TCS Daily

Slobodan Milosevic, Esq.

By Marni Soupcoff - June 22, 2004 12:00 AM

There is, as Shakespeare tells us, such a thing as protesting too much.

Someone might want to mention this fact to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently attempting to subpoena close to 1,400 people as witnesses in his U.N. war-crimes trial. And when he gets done with those folks, he's got another 200 or so witnesses in mind (just to shore up any weak spots in the first thousand odd testimonials, I suppose).

That's not to say that Milosevic is committing that common trial error of confusing quantity with quality, mind you. He is attempting to subpoena witnesses of only the very highest profile. Former President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, are just a few of the prominent figures whose presence, Milosevic insists, is required to make his case. Certainly, it won't be surprising if soon Milosevic requests additional subpoenas for the Queen of England, the winner of American Idol and Jennifer Lopez's latest husband (insert appropriate name here).

This, in a nutshell, is the real-life judicial problem with due process of law. In theory, everyone gets a fair and equal shake. But in practice, it's always those with scoundrel tendencies who prove the most adept at exploiting the system and pushing the envelope when it comes to what process they think they are due. After all, who else but a Milosevic would have the hubris to announce, with a straight face, that he had 1,631 crucial witnesses in mind to testify for him? And, perhaps more importantly, who else would have the temerity to try to drag Bill Clinton away from a book tour?

Granted, the accusations against Milosevic are very grave. He is charged with 66 war crimes, including genocide. That is a good reason to give the former Yugoslav president every chance to present a fair and full defense -- the sort of opportunity he himself would not have provided his foes.

On the other hand, there's no getting around the fact that Milosevic's not so subtle attempts at delaying a decision about his fate are themselves a bit amusing. He has had almost three months to prepare his case with the assistance of several lawyers, but he still asked for another month to interview witnesses (I guess there are a lot of potential questions to go over when you're interrogating a good chunk of the leaders of the free world: "Now, Mr. Clinton, about that cigar"), and he's pressing for intelligence service documents from the United States, Britain and Germany.

Perhaps the only positive thing to come of this mockery is that Milosevic may have finally found his true calling: as a high-priced American-style defense attorney.

Johnnie Cochrane, eat your heart out.


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