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07 December 2017

A Bad Time For Bad Guys (Part II)

Slobodan Praljak and Ali Abdullah Saleh.

By Neil Tidmarsh

There’s more bad news this week for those of you out there who’ve made a career out of hi-jacking a whole country.

You’ve scrambled to the top of the political pile via armed rebellion, civil war, coup d’états or rigged elections (or free and open elections, to be fair to the few of you who weren’t actually born bad); you’ve eliminated the opposition by bribery, coercion, illegal detention, torture and murder; you’ve ensured that the security services are entirely dependant on your largesse and staffed exclusively by members of your own tribe or clan or family; you’ve terrified your populace into quiescence; you’ve established regional dominance by destabilising your neighbours and waging war on innocent civilians; you’ve stashed a fortune of billions abroad by stealing from your starving citizens and plundering your country’s natural resources; you’ve subverted the constitution by making yourself president for life. And now you’re looking forward to a secure future in a gold-plated palace stuffed full of cocaine and call-girls.

Well, I’m not sorry to tell you that the odds in favour of you enjoying that future are shrinking week by week.

Last week, justice caught up with Robert Mugabe, the tyrant of Zimbabwe, and with Ratko Mladić, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, and we asked “Who’s next?” (see Comment, issue 131). That question was answered pretty promptly this week; the past caught up with Slobodan Praljak of Croatia on Wednesday and with Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen on Monday.

In 2013, the International Criminal Tribunal For The Former Yugoslavia had found Slobodan Praljak guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Croat-Bosniak war of 1991-1995 when he was a general in the Bosnian Croat army.  He appealed against the verdict and sentence (twenty years in jail), but last Wednesday the court upheld both, dismissing the appeal.  On hearing the judgement, Praljak committed suicide – he stood up in the Hague courtroom and drank poison (potassium cyanide).  He died in hospital soon afterwards.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was president and commander in chief of north Yemen from 1978 (following a coup in which the previous president was killed in a bomb attack) and of a unified Republic of Yemen (north and south) from 1990.   Elections did take place in 1999, but he won a literally incredible 96% of the vote (albeit against an obscure member of his own party, the General People’s Congress).  He was an ally of Saddam Hussein and backed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  He took $20 million a year from the USA after pledging support for George W Bush’s war on terror, but did little to earn it – indeed, he allowed al-Qaeda to make Yemen one of its main bases.  The Arab Spring ousted him in 2011 – Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi defeated him in elections and became the new president – but that wasn’t the end of Saleh.  He threw in his lot with Houthi rebels (against whom he had fought ten years earlier), and in 2014 the new President Hadi was driven out of the country and old President Saleh took over again in partnership with his Houthi allies.

This rebellion triggered the ongoing terrible civil war in Yemen.  The ousted President Hadi found refuge and support in Saudi Arabia, which put a coalition of Gulf states together to fight for his restoration.  Saudi and its allies are Sunni, of course, while Saleh and the forces of his General People’s Party and the Houthi rebels are Shia, and are apparently supported by Iran, the region’s Shia power and Saudi’s bitter rival.  The plight of the citizens of Yemen – bombed, starved and afflicted by cholera and other deadly diseases – is currently the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Saleh finally over-reached himself this week, however.  He was assassinated by his Houthi allies, who suspected him of betraying and abandoning them.  Sensing that the wind was blowing in favour of the Saudi-led coalition (and perhaps encouraged by the Saudis, in an attempt to bring him on-side or at the very least to drive a wedge between their enemies), Saleh had announced a few days earlier that he was prepared to turn a new page and co-operate with the Gulf coalition.  The Houthi rebels denounced him as a traitor and turned against the forces of his General People’s Congress.  Fierce fighting in the capital Sanaa reportedly left hundreds dead and injured.  Saleh’s house was blown up and he fled the city; but his vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint by Houthi fighters and he was shot dead.

So, all you ageing despots, last week we at Shaw Sheet offered you two alternative visions of your destiny to compete with your own hope for a glittering palatial future of continued absolute power and hedonistic over-indulgence.  One was the alarming ‘Mugabe model’ of ‘voluntary’ retirement after the army turns against you; the other was the more alarming ‘Mladić model’ of conviction in a genuine court of law and life imprisonment.  Well, this week we offer you two more potential destinies to add to the first two, and they’re even more alarming than last week’s: now there’s also the ‘Praljak model’ of a despairing suicide in the face of true justice; and the ‘Saleh model’ of assassination by your own erstwhile partners.

Of course, the odds are still largely in your favour; after all, there are still plenty of you out there enjoying a retirement you don’t deserve after a life-time of repression, bloodshed and tyranny.  But the events of the last two weeks – the fate of Mugabe, Mladić, Praljak and Saleh – must at least take some of the relish out of that retirement, must spoil the taste of the fruits of your crimes.  You might never be removed from power by your own army, or be found guilty and imprisoned by an international court, or choose to take poison rather than face up to justice, or be shot dead by untrusting allies.  But no doubt the fear that it could happen will now haunt you day after day, and that will be almost as bad.  May it tarnish the gold-plate (wealth stolen from your people) which covers every inch of your palace.  May it rob you of sleep as you toss and turn on the tacky black silk sheets of your emperor-sized bed.  May it render you impotent in spite of the Viagra which you consume by the lorry-load, a figure of fun to the call-girls on whom you squander the resources of your country.  May it turn the cocaine to innocent snuff in your nostrils, and may your sneezing be as relentless a torture as anything devised and inflicted by the professional sadists in your prisons and detention centres.

 

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