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Blaskic Trial: The Judge And The Key Defence Witness

Tribunal Update 99: Last Week in The Hague (26-31 October, 1998)

With Marin's help, the Defence first presented more than 200 documents intended to show everything that Blaskic did as commander of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in Central Bosnia, was to prevent the crimes he stands accused of. Blaskic is accused of attacks against Bosniak civilians in the towns and villages in the Lasva Valley.

Marin was later subject to a very methodical cross-examination by Prosecutor Gregory Kehoe. The judges will soon announce whether he succeeded in destroying the testimony, but if their questioning of him last week is representative, the judges appear none too impressed with Brigadier Marin.

Always rigorous in their questioning of witnesses, the judges of the Trial Chamber I (presiding Claude Jorda; Judges Fouad Riad and Mohamed Shahabuddeen), pushed Marin to explain numerous contradictions they noticed in his testimony.

The judges were also confused by the witness's assertion that Blaskic would give orders to the Vitezovi (Knights) Unit, one of the special units which, according to the statements of the witnesses, was involved in numerous crimes, but that he would do that only following "consultations" with its commander. It would appear that Marin was saying that Blaskic used to tell the commanders of Vitezovi what he wanted them to do, and if they agreed, he would issue the order. If not, Blaskic would back down.

When Marin said that Blaskic did not punish anyone for the crimes perpetrated in the zone of his responsibility and that investigations were not carried because the perpetrators were unknown, Judge Riad pointed out that "investigations are conducted exactly in order to trace down the perpetrators of a crime".

But Brigadier Marin stood firm. He again explained that the HVO then was still an army in making, that its members were either friendly towards one another, or were "kin" and that there was no chain of command. Orders were therefore not carried out and nobody could be held responsible for that.

In his testimony, Marin had explained that the Bosniak women and children were brought in front of the HVO Vitez Brigade Headquarters during the fighting in April 1993 in order "to be protected, because they couldn't go anywhere else." According to the Prosecutor, this amounted to the HVO using civilians as a human shield. Judge Shahabuddeen last week asked Brigadier Marin if that Headquarters was a military target and whether it could be targeted. Both questions Marin answered with a short "yes".

Presiding Judge Jorda, who in the cross-examination warned this witness several times not to avoid answers to the prosecutor's questions, asked Brigadier Marin if General Blaskic tried to warn General Milivoj Petkovic, HVO's overall commander, that Croatian units "might be committing crimes".

After the witness tried again to avoid a direct answer, pointing out that Blaskic "wrote various reports", Judge Jorda interrupted him: "I know that he wrote that winter was coming, that it would get cold, that he needed boots, blankets, etc. But did he write to him that a horrible war was waged, that crimes were being committed, as well as the fact that he feared that the HVO too committed crimes?"

Marin has maintained that he doesn't know of such a letter, but noted that Blaskic was present at a meeting between the HVO and the Bosnian Army commanders, mediated by Colonel Bob Stewart, commander of the British Battalion of UNPROFOR, and that at this occasion "everything was discussed". Thus, remarked Judge Jorda, "Blaskic was informed that crimes were being committed".

The witness again answered with a short "yes". This served as a cue for Judge Jorda to put his key question to the key witness for the Defence: "For three weeks you've been telling us that Blaskic was helpless. Did he ever tell you he wanted to leave the position of a commander whose orders were not obeyed?"

Marin replied that Blaskic never said that, at least not in his presence, but that he was certain that the situation in the Operation Zone Central Bosnia would have been "even worse if General Blaskic were not the commander".

After Brigadier Marin, the Defence brought in former British officer, Matthew Dundas Whatley, who at the time relevant to the indictment (the end of 1992 and the beginning of 1993) was liason officer of the British Battalion in Central Bosnia. His testimony was contrary to the testimonies of a great number of British officers and soldiers who appeared before the court as witnesses for the Prosecution in General Blaskic's trial.

Unlike them, Whatley maintained that the chain of command of the HVO was very loose, that it was a "peasants army" organised on a village by village territorial basis, and a very ill-disciplined one. Soldiers, he said, were loyal to local leaders, not to Blaskic as the commander of the zone, and they were not organised in a "militarily controlled structure." The orders were not carried out and armed gangs in HVO uniforms operated in Central Bosnia.

The Defence argues that Whatley is able to contest testimonies of other British officers and soldiers, given that he as a liaison officer, was in touch on daily basis with all sides and the HVO in particular.

In the cross-examination, Prosecutor Mark Harmon, first tried to contest some of Whatley's assertions by documents which point to the contrary, for instance, that training for new recruits was obligatory in the HVO or that there were secured lines of communication in Blaskic's headquarters. After that, Harmon moved on to discredit the witness. He stated that Whatley was fired from the British Army immediately after he completed his term in Bosnia.

The witness explained that this was due to "reduction in the number of soldiers". Harmon, however, asked whether by such testimony the former officer wanted to quit scores with former colleagues who stayed in the army.

Harmon also disclosed that the Prosecution too tried to bring Whatley to the Hague as its witness... but that he refused, explaining that he would not testify for either side "because he was often drunk." Whatley, however, said that this was true of most British officers who were in contact with the warring sides in Bosnia.

The cross-examination of this witness will resume this week.

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