by Jeremy Scahill / Democracy Now! –
Since the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, General Wesley Clark has not answered any in-depth questions about his targeting of civilian infrastructure in Yugoslavia and other decisions he made and orders he gave as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.
Clark portrays himself as the antiwar warrior. At his campaign stops, he has been saying regularly, “The war is wrong.”
In a Democracy Now! exclusive, General Wesley Clark responds for the first time to questions about his targeting of civilian infrastructure in Yugoslavia, his bombing of Radio Television Serbia, the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium, the bombing of a passenger train and other decisions he made and orders he gave as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (responding to a voter asking about his previous comments on Iraq as a CNN commentator):
I was a military analyst and so I looked at everything in great detail. I wasn’t allowed on television to talk politics…. My rhetoric has changed, because when I wasn’t a politician, I couldn’t speak out this forcefully. I said that it was an elective war. I always believed that he had weapons of mass destruction because that’s what the intelligence told us…. Donald Rumsfeld… told me that he knew where 30% of the weapons were.
They misled the American people, so I didn’t think we had to go to war, but I will admit my rhetoric has gotten harsher and tougher since then because I think they misled us. I think it was deliberate.
But as Clark speaks out about the war in Iraq, his own record as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 is almost never examined.
The Clark campaign promotes this in its TV ads: they say that he “liberated a nation and ended a genocide.” Butt what is not discussed is what Clark actually did when he was running a war.
Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill covered the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia from the ground in 1999.
Gen. Wesley Clark Responds to Questions Posed by Democracy Now! Correspondent Jeremy Scahill.
This weekend in Concord, New Hampshire, we had a chance to ask Clark some questions he has never faced before. After a rally where Clark was filming a TV commercial for his campaign, [we] made our way to the stage. As we attempted to question General Clark, we were told by his press people that he would not be taking questions from reporters. As he was heading backstage, [we] approached Clark.
JEREMY SCAHILL: In Yugoslavia, you used cluster bombs and depleted uranium…
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Sure did.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I want to know if you are president, will you vow not to use them.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I will use whatever it takes that’s legal to protect the men and women against force.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Even against civilians in the Nis marketplace? Why bomb Radio Television Serbia? Why did you bomb Radio Television Serbia? You killed 16 media workers, sir.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: They were… [in audible — Interview interrupted by another questioner.]
That was Clark making an exit off the stage. We followed him as he left the theater and walked down the streets of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shaking hands, signing autographs, talking to potential voters. As he was entering a business establishment, we again approached the General.
Gen. Wesley Clark on the Bombing of Kosovo
Radio interview by Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill.
JEREMY SCAHILL: General Clark, on that issue of the bombing of Radio Television Serbia, Amnesty International called it a war crime.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Excuse me — I’m not —
JEREMY SCAHILL: Amnesty called it a war crime and it’s condemned by all journalist organizations in the world. It killed makeup artists.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I want to answer this fellow. Because the truth was that that — first of all, we gave warnings to Milosevic that that was going to be struck. I personally called the CNN reporter and had it set up so that it 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.
JEREMY SCAHILL: There were 16.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I recall six.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I was there at the time and I knew the families. They do hold Milosevic accountable and they also hold you accountable, sir.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: They were ordered to stay there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And they were makeup artists, and they were engineers, and they were technicians.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I remember reading the story, but I want to tell you about it.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Amnesty International said you committed a war crime by bombing that.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: It was all looked at by the International Criminal Tribunal crime by Yugoslavia. All of my actions were examined and they were all upheld by the highest law in the United States.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And you think a media outlet is a legitimate target?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: No, but when it is used as command and control, it is. But then
JEREMY SCAHILL: Even if it kills…
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Now wait a minute, you have to let me finish and then I will let you finish.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Go ahead.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: What I said is, we would give them the warnings. It 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.
We actually called the bombers back one time, because there was still — it was still unclear to us that we weren’t absolutely certain. What we know is that Milosevic ordered them to stay there, and it was wrong, but I was doing my duty, and I have been looked at by the law, so — I mean, I respect Amnesty International. I think they’re a good organization, but —
JEREMY SCAHILL: But do you feel any remorse for the killing of civilians that you essentially were overseeing?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Yes, I do.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And what about the bombing of the Nis marketplace with cluster bombs, shredding human beings.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: It was terrible, but you know in that instance, if we had got the same incident, there was a cluster bomb that opened prematurely. It was an accident. And every one of these incidents was fully investigated.
All of the material from the Yugoslavian government was given to the International Criminal Tribunal, plus as the NATO commander, I made a full report to the International Criminal Tribunal. It was all investigated.
The pilots who did it, nobody could have felt worse than the pilots who did it. And I got a letter from a man in Serbia who said you killed my granddaughter on a schoolyard at Nis. I know how he must have felt. And I felt so helpless about it.
Every night before I let those bombs go, I prayed we wouldn’t kill innocent people. But unfortunately, when you are at war, terrible things happen, even when you don’t want them to. You can’t imagine what those pilots felt like in those convoys when they struck the convoys. You remember the convoys?
JEREMY SCAHILL: In Gurdulica were the 72 Albanians were killed.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: In that place, too. And they had flown over it a couple of times. You know, we just — we were trying to establish some kind of communications on the ground with the Albanians.
The Serbs were on the nets, and they were jamming all of the communications, and they were doing imitative communications deception. And nobody could get the truth about it.
We saw the Serb vehicles around the place. And I didn’t make the decision, but they were following orders on my command. And it was looked at, and so forth. The decision was made as a legitimate target.
It turned out that they had been ordered to stay in there by the Serbs. The Serbs were surrounding the place to keep them penned in. It was horrible. You never forget stuff like that. That’s why when this government has used force as it has, it makes me so angry. Because these people in the White House don’t understand — you don’t use force except as a last, last, last resort.
JEREMY SCAHILL: On April 12th you targeted a passenger train, and then you showed a video that was sped up at three time the speed. Why?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I think — first of all, the passenger train was not targeted. The pilot’s instructions were to go after a bridge, and not the train. He felt, as he launched that missile, that all of a sudden at the very last minute, the train suddenly came into his field of view.
I showed the tape. I did not know that the tape was accelerated. I don’t think it was three times. I think it was one-and-a-half times. Whatever it was, it was going faster than the actual speed. It made it look like it was —
JEREMY SCAHILL: But the Supreme Allied Commander, you are ultimately responsible for all of the information that came out.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: That’s true. I was.
JEREMY SCAHILL: What the actual in real-time speed showed is that the pilot actually moved the target so that it would hit the train.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don’t have that information.
JEREMY SCAHILL: 12 people were killed, including an orthodox priest.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: That’s terrible. But, I don’t have the information. When I looked at it, we didn’t see that. All of the material was sent to The Hague and they did not see that either.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Do you think you owe the people of Serbia who died in that war an apology?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: No, I don’t because I did my duty as the commander for NATO and for the United States.
I think Slobodan Milosevic owes the people of Serbia an apology, because we acted to prevent regional destabilization, and to be honest, when you take the kinds of actions that he has done, he was the proximate cause.
All we tried to do was head off the ethnic cleansing through diplomacy, and basically, he had a plan to go to war, no matter what.
JEREMY SCAHILL: But now the US is supporting a regime of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo where all minorities have been forced out, including almost every single Serb.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well you know, we are trying very hard not to allow that to happen. And we have worked very hard with the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs, but to be honest with you that regime that’s north of the Ibar River is a regime that wants to prevent Serbs from living peacefully with Kosovo Albanians. So, both sides have to share the blame.
They have been under the control of Seselj and also some under Milosevic and their tactic in 1999 was to provoke the retaliation by the Albanians to be able to blame the Albanians for reverse ethnic cleansing.
There were — there were crimes on both sides and they needed to be investigated. To the best of my ability as NATO commander at the time, we did.
JEREMY SCAHILL: But then why — you have a man like Agim Ceku in power, a man who was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs at Kraina, a man trained by MPRI in Virginia. Why put a man like that in charge? What kind of message does that send to ethnic minorities in Kosovo, when a man who is a basically a war criminal is in charge of what is going to be the future army in Kosovo.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, we looked at his record and it’s not clear that he’s going to be in charge of the future army of Kosovo. He did receive instruction from a contracted US firm at MPRI. He received basic information after he became there in charge of the Kosovo protective corps. We thought that was the best way to maintain order and security in the country.
JEREMY SCAHILL: He has been accused of hate speech by the United Nations.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Lots of people in that part of the world have been accused of hate speech, and they shouldn’t do it. I met with Agim Ceku a few times when I was over there, and I told him who I thought about it. I don’t accept that language.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Do you think that he should be in a position of power in Kosovo?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, you know, I’m so far removed from the issues right now —
JEREMY SCAHILL: But you know him.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: But I can’t – yeah – I know him, but what I have seen of him, he is the one of the more reasonable people in that region.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Because in your ads you say you liberated a nation. And that’s why I am asking you this question.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: The thing is I have got to talk to some other voters. Is that okay? Can you excuse me?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Absolutely. Thank you very much.