When the law finally caught up with Al Capone, the famed Chicago mobster, the instrument of justice was income tax invasion. That might seem strange given his life of crime, but law-enforcement officials do the best with the tools they have and getting the feared man behind bars was the goal.
The Capone analogy is often used by Yugoslav officials when discussing the fate of former President Slobodan Milosevic, the man who presided over the dismembering of his country and triggered bloodshed throughout the region. Mr. Milosevic should be arrested and tried, preferably by his own country. There should be no hurry to see him brought to trial; the important thing is that is that justice be done.
There has been intense speculation about Mr. Milosevic’s fate since he was overthrown last year. Many people in Serbia and the rest of the world are eager to see him in the dock; others, not nearly as many, but more than enough to cause serious trouble in Yugoslavia, prefer to let him go into retirement. Even Serbs who want justice are reluctant to see their new government bow to Western pressure and send the former president to the international tribunal in The Hague.
Now, the noose is closing. Recently, Mr. Rade Markovic, head of the Serbian secret police during Mr. Milosevic’s rule, was arrested. Reportedly, 15 of the former security chief’s closest associates have also been taken into custody.
In echoes of the Capone strategy, public prosecutors are reportedly preparing charges against Mr. Milosevic that concern the purchase of a house. The allegations involve giving false information, abuse of power and profiteering. They are a far cry from crimes against humanity, but they represent the initial steps toward Yugoslavia’s reckoning with the past.
The best option is a war crimes trial in Belgrade. That is unlikely. Domestic political peace is still too fragile in Yugoslavia for the country to deal directly with questions of war guilt and responsibility in such an accusatory fashion — at least, not if justice is to be done. A national trial on other charges would begin the process of taking responsibility. It would help set a precedent in ways that an international tribunal — with questions about its legitimacy — could not. It will encourage other reformers, in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, and frighten dictators wherever they might be. It may not be pretty, but then justice is only supposed to be blind.
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