Four days after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was brought before a judge in Baghdad, Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia complained of mistreatment to the U.N. tribunal trying him, asserting that it has jeopardized his health and made it impossible for him to conduct his defense.
Milosevic's defense case, which had been scheduled to begin Monday, was postponed, and the brief session was taken up by questions about the 62-year-old ousted leader's health, including whether he would be fit enough for the trial to continue. Doctors who examined him this morning once again found his blood pressure dangerously high, because of the strain of conducting his own defense, and said his most pressing need this week was to rest.
"The time has come for a radical review of the trial process and the continuation of the trial," said presiding Judge Patrick Robinson of Britain. He said the court would issue a decision soon "bearing in mind the health problems of the accused, which are clearly chronic and recurrent."
Judicial observers said the most logical next step would be for the court to impose a defense lawyer on Milosevic -- which the prosecutors again urged Monday, but which Milosevic again rejected.
"This is out of the question, as you know, nor will I ever accept it," Milosevic said.
Referring to his worsening health and the court-ordered medical report that showed him suffering from "organ damage" due to his high blood pressure, Milosevic said, "Such a deterioration is a result of your decision not to give me adequate time for my preparation."
Dismissing suggestions that he consider making his opening defense statement in writing, or have a live video link to his jail cell so he would not have to attend every session, Milosevic said, "I will examine my witnesses, and I will be in this room."
"What you have done Monday is a classic example of maltreatment of prisoners," he added. "This kind of decision-making is something we know from the Inquisition in the Middle Ages."
The trial schedule, which has been repeatedly delayed, has already been cut to three days a week to allow Milosevic to rest. But he said those three days should include the time he needs to prepare his defense. Milosevic, who is facing charges of war crimes and genocide from the 1990s wars in Bosnia and Croatia, and for the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo in 1999, has said he intends to call about 1,400 witnesses, including former president Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He has 150 working days for his defense.
The trial began in February 2002, and the prosecution finished its case two years later. The original presiding judge, Richard May of Britain, left because of illness -- he died last week -- and was replaced. If any other judge on the three-member panel leaves or cannot continue, the trial would have to be stopped.
Judith Armatta, who has been monitoring the trial for the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice, a legal advocacy group, said Robinson's remarks about the need for a "radical review" suggested a tougher line in trying to keep the case on track -- even if that meant forcing Milosevic to accept a defense lawyer against his will.
"They've lost one judge already, 21/2 years into it," she said. "What we see here is a firmer response from the court" than in the past.
Armatta said it was essential that the trial continue, noting that many following the legal proceedings against Saddam Hussein will be looking to Milosevic's trial for examples of how to handle a huge, complex case involving a former head of state and multiple charges spanning many years. "People will look here -- they have to, because they're both heads of state, and they both don't recognize the legitimacy of the tribunals," she said.