Special Report: Srebrenica and the Politics of War Crimes – George Bogdanich, June 2005

Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis

Founded in 1972. Formerly Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily.

Volume XXIII, No. 62       Friday, June 17, 2005

© 2005, Global Information System, ISSA


Special Report: Srebrenica and the Politics of War Crimes


Analysis. By George Bogdanich1. 

Ten years of reflection since the end of the war in Bosnia should have provided ample time to put that conflict into proper historical perspective. But judging from a recently proposed, but politically skewed, US Congressional resolution, such is not the case. The resolution in question singles out and seriously inflates reported abuses by Bosnian Serb forces following the capture of Srebrenica in 1995, and conveniently ignores equally brutal and even larger military operations directed against the ethnic Serb civilian population, both before and after Srebrenica, in the UN protected areas of Western Slavonia and the Krajina. These brutal, ethnic cleansing attacks were conducted by Croatian forces armed, trained and logistically supported by the US.

In the autumn of 1995, former Deputy NATO Commander Charles Boyd, noted in Foreign Affairs that

“more than 90 percent of the Serbs of Western Slavonia were ethnically cleansed when Croatian troops overran that UN protected area in May …This operation appears to differ from Serbian actions around the UN safe areas of Srebrenica and Zepa only in the degree of Western hand-wringing and CNN footage the latter have elicited. Ethnic cleansing evokes condemnation only when it is committed by Serbs, not against them.”

Operation Flash, which took place a more than a month before Srebrenica, was a straight out attack on the civilian population – men, women and children – of a UN Protected Area (UNPA), directly authorized by US President Bill Clinton. “Many Serbs perished in heavy Croatian tank, artillery and aerial bombardments on Monday and Tuesday as they tried to flee southward toward the Sava River bridge into Bosnia,” wrote Roger Cohen of The New York Times, adding “The estimate of 450 Serbian dead given by Gojko Susak, the Croatian Defense Minister appears to be conservative.” Very conservative. Officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church put the number of murdered civilians in the thousands.

“By acquiescing to the Croatian Government’s seizure of Western Slavonia,” European Union envoy Lord David Owen, observed, “the [US-dominated] Contact Group had in effect given the green light to Bosnian Serbs to attack Srebrenica and Zepa.” Under existing UN resolutions, an attack on a safe area could be used to justify NATO intervention. This was a policy that the US used selectively, denying requests (including at least one from the UNPROFOR Commander in Sarajevo) to punish Muslim or Croatian violations, but urging NATO bombing when Bosnian Serbs responded to provocations out of “safe zones” that had never been demilitarized. UN Gen. Francis Briquemont wrote in 1994:

“The Bosnian Army attacks the Serbs from a Safe Area, the Serbs retaliate, mainly on the confrontation line, and the Bosnian Presidency accuses UNPROFOR of not protecting the them against Serb aggression and appeals for air strikes against the Serb gun positions”

In his book, Balkan Odyssey, Lord Owen makes it clear that the establishment of “safe area” by the Security Council, without demilitarizing them was “the worst decision of my time as Co-Chairman [of the International Conference on Yugoslavia]”. 

While extensive human rights abuses were documented on all sides throughout the conflict, it was the Muslim side, which used them best as a powerful weapon to gain sympathy from the international community. When Bosnian Foreign Minister Haris Silajdzic told a press conference in Sarajevo that “70,000 people” had been killed near Bihac in November of 1994, his demands for NATO air strikes received wide news coverage. UN investigators, however, later told BBC reporter John Simpson that “fewer than a thousand” people had been killed around Bihac, a battle which began when Muslim forces attacked the nearby Serb-held Grabez plateau, provoking a sustained counter-attack.

A recent video screened at the War Crimes Tribunal [International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia: ICTY] purportedly showed the execution of six Muslims by Serbian paramilitaries in Treskavica, and was being used, illogically, as “proof” of highly inflated estimates that the Bosnian Serb Army killed 7,000 Muslims following the capture of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia. If the Bosnian Serbs executed six Muslims, the “logic” goes (and the authenticity of the film is yet to be established), then Bosnian Serbs clearly executed 7,000 Muslims in their attack on Srebrenica.2

Meanwhile, for the first three years of the war in Bosnia, Srebrenica was the stronghold of Muslim warlord Naser Oric, who showed home video tapes of massacres his soldiers carried out against Serbian villages to The Washington Post reporter, John Pomfret, and Toronto Star reporter Bill Schiller. Schiller writes that Oric was “as bloodthirsty a warrior who ever crossed a battlefield” and recounts a visit to the warlord’s home in January 1994:

On a cold and snowy night, I sat in his room, watching a shocking video version of what might have been called Naser Oric’s Greatest Hits. There were burning buildings severed heads and people fleeing. Oric grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork. We ambushed them,” he said. The next sequence of dead bodies had been done in by explosives. ‘We launched those guys to the moon,’ he boasted. When a bullet-marked ghost town appeared without any visible bodies, Oric hastened to announce ‘we killed 114 Serbs there’. Later there were celebrations, with singers with wobbly voices, chanting his praises.

According to former UNPROFOR Commander Gen. Phillip Morillon, Nasir Oric “appeared to be respecting political instructions coming from the Presidency in Sarajevo”, an observation which is confirmed by Gen. Sefer Halilovic, Commander of Muslim Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. For several years early in the conflict, the Serbian population of Srebrenica and scores of nearby villages were ether killed or forced to flee because of Oric. On May 8, 1992, Oric’s forces assassinated Judge Goran Zekic President of the Serbian SDS Party in Srebrenica, triggering an exodus of 1,500 Serbs in Srebrenica. Scarcely a day went by without scorched earth attacks on nearby villages on towns and villages such as Bratunac, Sikirici, Konjevic Polje, Glogova, Zalazje, Fakovici, Loznica, Orlice, Biljaca, Crni Vhr, Milici, Kamenica, and Kravica. The massacre at Kravica, occurred on Orthodox Christmas Eve the Serbs’ most important holiday. Writing in the London based South Slav Journal, reporter Joan Phillips observed that by March 31, 1993, at least 1,200 Serbs had been killed and another 3,000 wounded by Oric’s forces. She added:

Today there are virtually no Serbs left in the entire Srebrenica municipality. Out of 9,300 Serbs who used to live there, less than 900 remain. Out of 11,500 Serbs who used to live in Bratunac municipality, more than 6,000 have fled. In the Srebrenica municipality, about 24 villages have been razed. The last major Serbian villages in the vicinity of Bratunac and Skelani were attacked and destroyed on January 7, 1993.

Why, then, despite massive and detailed evidence provided to the UN in 1993, did the Ad Hoc War Crimes Tribunal not indict Naser Oric until 2002, and even then, on relatively minor charges of “mistreating” prisoners. The systematic slaughter of the Serbian civilian population in the area west of the Drina River apparently did not qualify as a “crime against humanity”. 

By contrast, the quick decision to charge Bosnian Serb leaders with “genocide” after the capture of Srebrenica reflected political correctness by the Tribunal, whose staff had been largely appointed by Madeleine Albright, then serving as US Ambassador to the UN. Meanwhile, a soon-to-be-released report by the Srebrenica Research Group, a group of journalists and academic researchers led by University of Pennsylvania Professor Ed Herman, raises serious doubts about the official version of events at Srebrenica, including bias, inflated casualty numbers, and dubious methodology used to justify estimates that were made before investigations had even begun. 

Significantly, the portrayal of events at Srebrenica, is also challenged by senior UN and NATO officials on the scene in Bosnia. These include, as noted previously, NATO’s Deputy Commander Charles Boyd, who was NATO’s Director of Intelligence; Lt.-Col. John Sray; UN Civilian Affairs Coordinator Phillip Corwin; and Carlos Martins Branco, UNMO (UN Military Observer) Deputy Chief of Operations of the UNPF (United Nations Population Fund), who debriefed UN military observers posted to Srebrenica. Corwin, the most senior UN civilian official in Bosnia at the time of the capture of Srebrenica, and the author of Dubious Mandate, a personal account of the last year of the war, states that the official version of events at Srebrenica has been a “campaign of disinformation that has all but buried the facts along with the bodies”. 

Branco, a Portugese UN military official states that casualty estimates of 7,000 have been “used and manipulated for propaganda purposes.” He wrote in 1998 that “there is little doubt that at least 2,000 Bosnian Muslims died in fighting the better trained and better commanded BSA [Bosnian Serb Army]” in three years of fierce fighting. This is roughly the number of bodies (2,028) which were exhumed by the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the region by the year 2001. Many, perhaps most, of these deaths occurred before the fall of Srebrenica, according to Branco.

Preparing a Sacrifice

The question is why? Why did the Bosnian Government in Sarajevo withdraw 18 top officers of the 28th Division of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, including its top officers, including Naser Oric and Zulfo Tursunovic, only a month before the fall of Srebrenica, supposedly for training exercises in Zenica? Why did the Muslim military command in Sarajevo order the remaining, nearly leaderless 28th division in Srebrenica to mount a meaningless attack on the strategically unimportant Serb village of Visnica just days before the Serbs captured Srebrenica? Was it to provoke a Serbian counter-response, as had occurred repeatedly in other safe areas?

In testimony at The Hague, Gen. Sefer Halilovic, commander of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina acknowledged that “there were a large number of orders for sabotage operations from the safe areas”. He also confirmed that 5,500 members of the 28th Division were based in Srebrenica, before its capture and that he had sent eight helicopter loads of ammunition to Srebrenica and Zepa, from Tuzla, in violation of the demilitarization agreement. (The US Government violated its own arms embargo by flying tons of military equipment including stinger missiles to Muslim forces through secret C-130 flights to Tuzla airport at night.) Significantly, Halilovic also acknowledged that Srebrenica, was captured by a small force of only 200 Serb soldiers (“chetniks”), supported by five tanks. 

Yet Dutch military observers told The New York Times that the much larger Muslim force simply fled along with most military age males in the two days before the Serbs entered to take the nearly empty town on June 11, 1995. Women, children and elderly men, meanwhile, fled to nearby Potocari, where negotiations resulted in UN supervised safe passage for civilians to Muslim-held Tuzla, in buses provided by the Bosnian Serbs. 

British military analyst Tim Ripley writes that prior to its capture, Dutch troops “saw Bosnian troops escaping from Srebrenica move past their observation points carrying brand new anti-tank weapons. This and other similar reports made many UN officers and international journalists suspicious.” Carlos Martins Branco writes that “Muslim forces did not even try to take advantage of their heavy artillery, under control of the United Nations (UN) forces at a time in which they had every reason to do so … Military resistance would jeopardize the image of ‘victim’, which had been so carefully constructed, and which the Muslims considered vital to maintain.”

Was Srebrenica sacrificed by the leadership in Sarajevo in order to draw in NATO intervention on behalf of the Muslim side? That is the opinion of Ibran Mustafic head of the ruling party (SDA) in Srebrenica as well as his antagonist, Hakija Meholic, who served as police chief under Naser Oric. Mustafic later told Slobodna Bosna that orders from Sarajevo to attack the Bosnian Serb army in early July 1995 were part of a deliberate strategy to promote Western intervention:

The scenario for the betrayal of Srebrenica was consciously prepared. Unfortunately, the Bosnian Presidency and the Army command were involved in this business…Had I received orders to attack the Serb army from the demilitarized zone, I would have rejected to carry out that order without thinking, and would have asked the person who had issued that order to bring his family to Srebrenica, so that I can give him a gun and let him stage attacks from the demilitarized zone. I knew that such shameful, calculated moves were leading my people to catastrophe. The order came from Sarajevo.

A UN report “The Fall of Srebrenica”, issued in 1999 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan denied that a US sponsored deal had been struck to exchange Srebrenica and other eastern Bosnia enclaves for Serb held Vogosca near Sarajevo. In fact, however, this exchange became a key goal of US policy as early as 1993, according to Branco:

[then US Ambassador to the UN] Madeleine Albright suggested this exchange on numerous occasions to [Bosnian President Alija] Izetbegovic, based on proposals of the Contact Group. The truth is that both the Americans and President Izetbegovic had tacitly agreed that it make no sense to insist on maintaining these isolated enclaves in a divided Bosnia. … In 1995, the month before military operations in Srebrenica, Alexander Vershbow, Special Assistant to President Clinton stated that ‘American should encourage the Bosnians to think in terms of territories with greater coherence and compactness.

The problem for Alija Izetbegovic was that he felt he could not publicly acknowledge these discussions or he would lose the hardline support which had brought him to power.

In an interview with the Bosnian Muslim publication Dani, Hakija Meholic, the police chief of Srebrenica, recalled that at the Bosniak conference in Sarajevo in September 1993, Izetbegovic claimed to have discussed various scenarios for Srebrenica with President Clinton. According to Meholic, an ally of Naser Oric:

We were received there by President Izetbegovic, and immediately after the welcome he asked us: “What do you think about the swap of Srebrenica for Vogosca?” There was a silence for a while and then I said: “Mr President, if this is a done thing, then you should not have invited us here, because we have to return and face the people and personally accept the burden of that decision.” Then he said: “You know, I was offered by [US Pres. William] Clinton in April 1993 that the Chetnik [derisory term used for Serbs] forces enter Srebrenica, carry out a slaughter of 5,000 Muslims, and then there will be a military intervention.”

Meholic also recounted this incident for a Dutch documentary. Pres. Izetbegovic was later questioned about the incident by UN investigators and denied he made the statement regarding his discussion with Pres. Clinton. While there is no way to confirm that President Clinton actually made such a proposal to Izetbegovic, however hypothetical, there were at least eight surviving witnesses to confirm what Izetbegovic told the Srebrenica delegation. Nor would it have been out of character for Izetbegovic to approve a plan which would sacrifice lives of his citizens for the cause, or to inflate the number of casualties for propaganda purposes.

Shortly before his death in 2003, Izetbegovic confessed to Bernard Kouchner, of the Physicians Without Borders humanitarian organization and former US envoy Richard Holbrooke, that during the war he had falsely accused the Serbs of running “extermination camps”, according to a recent book by Kouchner. During the Bosnian war, all sides — Muslim, Croat and Serb — ran POW camps which were visited and criticized by the International Committee of the Red Cross. “There were no extermination camps, whatever the horror of those places,” Izetbegovic acknowledged to Kouchner and Holbrooke. “I thought my revelations would precipitate bombing [against Serbs].”

“Holocaust comparisons evoke powerful feelings and images, but in this case exist only in the fertile imaginations of media sound bite writers,” wrote US military analyst Lt.-Col. John Sray. “Popular perceptions pertaining to the Bosnian Muslim Government (Bosniaks as they prefer to be called) have been forged by a prolific propaganda machine … which includes public relations (PR) firms in the employ of the Bosniaks, media pundits and sympathetic elements of the US State Department.” By the summer of 1995 “the advocacy rhetoric regarding the Bosnian Muslim government in Sarajevo finally grew sufficiently deafening enough to dupe NATO into prosecuting the civil war against the Bosnian Serbs”.

On July 9, 1995, two days before the Bosnian Serbs captured the city, Pres. Izetbegovic called on Pres. Clinton to prevent “terrorism and genocide” at Srebrenica. On July 24, 1995, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Henry Wieland, whose team had spent five days interviewing scores of refugees among 20,000 Srebrenica survivors gathered at the Tuzla airport, told the London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph: “We have not found anyone who saw with their own eyes an atrocity taking place.” 

Indict Now, Investigate Later

Just three days later, however, indictments of Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb Pres. Karadzic for genocide were announced by the War Crimes Tribunal, whose Chief Judge, Antonio Cassesse, of the Tribunal, casting any pretence of objectivity aside, called them “a great political result … The indictment means that these gentlemen [Mladic and Karadzic] will not be able to take part in peace negotiations.” The Boston Globe reported the same day: “The Clinton Administration has not obtained independent confirmation of atrocities [at Srebrenica], but does not doubt that they have occurred … ‘The bottom line is these guys have been indicted as war criminals,’ said a State Department spokesman.” 

“I realized that the War Crimes Tribunal was a very valuable tool,” Richard Holbrooke told the BBC. “We used it to keep the two most wanted war criminals in Europe out of the Dayton process and we used it to justify everything that followed.” What followed, was Operation Deliberate Force, a US-led NATO bombing campaign which had clearly been planned well in advance against Bosnian Serb targets in Vogosca and near Gorazde. “We have become the Muslim Air Force,” a US officer told former New York Times reporter David Binder. Less than a week later, Operation Storm was launched, when US-backed Croatian forces, attacked on all fronts against the Serbian civilian population of the Krajina region, driving 200,000 ethnic Serbs from their homes and then methodically killing the mostly elderly population who were unable to flee. 

Operation Storm was, by all accounts, the largest ethnic cleansing operation to date in the former Yugoslavia. In violation of UN Security Council resolutions, but with strong US support and planning, the Croatian Army then entered into Bosnia and launched a joint ethnic cleansing operation with Muslim forces against Serb inhabited territories in western Bosnia which displaced another 100,000 ethnic Serb civilians. In To End a War, Richard Holbrooke’s self-serving account of this period, the former US envoy boasts that he even advised Croat Muslim forces on specific Serbian towns to attack in Western Bosnia.

Was there “Genocide” at Srebrenica?

Unlike US-supported attacks by Croatian troops on Serb-inhabited UN Protected Zones (Western Slavonia and the Krajina), the Bosnian Serb Army’s capture of Srebrenica was a predictable response to military provocations. Unlike the Croatian operations Flash and Storm, the Bosnian Serbs helped arrange a massive safe passage operation to Tuzla for thousands of Srebrenica residents who chose to leave from nearby Potocari where the buses were deployed. By the first week of August 1995, 35,632 people had registered with the World Health Organization and Bosnian Government as displaced persons, survivors of Srebrenica. If the goal of the Serbs had been genocide, or even an act of genocide, there would have been no safe passage for the civilian population. According to Carlos Martins Branco, “if there had been a premeditated plan of genocide, instead of attacking in only one direction, from the south to the north – which left the possibility of escape to the north, the Serbs would have established a siege in order to ensure that no-one escaped.” 

The premise that Serbian forces executed 7,000 to 8,000 people “was never a possibility,” according to former BBC journalist Jonathan Rooper, who has investigated the events that followed the capture of Srebrenica on site and through official records over many years, and whose findings are presented in the upcoming report of the Srebrenica Research Group. He points out that numerous contemporary accounts noted that UN and other independent observers had witnessed fierce battles as the Muslim 28th Division and military age men accompanied them.

The official numbers provided also preclude the possibility of such a large number of executions. In addition to the 35,632 registered survivors, the International Committee of the Red Cross observed that “several thousand men,” (at least 3,000) who fled from Srebrenica with the 28th Division had survived the harrowing journey across Serb held territory and were redeployed to fight elsewhere “without their families being informed.” Dutch military observers and British SAS intelligence officers in Srebrenica witnessed a bitter battle between Muslim factions, before the Serbs entered the town. These observers say that the clash between Muslim men who wanted to stay and defend the town and those who followed orders to evacuate, left about 100 were killed and their bodies were left where they had fallen. Some 700 Muslim soldiers from Srebrenica made their way to Zepa, emerging safely when that town fell to the Serbs during the last week of July 1995.

“Taking all these factors together, in order for 7,300 people from Srebrenica to have been massacred, the population of the safe area before it fell to the Serbs, would have had to be well over 46,000 – a figure far in excess of any credible figure put forward at the time,” Rooper reports. Patricia Wald, one of the Tribunal Judges who convicted Bosnian Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic of crimes at Srebrenica, wrote an article on the case for Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics in 2003 where she states that “prior to the attack, Srebrenica was a village of some 37,000 inhabitants”.

“Judge Wald was apparently supremely unaware that her own figure made it impossible for the crimes for which Krstic was convicted to have taken place,” Rooper states. According to Michael Mandel, Professor of International law at York University in Toronto 

The Tribunal’s claim genocide occurred at Srebrenica was not supported by the facts it found or by the law it cited. Even the trial chamber’s conclusion that ‘Bosnian Serb forces executed several thousand Bosnian Muslim men [with the] total number of victims … likely to be within the range of 7,000 to 8,000 was not supported by its specific findings.

Mandel notes that Tribunal only ‘suggested’, rather than proved, that the majority of (2,028) bodies actually exhumed by the ICTY had been killed in executions rather than in the many battle reported between Bosnian Serb forces and the Muslim 28th Division column retreating toward Tuzla after the capture of Srebrenica. Internationally respected military forensic specialist Dr Zoran Stankovic, who reviewed the findings of the six experts employed by the Tribunal wrote that the effort lacked standard procedures, several of experts also lacked familiarity with wounds inflicted by military ordinance and some parts of the reports are “contrary to the generally acceptable forensic standards”.

According to Dr Stankovic, many of the bodies exhumed from 17 gravesites were found in an advance state of decay “skeletonized, disarticulated and decomposed” lacking soft tissue and body parts that could help determine the cause of death. “Ascertainment of the cause of death in the cases of decomposed bodies is generally extremely difficult and in most cases impossible…It is not allowed that [ICTY] experts provide their opinion in that regard and put forward the assumption having no grounds in autopsy findings.” 

Some executions did take place at the hands of paramilitaries and a mercenary group led by Drazen Erdemovic, who was arrested in Novi Sad, Serbia, and turned over to The Hague in 1996. Between 200 and 300 blindfolds and ligatures were exhumed with bodies by the ICTY, and as Dr. Stankovic notes, these are sure signs of execution. “It is a crime, whether it is 300 or 30 or three persons killed in this way, but using a false number such as 7,000 and calling it “genocide” indicates that Srebrenica is still being used 10 years later as a political issue,” says Phillip Corwin, the former UN Civilian Affairs Coordinator in Bosnia when Srebrenica was captured. 

False Witnesses, Unreliable Testimonies 

But other reports of massacres came from a handful of individuals close to Naser Oric, including his cousin, Mevludin Oric, whose claims to being eyewitnesses to such events, were repeatedly undermined by contradictory accounts given to different reporters. One witness, Smail Hodzic, told Alexandra Stiglmayer of Die Woche that he had been captured and taken to “a basketball stadium near Bratuanac” and taken to “a large field not far from a forest”. Hodzic, however told another reporter Roy Gutman, that he had been held in a soccer stadium in Nova Kasaba, but then, he and others were moved to be killed, “probably in a town called Grbavce”. In a third interview with Aida Cerkez of the Associated Press, Hodzic now claimed that he went through the same experience as Mevludin Oric, this time being held in “a school in Krizevci”, before being taken for execution not far from Karakaj. 

Several of these alleged eyewitnesses told reporter Louise Branson of The Sunday Times and Robert Block of The Independent contradictory stories, that thousands were executed, either at a school in one version, or at a nearby sports complex. Human Rights Watch, which acknowledged it had not been able to trace survivors of such crimes, called for “more detailed investigations.” However, Dutch UN officer Captain Shouten, who was the only UN officer in Bratunac during the period when this bloodbath was alleged, told the Dutch newspaper Het Parool on July 27

“Everybody is parroting everybody, but nobody shows hard evidence. I notice that in the Netherlands people want to prove at all costs that genocide has been committed. … If executions have taken place, the Serbs have been hiding it damn well. Thus, I don’t believe any of it. The day after the collapse of Srebrenica, July 13, I arrived in Bratunac and stayed there for eight days. I was able to go wherever I wanted to. I was granted all possible assistance; nowhere was I stopped”

The trial of General Radislav Krstic, demonstrated, that faced with years of prison, Serbs were equally capable as their Muslim counterparts of providing false testimony used to prop up the official version of events at Srebrenica. During the trial, a Serbian military officer named Momir Nikolic claimed that he had supervised the massacre of more than a thousand Bosnian Muslims at a warehouse in Kravica, but under cross examination, by defense lawyer Michael Karnavas, Nikolic admitted that he not only didn’t give the order; he wasn’t even present. 

“You needed to give him [the prosecutor] something he did not have, right?” said defense attorney Michael Karnavas. “You wanted to limit your time of imprisonment to 20 years, that was part of the arrangement, yes? Quid pro quo?” 

“I did not tell the truth when I said that,” Nikolic admitted. “I lied.”

The key witness used by the Tribunal to support the contention that Bosnian Serb leaders ordered executions at Srebrenica, was Drazen Erdemovic, leader of a mercenary group who was arrested in Serbia in 1996 after he was injured in a drunken shooting incident involving another member of his group. For myriad reasons, it would be hard to find a less reliable witness than Erdemovic, an ethnic Croat from Tuzla, who claims to have fought previously at various times for the Army of Bosnia Hercegovina and the Bosnian Croat HVO.

Erdemovic claims that his group of eight was ordered to execute Muslims at Branjevo military farm near Pilica by a Lt.-Colonel, but this officer is never identified. Erdemovic states that members of his group had been paid 12 kilos of gold, but was not able to remember who provided the funds. Anxious to use his testimony, but unwilling to expose him to cross examination, the Tribunal concluded on June 27 that Erdemovic’s mental condition did not permit his standing trial.

Yet, based on a plea bargain with prosecutors, Erdemovic was allowed to participate in the farcical Rule 61 hearings later that year against Bosnian Serb leaders Karadzic and Mladic, a trial-by-media procedure which allowed uncorroborated testimony to be provided without cross examination. Legal experts were scathing about the procedure. The BBC called it a “circus,” but Chief Judge Cassesse, said “I am relying on the pressure of public opinion” to justify indictments against Serbian leaders.

Erdemovic who, like Nikolic, had admitted to terrible crimes, received a very light sentence of five years and was not required to serve out even the full term because of the “significant cooperation that has been provided to the Office of the Prosecutor”. None of the prosecutors office apparently wished to ask, why, if they had any interest in carrying out summary executions, would the Serb High Command entrust such a mission to a mentally unstable Bosnian Croat, who had fought previously with Muslim forces and the Croatian HVO? Eventually, Erdemovic’s former partners-in-crime were reported serving as mercenaries in the Congo on behalf of French intelligence.

“Few outside Serbdom would object to Karadzic and Mladic being put on trial,” observed former UN Assistant Secretary-General Cedric Thornberry in the Summer of 1996 in Foreign Policy. “But is it likely, given their near universal demonization and the high places from which they have been denounced and condemned, that they could receive a fair trial?” Thornberry asserted that Judge Cassesse and others on the Tribunal had “stretched their judicial role,” by calling for political action. “Crusading and judging are two different (and incompatible) occupations,” he noted and warned that “the court could leave a poisoned legacy.”  Columnist George Szamuely, also with the Srebrenica Research Group, writes that the ICTY 

“is a kind of Nuremburg in reverse. The principle that was supposed to have been enshrined by the post World War II war crimes trials – that carrying out the orders of superiors is no defense – has been turned on its head. The ICTY declares that lowly soldiers that committed war crimes were really not responsible for their acts, because they were only carrying out orders of their superiors. And what is the evidence that they were carrying out orders? Well it stands to reason that they wouldn’t have done what they did, had they not been ordered to do so. 

When the 1968 My Lai massacre was revealed during the Vietnam War, convictions at the never reached higher than Lt. William Calley and Capt. Ernest Medina (although there were courts martial held at Ft. Meade in 1970-71 for everyone up to the division commander). No one of higher rank than Specialist Charles Graner Jr. and Pfc. Lynndie England has been charged in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Yet, because the US, and a US-dominated NATO eventually took sides in the Bosnian civil war, not only were the scope of crimes greatly inflated, but responsibility for these abuses was placed on Serb leaders, without evidence they had ordered or approved of them.

The failure to condemn and prosecute a similar military operation by Croatian forces in Western Slavonia that preceded the capture of Srebrenica, and a much larger “scorched earth” operation driving out 200,000 Serbs out of the Krajina, shows a marked discrepancy in comparative moral standards. The ICTY moved haltingly and reluctantly moved prosecute mid-level Croatian military officials involved in Operations Storm and Flash, but because of US support for these war crimes, indictments did not reach any higher, nor was there serious consideration of prosecuting Americans involved in the operation. The Pentagon has refused to turn over satellite photos. But a recent article in Croatian Nacional Magazine, by Ivo Pukanic, asserts that US Pres. Clinton was personally involved in military arrangements for these attacks on civilians in UN Protected Areas.

The United States not only monitored the complete Operation Storm, but they also actively participated with the Croatian Military in its preparation, and in the end directly initiated the operation. The green light from the White House and then-President Clinton for Operation Storm was passed on by Colonel Richard C. Herrick, then US military attaché in Zagreb.

Senior UN official Cedric Thornberry holds no particular brief for the Serbs, whom he accuses of shelling him out of several different residences in Sarajevo, but he expressed dismay at the bias, which impeded a solution to the war in Bosnia. “By early 1993, a consensus developed –- especially in the United States, but also in some West European countries and prominently in parts of the international liberal media — that the Serbs were the only villains, all through Yugoslavia, and that the victims were overwhelmingly or even exclusively the Croats and Muslims. This view did not correspond to the perceptions of successive senior UN personnel in touch with daily events throughout the area; as a kindly soul at the UN headquarters in New York, ear to the diplomatic grapevine, warned me, take cover – the fix is on.”  Whether the US Congressional Resolution on Srebrenica passes in its present form, without mentioning or condemning well-documented and comparable abuses by Muslims and Croats, should indicate if the “fix” is still on.



1. George Bogdanich is part of the Srebrenica Research Group which is led by author Ed Herman of the University of Pennsylvania; Herman is co-editor with Phil Hammond of a series of essays called Degraded Capability: The Media and Kosovo Crisis. Others in the group include former BBC Journalist Jonathan Rooper, former New York Press columnist George Szamuely, Diana Johnstone, author of Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia NATO and Western Delusions, international law professor Michael Mandel of York University in Toronto, author Phil Hammond, researchers David Peterson of the US, Tim Fenton of London, George Pumphrey of Germany, Dr Milan Bulajic, former Director of the Museum Genocide and Belgrade Professor Vera Vratusa. Mr Bogdanich has also written about the Balkans for various publications including The Chicago Tribune. He was co-producer of Yugoslavia The Avoidable War, with German television reporter Martin Lettmayer.



2. Editor’s Note: Not only is the logic faulty, the motivation behind showing the video at the ICTY was clearly questionable. While showing the highly-inflammatory and graphic imagery in that video, the ICTY refused earlier to show video footage of the 505th Buzim Brigade of the Bosnian [Muslim] Government army showing heaps of mutilated bodies, torched villages and the beheading of a Serb soldier, Ensign Rade Rogic. The ICTY said that the footage was too brutal to show. As a result of the showing of the video highlighting alleged Bosnian Serb atrocities — which resulted in the arrest of at least 12 of the Serbs in the unit involved — the Belgrade newspaper, Vecernje Novosti published a picture a week later, on June 15, 2005, showing the beheading of  Ensign Rogic from Sanski Most.