Milosevic’s death: A political assassination blamed on the victim
Published Mar 17, 2006 9:56 PM
In the summer of 2004 I met with
former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Scheveningen prison when I was
approved as a defense witness. Before I could get in, I had to pass four totally
separate checkpoints and was unable to take in anything but papers. Each level
of security was more rigid than the one before.
No one who has met with
President Milosevic over the past four years would believe he would risk killing
himself rather than finish his trial. And no one who visited Scheveningen in The
Hague would believe the outlandish claims that somehow he was able to smuggle in
unprescribed medications on a regular basis. They would instead suspect that the
authorities were desperately trying to cover up their own crimes.
The Defense Speaks for History and the Future
Opening defense statement at The Hague
President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic
With an introduction by Ramsey Clark
Available at leftbooks.com
as witness was based on my trip to Yugoslavia on behalf of the International
Action Center in the spring of 1999, during the 78-day U.S./NATO bombing. I
visited bombed schools, hospitals, heating plants and market places, recording
the harm done to civilians. In addition, I had written since 1993 on the
behind-the-scenes U.S. role in the strangulation and forced dismemberment of
Even after my name was accepted as a defense witness, it was a
complicated and lengthy procedure to get through to Milosevic. Though all was
approved on the day of the visit, it still took four hours to get through the
checkpoints into the special unit inside the prison where defendants appearing
before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were
kept—totally segregated from the general population and closely
Scheveningen prison is a maximum-security high-tech facility.
Milosevic and other indicted prisoners were housed in a special unit within the
larger prison. This section is spread over four floors, with 12 cells each. The
unit is specially patrolled by United Nations guards. Cameras are everywhere.
Every movement of the prisoners is monitored and controlled. When the president
was first placed in his cell, lights were kept on 24 hours a day and his every
motion was monitored.
Where did rifampicin come from?
Dutch authorities claim that Milosevic was taking a rare, difficult-to-acquire
antibiotic used to treat leprosy or tuberculosis that has the unique ability to
counteract the medicine he was taking to control his high blood pressure. How
did this medicine, rifampicin, get into Milosevic’s system? He was held in
a maximum security prison in triple lockdown in a special contained unit within
a larger Dutch prison once used by the Nazis to detain Dutch resistance
When rifampicin was allegedly found last Jan. 12 in
Milosevic’s blood, the ICTY kept the report of the blood tests secret,
even from Milosevic and his doctors, who were complaining that something
terribly wrong was damaging the defendant’s health. While the prisoner and
his defense committee and assistant lawyers were demanding health information,
the ICTY officials sat on this report. If ICTY officials responsible for
Milosevic’s health really believed he was sneaking toxic medications into
the prison, why hadn’t they publicized this report much
Delays hurt Milosevic
Equally outlandish are the
claims that Milosevic staged his illness to delay the trial. The prosecution
delayed the trial, first by adding charges against the president regarding
Croatia and Bosnia when they realized they had no war-crimes case on the
original Kosovo charges, then by bringing hundreds of witnesses to generate
500,000 pages of prosecution testimony from February 2002 to February
Each time Milosevic was too sick to continue in court, the
prosecution moved to impose counsel and to take away the prisoner’s right
to present his own defense. Milosevic was determined to use the trial as a
platform to defend not only himself but the people of Yugoslavia, and to indict
the U.S., Germany and the NATO powers for their role in the criminal destruction
of his country. He welcomed the trial as the only platform where he could make
the historical record. In his words to the court he constantly described why,
despite his bad health, he was determined to continue.
When I met
Milosevic it was in the special room that was the only place where the ICTY
allowed him to work or have the court papers to prepare his defense. Whenever
his blood pressure rose and he was unable to continue the court sessions, he was
also barred from any access to his defense materials.
During each step of
the trial Milosevic’s cardiovascular problems, especially his high blood
pressure, had resulted in several delays in the trial. At each step the ICTY
officials tried to use the issue of his health as they made constant efforts to
deny him the right to conduct his own defense. Neither the illness nor the
delays helped his defense.
The ICTY charged that Milosevic was secretly
medicating himself and avoiding taking prescribed medicines. Milosevic answered
this charge himself for the court record on Sept. 1, 2004: “You probably
don’t know the practice in your own Detention Unit. I take my medication
in the presence of guards. I’m given them. I take them in the presence of
the guard, and the guard writes down in the book the exact time when I ingested
Despite the life-threatening cardiovascular risk
raised in every dispute with the prosecution, tribunal officials refused even to
secure regular check-ups of the president’s health condition. They also
denied access for months to specialists who were willing to come to
Scheveningen, thus delaying his care.
The president’s own
explanation of his problem was more consistent and credible than the
ICTY’s. In a letter addressed to the Russian Embassy two days before he
died, Milosevic wrote that he had taken no antibiotics in more than four years.
He asked why the medical report on the discovery of rifampicin was kept secret
from him for almost two months. He wrote that he believed that “active
steps are being taken to destroy my health.” He warned that he was sure he
was being poisoned and that his life was in danger.
The ICTY’s handling of President Milosevic’s
death has been like its handling of the entire trial: an attempt to blame the
victim for the crime.
The ICTY is not a real international court, with
the ability to try any accused war criminal. It is a political court set up by
the UN Security Council at the insistence of Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright in 1993 in violation of the UN Charter. Its scope is limited to trying
the peoples of the former Yugoslavia; the vast majority of the prisoners are
Serbs. It is a propaganda apparatus and internment camp for political prisoners,
disguised as an unbiased court. It aims to punish the victims for the crimes
committed against them and to absolve the imperialist powers who invaded,
bombed, dismembered and forced the privatization of the Socialist Federation of
When Milosevic discussed the trial with me, his scope of
historical knowledge, his energy despite his illness, cut through my own jet-lag
and fatigue from the four-hour entrance hurdle and allowed us to finish the
interview with enthusiasm for the next step of the tribunal.
Now the world
is asked to believe that Milosevic is responsible for his own death. It is a
scenario so incredibly complex, an elaborate suicide story that is as improbable
as the charges he was facing. The bought-and-paid-for corporate media are
accepting and propagating the story of his death in the same servile fashion
they accepted the very existence of this illegal court and the justification for
the destruction of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic is now gone. But his summation,
answering two years of the prosecution case, and his opening defense speech live
on. He has left a ringing indictment of U.S. and European big-power intervention
in the Balkans in a historic document that follows an “I accuse”
format. His speech, which contains extensive documentation and factual detail,
has been published in Serbian, Greek, French, Russian and English. This
response, “The Defense Speaks—for History and the Future” (IAC
2006), will stand long after the tawdry war propaganda has collapsed.
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