AMERICAN SPECTATOR

The American Spectator

March 2006
The railroading of a former U.S. ally.
America, The Hague, and Ante Gotovina

By: Robin Harris

GREAT POWERS LIKE AMERICA CANNOT AFFORD to be too sentimental about
foreign friends whose purpose has been served. But sometimes it pays
to keep faith with individuals who collaborate successfully in one's
policy goals. This is particularly so when those concerned know the
inside story of U.S. covert activity and when their fate sets a
precedent that jeopardizes U.S. personnel. Such is the case of the
former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, arrested in Tenerife in
December for alleged war crimes and now in prison at The Hague.

Gotovina's arrest was widely welcomed. Even the Croatian government
was delighted, since the failure to apprehend him had served as a
reason, or excuse, to delay Croatian membership of the European Union.
He had been on the run since 2001, when he was first indicted by the
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Aptly for a man whose name translates as "Tony Cash," Ante Gotovina
had a high price on his head -- $5 million from the U.S. State
Department alone.

Gotovina was made for the role of international ogre. At different
times a French legionary, soldier of fortune in South America,
"muscle" in the political underworld of Paris, he was the kind of
shady swashbuckler that the world of NGOs, diplomats, and
international lawyers loves to hate. Gotovina was also no fool. He had
a shrewd idea that he would never gain a fair trial. So he
disappeared. Or more precisely he "appeared" wherever it was
convenient to locate him. The ICTY chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte,
claimed that she "knew" he was in Croatia. In September 2005, she also
knew that the Vatican "knew" exactly which Croatian monastery he was
in. This turned out to be completely wrong. When he was arrested three
months later, Gotovina's passports revealed that he had been in
Tahiti, Argentina, Chile, China, Russia, the Czech Republic,
Mauritania, and Mauritius, but not Croatia. By now, though, Gotovina
was notorious. His name was uttered in the same breath as those of
Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

But unlike the butchers of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, Gotovina is not
accused of ordering anyone's murder, let alone genocide. The military
operation, "Storm," conducted by Croatia in early August 1995 to
recover territory, the so-called Serb Republic of Krajina (SRK),
occupied by rebel Serbs supported by Belgrade, was an act not of
aggression but of self-defense. The indictment mentions 150 Serb
civilians as having died. These deaths were caused by Croat civilians
bent on revenge, while Croatian police did nothing to help. That was,
indeed, shameful. But it happened after the conclusion of the military
campaign, not during it. Responsibility for maintaining order had been
formally transferred by the Croatian government from the military to
the civil authorities. Gotovina himself was no longer even in the
area. He had joined Muslim and Croat forces in the continuing campaign
within Bosnia.

Despite these facts, which are not contested, Gotovina is now accused
by the court of a series of crimes which could result in his lengthy
incarceration. The explanation lies in the opening section of the
indictment. This describes Operation "Storm" as part of a "joint
criminal enterprise, the common purpose of which was the forcible and
permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region." The
question, though, is: If "Storm" was indeed a "criminal enterprise,"
were high officials of the United States not also morally, and even
criminally, culpable?

IN FACT, EVEN TO POSE THE QUESTION exposes the foolishness and
injustice of the case. The United States does not participate in or
close its eyes to war crimes. Yet the U.S. certainly encouraged,
assisted, and monitored "Storm" at every stage. The various accounts
of what happened -- official and unofficial -- make that crystal
clear. The CIA knew what was happening, because it had provided the
intelligence and technical support to make it happen. The Pentagon
knew, because approved U.S. military advisers were involved. The White
House and the State Department knew, because since the previous year's
Washington Agreement it had been U.S. policy to create a Croatian-
Bosnian military alliance to roll back Serb territorial gains, so as
to make a just peace possible.

One should recall the dire position. After four years of aggression,
Greater Serbia had come to occupy 70 percent of Bosnia and a third of
Croatia. Britain and France had vetoed America's plan to lift the arms
embargo against Bosnia and to launch air strikes at Serb forces. The
UN "safe areas" in Srebrenica and Zepa had fallen. Thousands of Muslim
men and boys were being massacred. Sarajevo was under continuous
siege. Above all, another strategically vital "safe area" at Bihac in
northwest Bosnia was under attack by Serb forces from Bosnia and from
the SRK. The fall of Bihac would not only have created another
humanitarian tragedy. It would have put the seal of victory on Serb
aggression and prevented a viable Bosnia from surviving. Only in these
circumstances was "Storm" finally launched.

It was a minor military triumph, a textbook NATO-style operation based
on overwhelming fire-power, real time intelligence, efficient logistic
support, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. Within 72 hours
Krajina was re-occupied. As Croatian and Muslim armies then attacked
Serb forces inside Bosnia and U.S.-led NATO air strikes broke Serbia's
will to resist, the outlines of a new, imposed peace settlement
emerged. Flawed as the Dayton Agreement of that November was, it has
since brought peace, reconstruction, and some return of refugees. A
less satisfactory result of "Storm" was the mass departure of the Serb
population -- probably between 80,000 and 150,000 people -- from the
area. The indictment alleges that this was the whole purpose of the
operation. But the exodus was ordered by the Serb leadership itself,
for its own reasons. The text of the order from Milan Martic, so-
called president of the SRK, was published some weeks later in the
Belgrade journal Politika. It was endorsed by the SRK military chief,
General Mile Mrksic, an appointee of Milosevic. The military
evacuation was designed to retrieve heavy armor to be used in Bosnia.
But why the civilians? The answer makes complete sense in Balkan
terms. It was to advance Belgrade's policies of ethnic cleansing and
re-settlement of Serbs in eastern Bosnia and Kosovo, parts of a
planned Greater Serbia. Accounts given in evidence before the ICTY
show exactly how the Krajina Serbs were funneled down to these areas.

Whether the Croatian government was pleased or displeased to see the
Serb exodus is unclear. President Franjo Tudjman had ambiguous
feelings about the Serbs, as opposed to Muslims, whom he despised. But
whatever Tudjman and others felt is irrelevant. The point has been
made very clearly by Peter Galbraith, U.S. ambassador to Croatia at
the time: "The fact is, the [Serb] population left before the Croatian army got there. You can't deport people who have already left."

THE CHARGES AGAINST GOTOVINA are baseless. They are also in the widest
sense politically motivated. They were brought primarily because the
ICTY needed to prove to Serb opinion that it was not biased against
Serbia. This, it was hoped, would make it easier to arrest Karadzic
and Mladic, both still at large.

But there were other motivations too. It suits many international
interests to place aggressors and victims of aggression on an equal
footing when rewriting the history of recent Balkan wars. The
implication that all sides were equally to blame goes some way towards
vindicating the egregious policy failures of the European Union and
particularly Britain. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the British
Foreign Office has pursued a policy consistently favorable to Belgrade
and hostile to Croatia and Bosnia. Britain has been the main block to
Croatia's bid for EU membership. It is now very keen to see Gotovina
sentenced. Britain is also a leading proponent of universal
international jurisdiction, of which the ICTY was the forbear and the
International Criminal Court is the full _expression.

The main loser from this trial -- apart from Gotovina -- is the United States. Its successful intervention to end the Bosnian war will be effectively criminalized. It will be exposed as an unreliable sponsor of potential surrogates in areas where it wants to exert influence. It will have its intelligence methods and sources embarrassingly revealed. On top of all that, if it is finally established that commanders of legitimate operations which incidentally lead to the exodus of civilian populations can be tried as participants in a criminal enterprise, it is difficult to see how future U.S. interventions can safely be conducted at all. So there is more at stake in The Hague than the rights of Tony Cash.

Robin Harris was a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Policy
Unit. He writes on the Balkans and is the author of Dubrovnik: A
History (London: Saqi, 2003).
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