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Delic Prosecutors "Simplifying" Case

Former general’s lawyers say he cannot be held responsible for all of his subordinates’ crimes.
Defence lawyers for the former head of the Bosnian army began their case this week by arguing that their client could not be held responsible for all war crimes committed by lower-ranking officers.

General Rasim Delic is accused of failing to prevent or punish crimes men under his command carried out against Serb and Croat prisoners between 1993 and 1995. According to the indictment, he was aware of executions and mistreatment of detainees and neither stopped them nor punished those responsible.

According to the indictment, during one incident, foreign Muslim fighters known as mujahedin captured ten Serb soldiers and “hit the men with shovels, pieces of iron and police batons, shocked them with wires attached to a car battery and stamped on them”.

In his opening statement, defence lawyer Nicolas Robson said the prosecution case told a “simple story”.

Events on the ground and the command structure of the Bosnian army were much more complex than had been revealed thus far, he said, making it impossible to hold Delic responsible for the crimes.

“The prosecution would suggest that General Delic, as main staff commander, planned every combat operation and controlled every man,” Robson told the court.

“We will be asking you to dig beneath the surface of what is a superficial approach and ask, what was the reality of command?”

The indictment against Delic states that, as commander of the army, he was subordinate only to the Bosnian president. Prosecutors say he “was responsible for planning and directing all [Bosnian army] operations and for monitoring the activities of all subordinate officers and units to ensure that his orders were implemented”.

But Robson said the army would have ground to a halt if Delic had not delegated responsibility to commanders on the ground.

“When he became aware of issues relating to command and control, General Delic had the right to issue orders to his subordinates through the chain of command to solve those problems,” said Robson.

Robson said that corps commanders operated with high levels of autonomy, and insisted that the prosecution had yet to present evidence to “show exactly what the chain of command was from General Delic at the top, all the way down to his subordinate, the mujahedin fighter at the bottom”.

“If the judgment were to be delivered now, we believe that General Delic would be acquitted on all counts,” he said.

According to Delic defence witnesses, the different groups of foreign Muslim fighters were not part of the Bosnian army and even hindered its actions since they recruited as many people as possible and said only they served Muslim interests.

One witness appearing this week, Haso Ribo, the former commander of the Territorial Defence in Travnik, confirmed the defence assertion that the mujahedin saw the Bosnian army as a “communist creation” with inferior troops.

He went on to testify about a failed attempt by the commander of the Bosnian army 3rd corps to bring mujahedin fighters under his control.

He explained that he, as chief of operations for the 3rd corps, had demanded detailed information from every unit detailing their number of men, their reserves of ammunition and their combat readiness. However, the El Mujahed detachment, the mujahedin unit, failed to provide information.

“I never received this report. This report never came from the El Mujahed detachment,” he said.

The El Mujahed, he said, also refused to let him inspect their camp.

“They told us to turn around and leave and that we were not allowed access into the camp,” said Ribo, adding that the foreign volunteers would also refuse to join an operation if they did not want to.

The defence sought to show that Delic was not responsible for calling on mujahedin fighters in an operation to capture the Mount Ozren-Vozuca area from Serb forces in September 1995.

During this operation, which was known as Farz, El-Mujahed forces are alleged to have murdered and beaten Serb prisoners.

The charges against Delic state that he knew the Farz operation included mujahedin fighters.

But the witness told the court that although Delic had approved the attack, he gave no assignment to the El- Mujahed detachment.

Asked why this was the case he replied, “because the commander of the general staff did not engage in such minor matters as issuing orders at such a low level. He would issue orders to corps commands”.

Ribo, who was heavily involved in planning the operation, said that none of the records make any mention of the role to be played by the El-Mujahed detachment. He said this was because the latter fell under the 35th division, which issued its own commands. According to Ribo, they were accountable to the 35th division alone.

Ribo said the mujahedin unti was subordinated to the 35th division, a sub-sector of the 3rd Corps, on April 1, 1995.

“We had no reason to issue orders directly to the El- Mujahed detachment since they were under the 35th division and we would issue orders direct to the 35th division,” he told the court.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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