- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

The United Nations is involved in another scandal. This time, however, it threatens to implicate numerous officials in the U.S. State Department.

Recent revelations of massive corruption in the U.N.’s oil-for-food program, as well as accusations of rampant sex abuse by peacekeepers in places such as Cambodia and Kosovo, have finally compelled the Bush administration to demand greater accountability and reform of the world body.

Yet there is another area Washington needs to investigate: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Based in The Hague, the ICTY is a U.N. court designed to prosecute war crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Instead, the court has become a politicized instrument seeking to wipe out its democratic critics in the region.

The ICTY’s latest outrage are its indictments of five journalists and a former counterintelligence officer in Croatia for “contempt of the tribunal.” Their alleged “crime” was they published the identity and statements of a protected witness in the 1998 case of a Bosnian Croat general. Even more outrageous, these men face possibly seven years in jail and a $120,000 fine. In other words, they are assaulted for doing their job: providing the public sensitive, important information.

The indictments are an abrogation of basic press freedoms. The ICTY actions have been condemned by many human rights organizations and media watchdog groups. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has urged the tribunal to “operate in accordance with the principles of freedom of the press and, as a result, apply the same safeguards in its procedures that are usually expected in national jurisdictions.”

But the ICTY is not interested in abiding by traditional democratic standards. The tribunal is deliberately targeting critics in the Croatian media. On the other hand, the ICTY has refused to prosecute media allies, such as the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Croatian daily, Novi List, which have published the exact same identity and testimony.

Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace on June 14, ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte displayed her thuggish hostility toward tribunal opponents. During the question-and-answer session, she was confronted by a Croatian journalist who denounced tribunal attacks on press freedoms. Asked if she would indict him now that he had publicly criticized her, Mrs. Del Ponte responded: “Who knows?”

Even if said in jest (and there is nothing remotely humorous about destroying innocent people’s lives), Mrs. Del Ponte’s comment was revealing: It shows her lack of judgment and her arrogant, irresponsible execution of her duties.

Billed as the great successor to the Nuremberg trials, the ICTY has instead become a laughingstock. Mrs. Del Ponte even bungled the trial of former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic — the Butcher of the Balkans, who is responsible for the deaths of more than 250,000 people and the ethnic cleansing of several million Albanians, Bosnians and Croats.

In February 2004, Mrs. Del Ponte admitted she did not have enough evidence to convict Mr. Milosevic on the most serious charges. This alone should have forced Washington and Brussels to replace her with a more competent prosecutor.

Moreover, it is common for the ICTY to offer reduced sentences for notorious mass murderers. For example, Mrs. Del Ponte agreed to have former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic, an architect of the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaign, plead guilty to “genocide” in exchange for a sentence of only 11 years. Hence, a confessed genocidal killer responsible for thousands of deaths will spend less time in jail than most armed burglars.

Mrs. Del Ponte has also attacked Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Catholic Church. Recently, she accused the Vatican hierarchy — without any concrete evidence at all — of protecting fugitive Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina.

Asked to provide verifiable proof for her slanderous accusations, Mrs. Del Ponte could not.

That begs the question: Why does the State Department adamantly support this out-of-control U.N. prosecutor whose actions undermine the tribunal’s credibility? State Department operatives have tenaciously defended Mrs. Del Ponte: they justify and rationalize her every act — no matter how outrageous. The State Department is now directly involved in covering up her scandalous behavior.

Mrs. Del Ponte’s misconduct warrants a full congressional investigation. If House Republicans prevail, they may just get one. The powerful House International Relations Committee (HIRC) is beginning to look into Mrs. Del Ponte’s actions, especially the journalists’ indictments. “We are investigating this,” a senior committee member said on the condition of anonymity. “We are taking this very seriously.”

Indeed, this is grave for Americans: The United States is a major financial ICTY backer. This year alone, Washington spent $23 million. It is outrageous that U.S. taxpayer money is squandered to support a war crimes tribunal that slanders priests and prosecutes reporters, while failing to adequately punish some of the 20th century’s most vicious war criminals.

HIRC Chairman Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican, is serving his final term in Congress. There is no better way for him to end his illustrious career than by leading the effort to expose this growing U.N. scandal. It is the right thing to do. It is the American thing to do.

Jeffrey Kuhner is a freelance writer and contributor to the Commentary Pages at The Washington Times.

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