As you already know, the release of a semiprivate letter by ICTY judge Frederik Harhoff last week set off quite a storm. First of all it came on the heels of exasperation after one more round of surprise acquittals. Second, it added an inside source to the years of speculation about whether disillusion inside the Tribunal approached the level of disillusion outside it. Third, it came at a time when events like the “Bebolucija” in Bosnia-Hercegovina suggested that citizens were getting a little more sick than usual of the useless nationalist politicians they have been instructed that they have to live with. But all of these facts have to do with things like justice, peace, reconciliation, the lives of victims, ordinary people living in the region. Nothing that international elites are likely to get too excited about.
What got people moving was the perceived attack on a new direction in international jurisprudence and on the iconic status in a part of the profession of presiding judge Theodor Meron, described in the brief of the first defence lawyers to try to profit from this train wreck as “a judge of unimpeachable international reputation and renown.” This got the attention of a part of the international law community dismayed at the dirty old public peeking in. And it exposed the division, as I have pointed out elsewhere, between advocates for the establishment of the rule of international law and advocates of its restriction. After all that time and work that went into marinating, there was a pretty good effort to offer a united front against the demeronisation of the Tribunal’s legacy.
It has been fun to watch the wagons circling. The main part of the activity has involved name-calling, in the form of the defenders calling the critics conspiracy theorists. This is a classic example of the “straw man” strategy in which one answers a critic not by responding to what the critic is saying but by inventing some other point and responding to that. It has also been a little fun to observe the way in which the charge against imaginary conspiracy theorists is more or less entirely led by interested parties.
But now we have our first real conspiracy theory! And it does not look at all like the ones that people who were imagining conspiracy theories had in mind. To be fair, it is not really the first one. There was this one from some Russian dude that kind of meanders through a bunch of contradictions, then seems to settle on the idea that the conspiracy was to be critical of acquittals of indictees of the wrong nationality. Not very impressive! You get the feeling that this conspiracy theorist is not even trying.
A much more creditable effort comes from Luka Mišetić, the lawyer who led the defence for Anto Furundžija and Ante Gotovina before ICTY. This one has to be acknowledged as a conspiracy theory because it uses the word “conspiracy.” What’s even nicer is that it uses the phrase “joint criminal enterprise” as a synonym for “conspiracy.” This is great coming from a lawyer who knows that the convictions obtained under the theory of conspiracy at the Tokyo Tribunal could not be obtained anywhere else. Yet more fun – although the whole JCE thing is a conceit he is trying on for rhetorical effect, as authority for it he cites a trial judgement that he successfully appealed. But let’s grant the conspiracy theorist the privilege of using terms satirically and suspend disbelief for a little while, otherwise the story would have to end.
Here the conspiracy involves Florence Hartmann, Mirko Klarin, the ICTY prosecutors, Serbia, Carl Bildt, and something called “Nordic intelligence. (“Ja, I could give you my meatball recipe, but then I would have to kill you”). Evidence for their collusion is a photo with an insulting caption that shows the first two conspirators having a drink together. By the odd workings of coincidence, I do know when and where the photo was taken because it was a conference that I attended as well (together with about 200 other people). It was a nice conference, not secret or sinister or conspiratorial, but an opportunity for researchers, journalists, and representatives of a wide range of social groups to talk about reconciliation and transitional justice. Here is a report (also not secret) from the organizers.
Anyway, prosecutors, diplomats, journalists, a state, the chef from the Muppet Show – what brings these disparate forces together? According to the theory it was an effort to protect Carl Bildt from embarrassment. This is a little funny considering Florence Hartmann’s assiduously displayed concern for defending the reputation of Carl Bildt.
Unfortunately there is not any bread to go with this circus. What is the goal of the conspiracy? Apparently it is to offer public criticism of a public official discharging a public function. That does not really rise to the level of criminal activity, at least in most legitimate states.
Actually Mr Mišetić is fairly open about his purpose in offering up his conspiracy theory: it is that damage to the reputation of Meron puts the credibility of the appeals verdict in the Gotovina case, his greatest courtroom success to date, in danger. He’s right about that, but it points to the reason that interested parties make bad sources. He also seems to have something against Florence Hartmann, Mirko Klarin, and all Scandinavians, but whatever, other people’s personal lives.
And now the prize question: Can anyone think of a reason why citizens in the region affected by this would look at a small group of people engaged in fingerpointing and namecalling games and imagine that their fates are in the hands of an irresponsible, self-absorbed clique whose members don’t give two fucks about them? Best answer gets a drink bought by me at the amusingly named club of čika Luka’s choice. We could even take a photo.
Update: Aren’t we lucky, here’s another conspiracy theory. The folks who were anticipating conspiracy theories really did not guess well where they would be coming from.