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  • Carla Del PonteMadame Prosecutor
  • David Binder
Carla Del Ponte: Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity's Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity. A Memoir. New York: Other Press, 2009. ISBN 9781590513026 (hardcover).

Carla Del Ponte begins this odd "memoir" of eight years as the chief prosecutor—the public face—of the International Criminal Tribunal for (the former) Yugoslavia with her first call on George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2000. She catalogued (completely Serbian) crimes including the shelling of Sarajevo, ethnic cleansing operations and the killings of "about 7,500" Muslim males at Srebrenica. Tenet, she writes, promised complete cooperation in pursuing the evildoers. "I should have known better," than to trust Tenet.

Dismissing Arthur Schopenhauer's dictum that women are not capable of grasping the nature of "justice," she asserts to the contrary it is men who erect a muro di gomma (wall of rubber) to deflect justice—including the CIA director. She called on him again to complain of a lack of cooperation saying

"You should at least support our efforts.""Look Madame," Tenet replied. "I don't give a shit what you think."

The prosecutor comes out swinging, saying that in "constantly demanding that reluctant states and leaders cooperate to arrest them, arrest them […] Milošević, Karadžić, Mladić, Gotovina" she became "a caricature of a woman suffering from echolalia" for eight years.

Before describing her work at the Tribunal, the author relates portions of her early life—hunting asps with a brother for sale to a lab manufacturing antitoxins in her native Ticino; marrying and divorcing twice—partly because she didn't want to cook supper; raising a son; early on developing a craving for multiple Luis Vuitton bags, starting a legal career perhaps because she had "inherited some deep-seated drive to vanquish evil." In a confessional mode she added, "Perhaps some part of me is ambitious […] craves attention." She [End Page 135] soon got on the cases of Mafia bigshots, acquired bodyguards to go with death threats; moved on from Mafia to Mexican, Pakistani, and Russian money launderers. (Switzerland with its bank secrecy was a second homeland for all of the above.)

"About Yugoslavia, I knew little more than I had seen on television or read in the press," she writes. But when Radovan Karadžić of Republika Srpska appeared in Geneva to participate in peace talks she, just appointed attorney general, "wanted to have him arrested and handed over" to the Hague tribunal even though, as she was told, the Swiss had no jurisdiction. Five years later she had become aware enough of some of the complexities of the Balkan conflicts to open an investigation of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had just come out into the open and was ambushing Serbian police officers, and to order the arrest of several gunrunners.

When NATO planes stopped bombing Serbia in June 1999, the Hague job opened up. She was approached both by the Swiss government and by the UN's Kofi Annan. Salary was a factor, she writes. "I wanted to be able to buy the Louis Vuitton bags I knew I would keep buying."

For the next eight years her home was a bomb-proof apartment in the center of The Hague, close to the former insurance company building that houses the tribunal. She "pried open [her] window so [she] could breathe the fresh air and (sic) enjoy [her] Marlboro Golds." And she began reading books on Yugoslavia's conflicts and Human Rights Watch reports on the Rwanda genocide. Immediately she concluded "the main culprits were Slobodan Milošević of Serbia" and "Franjo Tudjman of Croatia." No mention of Alija Izetbegović or any other Bosnian Muslim. Among other curiosities she asserts that the war in Bosnia "began in the spring of 1992 when a secret-police assassin sent his gang through the town of Bjeljina on a killing spree." No mention of Izetbegović pulling out of an internationally mediated Bosnian peace settlement several months earlier or of a Serb wedding guest assassinated in downtown Sarajevo.

She stresses that the Balkan wars "first occupied [her] attention" although the half million or more killed in only 100 days in Rwanda (in...


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