Defense lawyer: Mladic is a ‘very sick man’
We are waiting for Ratko Mladic to make his fourth appearance before the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Thursday. In the meantime, I have been chatting with his defense attorney, Branko Lukic, who provided some interesting new details about Mladic’s arrest, detention, and state of health. Lukic had just seen his client in the Scheveningen ...
We are waiting for Ratko Mladic to make his fourth appearance before the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Thursday. In the meantime, I have been chatting with his defense attorney, Branko Lukic, who provided some interesting new details about Mladic's arrest, detention, and state of health. Lukic had just seen his client in the Scheveningen detention facility, and was able to bring me the latest news from the jail. Click on the Youtube link above for a brief extract from our interview.
We are waiting for Ratko Mladic to make his fourth appearance before the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Thursday. In the meantime, I have been chatting with his defense attorney, Branko Lukic, who provided some interesting new details about Mladic’s arrest, detention, and state of health. Lukic had just seen his client in the Scheveningen detention facility, and was able to bring me the latest news from the jail. Click on the Youtube link above for a brief extract from our interview.
The first point Lukic wanted to make is that his client is a "very sick man" who will have trouble keeping up with the trial proper, when it eventually gets underway. Mladic told Lukic that he had three strokes while he was on the run, beginning in 1996, soon after the end of the Bosnia war. At that point, he was still under the protection of the Yugoslav army, and received good medical attention. The second stroke occurred in 2006 while he was in hiding. He was unable to see a doctor at that time and ended up semi-paralyzed in his right arm. He suffered a third stroke in January this year while lying in a bathtub, and was left unattended for some time.
According to Lukic, Mladic had two guns with him at the time of his arrest in his cousin’s house in the village of Lazarevo on May 26, but was "physically unable" to put up any kind of resistance. He had long intended to kill himself in the event of capture, but needed two hands to cock the gun and pull the trigger. Because of his strokes, he has only very limited use of the fingers in his right hand. The Bosnia Serb commander told Lukic that he got rid of his security guards after they refused to promise to kill him rather than see him turned over to the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
Lukic says that Mladic has a good memory for events that took place several decades ago, but is often unable to recall details from a conversation that took place the previous day. He generally feels better in the morning but has difficulty concentrating and even speaking in the afternoon. At the beginning of September, he suffered a serious relapse, and Lukic feared for his life, but he is now significantly better, and should be able to appear in court tomorrow. Since his transfer to The Hague, he has had a hernia operation and several teeth removed. He has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in weight since his arrest
Mladic’s companions on the third floor of the so-called Hague Hilton include four Bosnian Serbs and two Croatian generals. One of the Croats is Slobodan Praljak, accused among other crimes of the destruction of the old bridge at Mostar, a symbol of inter-ethnic harmony during the Tito era. The former enemies are said to get on splendidly in jail, rooting for each other’s sports teams, celebrating each other’s feast days and religious holidays, and sharing each other’s food. The amicable atmosphere in the jail represents "the last remnants of the old Yugoslavia and Tito’s idea of brotherhood and unity," says Lukic.
At first, Mladic was placed in a cell near the hardline Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, a particularly cantankerous and uncooperative defendant. They enjoyed a couple of chess games together before Mladic was moved away, apparently because it was felt that Seselj could be a bad influence on him. Whether this was the case or not, Mladic has been more cooperative with the tribunal in recent weeks. After being removed from the courtroom on his second appearance, Mladic agreed to be represented by Lukic, a court accredited attorney.
Working alongside Lukic will be the Belgrade lawyer, Milos Saljic, Mladic’s original choice of attorney. The tribunal ruled that Saljic was ineligible to lead the defense team as he does not speak English. Lukic, by contrast, speaks English fluently and is steeped in court procedures, having represented half a dozen Serb defendants.
According to Lukic, the pre-trial phase of the Mladic hearing is likely to last well over a year, as the prosecution provides thousands of documents to the defense. The defense will insist on its right to conduct its own investigation of incidents like the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre and will demand full details on more than 7,000 alleged victims, including names, places of birth, and DNA samples. Lukic does not expect the trial proper to get underway until early 2013.
Michael Dobbs is a prize-winning foreign correspondent and author. Currently serving as a Goldfarb fellow at the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Dobbs is following legal proceedings in The Hague. He has traveled to Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Belgrade, interviewed Mladic’s victims and associates, and is posting documents, video recordings, and intercepted phone calls that shed light on Mladic's personality. Twitter: @michaeldobbs
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