Kosovo

Fighting the War Crimes

| Tue May 25, 1999 2:00 AM EDT
So far, the U.S. and NATO have launched over 2,500 cruise missiles and dropped over 7,000 tons of explosives on Yugoslavia.

So what all did they blow up? According to spokesman Jamie Shea, NATO has thus far destroyed:

  • Over 100 Yugoslav aircraft
  • Eleven command posts
  • Half of the ammunition storage in Kosovo
  • Three-quarters of the fixed surface-to-air missile sites

and so on.

But that's not all.

Among the other stuff NATO had blown up or severely damaged when CounterPunch magazine compiled a list in late April:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

  • Over 3,500 civilian businesses, industrial facilities, and homes, including, notably, factories and other property belonging to political allies of Slobodan Milosevic
  • Hundreds of public-housing facilities
  • Two dozen radio and TV transmitters
  • More than 200 schools, including 10 colleges and 90 elementary schools

NATO has also bombed:

  • Almost a dozen other churches and religious shrines
  • Nine monasteries
  • At least 21 hospitals, clinics, and day-care centers

In addition, NATO has bombed hotels, refugee camps, libraries, theatres, post offices, youth centers, museums, and even graveyards.

Are these all mistakes?

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark doesn't think so. Clark traveled to Yugoslavia and, after visiting destroyed civilian homes, industry, and utilities, came away convinced, as he put it in a letter sent to each member of the U.N. Security Council, that the bombing is "clearly directed at terrorizing and crippling civilian society."

Under the Geneva Convention of 1949, deliberate bombing of civilians and civilian objects is expressly prohibited. If there is doubt about whether an attack will cause civilian casualties or whether a target is military or civilian, then the action should be avoided.

A list of targets known as of late April to have been attacked in direct violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949 has been posted by the editors of CounterPunch at http://www.counterpunch.org/bodycount.html.


In addition to obliterating the infrastructure of Yugoslavia, the war is also doing grave damage to America's reputation around the world.

Even in some NATO countries, opponents of the war are a growing majority. In Rome, for example, one protest drew over 100,000 people, including over 180 members of the Italian parliament. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has flatly declared that Germany will block NATO from fighting a land war.

Outside of the alliance, the view is sharply negative. Here's a sampling of editorials from major newspapers around the world:

SPAIN
From El Pais : "After 53 days and too many errors, the Alliance cannot continue to justify the deaths of hundreds of Kosovars by friendly fire so as to avoid losing even one of its pilots."

GREECE (where polls show that roughly 95 percent oppose the war)
From Eleftherotypia: "The words manslaughter, brutality, barbarousness, hecatomb, extermination, elimination, rawness and beastliness are not enough to portray the humanitarian work of NATO, that blood-stained Alliance of paranoia."

(Damn. I don't even know what "hecatomb" is, but I get the drift.)

EGYPT
From Al Wafd: "Frankly, after 55 days NATO has not solved the problem, but failed to lift the Serbian butcher's hand on those Moslems.... It has made a mockery of itself."

ARGENTINA
From an op-ed in Clarin by Hugo Gobbi, former Deputy U.N. Secretary General: "When we talk about NATO's humanitarian intervention, reality is distorted and it is not taken into consideration that -- with the repeated missile mistakes and the bombing of civilian targets -- NATO is on the threshold of genocide."

BRAZIL
From Folha de Sao Paulo: "Regardless of the outcome of the Balkan conflict, NATO's attacks against Yugoslavia will have represented a failure. The intervention, defended as humanitarian aid, only intensified suffering in the region."

 
You can just imagine what they're writing in Bulgaria, which NATO hit with a missile on April 29. (Five days later, Bulgaria allowed NATO to use its airspace, over the objections of two-thirds of its own citizens. Total coincidence.)

And there's more: you knew about China, but the homes of ambassadors from Switzerland, Sweden, India, Norway, Spain, and Hungary have also been damaged.

NATO's spokesman says the ambassadors "understand." The Swedish foreign minister calls the use of large explosives in the center of large cities "unacceptable."

And you can guess for yourself what they're writing in China, now that NATO has redecorated their embassy in Early American Shrapnel.

Anti-American sentiment in Russia is now at Cold War levels.

Russia and China both insist that the bombing must stop before a diplomatic solution can be found.

Clinton, however, is now calling for 50,000 troops massed on the border. The U.S. is also considering using the CBU-89 scatterable mine system, which drops both antitank and antipersonnel landmines, expressly forbidden under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which all NATO members except Turkey and the U.S. have signed. NATO has announced the deployment of AC-130 Spectre gunships, which can fire 2,500 rounds a minute, decimating anything in sight.

This is not the way to world peace.


In the U.N., NATO is rapidly losing credibility.

"In the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, large numbers of civilians have incontestably been killed [and] civilian installations targeted on the grounds that they are or could be of military application, and NATO remains sole judge of what is or is not acceptable to bomb."

-- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, April 30

The U.N. knows damn well what NATO is doing.


Which is why a group of lawyers from several countries, led by professors from Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto, has filed a formal complaint with the International Criminal Tribunal, charging several dozen NATO leaders and officials with "open violation" of the U.N. Charter, the NATO treaty itself, the Geneva Conventions and the Principles of International Law recognized by the Nüremberg Tribunal.

What you're about to read is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of international law.

The U.N. Security Council set up the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in order to "prosecute persons committing or ordering to be committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949," including, explicitly, the following:

(a) willful killing;
...
(c) willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health;
(d) extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."

That part is in Article 2 of the statutes that set up the Tribunal. Article 3 gets more precise: "Such violations shall include, but not be limited to:

(a) employment of poisonous weapons or other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering;
(b) wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;
(c) attack, or bombardment, by whatever means, of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings;
(d) seizure of, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, historic monuments and works of art and science."

All of which -- every single word of which -- there is no question whatsoever that NATO leaders have engaged in knowingly. Which is, itself, a war crime. Article 7 is absolutely clear on the question:

1. A person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute, shall be individually responsible for the crime.

2. The official position of any accused person, whether as Head of State or Government or as a responsible Government official, shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility or mitigate punishment.

3. The fact that any of the acts referred to in articles 2 to 5 of the present Statute was committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof.

4. The fact that an accused person acted pursuant to an order of a Government or of a superior shall not relieve him of criminal responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the International Tribunal determines that justice so requires.

Note in the last clause that "only following orders" actually is, at the Tribunal's discretion, a conceivable defense.

"Only giving orders" is not.


To make things worse, NATO knows perfectly well that there is little sign the orders they're giving will ever accomplish the desired effect.

"No one can guarantee at this stage that the air campaign will produce all of the objectives by the fall. We think it will, but can you guarantee it? Will you sign your name to that at this stage? I don't think anybody would be willing to do that... the bombing campaign will intensify."

-- Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, May 21

"There is no sign of a Serb troop withdrawal from Kosovo."

-- Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, May 21


One last bit of trivia: even if international law didn't apply, the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war.

As a practical matter, that hasn't always been the case. National security can't always wait until 535 politicians can be rounded up and pried away from other people's pockets and zippers. So the President has long had practical leeway to send troops into combat on a short-term basis.

However.

In 1973, in the wake of Korea, Vietnam, and other undeclared wars, Congress passed the War Powers Act, codifying the rules for future engagements. While some question the constitutionality of the measure -- and with some merit -- until such time as the Supreme Court may deem otherwise, the War Powers Act is the explicit, unambiguous law of the United States.

The War Powers Act requires the President to report to Congress within 48 hours of introducing U.S. military forces into hostilities. After which, unless Congress declares war or authorizes continued engagement, the President is on a 60-day clock in which to "terminate any use" of the military.

On April 28th, The House of Representatives voted against a declaration of war, and in a tie vote, did not pass a resolution supporting a limited air war.

End of story.

The War Powers Act says that Clinton has to have the boys home by May 25.

Period.

After which, under current U.S. law, the continued bombing of Yugoslavia is manifestly illegal.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The papers aren't making much of a fuss -- after all, it's not part of their Pentagon briefings -- but after today, the White House will be engaged in bombing another country in open defiance of the law Bill Clinton has sworn to protect.

This is a legitimate constitutional crisis, in which the White House is showing open, lethal contempt of Congress.

Or at least it would be, it the GOP hadn't wasted all their impeachment juice on Monica.

If the bombs are still falling on Wednesday, the Constitution is clearly no longer worth the hemp it was first written on.


Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide.

To receive a free e-mail subscription to The Scoop, just send a blank e-mail to BobHarris-subscribe@listbot.com. Or visit his Web site.