THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Presidential hopeful Wesley Clark (search) faced his wartime foe Slobodan Milosevic (search) for the first time since the former Yugoslav leader's fall, testifying Monday at his war crimes trial. Afterward, Clark accused Milosevic of responsibility for years of death and destruction in the Balkans.
Clark, a retired four-star general and former NATO supreme commander, was taking a hiatus from his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination for two days of testimony behind closed doors at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague (search).
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Clark, mindful of court rules, declined to give details of what had gone on inside during about five hours of hearings.
But he said Milosevic's trial will help bring a sense of closure to the millions of victims of Balkan atrocities.
"For the people of the region, it's a very important experience. It's the rule of law. It's closure with a man who caused the deaths, or is alleged to have caused the deaths, of hundreds of thousands throughout Europe."
The hearings will continue Tuesday, with Milosevic able to cross-examine Clark.
Most of Milosevic's trial, which began in February 2002, has been public, but the United States won an agreement from the tribunal to keep Clark's appearance closed for security reasons.
The tribunal will broadcast Clark's testimony Friday and post it on the Internet, though the State Department could try to edit out sensitive parts.
Prosecutors are hoping Clark will back up their contention that Milosevic was aware of Serbian wartime atrocities, such as the massacre of thousands of Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, Bosnia, and failed to prevent them or punish those responsible.
Clark arrived in the Netherlands on Sunday as U.S. authorities announced the capture of Saddam Hussein. With the deposed Iraqi leader also expected to be tried for war crimes, Clark said no leader responsible for atrocities should be allowed to elude justice.
Clark, who as NATO's supreme commander led the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo, has unique insight into the tactics of the former Yugoslav leader, who was ousted in 2000 and later extradited to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Milosevic, who is running for office in his homeland despite his detention, faces 66 charges of war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Prosecutors have called hundreds of witnesses, but Clark will be the most senior U.S. official to testify at Milosevic's trial, which began in February 2002.
For Clark, the exposure on an international stage offers a chance to boost his political profile as he seeks the Democratic nomination, but there could be pitfalls.
Milosevic, who studied law but never practiced it, has proven to be a skilled cross-examiner and will likely be looking to undermine Clark's credibility as a prosecution witness. His trial is televised in Serbia, and experts say he uses the platform of the courtroom to score political points at home rather than to score legal points with his judges.
"The fact that Wesley Clark is going to testify in the middle of the primaries is fairly amazing," said professor Michael Scharf, the author of several books on the tribunal.
"Clark is gambling that this will give him national and international press attention just at the time he needs it for the primaries. It will enable him to look very patriotic, very presidential," he said in a telephone interview.
From his detention cell, Milosevic is running in Dec. 28 parliamentary elections in Serbia, which could see a resurgence of support for his Socialist Party.
Clark's appearance comes at a critical time as the prosecution tries to wrap up its case by the end of the year, clearing the way for Milosevic to present the case for the defense beginning in April.
Clark's book, "Waging Modern Warfare," gives a day-by-day account from the command center of the 78-day bombing campaign, which drove Milosevic's Serb troops out of Kosovo to end a campaign of repression and expulsion of the ethnic Albanian majority in Serbia's southern province.
A chapter allegedly dropped from the book at the insistence of the State Department reportedly quotes Milosevic as having said he knew Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic had planned atrocities in Srebrenica in 1995 but was unable to do anything about it.
"That would be a slam dunk in terms of the theory of command responsibility. The prosecution would like to show he knew it would happen or was aware atrocities were planned," Scharf said.
Clark also served as director of strategy, plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the mid-1990s, when the United States was trying to negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia. Clark has said his work involved spending dozens of hours in negotiations with Milosevic.