As part of its propaganda campaign for the war in Yugoslavia, the Clinton Administration has been threatening prosecution of Serbs as “war criminals.” The administration wants to provide evidence of war crimes to Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. But Nikola Kostich, a lawyer with a prestigious Milwaukee law firm, says the evidence now exists to prosecute President Clinton and other NATO leaders as war criminals.
There is already a body of evidence demonstrating that Clinton has violated international law by ordering an attack on a sovereign country that hasn’t attacked any other country. But the case for war crimes is built on a series of NATO military attacks on Yugoslavia in which innocent civilian life has been lost and non-military targets have been attacked. One of the latest such incidents was featured on the front pages of various newspapers on April 13th. In one of the single worst losses of civilian life since the war began, NATO warplanes struck a rail bridge 180 miles south of Belgrade just as a passenger train was crossing. Two of the passenger cars were turned into smoldering wrecks. At least 10 people were killed and 16 injured.
Kostich says various talking heads on the TV talk shows refer to these incidents as “collateral damage” but that innocent people are being killed. Kostich, who has contacts in Yugoslavia, says he is receiving increasing reports of the indiscriminate nature of the NATO attacks, with more civilian targets being hit every day. Kostich said he became aware of a letter that Judge McDonald, head of the criminal court, had sent, seeking evidence of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. So Kostich took the stories he had been receiving, as well as media reports, and decided to put them in a letter to the judge. It will be a test of the fairness of this tribunal whether the evidence is taken seriously.
The statute of the criminal tribunal is specific. A number of its provisions could apply to the NATO bombing. For example, Article 3 refers to attacks on undefended towns. It also refers to the wanton destruction of towns or villages not justified by military necessity. All of these acts are considered war crimes. What’s more, Kostich says so-called “collateral damage” which kills civilians is not considered an excusable act.
In terms of responsibility under the statute, Kostich says it starts at the top – with Bill Clinton himself. Article 7 of the statute sets out the scope of individual criminal responsibility establishing that the official position of any accused person shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility nor mitigate punishment. This means that Clinton cannot escape justice just because he’s president of the United States.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich has accused NATO of having a military campaign that targets civilians. He points out that rather than confront the military forces of Yugoslavia, NATO seems to be going after ordinary people and the civilian infrastructure—bridges, power plants, water systems, roads and telecommunications centers. It could add up to a case of war crimes against President Clinton.