Book Review: The Demolition of the Yugoslav Tribunal
A review of Germinal Civikov’s Srebrenica: The Star Witness
(NGO Srebrenica Historical Project: 2010; translated from the German,
Srebrenica: Der Kronzeuge, 2009, by
Edward S. Herman
This book is a devastating indictment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY, or Tribunal), showing clearly that the ICTY “does not behave according to the traditions of the rule of law”—it is a political rather than judicial institution, and has played this political role well. It is not the first work to effectively assail the Tribunal—Laughland’s own book Travesty (Pluto: 2006), and Michael Mandel’s How
Erdemovic was a member of a Bosnian Serb military unit, the “10th Sabotage Unit,” an eight-man team of which he claimed shot to death 1,200 Bosnian Muslim prisoners at Branjevo Farm north of Srebrenica in
One of the most remarkable and revealing features of the Erdemovic case is that although he named seven individuals who did the killing with him, and two superiors in the chain of command who ordered or failed to stop the crime, not one of these was ever brought into an ICTY court either as an accused killer or to confirm any of Erdemovic’s claims. These co-killers have lived quietly, within easy reach of ICTY jurisdiction, but untroubled by that institution and any demands seemingly imposed by a rule of law. The commander of his unit, Milorad Pelemis, who Erdemovic claimed had given the order to kill, made it clear in an interview published in a Belgrade newspaper in November 2005, that the Hague investigators have never questioned him. He had never gone into hiding, but has lived undisturbed with his wife and children in
As these seven were killers of many hundreds in Erdemovic’s version, and the prosecutors and judges took Erdemovic’s version as true, why were these killers left untouched? One thing immediately clear is that the ICTY was not in the business of serving impartial justice even to the point of arresting and trying wholesale killers of Bosnian Muslims in a case the ICTY itself called “genocide.” But ignoring the co-perpetrators in this case strongly suggests that the prosecutors and judges were engaged in a political project—protecting a witness who would say what the ICTY wanted said, and refusing to allow any contesting evidence or cross-examination that would discredit the star witness. Civikov points out that the only time Erdemovic was subject to serious cross-examination was when he was questioned by Milosevic himself during the marathon Milosevic trial. And Civikov shows well that the ICTY presiding judge in that case, Richard May, went to great pains to stop Milosevic whenever his questions penetrated too deeply into the area of Erdemovic’s connections or credibility.
In April 2004, a Bosnian Croat, Marko Boskic, was arrested in
Thus, the Boskic case does not fall into any little-fish-disinterest category. Rather, it is perfectly consistent with the failure to bring to court Pelermis or any of the seven known co-perpetrators of the massacre. Civikov’s very plausible hypothesis is that this is another manifestation of star witness protection—the ICTY does not want his convenient testimony to be challenged. Little fish like Boskic might gum up a political project. Civikov contrasts the extremely alert and aggressive actions of the ICTY and
Another remarkable feature of the handling of Erdemovic is his use as a star witness immediately after he had been declared mentally impaired and before his own sentencing. Following his first confession of guilt on May 31, 1996, on June 27, 1996 Erdemovic was declared by his trial judges to be unfit for questioning in his own sentencing hearing because psychiatrists found him to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the doctors urging a pre-hearing review of his mental condition in six to nine months time. But on July 5, little more than a week after this medical report, Erdemovic was put forward as the star witness in a pre-trial hearing to publicize the current allegations against Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
This was a remarkable spectacle. The two accused had not been apprehended, so they were not present to defend themselves, nor were their attorneys. It was only the prosecutors and ICTY judges in action. The same judges who had just declared him mentally unfit for questioning in his own hearing now pushed him forward without any further medical examination. The presiding judge Claude Jorda explained that Erdemovic’s own trial and sentencing were postponed “because we have asked for some further medical information,” which suppresses the fact that the judgment of the doctors was that Erdemovic was “unfit to be questioned,” presumably not just in his own trial. But Jorda’s service to the political project runs deeper—he not only allows the Prosecutor to put on the stand a just-declared medically unfit person, and does this before this self-admitted murderer is sentenced, he even assures Erdemovic that his evidence as a witness for the prosecution “might be taken into consideration.” It was mainly on the basis of unverified and unchallenged (and unchallengeable) testimony of this sick man and mass killer still facing his own trial and sentencing, that arrest warrants were issued for Karadzic and Mladic.
What Erdemovic was prepared to do in service to the ICTY program was to help build the case that there was a line of command between himself and his co-murderers at Branjevo Farm and the Bosnian Serb high command, i.e., Karadzic and Mladic, and hopefully eventually Milosevic. He did this poorly, never showing those leaders’ involvement in or knowledge of this killing expedition, but mainly just asserting that its local commanders were under the authority of central Bosnian Serb headquarters. He claimed that immediate authority over the killing operation was held by Brano Gojkovic, a private in a team that also included a Lieutenant, and he mentions a mysterious and unnamed Lieutenant Colonel who took the unit to the killing site and then left. Erdemovic is not consistent on whether Pelermis ordered the killing or this unnamed Lieutenant Colonel. He also asserts that Colonel Petar Salpura, an intelligence officer of the Bosnian Serb army had direct command responsibility for the massacre. He vacillates on Gojkovic’s power, sometimes making him “commander” with great authority, sometimes merely serving as an intermediary. Erdemovic himself was allegedly without authority and coerced into killing, but Civikov makes a very good case that at that time Erdemovic was a sergeant, and that he had joined the team voluntarily. But he and a Lieutenant Franc Kos were supposedly bossed by private Gojkovic in this killing enterprise. This line of command is very messy!
Civikov shows that the prosecution and judges strove mightily and successfully to prevent any challenges to Erdemovic’s implausible and contradictory, and partly disprovable, claims about the line of command. This includes, importantly, their refusal to call before the court even one of those “little fish” co-murderers and higher commanders who might have clarified the facts. Instead of calling to the stand his boss, Lieutenant Pelermis, or Pelermis’s boss, Colonel Petar Salpura, the ICTY is happy to stop with “a psychologically disturbed and apparently demoted sergeant,” who makes the ties that this court is pursuing with undue diligence.
Erdemovic and a number of his colleagues in the .10th Sabotage Unit were clearly mercenaries, and after the ending of the Balkan wars served the French in
Except for these awkward witnesses, the prosecutors and judges were able to keep out of the court record the fact that the Erdemovic unit that went to the Branjevo Farm did so during a ten-day vacation leave, not during regular service hours. Erdemovic himself never mentioned this fact. They also successfully buried the fact that, according to an early interview with Erdemovic, he claimed that his colleagues received a large sum of gold, perhaps 12 kilos, for some kind of service rendered. This payment, which suggests mercenary service, and not payment by the Bosnian Serb army, was never explored by prosecutors or judges in any of the trials in which Erdemovic participated, and was only raised by Milosevic, who, as noted, was harshly limited in his questioning by Judge Richard May. The facts that members of the killing group were on leave on July 16, 1995, and later findings of a French secret service connection of Pelemis and several of his colleagues, and the subsequent recruitment of soldiers from the 10th Sabotage Unit for mercenary service in
The protection of Erdemovic and the notable ICTY-NATO success in getting his problematic testimony accepted as truth in five separate trials of Serbs owes much to the media, which in the United States and Britain raised no questions and swallowed the party line intact (for a case study, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Marlise Simons on the Yugoslavia Tribunal: A Study in Total Propaganda Service,” ZNet, 2004). This applied not just to the mainstream media but to the supposedly left and dissident media, with only
Germinal Civikov points out that killing 1,200 people in five hours, ten at a batch, as claimed by Erdemovic, would allow under three minutes for each batch, including getting them out of the buses, taking them to the shooting zone, shooting them, making sure of their being dead, and disposing of the bodies. There were also claimed interludes of drinking, arguing, and cavorting. Why did the prosecutors, judges and media never address this issue of timing? Why did the prosecutor sometimes speak of only “hundreds” killed at the Branjevo Farm? Could it be related to the fact that fewer than 200 bodies were recovered from the site, and no aerial photos were ever produced that showed body removal or reburial? Civikov says, “So something between 100 and 900? This lack of knowledge, incidentally, will not prevent the judges, several months later, from putting the figure of 1,200 in their judgment after all—mind you without any proof, then or now, apart from the accused’s own claim.” Once again, why did they not call any other perpetrator to discuss numbers?
One would love to know what the ICTY prosecutors and judges said behind the scenes in confronting Erdemovic’s numbers, lines of authority, role, lies and contradictions. Perhaps the ICTY insiders did discuss them, but they and the media have played dumb. A Wikileaks was, and still is today, desperately needed to deal with the Erdemovic/ICTY travesty—and in fact, a Wikileaks on the ICTY would wreak havoc in the trial of Karadzic and pursuit of Mladic. So will Civikov’s Srebrenica: The Star Witness if it gets the exposure that it deserves.