Prosecutor ‘errors’ delay Mladic trial

Today was Srebrenica day at the Mladic trial in the Hague. The former Bosnian Serb commander listened intently as prosecutors outlined evidence linking him to the murder of at least 7,000 Muslim prisoners captured following the fall of the United Nations "safe area." For the most part, Mladic remained impassive, occasionally massaging his temples or ...

ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/GettyImages
ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/GettyImages
ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/GettyImages

Today was Srebrenica day at the Mladic trial in the Hague. The former Bosnian Serb commander listened intently as prosecutors outlined evidence linking him to the murder of at least 7,000 Muslim prisoners captured following the fall of the United Nations "safe area."

For the most part, Mladic remained impassive, occasionally massaging his temples or stroking his upper lip with his forefinger. But at one point he demonstratively applauded a prosecution videotape that showed him brutally dressing down the commander of Dutch peacekeeping troops in Srebrenica.

Mladic's words from July 1995 echoed around the packed courtroom as he accused Dutch Colonel Thom Karremans of calling in NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces advancing on Srebrenica."Do not fantasize," he growled as the browbeaten Dutch officer claimed that such decisions were taken by his superiors in New York. Mladic smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign to the courtroom to indicate that he was pleased by his own performance.

Today was Srebrenica day at the Mladic trial in the Hague. The former Bosnian Serb commander listened intently as prosecutors outlined evidence linking him to the murder of at least 7,000 Muslim prisoners captured following the fall of the United Nations "safe area."

For the most part, Mladic remained impassive, occasionally massaging his temples or stroking his upper lip with his forefinger. But at one point he demonstratively applauded a prosecution videotape that showed him brutally dressing down the commander of Dutch peacekeeping troops in Srebrenica.

Mladic’s words from July 1995 echoed around the packed courtroom as he accused Dutch Colonel Thom Karremans of calling in NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces advancing on Srebrenica."Do not fantasize," he growled as the browbeaten Dutch officer claimed that such decisions were taken by his superiors in New York. Mladic smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign to the courtroom to indicate that he was pleased by his own performance.

Prosecutor Peter McCloskey told the court he planned to use a combination of eyewitness testimony, intercepted telephone conversations, Bosnian Serb military documents, and overhead reconnaissance imagery to document the Srebrenica crimes. He said that the evidence would show that on the evening of July 11, 1995, Mladic personally took a decision to execute Muslim men and boys taken prisoner by his forces and supervised every stage of the operation.

"This was a genocide," McCloskey told the court. "These crimes are etched into the terrible history of the Bosnia war."

The trial recessed indefinitely following the completion of the opening statement from the prosecution because of what Judge Alphons Orie described as "errors" by the prosecutors in disclosing evidence to the defense. The trial was scheduled to recess until May 29, but Orie said that the three-judge tribunal will announce a new date after it has assessed the impact of the disclosure errors by the prosecution. The full trial is expected to last at least two years.

Several dozen relatives of Srebrenica victims traveled to the Hague for the start of the trial. They included Hatidzda Mehmedovic, who lost her husband and two sons in the massacre, after being personally assured by Mladic that "nothing will happen to them."

"Mladic took our youth away from us. There is no court in the world that can make this up to us," Mehmedovic told reporters during a break in the proceedings. "Nobody can bring my children back."

Although Mladic has failed to show any gesture of remorse, his demeanor is quite different from a year ago when he was first transferred to the Hague, after being arrested at the home of a relative in the village of Lazarevo in northern Serbia. When he first appeared in court, he refused to listen to the accusations against him and launched into angry tirades against the judge. He now shuffles to his feet when the judge enters the courtroom and follows the proceedings closely, while signaling that he remains proud of his actions during the war.

The prosecution narrative of what happened at Srebrenica has shifted subtly since earlier trials of various Mladic subordinates. McCloskey backed away from claims by at least one survivor that Mladic was present at a mass execution of a thousand Muslim prisoners in the village of Orahovac on the evening of July 14, 1995. Instead, he said merely that the Bosnian Serb commander drove through the area on the afternoon of July 14, while the killings were being planned.

The prosecution has accepted defense evidence showing that Mladic was in Belgrade from the evening of July 14 to July 16 as the killing frenzy reached its peak. However, McCloskey said that Mladic was fully informed about the executions, and continued to exercise command authority over his subordinates during this period.

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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