When speaking with a trial attorney for either side, it is worth remembering that they are storytellers, creatively scripting plausible scenarios by sewing together interpretations of facts and seemingly reasonable assumptions. In borderline cases, the better storyteller often wins. According to Hayman, after several top Croatian military and political officials were indicted, the Tudjman government encouraged Blaskic to go to The Hague to clear his name, knowing that his lack of knowledge of the crimes would make it impossible for him to implicate others who had been charged. His acquittal, the government assumed, would show that prosecutors had overreached--probably in a misguided attempt to counterbalance the numerous prosecutions of Serbs underway. "He was a decoy," Hayman says.
Showing that in court, however, would prove difficult. War crimes are often born of extreme political opportunism and desperation. Witnesses are ready to lie to convict sworn enemies, and impartial witnesses are, at times, nearly impossible to find. Truth is particularly elusive when evidence sites are despoiled, the lines of command are blurred and official orders are secret. For lawyers, these cases can have more in common with the complex prosecutions of CEOs for the actions of massive multilayered companies than they do with, say, serial killers.
Hayman says that the Tudjman regime refused to turn over intelligence documents that he believed would clear Blaskic and implicate top Croatian political and military officials. "It was obviously difficult to defend him when I was paid in part by a government that concealed the most important evidence," he says.
In March 2000, 32 months after the case began, the court found Blaskic guilty of ordering a significant number of attacks and of not preventing others. He was ordered to serve 45 years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down at The Hague.
Hayman says the verdict changed his world. "If you know someone who gets convicted unjustly, it affects the way you view the rest of your life. Some people don't think that is possible. I know that it is."
Hayman is appealing the conviction based on information obtained from Croatian Intelligence archives following the death of Tudjman and the loss of power by his party.
Attorney Lynne Stewart is resolute in her refusal to take certain kinds of clients. "I don't do child cases," she says. Before becoming a lawyer, Stewart spent 11 years as a teacher for underprivileged children in Harlem and on Manhattan's Lower East Side. She is also a mother of three and a grandmother of seven. "I consider children to be the only innocents left on earth, and I don't think I can exploit that in any way, so a client can't get my undivided loyalty."
Yet Stewart has found it within herself to defend militant leftist radicals, a convicted Mafia hit man, cop-killers and, for a reduced fee, a man later convicted of plotting to destroy much of Stewart's hometown, New York City. Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind spiritual leader, was eventually convicted of plotting to blow up the United Nations, FBI offices, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and the George Washington Bridge. Prosecutors also asserted that Rahman was the spiritual author of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing because those held responsible had listened to his teaching.
Stewart, 62, took up the defense in 1995 after half a dozen other lawyers considered representing him but were either ruled out by Rahman or decided against it themselves. "Sometimes a case will come in of a brutal or reprehensible murder that is particularly ugly and I ask: Is this my kind of case?" she says. "But I had very little doubt about this one."
She saw Rahman through the lens of her own leftist and civil rights activist past. In her downtown Manhattan office, decorated with posters of Che Guevara and other leftist heroes of the past (and a photo of the New York Mets), she hunches forward on her dilapidated wooden desk to explain that Rahman is, in some ways, a visionary freedom fighter, and that if people like him are successful in bringing down Egypt's unresponsive leaders, they may be viewed as liberators in hindsight, even in the U.S.
To her, Rahman was a persecuted non-English-speaker whom an American jury was prone to fear for his militant calls to battle injustice. "My assumption with most of my clients is that they are guilty of something but not necessarily what they are accused of . . . . With the sheik, I thought he probably wasn't [guilty] because I knew the political climate around the case."
Stewart is an internationalist who believes that citizens of any nation have a right to fight their government if it is oppressive, even if that government is an ally of the United States. She thinks it is unacceptable for the "war on terror" to replace the Cold War as a reason for Washington to support oppressive regimes.