Cablegate: Croatian Generals' War Crimes Trial Continues

DE RUEHVB #0853/01 2600840
P 170840Z SEP 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary and Comment. The case of Croatian Army
Generals Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac, whose trial began in
the summer, continued this week. It is the first, and likely
only, case to be transferred to Croatia by the ICTY (a
so-called 11 bis case). As such, it is seen as a test of
Croatia's judicial system and its ability to try Croatian war
heros in an unbiased manner. Ademi and Norac are the
highest-ranking Croatian officers to be tried for war crimes
in Croatian courts. The combined case charges the officers
with both individual and command responsibility during the
1993 Medak Pocket operation. According to the indictment,
originally brought by the ICTY, the officers are responsible
for the deaths of 28 ethnic Serb civilians and the
destruction of about 300 buildings after Croatian forces took
control of the area. Testimony to date has dredged up issues
of political interference into military operations, parallel
chains of command, and the split military culture of the
time. The trial is open to the public. Regional and local
NGOs, the OSCE, and others, including Embassy staff, have
attended testimony and praised the proceedings. While the
media has been constantly present, the public reaction is
muted - a strong contrast to previous trials of Croatians for
war crimes. The lack of commentary from politicians and
local officials, combined with the capabilities of the judge
- an Embassy contact who has received USG-funded training and
is well-regarded among judicial circles - has ensured the
process is controlled and as de-politicized as possible. End
Summary and Comment.

Indictment: Command and Individual Responsibility

2. (U) The Medak Pocket operation, executed between 9-17
September, 1993, was aimed at regaining control over a
Serb-held area near the town of Gospic in central Croatia.
The Croatian indictment (which differs slightly from the ICTY
indictment) alleges that during the operation 28 civilians,
mostly women and elderly were killed, as were five POWs.
Others were seriously injured, and extensive property was
destroyed in an organized manner. During the time of the
events in question, Norac was Colonel and commander of the
9th Guards Motorized Brigade - the main unit involved in the
Medak Pocket operation along with the military police.
(Note: Norac is currently serving a 12-year sentence for a
separate incident in which 50 ethnic Serb civilians were
killed in the Gospic area. End Note.) Ademi was Brigadier
and acting commander of the Gospic Military Unit and
allegedly central in planning, ordering, and executing the
operation. Both are accused of individual criminal
responsibility for the attacks as well as for command
responsibility. The ICTY referred the case to Croatia in
September 2005 at the request of Croatian prosecutors, and
transferred most documents the same year. The trial began in
June of this year and will likely continue into 2008.

Non-Controversial Proceedings

3. (SBU) Although the testimony has captured the attention of
the public, OSCE and other observers note the lack of
controversy on the proceedings and praise the process to
date. OSCE trial monitors are present at all hearings, as
per its agreement with the ICTY. Judge Marin Mrcela is
widely respected for his competence as a criminal judge and
control over his court. He is a close contact of Post; with
past USG support he designed judicial training programs and
drafted an ethic code for judges and publications on various
judicial issues. He gained some notoriety in 1996 when, as a
young judge in his mid-30s, he rejected then-president Franjo
Tudjmann's charges against a local satirical newspaper for
slander. Since then Mrcela has developed a reputation of
being fair, unbiased, and efficient, and has quashed any
outbursts, protests, or improper behavior. The proceedings
have been a contrast to trials of Croats for war crimes in
past years, such as the Lora trial (at which protesters
regularly disrupted the court and city officials spoke about
assisting in prisoners' release) or the Glavas trial which
sparked reactions from politicians and pockets of public
support for the defendant. The cumbersome trial process,
however, highlights some deficiencies in the court system.
For example, not all witnesses can be located and contacted,
and the judge must repeat the full testimony of each witness
in order for it to be entered into the official record,
effectively doubling court time. As a result, the case will
probably be drawn out until early 2008.

Parallel Lines of Command

4. (SBU) The key issue in question is who was in command of
military forces that committed crimes during Medak Pocket.
Ademi's defense claims Norac was in command of Sector One,
established to carry out the operation. Norac's defense
rests on the stated command structure, which places Norac

ZAGREB 00000853 002 OF 002

subordinate to Ademi. However, the question raises a more
sensitive point of conflict within the Army at the time:
Witness testimony has painted a picture of parallel lines of
command at the time of the operation, alluding to a split of
"old guard" and "new guard" in the army at the time. Some
witnesses and commentators have placed Ademi in the "old
guard" camp - former JNA officers (led by Generals Antun Tus
and Petar Stipetic), while Norac was part of the "new guard",
led by Defense Minister Gojko Susak and supported in part by
the diaspora. Susak allegedly favored the new, non-JNA
officers and quickly promoted and protected new, young
officers such as Norac, who was in his early 20s at the time.
Brigadier Isidor Cesnjaj, Ademi's former superior officer,
testified that Norac had direct contact with then-Defense
Minister Gojko Susak and was connected to Generals Ante
Gotovina, Janko Bobetko and Mladen Markac, Admiral Davor
Domazet (a.k.a. Loso), and others.

5. (SBU) Ademi, an ethnic Albanian, was allegedly never
accepted by the "new guard." One commentator called him "the
loneliest of all Croatian officers accused of war crimes,"
referring to the lack of support from so-called hard-line
veterans and his refusal to use his case for political
purposes or rallying cries. Cesnjaj recalled that various
politicians and officers would visit the region and call the
former JNA officers "reds" and "Commies". Former infantry
officer Rudolf Brlecic concurred, and also characterized
Norac as young, inexperienced, brave, and arrogant, and
ultimately in control of the Lika region, where the operation
was located. He recalled that Norac was recommended both for
reassignment and for training in the U.S., but the moves were
blocked by Susak.

6. (SBU) Domazet testified against this parallel chain of
command, denying any confusion in the structure and implying
Ademi was responsible for command of the operation. At the
same time, he justified the operation as necessary to prevent
further Serb attacks on the town of Gospic, and denied
Croatian forces had killed any civilians, outrageously
suggesting that Canadian UNPROFOR troops, at that time
deployed in the Gospic area, might have been the killers of
the Serb civilians in question. In addition, the issue of
command of the special police in the area remains important
to the investigation and to ICTY's original case, which
indicated that then-Interior Minister Ivan Jarnjak and
special police force commander Mladen Markac were responsible
for some events. (Markac is currently awaiting trial at the
ICTY on charges related to Operation Storm). Markac and
Jarnjak, however, have both supported Loso's testimony that
Ademi was in command.

© Scoop Media

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