Former NATO chief to testify against Milosevic in secret

U.N. prosecutors unhappy with Bush administration's rules for Clark's testimony

December 03, 2003|By Tom Hundley | Tom Hundley,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LONDON - Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the former NATO commander who is a Democratic presidential hopeful, will testify later this month at the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav leader he defeated in the Kosovo campaign.

But the drama of what many expected to be the crucial moment in Milosevic's lengthy trial, and perhaps a defining moment in Clark's presidential campaign, will be blunted by heavy secrecy and censorship measures imposed on the testimony by the Bush administration.

At the insistence of the State Department's legal office, the courtroom's public gallery will be cleared when Clark is called to testify before the United Nations war crimes tribunal on Dec. 15-16 in The Hague, Netherlands. Cameras that normally broadcast the proceedings on closed-circuit television and the Internet will be blacked out.

There also will be a 48-hour delay on the release of the trial transcript that will enable State Department lawyers to examine Clark's testimony and request the deletion of portions that they deem harmful to national interests.

Prosecutors are unhappy with the arrangement but said they had little choice but to accept if they wanted Clark's testimony.

"It's always better when you have everything in public and out in the open, but this is the best we could get," said Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor.

Under the rules that govern the international war crimes tribunal, secret testimony is allowable, but it has usually been reserved for officials dealing with sensitive intelligence matters or actively engaged in intelligence gathering. There also are secrecy provisions to protect rape victims or witnesses who have reason to fear for their safety.

But for a high-profile public figure, the secrecy surrounding Clark's testimony is unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that Clark has written a lengthy book and numerous articles on NATO and the Kosovo war, and has freely given his opinion on these subjects as a TV commentator and presidential candidate.

"We are concerned about the perception, especially in the countries that were involved" in the war, Hartmann said. "If you do things in a closed session, people think you are hiding something and that it is not a fair trial."

The State Department declined to answer specific questions about the clampdown on Clark's testimony but denied that it was trying to censor him.

The reason the department wants a 48-hour delay to vet Clark's testimony "is not to discourage or hinder reporting but to allow for the maximum provision of information by General Clark to the tribunal while at the same time protecting against the inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information," said Lou Fintor, a State Department spokesman.

Other senior political and military figures have testified in open court against Milosevic, including Klaus Naumann, the German general who commanded the NATO war in Kosovo, and British envoys Paddy Ashdown and David Owen.

U.S. diplomat William Walker, whose outrage at the Serbian police massacre of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo galvanized U.S. opinion in support of military action, gave his testimony in open court.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, has been the highest-ranking U.S. official to appear at The Hague. She gave her testimony last year in a public session during proceedings against the Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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