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Milosevic Puts NATO and the KLA on Trial Again as General Delic Testifies About the Jugoslav Army's Role in Kosovo

By Coalition for International Justice (CIJ)

As Slobodan Milosevic wrapped up his examination-in-chief of General Bozidar Delic, he resorted to a familiar tactic – blaming NATO as the real culprit responsible for death and destruction in Kosovo and claiming that his forces could not have committed war crimes since they strictly adhered to the rules of international law.  At certain times, Milosevic did adduce testimony from General Delic to chisel away at the specific testimony of certain prosecution witnesses in order to rebut charges that his forces committed war crimes.  However, by the end of another marathon examination, the Accused and his witness began hurling charges at NATO which varied from terrorizing the civilian population of Kosovo to polluting the environment through the use of depleted-uranium shells.  Delic commanded the 549th Motorized Brigade, which was on the front line against the KLA and bore a significant brunt of NATO bombing.

'What would you like to tell those who bombed you?'

To counter charges of mass deportations, General Delic testified that the reason why Kosovar Albanians fled en masse to Albania and Macedonia was fear of NATO bombs.  As evidence, he brought with him several video clips shot by RTS (the official SerbianState broadcasting agency) where refugees claimed they were escaping NATO bombing. After prompting by the interviewer, the refugees agreed that the Yugoslav Army had provided protection, food and water to those on their way to the border.  Delic presented footage of bombing victims as they lay in hospital, many with amputations and barely able to speak.  The interviewer asked who was responsible (answer, 'NATO') and did the Yugoslav Army help in providing rescue, treatment and other assistance? (answer 'yes').  

Another clip showed members of Delic's 549th Motorized Brigade assisting search and rescue efforts near Prizren – painting a picture of multi-ethnic cooperation as Albanian, Roma and Serbian fire-fighters, soldiers and policemen dug through rubble searching for survivors. 

One question asked by the RTS reporter of his interview subjects was, 'What would you like to tell those who bombed you?'  One victim replied, 'How could you bomb children?'  Generally speaking, evidence that NATO action compelled the flight of thousands of Kosovar Albanians might offer a possible alternative to a criminal plan to 'ethnically cleanse' Kosovo of its Albanian population.  However, grim footage of victims blaming NATO does not address the specific charges that Milosevic's forces, including Delic's troops, were responsible for particular murders of civilians in their zone of operation.  Also of irrelvant value was testimony by Delic that NATO's use of depleted uranium ordinace caused widespread pollution and health problems in Kosovo.  This questioning was cut off by the bench before being explored in any depth.

A 'Classical Example of Psychological Warfare'

An interesting tact by the defense was to introduce NATO leaflets dropped on Kosovo which were directed as Delic's troops.  One pictured a B-52 bomber and read 'thousands of bombs' – another showed an exploding truck and was labeled 'A terrible death.'  One leaflet even bore the name of General Delic.  These leaflets were designed to induce desertion by Delic's men, but General Delic testified that the massive volume of leafleting – nearly 1 per square meter throughout his area of operation meant that Kosovar civilians would also read them.  Such leafleting, the witness postulated, could just have easily induced the local civilian population to flee the area.

In any event, the trial chamber has heard enough evidence from previous witnesses that NATO prompted Kosovar Albanians to flee from their homes and such testimony was largely repetitive of what has already been stated.

Denials

Despite the tired and clichéd attacks on NATO, the defense did make somewhat of an effort at rebutting the specific testimony of certain prosecution witnesses.   The accused read from various parts of the indictment as well as from statements made by Prosecution witnesses.  General Delic flatly denied the allegations made, noting that he personally toured the village of Bela Crkva where there was 'no action' and 'no destruction.' (The indictment alleges that forces of the FRY and Serbia killed over 70 villagers there.)  When asked about the purported destruction of Celina village and subsequent looting, General Delic responded that pillage 'absolutely never happened' and was 'not something done in the army.'   The General acknowledged that fighting occurred in the village but stated that 'nothing criminal took place.' The indictment claims that Milosevic's forces 'systemically looted and pillaged everything of value from the hosues, set houses and shops on fire and destroyed the old mosque.'  In response to this charge Delic simply stated that 'religious buildings received special treatment because they enjoy special protection' under international humanitarian law – but also noted that 'this doesn't apply if they're used as a sniper's nest.' 

His forces did not help to expel Kosovar Albanians, Delic stated, rather they were protecting refugees who were voluntarily fleeing Kosovo and ensuring they would not wander into minefields.

Judge Robinson noted that Delic's denials sometimes pertained to areas where he was not present in.  Delic responded that he was in constant radio communication with his field commanders who were able to keep him amply informed.

Milosevic resorted to another old tactic with General Delic – attacking the literal wording of the indictment.  For instance, the charges state that thousands of Celina villagers fled to and hid in a nearby forest after Serbian forces shelled the village.  In response, General Delic described the surrounding hinterland as comprised of 'vineyards' and not a forest.  A Prosecution witness had claimed that in another village, residents fled to a mountain.  General Delic noted on a map that there were only rolling 'hills' in the area and no 'mountain.'   Milosevic is attempting to show that if basic descriptions of the environment are mischaracterized, the substance of the indictment should also be called into question.  There is a limit to how effective this could be – General Delic disputed the indictment's use of the term 'surrounded' – when referring to the Army forces surrounding a village and shelling it – his forces were closing in from the front and from another side, but this was not literally 'surrounding' on all sides he argued.  Ultimately, however, what will be important to the Trial Chamber are not the precise military flanking maneuvers employed (and whether the word 'surrounded' is the most accurate description), but what the conduct of the troops was in relation to the civilians in the village.

In an attempt to pre-empt a likely Prosecution attack on his credibility, Milosevic gave Delic an opportunity to deny the charges of protected Prosecution witnesses who served under him in the 549th Brigade and testified that Delic oversaw an attack on the village of Jeskovo and ordered his troops, 'Don't leave anyone alive.'   He stated that was 'utter nonsense.'

Milosevic takes a small cue from the bench

General Delic followed a familiar pattern of denying criminal activity by his forces.  When pointedly asked by Milosevic, 'Did any of our soldiers torch any houses?' Delic automatically replied, 'Absolutely not – this is prohibited in the strictest way.'  Delic echoed the line of reasoning enunciated by his MUP counterparts who denied that the Police had attacked civilians because the job of the police was to protect, not to harm civilians.  Anticipating the response of Bench which has found these rote answers that pointed to rules and regulations unhelpful as to what actually happened, Milosevic asked a snap follow-up: 'never mind that; did they or did they not torch houses?'  (which mimicked Judge Robinson's early question to the witness about whether VJ forces opened fire on KLA positions when civilians were present -  'never mind what the orders say, did [your troops] do it?'  The answer to both questions was of course 'no' but no follow-up support was given.  For instance, while it may be difficult to prove a negative (that FRY forces did not torch the houses) Delic could not demonstrate that the KLA or some other party was responsible for the arson.

How is this testimony relevant?

Judge Robinson attempted to summarize General Delic's testimony as indicative that FRY military forces were not operating in several of the areas where crimes were alleged to have occurred, or if they were present, they were conducting legitimate military operations to root out terrorists, never employing any more force than was absolutely necessary. 

General Delic acknowledged several occasions where some of his troops were known to have committed crimes against the civilian population. He noted that the perpetrators were arrested and court-martialed.  He produced the criminal investigation reports for several cases of rape and robbery but could not tell the bench whether the perpetrator was actually punished.   When presented with Prosecution evidence in the form of witness statements testifying that troops in his zone of operation had locked up civilians in a house, covered it with straw and petrol and set it on fire, General Delic testified that he passed through the village where this incident allegedly occurred and 'never saw anything unusual.'  Delic denied that such crimes could have happened without him hearing of them, 'I would have heard about this, my sub-commander would have heard about it and I didn't hear about this.'  General Delic stated that he tried to keep himself informed of everything that occurred in his zone of operation. A crime of that kind, he testified could simply not have occurred because of the mechanisms in place he said.   'If I didn't know about I, then the links of the chain of command were not working and that is impossible.'

So how does this evidence assist Mr. Milosevic?  What Milosevic is attempting to show is a pattern of law and order prevailing during wartime chaos: the activities of the military were part of a legitimate policy to fight terrorism and whenever troops got out of hand, they were arrested.  As Mr. Steven Kay, court-assigned counsel noted, 'contrary to the prosecutor's statement that this was a police state that he connived; he had a constitutional and factual due process state.'  Judge Robinson seemed to acknowledge this was the Defense case, describing the evidence as attempting to adduce a 'culture of due process.'

Judge Robinson also made it clear that the Bench wanted to hear evidence showing that perpetrators were actually punished.  Judge Robinson noted that merely proving their arrest would not discharge the accused's liability under Article 7(3) command responsibility and its duty to 'prevent or punish' the criminal acts of subordinates.  Delic failed to bring such evidence, noting that his duty was to arrest any of his wayward soldiers and that the judicial authorities took over from there.

While a pattern of military order might be adduced from General Delic's testimony, the pattern remains general and has rarely touched on the specific crimes alleged in the indictment. Milsoevic's best defense strategy is to show that where his forces knew of war crimes, investigations and arrests were carried out.   According to Milosevic, this is what occurred at the operational level in the field and what Delic's testimony is attempting to show.  Recall that General Delic claimed that all the links of the command chain were functioning – and he was informed as best he could be of events (including war crimes) in the field.  Milosevic's best defense is that if he is receiving reports of his troops being court-martialed for crimes against civilians, he could safely assume that the military justice machinery was in place and functioning and that if he did not hear of anything, there may have been nothing to report. 

Cross-examination began on Thursday and will continue next Monday, 11 July.

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