Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic Prosecution Sets Out Tactics

Prosecution reveals that it will rely on witnesses who knew Milosevic to prove his guilt for crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia.
By Mirko Klarin

Chief prosecutor, Geoffrey Nice, had a message for journalists as they assembled here last Thursday for the second phase of the Milosevic trial. In his opening address, he said they should not expect the prosecution to provide them sensational headlines – an apparent reference to media criticism of its earlier alleged failings during the Kosovo proceedings. "These proceedings…are not (conducted) to provide good copy for newspapers,” he chided reporters.


Fortunately, though, journalists can always rely on Milosevic. Nor did he disappoint them this time. In addition to his oft-repeated theories about the “global conspiracy against the Serbs” and description of himself as a “misunderstood peacemaker”, he came up with some new headline grabbing convictions.


There was his claim that the Srebrenica massacre resulted from a conspiracy organised by French intelligence; and his suggestion that it was hypocritical to regard him a criminal for giving the Bosnian Serbs weapons and not view the Pope in the same light for the Vatican’s arming the Croats.


Nice’s remarks are thought to have been prompted by unfavourable media reports of the prosecution’s performance during the Kosovo phase of the trial, when it was criticised for not producing a “smoking gun” or “key insiders”.


Some commentators joined Milosevic and his support committee, the ICDSM, to pronounce the failure of the prosecution case, but the former may have revised their views after hearing the recent opinion of the undoubted “insider” in the whole process, the amicus curiae, Michael Wladimiroff.


Wladimiroff was reported as telling a Dutch newspaper and a Bulgarian magazine in an interview that the prosecution had proved Milosevic's responsibility for most of the crimes in the Kosovo indictment – remarks that could cost the Dutch attorney his job.


Milosevic and the ICDSM were clearly unimpressed with this assessment, and at a press conference in The Hague last week six of the latter talked of the prosecution’s "fiasco", "collapse" and "debacle" and called for the “guarantor of peace in the Balkans” to be immediately allowed to return home “before it is too later”. The few reporters in attendance were not sure for whom it might be too late: the "guarantor" or for the peace itself?


Turning to the prosecution evidence in this second phase of the Milosevic trial, Nice revealed how his team would deal with the fact that politicians like the defendant when acting with criminal intent “don’t leave traces behind them. They don't leave paper trails. That is why, of course, this accused operated in that curiously empty office, dealing with individuals on a one-to-one basis, so that none of them knew what was being said to others".


To find out what was going on in this "curiously empty office", Nice intends to produce witnesses from several concentric circles of politicians, policemen and army commanders who surrounded the accused.


From the list of those belonging to the narrowest "inner circle" that at certain times was closest to the defendant, Nice revealed two names: the former Yugoslav head of state Zoran Lilic and President of Croatia Stipe Mesic. The latter was never "ideologically close" to Milosevic but in the key period of 1990-1991, when critical decisions on war and peace were made, was active in the highest echelons of government and new the defendant - then president of Serbia - well enough to testify first hand about his attitudes and moves.


The second, broader circle, includes other Milosevic associates, politicians, policemen or soldiers, who for different reasons, as Nice warned, "may not be inclined to tell the whole truth". In spite of this, the prosecution plans to invite them as witnesses, hoping they will be able to prove they lied under oath about the role and actions of the defendant, or their own activities, as in case of former head of Milosevic's secret police Radomir Markovic.


The third circle includes associates at middle or lower levels, whose “vision” of the defendant was " limited", Nice admitted, but could still "shed some light on the accused... and on the crimes that were committed".


The fourth or "outer circle" will include so-called crime base witnesses who will testify about the forces that committed the crimes, which "may be traceable by one route or another to the accused".


In conclusion, Nice said it was very important to understand that the “the hard and detailed work... of putting together pieces of evidence that will come from different sources... to provide but a small vision or view of the accused. It is, of course, the sum of those views that in due course will establish the guilt of this man".


In his opening statement, Milosevic remained faithful to the line he has stuck to since he arrived in The Hague. The proceedings were not directed against him but against "Serbia and the Serbian people". The Serbs were the greatest victims of the "global conspiracy” to break up Yugoslavia and the wars were caused by "fascism" in Croatia and "Islamic fundamentalism" in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Serbs were "only defending" themselves in these conflicts. Serbia and Montenegro did not take part in these "civil wars" but "kept fighting for peace" while he himself made "the greatest contribution" towards establishing peace.


But Milosevic added some new details to his well-rehearsed theories. First, he expanded the list of participants in the "joint criminal enterprise" against Serbia, Yugoslavia and him personally. In addition to the familiar list of Western powers and international organisations - the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Austria, NATO, UN and so on - Milosevic added the Vatican (because of its alleged role in arming Croatia), "the Jewish lobby" (which "satanised the Serbs" to "fend off the wrath of Islamic countries directed against Israel") and certain NGOs.


These included Medecins Sans Frontieres, Human Rights Watch and Women in Black - an association of mothers of fallen soldiers from Serbia - because they had all cooperated with tribunal investigators.


In addition, Milosevic took up some of the revisionist ideas about past events in Bosnia. The tribunal is already familiar with these ideas, as they were unsuccessfully used by the defense counsel of other accused men. One is the theory of the German journalist Thomas Deihman and the British magazine Living Marxism; that inmates filmed by a British ITN crew in August 1992 in Trnopolje camp were not surrounded by barbed wire, as TV pictures indicated; that the cameramen were in fact standing in an enclosure of barbed wire, with the inmates on the other side.


The defense lawyers of almost all those who’ve appeared at the tribunal accused of crimes committed in Prijedor camps - including those representing Dusko Tadic, for whom Deihman himself had appeared as a witness - vainly argued this point.


Milosevic also drew on all the available theories according to which the Muslims in Sarajevo "bombed themselves" in bread queues and marketplaces to present themselves as victims and force the international community to intervene. Such views will soon be tested at the tribunal, because they are also being used by the defense in the case of General Stanislav Galic, accused of the bombing of Sarajevo, whose presentation of evidence starts in October.


Milosevic’s biggest sensation in his opening statement concerned the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. The defendant said French intelligence in coordination with the Bosniak government in Sarajevo had organised the slaughter to "accuse the Serbs of genocide" and justify NATO’s armed intervention. The task was assigned to "mercenaries" from the Republika Srpska army but not under its actual command, which was why Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic "knew nothing about the plans for massacre and therefore could not prevent it".


Milosevic's version of events in Srebrenica received much publicity in the western media, but is by no means new. In December 2000, in the trial of General Radislav Krstic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Drina Corps, a military expert invited by the defense, Yugoslav general Radovan Radinovic, put forward the same version of events.


He fared poorly with the prosecution lampooning him and the trial chamber wholly dismissing his "expertise". Krstic was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica and sentenced to 46 years in prison. It remains to be seen whether Milosevic will have more success in proving the "French connection" in Srebrenica than General Radinovic, who used to be the military adviser of the former Yugoslav president Dobrica Cosic.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor at the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.