15 March 2006

The curious death of Slobodan Milosevic

Autopsy reports suggest that Slobodan Milosevic, the Butcher of the Balkans, died of a heart attack. But was it suicide, murder or an accident? Cybershrink investigates.

So, provisional autopsy reports suggest that Slobodan Milosevic, the Butcher of the Balkans, died of a heart attack. Many people will be surprised to discover that this monster even had a heart.

A man who led his people into four wars, losing each one, at a cost of great damage to his supporters, and causing the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, who can still leave behind people who will weep at his passing, tells us something uncomfortable about human nature.

His death in a prison cell has led to many rumours, some incredible, some at least credible. Some have insisted that their hero must have been murdered, probably poisoned; or that he died of neglect of his medical conditions; others have suggested suicide. Let's look at what's likely.

Slobodan had a history of heart and blood pressure problems. It's interesting though that these were never heard of before he faced the Courts and it became convenient for him. He was eventually said to have malignant hypertension, admittedly a serious condition. But I doubt that any other prisoner would be given so many advantages if they had the same diagnosis. He was able to delay and prolong his trial enormously, with shortened sessions and adjournments. And then of course he and his supporters complained of the length of the trial!

And now the Court gets blamed for his death, even if it was from natural causes. The poor man, we are told, was over-stressed by the hard work of preparing for trial and conducting his own defense. So what? That was entirely by his own deliberate choice, after he refused to have legal representation during the trial and insisted on doing it on his own. That's the same as the murderer who kills both of his parents, and then asks for clemency as an orphan.

More recently, he and his supporters had been demanding that he be sent to Moscow for treatment. And the Court is being blamed for his death, for having refused to provide him with this luxury. The request was entirely bogus. There is no treatment for his condition known to medical science, which is available in Moscow but nowhere else on earth. Any specialists could have been flown to consult with him, and medications could have been sent to him. And there was no guarantee that he would have returned from Moscow, where his wife and son, both believed to be avoiding major legal problems elsewhere, were living.

Let's examine the possible causes of his death.

Could he have died from purely natural causes? Obviously, yes. He had a high-risk condition, and death from a heart attack or stroke was entirely possible, even likely.

Is it reasonable to suspect suicide? Definitely yes. His father and mother, and an uncle, all died of suicide, so there was a strong family history of self-destruction. And it would have been very much in character for Milosevic, to have killed himself had the opportunity been available to him. From the start of the trial he had shown a determination to interfere with the process and to mock it. He faced almost certain conviction and life imprisonment, a horrible prospect for an autocrat with an immense and tender ego. Might he not have found it preferable to ultimately cheat justice, spite his many victims, and cause maximum trouble and mischief?

As this possibility was so readily predictable, it is astounding to see reports that the body was discovered by a guard apparently only after he had been dead for some hours. One would have expected 24-hour video surveillance of such a high profile and high risk prisoner, especially as another prisoner in the same establishment had committed suicide only days before. Was there an alarm bell to enable him to call for help if suddenly sick? If so, did he use this facility?

Could this have been murder? At this stage one must say yes, but if indeed he did die of a heart attack, it would have required an uncommon method to be used, by a highly sophisticated and skilled killer. As the Romans taught us, we must from the start ask: who would benefit by murdering him? Certainly not his captors, the Tribunal, who have been deeply embarrassed by his death. And they have been frustrated, after enormous effort and expense, by being prevented from achieving a verdict. His enemies?

Surely there were many people who had excellent reasons to loathe him. But they wanted to see him convicted, and punished, not to help him to escape that. And it would not have been easy for them to gain access to harm him. What about his supporters? Well, they may have been tempted, as he would have been, to frustrate the Court and help him avoid conviction and imprisonment - with the additional desire, now being clearly demonstrated, of wanting to turn him into a martyr. Again, access would have been a problem for them.

Could the actual cause of death have been accidental? Let's think of a different scenario. We know that Milosevic was desperately eager to get transferred to Moscow for treatment and, probably, to escape and achieve a comfortable retirement there. Having failed to convince the Court that he needed to go there for treatment, what if he discovered, from his visitors, that there were ways for him to frustrate his local doctors and show that the treatment he was receiving in The Hague was ineffective? That'd give him fresh arguments to press for a Moscow transfer.

There are reports suggesting that a blood test some days back, had shown the presence of an unusual antibiotic, Rifampicin, usually used to treat leprosy or tuberculosis (which we know he did not have). Now this could become a crucial finding. This drug could significantly reduce the effects and benefits of a number of drugs used in the treatment of heart disease. It could have been used in a murder attempt, yes. Though one might have expected Milosevic who rarely missed an opportunity to challenge his captors, to have been suspicious about the sudden addition of a new medicine to his pills.

What if Milosevic has been supplied with Rifampicin by a sympathiser or assistant, and took it deliberately to undermine the cardiac treatment he was receiving, so as to be able to claim forcefully that his Dutch treatment was useless and he needed to be transferred to Moscow, as he so dearly wished? We hear that on his day of death he sent a hand-written letter to the Russians pleading something like this, and that his doctors in Holland had been puzzled by his failure to respond well to good treatment.

Perhaps Slobodan was deliberately subverting his own treatment so as to achieve his last hope of freedom by escape to Moscow, and suffered the penalty of causing this deliberate risk, by actually dying because of it? That's a credible scenario, and fits what we know of his personality and tactics. - Prof M.A. Simpson, Health24's Cybershrink

Related article:
Milosevic: Distorting justice


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