It was a spooky image. Two women, who look like grandmothers and are identified as Russian Communists, standing in front of the American embassy in Moscow waving pictures of Slobodan Milosevic. They are commemorating the death of the man known to the world as the “Butcher of the Balkans.” It’s an image with haunting power, since the man they are saluting was responsible for a decade’s worth of conflict in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo that left more than 225,000 dead. The millions of refugees brutally dispersed throughout Europe were merely collateral damage. The most mind-numbing memory: 8000 Muslim men and boys massacred in Srebrenica in 1995 by Serbian fighters sponsored by Milosevic. It wasn’t until four years later — after 11 weeks of American-led NATO bombing — that Milosevic was forced to surrender. His death in a jail cell in The Hague several days ago while on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide may close another sad chapter of history, but the image of those elderly women testifies with terrifying acuity to mankind’s capacity not only to tolerate mass murder, but to applaud it.
For the past three years Sudan’s Arab Janjaweed militia has been slaughtering its African countrymen. Today the tally of that genocide stands at more than 100,000 dead, with more than a million starving in overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps in the Darfur region. To make matters worse, Sudan is now outfitting an army of rebels in Chad to carry the murder into that country. Meanwhile, the world wrings its hands, as it did when the Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, and Rwandans were likewise subjected to collective murder. The African Union has proven to be impotent. The UN, which has nearly 10,000 predominantly Asian peacekeepers on the ground, is so disheartened by its inability to cope with the situation that it is cutting its Darfur-relief budget by 44 percent. The only hope appears to lie with a UN-sanctioned intervention by NATO, which has the military means but lacks the moral will. “If we do it through NATO,” says Dominque Moisi of the French Institute of International Relations, “we’ll give further encouragement to all of those who are condemning the white man and are fueling the clash of civilizations.” To a certain extent that is probably true, but it doesn’t make this politically correct sentiment any less depraved.
Although an estimated 70 percent of Americans now believe our war in Iraq is not worth fighting, a majority would support American participation in UN- or NATO-sanctioned action in Darfur. President Bush says he would be game, but we can’t help but think his willingness is rooted in a cynical calculation that the odds are against such action. He’s already got his hands full in Iraq, where the civil war is daily taking on aspects of Balkan- and Sudanese-style ethnic cleansing. Iraqi Christians, who have the means to do so, have already left their country to escape being caught in the middle. And the daily violence between the Shia and Sunni Muslims continues to escalate, with evidence mounting that paramilitary death squads are at work throughout the countryside. At the moment, the specter haunting Iraq is not democracy but genocide. That’s something Bush never reckoned on.
A development just as shocking as Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and warrantless domestic spying is playing out in a Virginia federal court, where Zacarias Moussaoui, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy (while denying any involvement in the 9/11 attacks), is on trial to consider whether the death penalty should be applied in his case. The news is that a federal lawyer apparently coached key witnesses on their upcoming testimony after being explicitly ordered by US District Judge Leonie Brinkema not to do so. It is yet another stunning example of government lawyers run wild, holding the very concept of justice in disdain while they single-mindedly pursue conviction — and, in the Moussaoui case, death — at any cost. Judge Brinkema, herself a former prosecutor, was shocked by the government’s action and has said that it was “very difficult for this case to go forward.” But go forward it does. Brinkema has declined to allow the government witnesses to testify. Newspaper reports say that has “gutted” the death-penalty case. But the real issue is the corruption of justice that took place. The judge should have swept the death penalty off the table as a result of this outrageous government behavior. This is only the latest instance in a long line of examples in local, state, and federal courts where prosecutors or investigators or others connected with the government will bend the rules — and too often the truth — to get what they want, and justice, the principle they are supposed to be upholding, be damned. It’s conduct like this that strengthens our opposition to the death penalty. And it’s conduct like this that makes a mockery of America’s professed commitment to justice in the larger context of a democratic system. When we claim to be fostering values abroad that we flout at home, no wonder so much of the world doubts our sincerity.