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Cablegate: Croatian General Convicted of War Crimes, Another General

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0410/01 1551108
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031108Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8354
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ZAGREB 000410

DEPT FOR EUR/SCE HOH AND BALIAN
DEPT FOR S/WCI WILLIAMSON
DEPT FOR INR/MORIN
NSC FOR BRAUN

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KAWC ICTY PREL PGOV HR
SUBJECT: CROATIAN GENERAL CONVICTED OF WAR CRIMES, ANOTHER GENERAL
ACQUITTED

REF: (A) Zagreb 121 (B) 2007 Zagreb 1000 (C) 2007 Zagreb 853

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On 30 May, Zagreb's County Court returned verdicts
against Croatian generals Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac, the
highest-ranking Croatian military officers to be tried for war
crimes in domestic courts. Both men were accused of commanding
troops who killed 28 civilians and POWs and destroyed property
during the 1993 Medak Pocket operation. Transferred from the ICTY
in 2005, the case became a test of the capacity of Croatia's courts
to try their own military officers. The three-judge panel found
Norac, an ethnic Croat, guilty on two counts of failing to prevent
crimes against civilians and POWs, while it found Ademi, an ethnic
Albanian, not guilty on all counts. Norac was sentenced to seven
years. The judge accepted Ademi's defense that parallel lines of
command existed which circumvented Ademi and allowed direct
communication between Norac and higher commanders in Zagreb (REF C).
However, some observers questioned how Norac, a young officer at
the time, could be held responsible for the crimes while
higher-ranked officers remain un-indicted.

2. (SBU) COMMENT: Domestic and international observers praised the
conduct of the trial, which was relatively speedy and without
protest or courtroom disorder - a stark contrast to some other
domestic war crimes trials, such as the on-going case against MP
Branimir Glavas. Witnesses from several other countries, including
Serbia, successfully testified during the trial. Post provided
assistance in obtaining witness testimony, which the presiding judge
described as crucial to the case, from victims located in the U.S.
The closely-watched trial demonstrated the growing maturity of
Croatian courts and their ability to provide fair trials of ethnic
Croatians. The smooth conduct of the trial has also reduced the
risk of public backlash against the conviction of General Norac.
While Croatian courts still have a ways to go to improve their
overall professionalism, this trial is an encouraging sign. END
SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

PARALLEL LINES OF COMMAND AND FAILURE TO PREVENT CRIMES
-------------------------------------------

3. (U) In his explanation of the verdict, presiding judge Marin
Mrcela confirmed that Norac was indeed in command of the 9th
Brigade, the unit in Medak Pocket when the crimes were committed.
The judge found that though Norac knew crimes were being committed
against civilians and POWs, he failed to prevent and punish those
crimes. Norac received five years each for two such counts, but was
sentenced overall to seven years. Under Croatian law, war crimes
charges carry a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 20
years. Norac is currently serving a twelve-year sentence for
unrelated war crimes in the Gospic area.

4. (U) Explaining the not guilty verdict for Ademi, the judge said
the panel was unable to establish Ademi's command responsibility
over the Medak Pocket region in September 1993. Although Ademi
out-ranked Norac, testimony indicated that Norac was taking orders
from a parallel chain of command headed by Janko Bobetko, then chief
of the general staff, and Gojko Susak, minister of defense. (Both
are now deceased.) The judge found that Ademi had briefed soldiers
on the Geneva Convention in advance of the operation, he was not
present in the field, and he had no knowledge of those crimes being
committed. In addition, Mrcela agreed with Ademi's defense that his
scope of authority had been reduced and that he had been
circumvented in the chain of command.

5. (SBU) Testimony during the trial indicated that orders were being
issued by Admiral Domagoj Domazet, who was head of the intelligence
service of the Army's Chief of Staff. Testimony incriminated both
Domazet and Mladen Markac (currently on trial in the Hague on
separate charges), who was head of the special police at the time.
Despite Domazet's denial of a parallel chain of command, some
observers are calling on prosecutors to raise an indictment against
him.

JUDICIAL PROCESS LARGELY FREE FROM CRITICISM
-------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Observers generally agree that the domestic judicial
process succeeded: the trial was completed in a relatively speedy
ten months, and, in stark contrast to other domestic war crimes
cases in recent memory, was without protests or courtroom disorder.
Commentator and ICTY-follower Ivan Zvonimir Cicak praised the
process, calling it an indication of Croatia's ability to
independently prosecute war crimes cases. Former president of the
Croatian Helsinki Committee, Zarko Puhovski, praised the proceedings
and the surrounding atmosphere: "The judiciary is independent and
not biased as previously charged," he concluded. Vesna Terselic,
Director of the NGO Dokumenta, which monitors war crimes trials,

ZAGREB 00000410 002 OF 002


also noted that the verdict was the first conviction in which a
highly-ranked soldier was found guilty for command responsibility.
While not willing to comment publicly, ICTY Liaison Office Head
Thomas Osorio told us he was generally satisfied with the
proceedings. Both the OSCE and local war crimes NGO monitors had no
objections to the process, although during the trial they had some
concerns about the GOC's support to witnesses and the prosecutor's
approach (REFS B and C). During the trial, Post, with a major
assist from the State and Justice Departments, facilitated testimony
of ethnic Serb victims and witnesses in the U.S. via video-link (Ref
A). Judge Mrcela was very grateful for the U.S. assistance, noting
that obtaining this video testimony had been critical to completing
the case.

MUTED PUBLIC RESPONSE
---------------------

7. (U) While human rights groups largely praised the process, and,
by implication, the verdict, some veterans' groups and politicians
reacted more negatively. Several veterans' groups criticized the
verdict against Norac, denying that there could be confusion about
who was in command in a wartime operation, and arguing the sentence
was excessive for someone who neither committed nor ordered criminal
acts. Head of the Volunteer Veterans Association Zvonko Milas
questioned how a young officer such as Norac (who was in his mid-20s
during the operation) could have been so powerful at the time.
Former Army General Pavao Miljavac compared the relatively stiff
sentence against Norac to that handed down last fall by the ICTY
against three Serbian officers (one acquittal, a five-year sentence
and a twenty-year sentence) for crimes related to the death of 200
people outside Vukovar.

8. (U) Overall, however, public response to the verdict was muted.
One prominent politician, Radimir Cacic of the HNS, said he hoped
Norac would be acquitted on appeal. But Veterans' Affairs Minister
Jadranka Kosor, a close ally of PM Sanader and one of the most
popular politicians in Croatia among conservative voters, refused to
comment on the verdict, observing only that the trial had gone
smoothly. Just hours after the verdict, a concert on Zagreb's main
square by nationalist pop singer (and war veteran) Marko Perkovic
Thompson would have provided a perfect platform for any negative
reaction. However, while Thompson made some comments from the stage
in support of Norac and a few pro-Norac signs appeared in the crowd,
in general the reaction was low key. (Details on the Thompson
concert septel).

LOOKING AHEAD
------------

9. (SBU) The written verdict with an explanation is expected from
the Court within 30 days. After its release, it is anticipated that
both the prosecution and Norac's defense team will appeal the
verdict to the Supreme Court. Based on the testimony heard in the
trial, the State Prosecutor is likely to consider charges against
other military commanders, who were presumably in charge of the
operation, but so far have made no comment on how they may proceed.

BRADTKE

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