This is the English version of an interview with the Croatian daily newspaper Večernji List, published on page 18 of today’s print edition.
1. When did you go to the former Yugoslavia and in what capacity?
When I first arrived in the former Yugoslavia, it was June of 1993, and I’d just been appointed the assistant manager of the German NGO, IMO (Internationale Mennonitische Organisation). However, three weeks into my assignment I became Acting Manager when my predecessor resigned unexpectedly. Later on, I took on a special assignment as a temporary protection officer for the UNHCR.
2. How long did you work in the former Yugoslavia and in what cities?
I worked for approximately four months in the former Yugoslavia. I started in a camp for refugees and displaced persons called ‘Bolnica Dječije Selo’, near Makarska, then was based in Split (during which time IMO was involved in camps all along the Dalmatian coast and also provided support for the delivery of medical supplies, etc., into Bosnia), so I visited most of the towns on the Adriatic, from Rijeka to Dubrovnik. With the UNCHR, I was based in Erdut in UNPA East, and spent most of my time outside the office in Vukovar, Beli Manastir, Osijek, and Sombor (Vojvodina). I also visited Zagreb and parts of Hercegovina during the course of my stay.
3. What was your knowledge about the former Yugoslavia and the reasons for the war before your arrival there?
I had studied South East European history at UCLA under a Yugoslav professor, so my knowledge of its history before the twentieth century was fairly good. I’d done an assignment on King Tomislav, so I understood that Croatia was an established nation, that it had been a medieval kingdom, unlike Yugoslavia which was an artificial twentieth-century creation. I had also brushed up on its modern history after seeing all the news reports. I remember being appalled at the destruction of Vukovar and the attack on Dubrovnik, then at the pictures of concentration camps coming out of Bosnia in 1992. I grew up with the post-Holocaust refrain ‘never again’ and that made me very interested in what was going on in the former Yugoslavia. However, it was a letter to the Guardian newspaper by one of my university tutors that made me realise I had a fairly poor understanding of what was happening, and that media analysis was overly simplistic, so I endeavoured to learn more after that.
4. How long have you monitored the work of the Hague Tribunal and do you think it fulfils its mission?
While I have kept abreast of what has been happening at the Hague Tribunal from its very beginning, it is only recently that I have looked at its work in any great depth. Like most people, I trusted the judges at the ICTY to do their job and while I was surprised at the indictment of the Croatian generals, I assumed it was merely a bureaucratic and political formality. I expected that Generals Gotovina and Markač would be acquitted. I assumed this because, until this year, the ICTY has convicted war criminals using incontrovertible evidence – there has been no room for doubt. I certainly don’t want to cast aspersions on the justice they have previously carried out. Men like Goran Jelisić and Radislav Krstić have been rightly convicted of horrendous crimes. However, in the case of Generals Gotovina and Markač, the ICTY has totally contradicted its stated mission and objectives, and this is something I discuss in greater detail in the article I am currently writing. The Tribunal is supposed to hold individuals responsible, not whole communities, but the Gotovina et al. verdict implicates the entire Croatian nation. It states that President Tudjman was the ringleader of a conspiracy and that Operation Storm, what I consider a legitimate military response to the Serb occupation of the Krajina, was the means of a crime against humanity. It is utterly ludicrous that General Gotovina, who saved tens of thousands of Bosniaks in Bihać from the murderous advance of Ratko Mladić’s army, has been convicted of a crime he, in essence, prevented. The Tribunal, in this case, has also convicted the wrong men. It was the Serb leadership who ordered the evacuation of the Krajina – it is the Serb leadership who were responsible for cleansing the Krajina of Serbs.
I think it’s also important to remember that the whole point of setting up the ICTY while the war was ongoing should have been to provide a disincentive for war crimes. It should have made soldiers think twice about breaking the rules of war and worked as a deterrent. However, it didn’t help at all. The ICTY didn’t save any lives and it didn’t shorten the war of aggression. It didn’t stop Serb snipers shooting the citizens of Sarajevo. It didn’t act as a deterrent at all. Indeed, the Serbs marched into the UN safe haven of Srebrenica with complete impunity and slaughtered over 8000 civilian men and boys. What brought an end to the war and the indiscriminate killing of civilians was General Gotovina’s campaign in Bosnia that sent a message to the Serbs that they were no longer in a winning position, which was then reinforced by a NATO bombing campaign. It was military action that forced the Serbs to the bargaining table, not the threat of a war crimes trial.
5. Last week you published an article saying that the trial of generals Gotovina and Markač is a farce. Can you explain why you said that?
The whole affair has been absurd to the point that if it didn’t have such serious implications it would be entertaining. It’s a like a B-grade film where the hero has to fight against an unscrupulous enemy who will stop at nothing to ruin him… except in this case there’s no guarantee of a happy ending, there’s no indication that the truth will win out. The trial has been a pretence of justice, because the judges have selected opinion and hearsay, elevated it to the status of evidence, and advanced a subjective and groundless theory to the exclusion of concrete evidence and common sense. One of the greatest absurdities of it is that if they really wanted to bring justice to the Serbs murdered in the Krajina, they’d need to find and convict the perpetrators – making the Croatian leadership responsible just brushes it under the carpet, and there’s no incentive to find those who pulled the trigger as Gotovina and Markač have been made scapegoats. The judgement is so unbelievable that it’s difficult to find an analogy for people who don’t know anything about the war. I suppose it would be somewhat like saying that Winston Churchill had conspired to ethnically cleanse Normandy and charging Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower with crimes against humanity. More than 13,000 French civilians were killed during the Allied liberation of Normandy, many no doubt due to “indiscriminate shelling”, but we don’t consider that a war crime.
6. What is your opinion of the US Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith and his testimony in this case?
I think the ICTY put Ambassador Galbraith in an unenviable position. He is a servant of the United States and is bound by duty to be circumspect. I think the most important aspect of his testimony is that it was misrepresented by the court in its final judgement. Galbraith made many statements as to the support of the US for Operation Storm as well as relevant observations about the shelling of Knin that corroborated General Gotovina’s defence argument, but the judges incomprehensibly ignored the part of the testimony that actually related to Gotovina. Instead they focussed on Galbraith’s opinion of President Tudjman, which was largely irrelevant and definitely subjective. Galbraith is entitled to his opinion, but it’s not objective evidence, and it is the judges’ fault for misusing his testimony, not Galbraith’s.
7. Do you think that the verdict against Generals Gotovina and Markač on the basis of a “Joint Criminal Enterprise” could initiate indictments against other armies and officers such as American and NATO commanders who participate in any military conflict?
I think it is unlikely, given the high status of the US and its allies, but the verdict does create a dangerous precedent and make it possible. We have seen Tony Blair hauled through the courts for his leadership during the Iraq war, so it would be foolhardy to rule it out. There has always been a notion of conspiracy when it comes to war crimes, and that’s how Nazis who may never have personally killed anyone were held to account at Nuremberg, but the formulation of a new concept of “joint criminal enterprise” is fundamentally flawed. The ICTY has made it a “mode of liability”, so that someone can be convicted of something they didn’t do. It means that the act of conspiring to murder is no longer the crime; instead, murder is the crime and the person who actually pulls the trigger is merely a tool. This is appalling from so many different angles. The diminishment of responsibility of the actual murderer is just the beginning. Ultimately, the use of JCE as a form of liability means that anyone in charge of soldiers – from the commanders-in chief of the armed forces, such as the President of the USA and Queen Elizabeth II, to generals and admirals and air marshals, right down through the ranks to low-ranking officers – can be charged for the crimes committed by a “loose cannon” or “bad apple”. Furthermore, the use of JCE in the case of Gotovina et al. has shown that entire military operations can be labelled as war crimes by civilian judges who have outrageously unrealistic expectations as to the conduct of war.
8. As you said in your article, the Hague Tribunal speculates without evidence, and despite contrary testimony of a number of witnesses thet have handed down a conviction on the basis of the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from the Krajina as well as “joint criminal enterprise”. Do you think that because of that we can conclude that the verdict was made before proceeding started?
I cannot hazard a guess as to when the judges came to their decision in this case. The judgement they have handed down is so irrational it’s difficult to make any worthwhile deductions about how they came to this opinion. It is worth noting, however, that in cases of war crimes at the international level an indictment is generally expected to lead to a conviction. The general public tend to assume that an indicted war criminal is guilty because those indicted by the international courts are usually high-profile leaders about whom we have no doubt, like Mladić and Karadžić. There is less expectation, less assumption of guilt, when an ordinary soldier is charged with war crimes in his home country – it is seen as less clear-cut. So I certainly think that the generals were disadvantaged by their high rank and expectations of a conviction. One could also speculate as to the influence of politics, the perceived need to convict Croatians of war crimes so that the Serbs would not feel singled out and therefore be more cooperative in handing over indicted war criminals. I think it would be naïve to ignore the timing of the arrests of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić.
9. You also said in your article of conflict of interest of judge Alfonso Orie and judge Elizabeth Gwaunza. How is that possible?
That is a question the International Bar Association has raised and for which there is no satisfactory answer. The appointment of Judge Orie is like the defence lawyer for Adolf Eichmann being appointed as judge in a trial of a British-Jewish general whose soldiers were accused of killing a few German civilians during the liberation of Europe. Orie was an advocate for a Serb criminal, so how can he suddenly detach himself and become an impartial judge? As for Judge Gwaunza, I am disgusted that anyone connected with the Mugabe regime could be allowed in an international court of justice. In Australia, we would call it putting a fox in charge of the chickens. This woman is said to have profited from the theft of property from white landowners by blacks, a process that many see as the ethnic cleansing of whites in Zimbabwe. It seems to me that it would be more fitting for her to be in the dock than behind the bench.
10. What do you think that Croatian Government, defense teams, Croatian diaspora, and the public should do during the appeal process in order to overturn the verdict against Generals Gotovina and Markač ?
The defence team has no choice but to doggedly continue fighting for justice. The government and Croatians around the world need to increase general awareness of the great injustice that has occurred and counter the misconceptions that have arisen through increasing moral relativism and political correctness in the mainstream media. Likewise, the Croatian government and people need to ensure that influential politicians outside of Croatia know the truth about the war and Operation Storm. It isn’t enough to declare the generals are heroes, as true as that may be – outsiders will only listen to an argument in terms they understand, so Croatia must advocate for the generals by deliberate and rational analysis of what is wrong with the judgement. Croatia and its people must make a case, as the world will be their judge.