Law & Politics Book Review

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Image of the book cover with Milosevic on the stand during the trialTWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY: THE WAR CRIMES TRIAL OF SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC
by Judith Armatta.
Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
576pp. Cloth $39.95. ISBN: 9780822347460

Reviewed by Mark A. Drumbl,
Washington & Lee University, School of Law.
E-mail: drumblm [at] pp.177-180

TWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY chronicles the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Milosevic was elected President of Serbia in 1989, President of the Republic of Serbia in 1990, and then President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1997. In 2000, he lost elections. He was ousted from power soon thereafter, then arrested in 2001. At the ICTY, Milosevic - colloquially known both as the "Butcher of the Balkans" and the "Savior of the Serbs" - faced 66 charges involving genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes arising from nearly a decade of bloodbath in Kosova, Croatia, and Bosnia. He was initially indicted (for crimes in Kosova) while still a sitting head of state. (I follow the author in omitting accents and diacritical markings. I also follow her lead in the use of the Albanian Kosova instead of Kosovo.)

Milosevic's trial ended on March 11, 2006. The process came to a close without conviction or sentence. Law did not draw the final curtain . The trial's end came by way of death - Milosevic's own - in his jail cell after four years' of proceedings. In this regard, Milosevic cheated the very verdict his concerted dilatory antics had sought to postpone indefinitely.

Judith Armatta, a human rights lawyer and journalist, spent many days over nearly three years attending at Milosevic's trial in The Hague. TWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY emerges as the ensuing work product. Although she modestly claims that TWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY is "not the definitive trial record" (p.x), it definitely serves as the definitive book about the trial.

Armatta's encyclopedic compendium is impeccably researched, meticulous, detailed, prudent, and careful. It distinguishes itself as a must-read.

Her chronology follows that of the trial. She begins with the Kosova part of the indictment, then moves to Croatia, and then to Bosnia. She then explores Milosevic's defense, which was partial in the sense he never came to answer for many of the charges leveled against him - in particular, that of genocide at Srebrenica. Textually, Armatta's work is accessible. It is jargon-free, denuded of elliptical reasoning, and liberated from nomenclature. Yet it still conveys the complexities of substantive law, the improbabilities of securing convictions, and the often Sisyphean task of proving facts as matters of law rather than accepting them as self-evident happenings.

Notwithstanding its quality, TWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY may unduly privilege [*178] description over analysis. It occasionally loses the reader amid facts, names, and dates. The richness of its details overwhelms. Armatta hovers close to the canvas. She tilts towards exposing the parts rather than abstracting their sum.

If Armatta had to prosecute Milosevic all over again, she would. To be sure, she would do some things differently a second time around. She would have the tribunal be more assertive in terms of containing Milosevic's outbursts and delaying tactics; to oblige him to have appointed legal counsel earlier and consistently; too be less "trusting" of him (p.429); less lenient with him; to subject his health to more rigorous oversight; to make him actually take those medications and abandon cigarettes and whiskey. She is, of course, correct. Each of these facts, and the judges' shared timidity, decelerated the pace of justice.