Balkanalysis on Twitter

The Indictment of a People

April 4, 2006


By Robert Leifels*

The politicians and intellectuals have missed the boat regarding the death of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and label their Wall Street Opening Bell-like screaming as a rush to judgment. It is quite natural for them to worship at the shrine of the perceived beauty of their own words; a need to sell newspapers and so on. After all, a scorpion can’t help himself for being what he is. But the “judgment” they blabber on about was already passed down years ago. I know because I witnessed it while it was happening.Mr. Milosevic, according to Western law, was to be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet he was found dead before his case was finished. So one can say that according to the rule of law, when Milosevic died he was innocent.

All the journalists who heralded the trumpet of freedom and democracy in denying this condition have therefore forgotten this basic principle of Western law. And the Hague judges too have most certainly lost their way in their quest for self-glorification. Mr. Milosevic’ corpse wasn’t even through rigor mortis yet when the Bench declared he was “probably” going to be found guilty anyway. In America, such a statement made by a sitting judge would be grounds for a mistrial, were the defendant alive.

Respect for the System

Throughout twenty years of service as a New York City police officer, I and my colleagues were constantly under scrutiny. Sometimes oversight verging on the fanatical, we thought, was enforced to ensure that the power of law enforcement entrusted to us and those we served with was not abused. It is well known that power unchecked will lead to abuse, and the truism that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” can apply to anyone in a position of power, not just to high politicians. Most of the time, the feeling of being under a microscope was unpleasant and it was resented. But fundamentally, such oversight was a good thing; there were indeed times when justice did prevail and “the system worked.”

On the other side of things, one individual I once arrested for robbery was swiftly bought before a judge, and soon after pleaded guilty and was sentenced. About a year later, it was discovered during a hearing that the defendant had given a false name – in fact, he had given the name of his brother! It is standard procedure to record the name of the arrested defendant on all documents as given by the defendant. Fingerprints are then sent through channels to state record offices and to the F.B.I. If there are any other names found for the defendant during this process then they will be added as A.K.A.’s, “Also Known As.”

In this matter nothing of the sort was discovered. However, during the hearing it was proven that this guilty defendant who had a long record had managed to slip through the cracks in the system, and was doing time using his brother’s name. His brother was attending college during this time, and had never had any brushes with the law. So when he graduated he would have had, unbeknownst to him, a felony record. Imagine the nightmare he would have lived through, trying to prove he hadn’t been in prison!

“Business is Business”

Tempered by my years on the force, inspired by my deep love of “the American Way,” I ended up working in Bosnia in 1997, as a Police Monitor with the International Police Task Force. There I performed my duties as a professional police officer and walked and rode my “beat.” The first thing one learns as a young beat officer in New York is not to take sides. For many reasons it is just bad business. One can think what one likes, but as the wise old saying goes, “business is business.”

I soon learned, however, that in the Balkans fairness and objectivity had no place. I was labeled by some unscrupulous sorts as a “Serb lover.” OK, your honor. I found the Serbian people to be, by and large, good and honest people. Even though this observation did not affect my conduct, I guess I have to plead guilty. “Order in the Court!”

I soon found that the American rule of law and supposed adherence to a sense of fairness that I was accustomed to were not respected in the Balkans, because of the preordained policy “from above” that we were supposed to honor. It was this policy from the UN bosses, the Western governments, that most hampered our efforts to be fair. After three years in Bosnia and Croatia, I came to realize that those vaunted ideals will not even get the chance to be buried in some “mass grave,” as they never were even living on the side of the International Community in the first place.

A Provocation

There were numerous occasions during my time in the Balkans upon which this was driven home. Here is one example.

One night while patrolling the Zone of Separation between the Bosnian Federation and the Republika Srpska, it was made quite evident that the UN believed the Serbs were to be punished at every instance available, while Bosniaks were not to be touched. The latter knew this, and they took advantage of the situation to launch provocations against the Serbs. If there was no reaction, they would at least get to enjoy a good and malicious laugh, but if there was a reaction, it would become an international incident that the Bosnian Muslims could hold up to the world as yet another example of Serb aggression.

Such a scenario could have materialized on that night, except for the notable restraint of the Serb police supervisor. In the first moment, two Bosniak police confronted RS police on the International Entity Border Line, spouting numerous insults. It was quite evident that the Muslim police were drunk. It was also quite evident that the RS police were not. According to anyone’s conception of basic police procedure, officers are not to be inebriated while on the beat.

Furthermore, the Dayton Agreement stipulated that local police were only to patrol the ZOS accompanied by International Police Task Force (IPTF) officers. The Bosniak police were, however, by themselves, whereas the RS police were accompanied by officers, in this case myself and another IPTF monitor.

Being clearly in violation of the Dayton Agreement, the intoxicated Bosnian Federation police were ordered out of the ZOS. Yet they refused. In fact, they responded insolently by using obscene language and actually put one foot over the accepted line of separation in defiance. To the Bosnian Serb supervisor’s credit he ordered his men to leave the area rather than take the bait.

However, by morning the reality that I had seen during the night had been twisted completely. The IPTF commander informed the Zvornik Station Commander that he was infuriated, having learned that RS police had provoked an incident during the night. Who could have made such a story up? And how could it have found such a credulous audience, willing to pass judgment before having verified the facts?

Fortunately, once the commander read my official report attesting to the clear violation of Dayton by Bosnian Federation police, he dropped the whole matter. Later, during my patrol, the RS supervisor mentioned above told me that he was glad I saw first-hand the incident and the tactics that he said were commonly used by the Bosnian Federation Muslim officers. Little by little, one provocation would lead to another, until finally the Serbs would be put into a situation where they had to defend themselves. Then the media and International Community entities would use the provoked incident as more “evidence’ of the Serbian propensity for evil.

Haunting Memories

The murder of radio and television personnel in Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing remains in my mind, and it will never go away. I watched Serbian television and I saw the announcers and broadcasters visibly shaken while speaking. I learned that they were asking Wesley Clark and NATO not to kill them while they were trying to do their job and report the news. A few days later they were blown to bits for the crime of freedom of speech. They were just working people, like you or I, though to Wesley Clark they were part of the Serbian military machine and a legitimate target. It was not the first time that NATO had bombed a Serbian media outlet, as readers of Richard Holbrooke’s self-satisfied memoir know.

My ancestors fought in several wars to defend our American values and way of life. I devoted twenty years of service to upholding the rule of law, while trying to make a better and safer New York for all of its citizens. In recent years, however, American power has been misused, at radical variance from our values, employed to run Serbian families out of their homes by the hundreds of thousands. Almost everyday, Serbs and non-Albanian Kosovars are dying at the hands of thugs protected by NATO and KFOR. In winter, the elderly die from an enforced lack of heating in Kosovo enclaves. Now that Kosovo appears headed for independence, the situation is only going to get worse.

Sixty years ago, my father fought against the Nazis, only for his son to witness the extermination of the Serbs – once America’s best Balkan ally in the fight against the Nazis. Now America is helping to ensure the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs, which means rewarding the still militant descendents of the very people who fought against America, on the side of fascism, committing untold atrocities in the process. The US and the EU are accomplishing something right now that even Hitler could not.

The way it appears, my country might just as well be formally converted to fundamentalist Islam. Collectively, the United States had already beheaded an entire people.


*56 year-old Robert Leifels is a former Marine who served as a Lieutenant in the New York City Police Department for twenty years, from 1973-1993. He worked as a Police Monitor in the International Police Task Force, both with the United Nations and the OSCE, from June 1997-April 2000 in Bosnia and Croatia. The mission included an assignment as Operations Officer in the Zvornik region in 1997, which included Srebrenica.

Mr. Leifels is currently residing in Ukraine, where he is researching Russian Martial Arts as practiced in that country.

2004-2009 Back Archives