Jan. 28, 2004 – In an on-the-spot interview with the Democracy Now! radio program, General Wesley Clark defended the actions of the NATO forces he commanded during the 78-day bombing of Kosovo. The former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and current presidential candidate told Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill that, "All of my actions were examined and they were all upheld by the highest law in the United States."
Clark, who was campaigning in New Hampshire at the time of the interview, told Democracy Now! that, if elected President, he would "use whatever it takes that's legal to protect the men and women against force" and would not rule out the use of depleted uranium or cluster bombs.
Depleted uranium munitions, which NATO forces used extensively in Kosovo, are able to pierce some armor plating. They are also radioactive heavy metals and, according to scientists, can contaminate water and soil for long periods of time, adversely affecting civilian populations. BBC News Onlineâ€™s environmental correspondent says that the effects of high exposure may include increased risks of kidney failure, leukemia, cancer and birth defects.
The BBC reports that the Red Cross issued a report in 2000 claiming that NATO cluster bombs, which explode into tiny, specially designed â€œanti-personnelâ€� shrapnel, were responsible for five times as many childrenâ€™s deaths as landmines since the end of the bombing campaign. The report quoted a NATO ordnance disposal expert as saying that between 15 percent and 26 percent of cluster bombs did not completely detonate. Cluster bombs are widely regarded as having a high risk of causing accidental casualties.
When questioned about the detonation of clusterbombs in a busy Serbian marketplace, Clark told Democracy Now!, â€œIt was terrible, but you know in that instanceâ€¦there was a cluster bomb that opened prematurely. It was an accident. And every one of these incidents was fully investigated.â€�
Clark also explained the April 23, 1999 bombing of Radio Television Serbia, â€œFirst of all, we gave warnings to [former Serbian and Yugoslavian President Slobodan] Milosevic that [the station] was going to be struck. I personally called the CNN reporter and had it set up so that [news of the planned attack] would be leaked, and Milosevic knew. He had the warning because after he got the warning, he actually ordered the western journalists to report there as a way of showing us his power, and we had done it deliberately to sort of get him accustomed to the fact that he better start evacuating it. There were actually six people who were killed, as I recall."
According to The UKâ€™s Guardian, as well as to Scahill, who was in Kosovo at the time of the attacks, and others, sixteen employees were killed in the attack, mostly technicians and support staff.
In a 2000 press release, William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA criticized the incident saying, "The bombing of the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television, which left 16 civilians dead, was a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crimeâ€¦Civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the laws of war during Operation Allied Force."
Clark said that the incident was investigated and told Democracy Now! that the television station"was part of the command and control systems. It was approved as a legitimate target under the laws of land warfare and went through the US Government. That was the basis on which we struck."
NATO member countries and many Western commentators said the bombing, which lasted from March and June of 1999, was necessary to prevent a genocide perpetrated by Serbian paramilitaries and Milosevic's forces against Kosovar Albanians. However, during the period of the bombing over 850,000 people, 90 percent of whom were of Albanian ethnicity, fled the country, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Milosevic removed Serbian forces from Kosovo in June of 1999, and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and NATO peacekeeping forces entered the area.
Milosevic was indicted for war crimes after the bombing in 1999. He was arrested in 2001 by Yugoslav authorities and handed over to the UN two months later. The former Serb leader is now being tried before a specially convened International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. He has been charged with war crimes and genocide for his part in the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.
According to the Associate Press World Stream, Serbian officials state that Albanian revenge attacks have caused 200,000 Serbs to flee Kosovo since NATO peacekeeping troops entered the province and may be responsible for the disappearance of up to 2,000 Serbs. Many Gypsies, Gorans, and Turks have also fled after being accused of siding with Serbs against the Kosovar Albanians.