Prosecutor explains Mladic mix-up
The trial began — and then it stopped because of so-called "disclosure" problems. What’s up with that? Prosecutors at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal today gave their first detailed explanation for the bungled opening of the Ratko Mladic trial. In a 42-page filing to the court, they blamed the fiasco on a computer "operator error" ...
The trial began -- and then it stopped because of so-called "disclosure" problems. What's up with that?
The trial began — and then it stopped because of so-called "disclosure" problems. What’s up with that?
Prosecutors at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal today gave their first detailed explanation for the bungled opening of the Ratko Mladic trial. In a 42-page filing to the court, they blamed the fiasco on a computer "operator error" that had led to the non-disclosure of around 5,000 documents, or just over 3 percent of the disclosable trial record. They added that the omissions were largely "technical" in nature, and should not require a lengthy trial delay.
The trial, which began on May 16 with a summary of the prosecution case against the former Bosnian Serb military commander, was due to resume on May 29 with the calling of witnesses. But Judge Alphons Orie ordered an indefinite delay while he investigated "significant errors" by the prosecution in the disclosure process. Lawyers for Mladic have called for a six-month postponement of the trial, alleging "an unprecedented disclosure failure whose scope is without parallel in the history of the Tribunal."
The bureaucratic snafus reflect the complexity of a legal case that has been 17 years in the making, involving hundreds of witnesses, 106 separate charges, and a computer database containing more than 100,000 documents, in English, French, and Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian (one language as far as the Yugoslav tribunal is concerned.) Even so, the errors are embarrassing for the American-led prosecution team entrusted with the most high profile case to come before the tribunal.
In their filing today, prosecutors Dermot Groome and Peter McCloskey explained that a computer glitch resulted in the misidentification of several thousand documents as part of the trial database when, in fact, they were never entered. Despite repeated defense complaints about non-disclosure, the prosecutors insist that they only became aware of the nature of the problem on April 24, three weeks before the trial was due to begin.
If the judge accepts the prosecution’s explanation, he could order a resumption in the trial sometime in June, permitting the first round of witnesses to be heard before the summer break toward the end of July. The judge is under pressure to expedite the proceedings, given Mladic’s poor state of health, but most people expect the trial to last at least two years. The last high profile trial before the tribunal, that of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, ended inconclusively in March 2006, a few months before a verdict was due to be delivered in his four-year trial.
Tribunal rules require the prosecution to disclose all witness statements and other evidence prior to the calling of witnesses. While the prosecutors have missed several tribunal-imposed deadlines for the disclosure of the evidence, the judges have considerable latitude in deciding how to rectify the errors, and ensure that the interests of the accused are upheld.
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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