Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The P...
Stay the Hand of Vengeance THE POLITICS OF WAR CRIMES TRIBUNALS * PRINCETON STUDIES IN INTERNATIONAL HISTORY AND POLITICS GARY JONATHAN BASS PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS PRINCETON AND OXFORD ac o j
* CHAPTER ONE * [W hen these matters are discussed by practical people, the standard ofjustice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept. -Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason. -Justice RobertJackson, U.S. opening statement at Nuremberg Introduction TIHoMR BLAs1ic was brought into court in The Hague on June 24, 1997, flanked by two policemen wearing the baby-blue of the UN. An unexceptional dark man with wispy thinning black hair and gold glasses, dressed for the occasion in a gray civilian suit, Blaskic looked constantly grim. He did not change his expression as the morning wore on. He gave no hint of emotion, even when the prosecutor, a squarejawed American draped in a black robe, described the 1993 sack ofAhmici, a small, innoc- uous village in central Bosnia's Lasva Valley. Blaskic had then been a colonel and the commander of the Bosnian Nrraf ~,,Sruirc: rq----I in rrr D_-l Try Arl IQnR nr-4 V_rr- .UlL.L 1d lillLy a U JCiLUL 111 tLllu L .UUJLlla. Li _1JLJil 1UJ, LU .rLLJ .UL4.1, the young local Bosnian Croat leader, decided to take the Lasva Valley, a rugged area populated both by Muslims and Croats. Forces under Blaskic's command launched an assault on the Bosnian government's forces and the Muslim towns of the Lasva Valley. The rain of shells took a heavy toll on Muslim civilians. Men allegedly under Blaskic's command rounded up hundreds of Muslims who remained in the valley, and held them in makeshift facilities in Vitez and Busovaca. They forced the pris- oners, hungry and thirsty, to dig trenches on confrontation lines or used them as human shields- to deter the Bosnian government forces from striking back at the Croat forces. The atrocities in Ahmici, a mostly Mus- lim village, were the most notorious: its mosques and the homes of its Muslim inhabitants had been razed, and ninety-six civilians were killed.l But that was all a world away. Now Blaskic could only see Ahmici-with its Muslim houses gutted, and Croatian nationalist graffiti spray-painted on a toppled Muslim minaret-in stark black-and-white video images, filmed by a swooping camera that had been carried by a NATO helicop- ter. Blaskic's old headquarters at the Hotel Vitez, only about five kilome- ters from Ahmici and mere blocks away from what became a mass grave site, were also just pictures on the screens in a hushed and darkened courtroom on the other side of Europe. Instead, Blaskic was surrounded by the self-important trappings of a new effort at international justice. The courtroom is in fact a rebuilt conference room, which until 1994 housed Dutch businesspeople working for Aegon, the insurance firm 3
CHAPTER ONE with which the tribunal was sharing its sprawling, shabby building on Churchillplein in the northern part of The Hague. The courtroom, which cost the UN about three million Dutch guilders, boasts ultramod- ern computer and video monitors, immediate computerized stenogra- phy, and simultaneous translation broadcast in three languages: English, French, and what used to be called Serbo-Croatian and is now prudently listed by the UN as "Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian." Visitors and the press are separated from Blaskic only by a pane of bulletproof glass. The court- room is sleek and gleaming white, with baby-blue drapes and two big UN flags flanking the judges. They are robed in black and red, with faintly ridiculous white bibs in the Continental style the attorneys wear simpler black robes, with the same bibs. The air is a riot of international accents: the presiding judge is French, his two colleagues are from Egypt and Guyana, the defense team are from Croatia and Los Angeles, and the prosecutors have American accents (one of them distinctly from New York). It is all built to impress. There was no sign that day that it had made any impact on Blaskic. Nor were his superiors in Croatia any more impressed. Croatia was resisting the tribunal's attempts to subpoena its records on the Lasva Val- ley attacks, presumably fearing that such papers might implicate men of greater rank than Blaskic. Dario Kordic was still at large, widely assumed to be living comfortably in Zagreb. The mere fact that Blaskic was in court at all was an anomaly. On the day Blaskic walked into the dock, only eight out of seventy-five men publicly indicted by the tribunal were in custody. 3 Blaskic was the only high-ranking one. Over three years after the UN set up the first international war crimes tribunal since World War II, all it had to show for it were these eight men: whiling away their days by playing chess, reading a spy novel by John Le CarrY, and, in the case of a man who had brutalized prisoners at the Omarska concentration camp, doing a series of paintings for an exhibition in a London restaurant. Most of what really mattered for'the tribunal was going on far from the former insurance office in The Hague. The machinery ofjustice was here, still a bit creaky with its new duties, but, it was hoped, up to the task. What was missing, as the tribunal's staff constantly says, was the world's political will. The crucial decisions that had brought Blaskic to the dock had mostly been made elsewhere: by the member states of the UN Security Council when they created the Hague tribunal in 1993 but then kept it underfunded and understaffed by ex-Yugoslav authorities as they flouted the tribunal's authority by Britain and France as they limited the duties of their peacekeeping troops by Russia as it interfered 4 INTRODUCTION with the tribunal to shelter the Serbs and above all by America, an inat- tentive superpower. Those decisions had left the tribunal's staff grumbling that the West was not remotely serious about the work being done here. "We are not offering anywhere enough justice," said a tribunal staffer, recently back from Bosnia. "All the old grievances are still there." There was no trium- phalism in The Hague, only a gnawing fear that the entire effort would prove pointless, or would discredit the Nuremberg legacy by failing. This book is about idealism in international relations, and its sharp lim- its. It asks why some countries will sometimes be strikingly idealistic in the face of foreign wickedness, and at other times will cynically abandon the pursuit ofjustice. For those who were glad to see the likes of Blaskic on trial, the crucial question is: What makes governments support inter- national war crimes tribunals? And, conversely: What makes govern- ments abandon them? Those are the basic questions that this book will try to answer. The answers, such as they are, are in patterns of politics from historical events that have largely been forgotten. The dominant-and incorrect- view of war crimes tribunals centers on Nuremberg as an almost unique moment.4 In fact, war crimes trials are a fairly regular part of interna- tional politics, with Nuremberg as only the most successful example. In- ternational war crimes tribunals are a recurring modern phenomenon, with discernible patterns. Today's debates about war criminals in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo are partial echoes of political disputes from 1815, 1918, and 1944. There are at least seven major comparable times when states con- fronted issues of international justice: abortive treason trials of Bonapart- ists in 1815 after the Hundred Days botched trials of German war crimi- nals after World War I an abortive prosecution of some of the Young Turk perpetrators of the Armenian genocide the great trials of top Ger- man war criminals at Nuremberg after World War II a parallel but less successful process for majorJapanese war criminals at the Tokyo interna- tional military tribunal the current ex-Yugoslavia tribunal and a twin tribunal for Rwanda.5 There are even less'well-known cases too. The United States set up war crimes trials after the Spanish-American War, as did Britain after the Boer War.6 After World War I, Yugoslavia pushed Bulgaria into trying some of its own.' Indira Gandhi, India's premier, called for trials of Pakistanis accused of atrocities in Bangladesh in 1972.8 There was also some discussion in America of trials for North Koreans 5