have been unrelated to the absence of a will to indict Milosevic and to the reticence that arose over every key episode of the case.’ (p. 91).

Hartmann’s accusations become wilder: ‘All the officers occupying the key posts within the Serb forces in Bosnia, engaged in the capture of Srebrenica and the massacres that followed, all without exception had been released from service by the general staff of the army of Belgrade and continued to have their salaries paid by Belgrade. For nearly ten years, the MAT [Military Analysis Team] obscured this information, thus preventing the Prosecution from inquiring about the true nature of the control exercised by the central power in Belgrade over the cadres of the Bosnian Serb army during the Srebrenica episode.’ … ‘To dismiss facts that they wished to obscure, members of the MAT would proclaim that a witness or unwelcome parts of their testimony were not credible… The Anglo-Saxon military analysts (there were no French), deliberately and systematically concealed directly Milosevic’s responsibility for crimes in Bosnia, particularly at Srebrenica. On the orders of their governments, they long determined the interpretation of documents in the manner that they wished, and ensured that the Tribunal, established to conceal their impotence, should not by any chance reveal the cowardice of the Great Powers during the time of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.’ (pp. 103-106).

And wilder: on the reluctance of Geoffrey Nice, chief prosecutor in the Milosevic trial, to indict Milosevic for genocide and for the Srebrenica massacre, Hartmann writes that ‘Rather than convincing the judges, beyond all reasonable doubt, of Milosevic’s responsibility for genocide, he [Nice], attempted to convince del Ponte to abandon the prosecution… Instead of helping the Tribunal in its search for the truth, he entered into the game of the Great Powers.’ To which is added, in a footnote, a pointed claim, based solely on the testimony of Kosovar politician Azem Vllasi, that Nice had worked for British intelligence during the 1960s (pp. 140-141).

Thus, Hartmann portrays those lawyers and researchers who disagreed with del Ponte over strategy, or who interpreted evidence differently, or who failed to produce the right evidence, as being agents of the Great Powers, in particular the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers. It is one thing to be critical of the performance or strategy of individuals or teams within the OTP; but to accuse them of deliberately sabotaging the Prosecution’s work on the orders of the Great Powers, without providing any evidence, is something else entirely: it strangely resembles the propanda of the Milosevic regime and the Serb nationalists, according to which all opposition to the Great Serbian cause was orchestrated by the imperialists, and all Serb critics of the regime were Western stooges. Not to mention the Serb nationalists’ oft-repeated claim, that the ICTY itself is simply a tool of Western imperialism.

I am entirely ready to believe that the British and American intelligence services had their agents in the OTP, and I have no doubt that the OTP contained many incompetent officials who obstructed its work. But that is a far cry from saying that the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers had so many agents in the Tribunal that they were effectively able to control it. My own experience of working at the OTP does not confirm such a claim. I worked for the Leadership Research Team, of which Hartmann writes: ‘This pool of experts on the Balkans was confided to a South African who continued to reject links between the local command structures and Belgrade, to the great displeasure of his team.’ (p. 90). This may or may not have been true of the late 1990s, but when I arrived at the Leadership Research Team in early 2001, it was under an American, Pat Treanor, who had been with the ICTY from the beginning and who immediately assigned me to work on analysing the command structures through which Belgrade controlled Serb forces in Bosnia.

The team investigating the leadership of Serbia/Yugoslavia’s war-crimes in Bosnia, ‘Team 5’, with which I worked, was headed by an Australian, Bernie O’Donnell; the first draft indictment of Milosevic for war-crimes in Bosnia, on which I, Bernie and other members of Team 5 worked, was a collective indictment of senior members of the ‘joint criminal enterprise’, including not only Milosevic but also Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic, Borisav Jovic, Branko Kostic, Momir Bulatovic and others. As I have said many times before, it was on del Ponte’s intervention that this draft was rejected, and the indictment limited to Milosevic alone, as a result of which most of these individuals were never indicted. So on the basis of my personal experience, it was the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ who wanted to pursue the Serbian/Yugoslav leadership, and del Ponte who restricted the indictment.

More generally, in the seven months in which I worked at the OTP I got to know many other investigators, ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and others, some of them quite well, and some of whom I had known from before any of us were working for the ICTY. There was plenty of rumour and gossip going around, but nothing that would suggest a large-scale infiltration of the OTP by British and American secret agents. Finally, del Ponte’s predecessor as Chief Prosecutor, the Quebecoise Louise Arbour, herself apparently clashed with the Great Powers and with her colleagues in the OTP for the same reasons that del Ponte did, according to Hartmann. Leaving one to wonder how the Anglo-Saxon puppet-masters could have been so careless as to allow two French-speaking troublemakers in a row to become chief prosecutor.

Hartmann portrays del Ponte as the heroine of the story, fighting for justice against the ill-intentioned Western powers and their agents in her own team. Her book, therefore, is interesting for what it reveals about what preoccupied del Ponte: above all, the arrest and prosecution of Karadzic and Mladic, and the indictment of Milosevic for genocide, for the Srebrenica massacre and for the siege of Sarajevo. While I entirely sympathise with del Ponte’s determination to indict Milosevic for genocide, I am less convinced of the importance of indicting him for Srebrenica and for Sarajevo. The importance of Srebrenica may appear justified in hindsight, as it was the only case for which genocide was proven to have taken place by the ICTY – though I am not convinced that del Ponte could have predicted this. But Sarajevo ? The reason for del Ponte’s determination to indict Milosevic for Srebrenica and Sarajevo was, according to Hartmann, that they were ‘the two most symbolic episodes of the war in Bosnia.’ (p. 88). Which tends to confirm my suspicion that del Ponte’s policies were guided above all by public perceptions of what was important, rather than by what really was. Hence the obsession with the household names, Mladic and Karadzic, and complete lack of interest in supects like Kadijevic, Jovic and Adzic, forgotten in the West, who were actually much more responsible for what took place in Bosnia: Mladic was a nobody handpicked by the Belgrade leadership for the role he was to play.

There is, indeed, something of a contradiction between the preoccupation of del Ponte and Hartmann with Karadzic and Mladic, and Hartmann’s simultaneous insistence that the Bosnian Serbs were acting always under Belgrade’s control. For if, indeed, Karadzic and Mladic were acting at all times under Belgrade’s control or guidance, then it is unclear why the Western powers should have been ready to allow Milosevic’s deportation to the Hague, but not Karadzic’s or Mladic’s – did the minions really possess information about Western complicity that was so much more embarrassing than anything possessed by their boss ? Nor is it easy to reconcile the supposed determination of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to acquit Serbia of war-crimes in Bosnia with their supposed equal determination to shield Karadzic and Mladic, rather than Milosevic, from prosecution. One explanation might be that it was precisely Karadzic and Mladic who could have revealed the extent of Belgrade’s direction of the Bosnian Serb war-crimes. But do Karadzic and Mladic really know so much more than Biljana Plavsic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Jovica Stanisic, Momcilo Perisic and all the other indictees who have been successfully turned over to the ICTY ? And even if they do, can the Western powers really have known this and engineered events to ensure that it was only Karadzic and Mladic who escaped justice ? Such an interpretation stretches plausibility to breaking point.

Peace and Punishment, nevertheless, remains essential reading for several reasons. It reminds us that, however critical one may be of del Ponte’s performance as Chief Prosecutor, she was very far from being the only senior individual responsible for the ICTY’s failures. It gives an insight into the sort of debates and conflicts over strategy that preoccupied war-crimes investigators at the OTP. And it highlights the fact that, far from being an agent of Western imperialism, the Chief Prosecutor was acting in a frequently hostile international arena, in which she had to struggle for international cooperation, and in which the ICTY was frequently squeezed rather than supported by the Great Powers. Although, as I have indicated, I am highly critical of several aspects of this book, I would nevertheless recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of why international justice has failed the peoples of the former Yugoslavia.

Thursday, 10 January 2008 - Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia |


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