Milosevic's trial before a three-judge panel of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague began in February 2002. Since then, one of the judges has died, Yugoslavia officially has dissolved, and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has been assassinated. Milosevic and a fellow alleged war criminal even were elected to seats in Serbia's parliament in December.
Milosevic was scheduled to launch his defense on Monday. But the tribunal, concerned about his health, has postponed it until later this summer. A court-appointed cardiologist said Milosevic has high blood pressure, a damaged left ventricle and is at risk of a heart attack or a stroke. "It is therefore necessary to navigate constantly between sufficient rest, optimum medication and the stress of the trial," the doctor counseled.
That may be legitimate reasoning for a delay. The question is, why has this matter already dragged on for so long? The Nuremberg war crimes tribunal took 11 months to try, convict, sentence and execute 10 of Hitler's top deputies. Israel's trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 took eight months, and he was executed in 1962.
The war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague has been running the meter for a long time. And it is not a cheap ride--it has 1,238 staff members and a budget for this year of nearly $272 million.
On the other hand, Israeli intelligence kidnapped Mr Eichmann, no extradition hearing first; and the Nuremberg tribunal was a creation of the victorious powers, not an institution of long standing. Furthermore, the procedures allow for the defense to string out the proceedings -- there is probably no provision for a guilty plea and a mitigation hearing, the strategy the defense in at least one of the University of Wisconsin truck-bombing cases employed. Mr Milosevic -- and possibly the recently indicted Saddam Hussein -- have to "put the system on trial" as part of their defense, which is what Mr Milosevic's team apparently intends to do.
Milosevic has drawn up a list of 1,400 defense witnesses, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President Bill Clinton. That should keep the trial going for a few more years and pile up tens of millions of additional euros in expenses.
So what is the world to make--what are the people of the former Yugoslavia to make--of a trial that seems designed to provide everlasting entertainment for the accused?
That's not justice. That's a charade.
Perhaps so. But absent any clarity on what distinguishes rules-as-sword from rules-as-shield, that's what happens.