JURIST >> LEGAL NEWS >> Milosevic Trial >> Milosevic's Witnesses 


Anthony D'Amato
Leighton Professor of Law
Northwestern University

[Special to JURIST] If Slobodan Milosevic calls the defense witnesses he says he'll call, he'll get a world television audience larger than Mohammed Ali got for the "Thrilla in Manilla." But the size of the audience won't necessarily translate into a decision in Milosevic's favor.

The reason is that the prominent witnesses are what defense lawyers call "uncontrollable." Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, and Richard Holbrooke are not going to help Milosevic's case. For example, if Milosevic (acting as his own attorney) asks "Did you support me when I was president of former Yugoslavia?" nothing will stop them from blurting out, "Yes I did, because I was taken in by your false promises and your lies."

If Milosevic asks, "Would you have supported me if I was a war criminal?" any one of the aforementioned witnesses is quite capable of replying, "As soon as I found out that you were in fact responsible for the war crimes, we dropped our support."

Milosevic might ask the tribunal to instruct the witnesses to answer a simple yes or no. But even if the tribunal does issue such an instruction, these witnesses will know that the tribunal would never hold them in contempt of court, and so they are likely to ignore the instruction. But even if they obey it and answer "the question is incapable of a yes or no answer," such a response will simply be a signal to the Prosecutor to ask, on cross-examination, "what was the full answer that you were going to give to the war-criminal question?"

In short, Milosevic is leading this fight with his chin.

Anthony D'Amato is Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law, where he teaches courses in international law, international human rights, analytic jurisprudence, and justice. In 1998, he was lead counsel for the defendant in Prosecutor v. Kovacevic, the first case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia charging a Serb with genocide.

February 9, 2002


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