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WAR CRIMES HEARING OPENS

'We accuses U.S./NATO'

By Deirdre Griswold

New York

Even as reports filtered out of Kosovo that there were more terrorist attacks on Serbs and Roma people as the NATO-backed KLA consolidates its grip on the province, a public inquiry got under way here July 31--an inquiry into the crimes committed by the United States and European imperialist allies in their 78-day, one-sided, high-tech war against Yugoslavia.

Over 700 people registered at this first hearing of the Independent Commission of Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia. By the end of the day, they showed with their standing ovations and applause that they were committed to bringing the work of the commission to many diverse communities, to expose Washington's imperial designs in the Balkans.

The commission's meeting was, of course, front-page news in Yugoslavia. It also got strong coverage in Greece and Italy. It will soon be carried on the many web sites that sprang up to combat the war.

The U.S. corporate media tried to ignore the event--which ran counter to their "good guys, bad guys" view of the war. But some were soon scrambling to acquire coverage of this historic event from foreign and alternative news sources.

The day of hearings was packed with expert witnesses and information presented in a variety of ways--orally, in photographs, books and position papers, on video and audio tape. People came from Canada, Europe and across the United States to participate.

The perspectives of countries targeted by U.S. sanctions and military assault were provided by two United Nations ambassadors--Dr. Saeed Hasan of Iraq and Vladislav Jovanovic of Yugoslavia--as well as by Felix Wilson of the Cuban Interests Section.

This alone was noteworthy, since much U.S. propaganda is meant to present Yugoslavia as deeply hostile to Muslims, and without friends in the world.

The Iraqi ambassador spoke eloquently of how the U.S. government has acted to fulfill former Secretary of State James Baker's threat to "return Iraq to the pre-industrial era" because it resisted what the ambassador called "American hegemony and arrogance of power." Since the war on Iraq carried out by the Republican Bush administration, 1.5 million Iraqis have died of U.S.-imposed sanctions during the Democratic Clinton administration.

The Cuban diplomat reviewed his country's efforts over the years to normalize relations with the United States. Washington's economic sanctions and support for terrorism against the Cuban regime have cost the small socialist island nation $181 billion in human and material loss. Cuba is filing a lawsuit with the World Court detailing its charges.

The Yugoslav ambassador called on the international community to include among its prohibited crimes the act of demonizing a whole people in preparation for aggression against them. Referring to the high-altitude bombers and the missiles that rained death and destruction on Yugoslavia, he said the "aggressors were both invisible and invincible. There was no possibility of self-defense. They were harming a defenseless country with the excuse of rescuing it."

Other international perspectives were provided by Dr. Sapphire Ahmed and Elombe Brath on Western intervention in Africa, Maude Le Blanc on Haiti, and Freddie Marrero and Carlos Rovira on the Puerto Rican struggle against U.S. military bases.

War's impact on the oppressed here

The war's social and economic impact on oppressed communities in the United States, which are struggling to maintain minimal services after deep budget cuts, was emphasized by Los Angeles activist John Parker, Workfairness spokesperson Vondora Jordan, and several other Black and Latino speakers, among others.

A highlight was a taped phone message from Black revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal from Pennsylvania's death row. It was introduced by Monica Moorehead of Mumia Awareness Week, who is also a contributing editor of Workers World.

At the end of the day Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general and founder of the International Action Center, presented a criminal indictment of the NATO countries and their political leaders, especially U.S. President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

Many of the particulars in the 19 charges of the indictment had been assembled by a group of young interns and volunteers at the International Action Center. They had been poring over an enormous body of evidence in the weeks before the hearing and summarizing their findings. Extensive excerpts from this evidence can be found elsewhere in this newspaper.

The indictment will be amended as new information is developed. It not only summarizes the massive and deliberate military assault on the civilian population of Yugoslavia--which in itself is a war crime and a crime against humanity, and is already abundantly documented--but also addresses the concealed motives and political deceptions leading up to the bombing part of the war.

Earlier in the day, testimony was presented at a plenary meeting and in five separate panels. The panels dealt with violations of U.S. and international law; targeting civilians and destroying the environment; planning and preparing for war; the role of the media; and the crime of occupation, from Bosnia and Kosovo to Congo, Haiti and Vieques.

Imperialists created KLA

Roland Keith is a former Canadian military officer who was stationed near Pristina in Kosovo last winter with monitoring units of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He witnessed systematic attacks by the KLA on Yugoslav troops and police in Kosovo meant to provoke a response.

While he came back not intending to speak out, Keith said, "It has now become clear to me that certain nations wanted a war" and that the conditions in Kosovo "were made far worse by foreign interference." Within 20 minutes of his arrival, said Keith, one of the troops under his command was wounded when they came under fire from the KLA.

Shani Rifati, a Roma activist from Kosovo now living in the United States, told how NATO's role in building up the KLA had led to ethnic assaults on Roma people. The Roma made up 8 percent of the population in Kosovo but were routinely ignored in Western news reporting on the demographics there. Like the Serbs, the Roma people are now in grave jeopardy.

Canadian economist and author Michel Chossudovsky traced the early creation of the KLA by German intelligence and its links to powerful criminal syndicates in Germany, Turkey and Albania that funnel illegal drugs into Europe. Last year, however, the United States and NATO decided to give overt support to what they had previously characterized as a "terrorist organization." That led to what Chossudovsky characterized as "a CIA civilian government in Kosovo linked to a paramilitary organization."

Work has just begun

Ramsey Clark explained in his closing remarks that hearings like this one in New York are planned in 20 nations. Evidence will be gathered everywhere to show the consistent pattern of attacks on small nations that dare to stand up for their sovereignty and independence.

Sara Flounders and Brian Becker, co-coordinators of the International Action Center who chaired the plenary sessions, and Gloria La Riva of the IAC's San Francisco office, all emphasized progressive activists' ability to not only protest what has already happened but to influence the course of history.

"Will only the victors write the history of this war?" asked Flounders, identifying these victors as the same imperialist powers that for over a century have carved up the world. "We won't wait for 30 years to go through musty archives to find out the truth."

She explained that the inquiry now begun will culminate next year in an international tribunal of distinguished jurists. They will judge the war criminals in similar fashion to the Bertrand Russell International War Crimes Tribunal that had such an impact on the course of the Vietnam War.

With authors and journalists Michael Parenti, Gregory Elich and Lenore Foerstel, among many others, speaking at the hearing, there will be an increased opportunity to get out the truth.

Becker took on the rulers' concept of legality. He pointed out how slavery, the genocide of Native peoples in the United States, and apartheid in South Africa were all carried out under the cloak of reactionary laws.

La Riva--who was in Yugoslavia twice during the bombing and produced the recent videotape "NATO's Targets"--saluted the many thousands of Yugoslav workers, from medical staffs to auto workers to media personnel, who bravely resisted the war. She also cautioned against relying on the United Nations or other bodies that Washington has used for intervention, from Korea to Iraq.

La Riva emphasized the vital importance of a people's tribunal and the mass demonstrations against the war that the IAC had organized during the bombing. In Yugoslavia and in the United States, she said, it is the masses of people who can make the difference.

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