On Crimes of Power:
the Bombing of Yugoslavia, 1999
an essay by John Bart Gerald
I reluctantly start with these observations. Under Communism, Yugoslavia was held together peacefully, though its economy was not available to control by corporate capitalism. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Western governments continued cold war policies until the International Monetary Fund assured the destruction of Yugoslavia's economy.(1) Despite instances of solidarity in the labour unions, impoverishment increased ethnic tensions aided by German and American covert Operations.(2) Less covertly, in 1991 George Bush'es "Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill," funded Yugoslavia's Provinces to declare independence from their central government.(3) Croatia now flies the Ustashe flag. In a nation previously formed by the Third Reich, Croatia's Ustashe launched a policy of extermination against anti-fascists and specifically Serbs, Jews, and Siniti-Romans.(4) With Hitler's defeat, the Ustashe treasury was used to buy safety for its war criminals from what are now NATO countries(5). Once part of Yugoslavia, under NATO, Bosnia is now divided and prepared to serve NATO, with rule and banking firmly under NATO control.(6)
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia proved more resistant. When think-tank policy reached the lives of the people, for two and half months day and night NATO forces bombed a small country's defenses, bridges, factories, communications, storage facilities, hospitals, railways, roads, factories, schools, public housing, playgrounds and people. Yugoslavia had not attacked NATO but was attempting to settle an internal war with a history of atrocities on both sides. NATO's action caused the exodus of close to a million people from their homeland. It continued to erase the culture and existence of a national group, where Yugoslavia's fragile community of peoples was initially destabilized by cold war economic policies and covert assistance.
NATO bombing stopped no slaughters and may have initiated atrocities. It saved no people. International laws which attempt to protect peoples from aggression, dislocation, and war crimes of the most powerful nations, were ignored by a war of aggression without combat, without legal amenities even in NATO's charter, and without approval of the United Nations. It did not reflect the will of NATO's peoples. It was imposed from the top down by U.S. leadership and economic game plans conceived of in such areas as the U.S. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which helped prepare participants for a role in the Clinton administration.(7) For massive military action against a sovereign State, NATO required a pretext.
NATO's "humanitarian" prerogative for military action followed standard procedure for initiating illegal aggressive wars. Hitler went into Poland to "save" its Germans.(8) The U.S. and Coalition went into Iraq to "save" Kuwait. The U.S. and NATO went into Yugoslavia to "save" the Kosovars. In Kosovo, escalation of ethnic violence was first attributed to Kosovar Albanians in the late Eighties(9). Whether the Kosovo Liberation Army drew its resources from the drug trade, covert NATO operations, Croatia, or Islamic fundamentalists, it was the protagonist of a war against Yugoslavia's central government. To note resulting Serbian atrocities, as evidence appears, Serbian forces and paramilitaries responded more moderately than the C.I.A. programs in Guatemala, or in the South Vietnam under operation "Phoenix," or in Chile, or than graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas throughout the Americas. That doesn't excuse them. It does suggest that any pretext of humanitarian intervention should be judged in light of its effect.
There was no attempt by the U.S. to prevent the massacres, or the conditions which led to them. To the contrary, the history of U.S. and NATO interference in Yugoslavia suggests the opposite. Peoples' expectations are that if/when massacres occur, you try to save the people. You do not provoke their destruction, or obliterate their homeland. You try to ease the conditions that have pushed a human group into acting savagely. It is at least a moral crime to profit from their misery. You negotiate and submit to impartial arbitration. NATO cracked a foundation stone of peace when it proceeded to bomb without United Nations approval. One crime doesn't solve another.
The answer to the persecution of one group by another in Kosovo, lay only in prevention, which would have cost NATO countries a fraction of their military enterprise, but without profit to defense industries.
The ruthlessness of NATO's aggression and illegal bombardment was a public lesson, not covered with shame, but boasted of in press briefings. It's frightening because under the pretence of humanitarian concern, NATO's action placed so little value on human life, or the codes people insist on to make life bearable.
NATO found the people of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, expendable, when it began to kill them. It claimed civilian casualties were "mistakes" through ten weeks of bombs and missiles, and an air operation including more than a thousand planes(10). When NATO destroyed factories it destroyed jobs. When it destroyed bridges it destroyed freedom of movement and the transport of food. When it destroyed people, it destroyed people as a punishment, without trial, without choice, without direct provocation, without understanding. NATO bombed a prison. It bombed a zoo. By depriving all the peoples of Kosovo and Serbia of an economy, its reserves, its fuel, health of food supplies grown in contaminated fields, its water supplies, very specifically its entire electric grid, its medical supplies, its playgrounds, it deprived a country of the means of healing itself. NATO has prepared Yugoslavia for civilian casualties through death by exposure, disease, effects of cluster bombs, effects of depleted uranium, lack of medicines, lack of electricity for hospitals, lack of food, lack of psychological balance, and these casualties will continue to grow. Nato's targets increasingly included by intention, the peoples' means to survive.
Since the exodus of Albanian Kosovars was foreseeable, NATO considered these expendable as well. Since NATO with its occupation couldn't protect the Serbian Kosovars, they too were considered expendable. NATO considered Serbian soldiers immediately expendable because it targeted them, and what is a soldier, willing or not, but a prisoner in uniform ? What of our own militaries ? NATO made its own forces expendable by committing them to a war of aggression when war crimes have no statute of limitation.
Respecting international law against aggression, Russia defected from NATO's madness. But with its standing army in disarray, Russia's military protection rested with the threat of nuclear missiles aimed at NATO's capitol cities. NATO's bombing, as it continued destroying Yugoslavia threatened us all with the obliteration any nuclear exchange would cause, and the reminder that we are all expendable.
In Iraq a million young children have died so far from the effects of bombing and Sanctions. Although NATO's bombing officially caused the death of 5,000 of Serbia's soldiers and 10,000 troop casualties(11) (all ethnic groups were eligible for draft), the full extent of civilian casualties won't be known for a generation. The intention of massive destruction renders questions of whether the destruction of a people was actually intended or not, absurd, despite the calculated insistence on how specific the targets were. While questions of "intent" were argued by NATO country lawyers at the International Court of Justice, so that the bombing might continue, victim peoples continued very clearly to die, and will continue to die from the effect of the bombing.
As part of a national group, civilians are through time, the target of all destruction of countries. Within its own borders, an army defending its people, is part of that national group and its casualties contribute to any summation of casualties within the national group.
The lack of choice about NATO policy, accorded civilians of Nato countries was mirrored by NATO soldiers: mis-informed, mis- trained, told to effect policies presented to them as necessary and "humanitarian." They are also human beings, but purposefully deprived of individual choice to the benefit of a command structure. Living within a closed societal circuit of approval, they are often not aware of any "wrong" in what they are doing. Wealth has much the same function with North American ruling elites who aren't told what they don't already know.
After World War II, the people's response to arrogance of power was to bind the powerful to laws and institutions which show some respect for our lives. National leaders at the service of corporate interests subvert these for political survival, A. by denying international courts their jurisdiction, B. by denying international courts any means to effect judgements, C. by appointing judges to represent national interest rather than justice, D. all of the above. Yet amid such mechanisms of control, there are people, and as people each of us is capable of resistance to obvious injustice.
On April 29th, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia appealed to the International Court of Justice to make NATO stop bombing, on the grounds of aggression and genocide as stated in its case on "The Legality of the Use of Force" which contained a request for provisional measures to stop the bombing. The FRY's case was straightforward, and charged individual NATO countries separately. The NATO countries' responses relied on legal technicalities to have the charges dropped. Most responses tried to deny the FRY a right to bring charges, or pled that the charged country was not bound and responsible to the court in this instance.
Although the FRY's request for provisional measures was dismissed, the case was not, at least against countries, including Canada, which subscribe to this Court's jurisdiction. The Court's Order, of June 2nd, did not find at that moment, adequate evidence that a genocide against the FRY was intended, but it kept the case open pending further considerations of jurisdiction and evidence. The possibility that the charged governments in fact committed aggression and genocide, remains (12).
Cases against Spain and the U.S. were dismissed, since these have not allowed themselves to be bound to the Court's authority. Yet this judgement made the Court avoid its primary responsibility for peaceful settlement of disputes. Since cases it cannot judge are referred to the U.N. Security Council, a U.S. veto in the Security Council would deny the FRY's case any consideration. The crimes charged have no statute of limitations and in this instance, the U.S. forfeits protection of international law. Accused of aggression and genocide, U.S. policy makers indicate their choice to proceed, overtly or covertly, outside the law.
By bombing a nation it wasn't at war with, and by denying the victim recourse to law, U.S. policy makers created a victim national group. The U.S. has done the same with Iraq. Sanctions were applied to both national groups, purposefully depriving the civilian populations a means to recover. This suggests their total destruction could be intended.
We protect ourselves from realizing this by attributing such suffering to inevitable hardships of war. But neither military operation was a "war." There wasn't an armed conflict. It isn't war to massively bomb a country that has no adequate defenses. When all the casualties are on one side, and American forces which were largely responsible for the bombings didn't lose a single person in combat, then we call it massacre. Once targeted, the victim country risks being destroyed as a national group so it won't have recourse to justice. Triggering ethnic warfare, calling for rebellion against leadership, funding of opposition groups within the victim State, all counter any chance for legal recourse as a national group.
The International Court of Justice reaffirmed all countries' responsibility to humanitarian law, whether charges against them by The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could be applied in this case or not.
Formed by an understanding of horror as the Holocaust in World War II, and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki people in NATO countries are shy of the word "genocide," partly because as Noam Chomsky has pointed out it's an affront to previous victims(13) and partly because it's a crime of power. When we have to, we apply the term to attempts on racial, ethnic, religious groups, because our own societies force us into recognition of these categorical differences. That shields us from understanding a crime which attempts to destroy entire groups defined by nationality, encompassing several groups. Yet the Convention on Genocide specifically includes a "national" group before the others.
Furthermore, the cold war's "balance of power" relied on unpleasant facts of technology: beyond threat, actual projected use of the cold war's nuclear arsenals, was to devastate other national groups, and because the major powers were and remain nuclear powers, people are taught not to link the word "genocide" to the destruction of an opposing nation. In fact the victim group becomes the human race and humanity's future, an escalation of the concept of genocide, to wordlessness. Although massive bombings spare humanity ultimate weaponry, a portion of humanity is sacrificed within a targeted locale. Over five Hiroshimas of ordinance were expended on Iraq. Yugoslavia was bombed for over seventy days and nights. It was clear what the bombings' effects on people and the region would be. Yugoslavia's "Request" of April 28th, presented to the International Court of Justice, gives clear evidence of NATO targeting which could only lead to destruction of the civilian populations(14). Yet the evidence was not sufficient...
The Court's argument in decisions again and again point to the need for proving intention, as did Canada's defense, where "intent and destruction" are necessary to its lawyers' definition for applicability of law and jurisdiction. To argue that there was no "intent" to destroy these portions of humanity, is to argue that the victim of a firing squad is not really supposed to die. The arguments followed a defense the U.S. made at its Ratification of the Convention on Genocide in 1988, specifically requiring the element of "intent" as decided by itself.
Calculated manoeuvres implanted into treaties and relations to the Court, specifically protect U.S. policies from the charge of genocide, rather than protect people from the crime, or even its allies from being charged for the results of U.S. policy. Such protections within U.S. policy were recognized by the Court's dismissal of charges against it, June 2nd, and in themselves suggest "intent" in policy planning.
If the effect is destruction of the national group, and the effect is foreseeable, how can anyone prove an absence of intention?
Within national courts of individual NATO nations, only the Greek government allowed its people the opportunity to challenge NATO policy under law. When the case was presented in a Greek Court NATO was found guilty.
On May 24, with effect on May 27th, the International Court Tribunal for Yugoslavia, under a Chief Prosecutor appointed by the United Nations (15), indicted Milosevic and his chief aids for crimes arising from their authority over Serbian actions in Kosovo. The Tribunal's President was American.
The indictment bravely held leadership accountable for crimes of policy, and claimed evidence of specific atrocities committed by Serbs. No doubt this will be substantiated by evidence gathered with NATO military assistance. The indictment also blamed the exodus of Albanian Kosovars, on Milosevic and his chiefs, despite the sequence of events reporting that exodus and foreseeable reprisals began predictably, in response to NATO's bombing (16).
Forced deportation is a crime but it isn't of itself, liquidation or enslavement(17), nor does it destroy and contaminate one's homeland or victimize residents with wars of extermination. With a different tactical objective, NATO might have overlooked Milosevic's policy as an attempt to evacuate a people under his responsibility, from an expanding war zone.
But if Milosevic were guilty of all charges, why did NATO commit a greater crime in the destruction of country and peoples ? Neither Kosovo nor the Kosovar Albanians nor the Kosovar Serbs, nor the peoples of Serbia, benefitted from the bombing, which killed civilians as well as a military within its own country. U.S. Defense contractors benefitted most immediately. But if we can't apply international law to NATO's targeting of a civilian infra- structure which reasonably suggests the destruction of a national group, what national group is safe from a U.S. elite's commands to obey ?
The Tribunal's indictment lacked the balance of indicting NATO as well for the crime of bombing and risked the court to the service of NATO rather than the United Nations. It shifts blame for the humanitarian disaster the bombs and missiles caused while saving no one, while assuring a massive exodus, while triggering atrocities in reprisal, to a handful of indictable small-country leaders. Its indictment was presented at a point when the International Court of Justice held under consideration, Yugoslavia's own case against NATO countries, presenting adequate evidence of this humanitarian disaster.
Both NATO's economic agenda and its military actions damaged the people of NATO countries, brutalizing us into accepting what we know is unacceptable. We feel powerless to do anything about it but question it, in spite of propaganda, misinformation and "briefings," the sale of the war to the public, the spin doctors, news management, all which try to distract us from three facts: thousands of people were intentionally killed; a nation was destroyed and its people might not survive; the destruction was an illegal act of aggression.
In the U.S. war on Iraq, the civilian infra-structure was massively and purposefully bombed as a tactic to force the civilian population to force their leader's compliance or ouster. Who would question the innocence of the children or that they as well had souls, hope, hunger, needs while they lived ? The deaths exceed political justification.
As the children of Yugoslavia and Kosovo suffer their first casualties of displacement or that military euphemism of foreseen "collateral damage," the hatreds of retaliation and atrocity war nourishes, the effects of depleted uranium weapons(18), the unexploded cluster bombs, the survival rate within a bombed out society, who can heal the children ? Who can heal the adults ? And who can find the perpetrators innocent of crimes against humanity ?
The subliminal messages to NATO's people are: that we should deny humanity to those outside our group, that our expectations of normal lives are at the mercy of government, that we risk extermination when we do not obey U.S. orders, that there is no impartial justice for people. Will this message one day be brought home to North Americans ? We feel powerless because the overwhelming message of any war is that people are of no value. War kills people. Negotiations do not. When the powerful would rather kill than negotiate, then what value does human life have ?
We were not born without value, at least to our selves and families, yet we are made so, until we have no faith in our human rights, or voice to insist on them.
A lack of value is enforced by propaganda, which through manipulations, lies and omissions, relies on our stupidity. If we are not already stupid it tries to make us so. So we are not only voiceless but stupid. Most powerfully our worthlessness, and stupidity, are compounded by the moral wrongs imposed by devastating crimes against other peoples whatever their nation, colour, religion, language, peoples who are remarkably like us.
Having devalued humanity to the point of claiming to represent our peoples by obliterating a little country, NATO then exceeds itself with civilian casualties as minor, statistically negligible mistakes resulting in death of someone else's parent, child, lover, partner, as though these are not a concern when compared with the arsenals of slaughter at NATO's disposal.
What we learn as peoples is that because injustice itself is a weapon - to harm us, to identify resistance, to terrorize us, to nullify the concept of justice, to make us forget laws that protect us all, to perception manage us into wondering if right is wrong and wrong is right, to destroy our vision with pain, to tire us, what we learn is that an injustice against any one of us is an injustice against us all.
So when the people of Iraq are bombed into the stone age in some way they stood for us and stand in common humanity for our daily lives and expectations as well. When the Yugoslav people find their lives bombed away because their leader would not take orders from a country that places its crimes above the law, they have at least stood for humanity.
June 25, 1999
Copyright © 1999, by John Bart Gerald
Author published by J.B.Gerald July 13, 1999
Published by serendipity August 1, 1999
Published online in Arguments with the Thought Police, essays, by John Bart Gerald; drawings by Julie Maas posted Night's Lantern, August 18th, 2002 - February 26, 2006
Re-posted Gerald and Maas Night's Lantern, March 16, 2006