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Delic Trial: Judge Accuses Witness of Cover-Up

Prosecution witness accused of intentionally hiding evidence of crimes allegedly committed by the mujahedin in 1993.
By Daniel Barron
Tensions ran high this week in the trial of former Bosnian army general Rasim Delic, culminating in accusations of an apparent murder cover-up by Bosnian army staff.

The first witness to testify this week was Osman Fusko, a former security officer in the 306th Mountain Brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH. According to Fusko, his position entailed both military police and staff security duties.

Like all of the other prosecution witnesses so far, Fusko spoke of both the general chaos that characterised the ABiH during the Bosnian war and the army’s inability to control the mujahedin, a group of mostly Arab volunteer fighters.

Delic is charged with failing to punish members of the mujahedin for committing a series of war crimes, including murder and rape, between 1993 and 1995.

Fusko told the court that it had been impossible to investigate or prosecute crimes allegedly committed by the mujahedin because they were “beyond anybody’s control”.

When asked by Judge Frederik Harhoff whether the mujahedin had their own internal system of discipline, Fusko replied that he couldn’t answer the question, as it had been “impossible to establish any contact with them at any time”.

Fusko also claimed that the local judiciary was unsupportive of efforts to prosecute even members of the ARBiH. He read from a report he had written in 1993, which stated that fighters “often” broke the law, knowing that the judiciary didn’t function, and that “not a single judgement or sentence” had been passed in response.

However, under sharp questioning by Presiding Judge Bakone Moloto, Fusko admitted that most of the reports he filed with the local judiciary were rejected due to lack of valid evidence and unprofessional writing, and that the blame for the inaction therefore lay with him and his staff, rather than with the judiciary.

Fusko had earlier testified that neither he, nor the brigade’s lawyer, Haris Jusic, had any police training or investigative experience. Furthermore, he added, the entire brigade had only 20 military police officers.

The report Fusko wrote also said, “Every day fighters from our brigade apply to join either [the mujahedin] or some other unit”.

In response to questioning from Judge Flavia Lattanzi, Fusko explained that he had been unable to exercise “coercive power” over the mujahedin despite the army’s superior numbers because all the mujahedin were armed, whereas in the poorly-equipped Bosnian army, three men would often share one gun.

During cross-examination, Fusko said that in order to retrieve the ABiH soldiers who had joined the mujahedin, the 306th Brigade would have to open a “third front,” in addition to their conflicts with the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, and the Bosnian Serb army.

Asked whether it was possible that the 306th Brigade had retroactively accepted soldiers leaving to join the mujahedin, Fusko replied that people eventually “stopped talking about getting them back”, but that he was unsure if the moves had ever formally been approved.

Judge Lattanzi also asked Fusko whether, given that the political authorities in Bosnia were aware of the presence of foreign mujahedin in the country, he thought that their presence was legal. He answered that he didn’t think the mujahedin “were our benefactors” because of “how they behaved”, and that since their presence had not been covered by any order, he did not believe it had been authorised.

Much of the proceedings concerned events that occurred on June 8, 1993, when, according to the indictment against Delic, mujahedin murdered between 35 and 40 Croat civilians and captured HVO fighters following an attack by the ABiH on the village of Maline.

However, in a report dated October 19, 1993, which Fusko wrote and sent to the leadership of the 3rd Corps, the witness simply said that 25 Croats had been killed during combat action, and noted where they had been buried. Fusko testified that he wrote the report on the instructions of his immediate superior, assistant commander Asim Delalic.

During cross-examination, defence counsel Vasvija Vidovic put it to Fusko that Delalic’s instructions had related mostly to the assertion that members of the ABiH had not been involved in the massacre, with which Fusko agreed.

This led to a series of questions from the bench about the content of the report Fusko wrote. Judges questioned him about why – if he knew from Delalic that the ABiH had not been involved – this fact was not mentioned in the report; why he did not allude to the alleged involvement of mujahedin forces; and why in fact he did not say the deaths were a criminal action rather than the result of combat.

Fusko replied repeatedly that he had followed strict orders from Delalic as to what he should write.

He also testified that he himself had never undertaken any investigation or personally seen any evidence concerning the events in question.

At one point, Judge Harhoff told Fusko that anyone reading the report would assume that nothing had gone wrong, which stood in direct contradiction to Fusko’s own testimony that crimes had been committed. “I cannot help thinking that this was a cover-up. This was written to hide the truth,” concluded Harhoff.

Harhoff then inquired why Fusko and Delalic had concealed the fact that crimes had been committed from the leadership of the 3rd Corps when they knew what had actually happened.

“Why was it important not to tell the truth here?” asked Harhoff. Fusko replied simply that there had been no cover-up.

Pressed to explain why the fact that the mujahedin had committed murder and that the ABiH had not been involved was omitted from his report, Fusko again denied allegations of a cover-up, saying, “The army did not commit anything.”

Later, Harhoff referred to a letter that Fusko had written to his immediate superior command group, on August 26, 1993, in which he reported an arson committed by the mujahedin, and complained that he had repeatedly complained about the problems the 306th Brigade was having with the mujahedin but received no response.

Why, Harhoff wanted to know, had Fusko protested against an act of arson by the mujahedin so vigorously, and then two months later appeared to remain silent when confronted with a possible massacre by the mujahedin. “Why did you react so differently?” asked Harhoff.

In response, Fusko reiterated the position to which he had repeatedly testified - that he had simply followed strict orders from Delalic as to how to draft the report.

“I don’t have any special answer to give. I was just following orders,” said Fusko.

However, in his final statement - a response to a question from Vidovic - Fusko conceded that Delalic and his superiors could have received instructions to which he was not privy.

Daniel Barron is an IWPR reporter in London.

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