Monday, June 21, 1999

Ramsey Clark, The War Criminals Best Friend (6/21/99 Salon)

Salon
by Ian Williams

The former U.S. Attorney General has become the tool of left-wing cultists who defend Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Rwandan torturers as anti-imperialist heroes.

In the most morbidly literal way, NATO forces are "sniffing out" more mass graves than alliance spokesman Jamie Shea ever suspected. Dog-eaten sticks of bone poke from putrescent pits on television screens. So it is not surprising that on July 31 New York will see the opening of a commission of inquiry for an international war crimes tribunal. What may surprise some is that its target is NATO's war crimes.

Those who know him will be less surprised that the inspiration for this circus is former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whom one long-standing colleague described as "a good man gone ga-ga -- at least 25 years ago." Many liberals and leftists cut Clark a considerable degree of slack. For a start he is almost the only person the American left has had in high public office since World War II, even if it was a retrospective success, since his long march leftward only began afterward. His views as the former attorney general are listened to with a respect that would be accorded to few others with such eccentric opinions. As a revered spokesman of the left, he is a perfect symbol for its near-impotence in American politics today.

Everyone who has dealings with Clark uses the word "nice" to describe him. But he often sides with people whom no one with a full deck would call nice. (Clark did not respond to a Salon News interview request.) Many former friends, more in sorrow than in anger, trace his present positions to the company he keeps: the International Action Center, which proclaims him its founder but seems entirely in the thrall of an obscure Trotskyist sect, the Workers World Party. Whoever writes his scripts, there is little doubt what Ramsey Clark is against now -- any manifestation of the power of the state he once served at the height of the Vietnam War.

At the end of 1998 Clark attended a human rights conference in Baghdad, Iraq, where in his keynote speech he pointed out how "the governments of the rich nations, primarily the United States, England and France," dominated the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which showed "little concern for economic, social and cultural rights." The social and cultural rights claimed by his Iraqi hosts include the right to hang opponents in public at the airport, or poison thousands of Kurds and torture and execute any opponent of the regime. And on the legality of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the silence is deafening.

When he flew to Belgrade to support Slobodan Milosevic during NATO's campaign, there was no word about the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica or the million homeless refugees from Kosovo -- and even less of those olfactorily eloquent mass graves that NATO is now uncovering. But then, urging Belgrade to resist NATO, while he was there picking up an honorary degree, he told his hosts, "It will be a great struggle, but a glorious victory. You can be victorious."

In Grenada he went to advise Bernard Coard, the murderer of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Other clients include Radovan Karadzic, the indicted Bosnian Serbian war criminal whom he defended in a New York civil suit brought by Bosnian rape victims, and the Rwandan pastor who is accused of telling Tutsis to hide in his church and then summoning Hutus to massacre them, and then leading killing squads.

His willingness to accept dubious clients is defended by some attorneys. After all, everyone needs a defense. Others say he has crossed a moral line by defending Karadzic and overlooking events in Kosovo. But looking at his legal arguments, one must question the wisdom of his legal counsel, not just his morals. A prominent international lawyer explains, "He's not really very well up on international law -- I remember he was asking for help in some of his early cases."

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