BY: SCOTT TAYLOR
First it was the release last month of Britain’s Chilcot Inquiry findings, which concluded that the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq was an unnecessary mistake. While Chilcot cited former British prime minister Tony Blair, and former U.S. president George Bush for falsely claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, Canadians could smugly adopt an ‘I told you so’ attitude, as our Liberal government of the day never bought into the WMD claims.
By not joining in Bush and Blair’s bogus self-defence invasion of Iraq, Canadians can rightfully absolve themselves of the horrific death toll that has resulted in the violent aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s ouster and subsequent execution.
Canadians should feel a lot less smug about a ruling that came down this past March from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Buried in a 2,590-page ruling on former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, convicting him of war crimes and sentencing him to 40 years in prison — was an astonishing exoneration of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
For those old enough to remember the violent civil wars that tore apart Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995, the name Milosevic was linked in the Western media to all of the horrific ethnic cleansing and genocide allegations emerging from that bloody conflict.
Milosevic was dubbed ‘The Butcher of the Balkans’ by the British press and the Serbs were vilified as the sole culprits in a multi-factional civil war. Thousands of Canadian soldiers were deployed as peacekeepers to the former Yugoslavia, and their eyewitness accounts painted a far more complex equation than the media’s simplistic “Serb = bad, non-Serb = good” equation. As Canada’s most famous peacekeeper, Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie stated while posted in war-ravaged Sarajevo, “All factions here have blood on their hands.”
Truth often matters little when shaping propaganda, and it was far easier to project all the evil onto the Serbs, in the personage of Slobodan Milosevic. This came in particularly handy in early 1999 when NATO was looking to prove its continued validity as a military alliance in a post-Soviet era.
With Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia all having successfully seceded from Yugoslavia, the Albanian ethnic majority in the Serbian autonomous region of Kosovo was in the midst of an armed insurrection in pursuit of their own independence. This was a low-level insurgency and the original perpetrators — known as the Kosovo Liberation Army — were a collection of criminals and terrorists.
The Yugoslav authorities were using security forces to quell the armed insurrection, much the same as Turkey was simultaneously deploying troops to suppress armed Kurdish separatists in eastern Anatolia. In fact, the casualty count in Turkey would have already been higher than the Kosovo conflict, but NATO was not about to bomb its own ally.
Instead, Canada took a lead role in the NATO bombing campaign to assist the Albanian Kosovo rebels. Milosevic — as the Yugoslav president, was painted as a genocidal maniac, and likened to a modern day Hitler.
This was something Canadians could justify having our combat pilots wage war against — even if those targets engaged included civilian utilities and infrastructure in Serbia itself — i.e. not in disputed Kosovo.
Milosevic’s presidency survived the 78-day NATO campaign in 1999, but he was ousted following the October 2000 elections. The subsequent, pro-West Serbian government arrested and handed over Milosevic to stand trial for war crimes and genocide at the ICTY in The Hague in June 2001.
In the interest of full disclosure, I met with Milosevic in his prison cell at The Hague in August 2004, and after a six-hour interview I agreed to testify in his defence.
Having covered extensively the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, Milosevic felt I could add an eyewitness perspective to the fact that all factions had been guilty of wanton bloodshed, not just the Serbs.
Milosevic died in 2006, before I testified, and before the ICTY could conclude that he was not in fact guilty of those horrific crimes of which he had been accused. In fact, in their ruling against Radovan Karadzic, the ICTY makes it clear that Milosevic actually helped to force the Bosnian Serb leader to sign the 1995 Dayton Accord Peace agreement.
The butcher wasn’t a butcher after all, and Bush and Blair have yet to face any consequence for their ‘mistake’ of invading Iraq in 2003 that has cost to date far more innocent lives than the entire Balkan Wars.