"It's hard not to feel that by dying in his cell, Slobodan Milosevic finally succeeded in his determined effort to cheat justice." Thus read the opening sentence of a New York Times editorial, Tuesday, March 14. The editorial cited without comment Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the United Nations tribunal, who told an Italian interviewer that "the death of Milosevic represents for me a total defeat."

In fact, Milosevic's death in his cell from a heart attack spared Del Ponte and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) -- itself a kangaroo tribunal set up by the United States with no proper foundation under international law or treaty -- the ongoing embarrassment of a proceeding where Milosevic had made a very strong showing against the phalanx of prosecutors, hearsay witnesses and prejudiced judges marshaled against him.

There are now charges and countercharges about poisons and self-medications. Milosevic's son says his father was murdered. The embarrassed Court has claimed Milosevic somehow did himself in by tampering with his medicines. But no one contests the fact that Milosevic asked for treatment in Moscow -- the Russians promised to return him to the Hague -- and the Court refused permission. As the tag from the poet A.H. Clough goes, "Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive Officiously to keep alive."

The trial had been going badly from the point of view of the prosecution (which included the judges) for most of its incredible duration. Here is what Neil Clark, a Balkans specialist, wrote in the Guardian newspaper of London in 2004:

"But not only has the prosecution signally failed to prove Milosevic's personal responsibility for atrocities committed on the ground, the nature and extent of the atrocities themselves has also been called into question. . In the case of the worst massacre with which Milosevic has been accused of complicity -- of between 2,000 and 4,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 -- Del Ponte's team have produced nothing to challenge the verdict of the five-year inquiry commissioned by the Dutch government -- that there was 'no proof that orders for the slaughter came from Serb political leaders in Belgrade.'"

Writing in the British Spectator last November, John Laughland painted a trenchant portrait of the kangaroo proceedings:

"Even though the former Yugoslav head of state has always pleaded his innocence, producing scores of witnesses to prove it, the trial is still not due to end until 2010. . The trial has heard more than 100 prosecution witnesses, and not a single one has testified that Milosevic ordered war crimes."

Ominously, in light of what finally happened, Laughland wrote last year, "Transparency is not of much interest to the judges either: When I asked to see the medical evidence which, they claimed, showed that Milosevic was too sick to defend himself but not so sick that the trial should be abandoned, I was told it was confidential. And when on Tuesday Milosevic pleaded that he was too sick to continue, presiding judge Patrick Robinson simply barked, 'Are you deaf? I told you to call the next witness.'"

The memory of NATO's onslaught on the former Yugoslavia has faded. But next weekend, when rallies across the world signal the third anniversary of the U.S. onslaught on Iraq, some speakers should take the occasion of Milosevic's court-assisted demise to remind their audiences that the legal, military and journalistic banditry that have accompanied the Iraq enterprise from the start were all field-tested in the late 1990s in the Balkans. These days we have the Neo-Cons' war. Back then we had the Liberals' War. There's continuity. The lying didn't start with Judy Miller nor the saber-rattling with Bill Kristol.

In the late '90s, liberals learned once again -- did they ever truly forget? -- that it's fun to be a warmonger and cheer the high explosive as it falls. After suffering indigestion toward the end of the Vietnam affair, they got the taste for war again in the mid-1990s, with Bosnia. They became the "laptop bombardiers," an apt phrase coined by Simon Jenkins in The Spectator in 1995. Back then, there wasn't a week, for months on end, that Anthony Lewis, high priest of the liberal pundits, didn't call for the bombardment of Serbia.

Remember that Milosevic agreed to virtually everything NATO demanded. But for him the status of Kosovo as part of Serbia was non-negotiable, and he wouldn't agree to the stationing of NATO forces on Yugoslav soil, which does after all include Kosovo. Even so, it's clear enough that a solution could have been found. It's plain enough that the United States and its NATO subordinates wanted a confrontation and ultimately forced it.

So the NATO bombs began to fall. This was the Cowards' War, bombing a country for two and a half months from 30,000 feet. It was the Liberals' War waged by social democracy's best and brightest, intent on proving once again that wars can be fought with the best and most virtuous of intentions: the companion volume to Hillary Clinton's "It Takes a Village" turns out to be "It Takes An Air Force."

The liberals cheered their bombs, and in the wings were the neocons, waiting for their turn in Iraq.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.