Thanks to the online video feed from the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, I have been watching Radovan Karadzic rebut charges that he ordered the murder of 7,000-plus Muslim prisoners following the fall of Srebrenica. It is a curtain-raiser to the arguments we can expect when the Ratko Mladic trial finally opens in The Hague on May 14. (The date has now been finalized.)
As you can see from the photographs above, Karadzic is a man with many sides-poet, psychiatrist, president, fugitive from justice, New Age healer. His latest role is that of defense attorney, representing himself, in a trial that has been going on for over two years. Superficially at least, he is playing the part with utmost seriousness. In contrast to Mladic, who has become known for his courtroom tantrums, Karadzic treats the judges with great respect, referring to them as "Excellencies," and is polite to prosecution witnesses, thanking them for their testimony.
But when you examine his defense strategy in more detail, you have to wonder about his goal. Again in contrast to Mladic, Karadzic has a plausible defense against the charge that he ordered the Srebrenica killings. He was not on the scene himself, and did not have direct operational control over the executioners, who answered to Mladic as the Bosnian Serb military commander. Furthermore, we know that relations between the two men were extremely strained in July 1995. Karadzic might have followed the example of Drina Corps commander Radislav Krstic in pinning primary responsibility for Srebrenica on Mladic.
The above photograph shows a fully clothed body of a murdered Muslim man from Srebrenica that was recovered from the Kozluk execution/mass grave site next to the Drina river, some thirty miles to the north. As you can see from the markings on the photo, there is convincing evidence that this man was the victim of a mass execution. His eyes are blindfolded, his hands are tied behind his back, and an empty bullet casing lies in the mud next to him. The autopsy report showing that he was killed by bullet wounds to the chest is available here.
But what about the other 6,000-7,000 people whose remains were discovered at Kozluk and other such crime scenes? Supporters of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leaders accused of genocide, concede that some of these people were murdered in "revenge killings." They insist, however, that a significant proportion of these remains belong to Muslim soldiers who died "in combat" as they headed north from Srebrenica on July 11-15, 1995, following the fall of the United Nations "safe area."
Proving that the Srebrenica-related mass graves are in fact mixed graves is central to the defense case in the Karadzic trial, which is underway right now. Defending himself in front of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal earlier this month, the former Bosnian Serb president advanced the theory that the mass graves were the result of "terrain clear-up operations after combat."
When General Ratko Mladic finally goes on trial later this year, his defense team will mount an all-out effort to challenge the data presented in the chart above. It shows the nub of the prosecution case against the "butcher of Srebrenica": roughly ninety percent of the people who went missing in July 1995 did not die "in combat," as claimed by Mladic supporters. They were the victims of mass executions.
If you click on different segments of the chart, you can see the numbers of individual Srebrenica victims categorized by place of death. The brown slice represents people whose deaths can reasonably be attributed to fighting, ambushes, and suicides in the mixed column of Muslim soldiers and civilian refugees who fled northwards from Srebrenica following the fall of the United Nations "safe area." All the other slices on the chart represent prisoners captured, and later executed, by Bosnian Serb forces.
The four slices on the right hand side of the chart (blue, purple, green, and yellow) show Muslim men and boys killed in a series of mass executions that took place in the Zvornik area of eastern Bosnia between July 14 and 16, three days after the fall of Srebrenica. I have described, in a previous post, how Mladic's men attempted to cover up their crimes by using mechanical excavators to dig up these mass graves in September 1995, and scattering the remains in a series of secondary graves in remote valleys, 10, 20, or 30 miles away.
The Newsweek headline from November 1996 --"Genocide Without Corpses" -- summed up the mystery confronting international war crimes prosecutors as they began investigating the most serious massacre to occur in Europe since World War II. Based on the number of people reported missing following the fall of the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica in July 1995, they had every reason to conclude that as many as 8,000 Muslim prisoners had been executed by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic. But the mass graves associated with the execution sites contained the remains of only a few hundred victims.
The answer to the mystery came in 1998, when investigators began excavating a suspected burial site, photographed above, near a village called Cancari in a mountain valley. When they analyzed DNA samples of bones recovered from the Cancari site, along with pieces of rope and articles of clothing, they established a link with the execution site at Branjevo military farm, some thirty miles to the north. They eventually discovered at least eight other sites along the Cancari road that contained the missing corpses from Branjevo.
International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia
In my last post, I published an overhead photograph of several hundred Muslim prisoners in a field at a place called Nova Kasaba in Bosnia, and posed a question: what happened to these people? The answer to that question is contained in the photograph above: the vast majority of the men photographed by an American spy satellite around 14:00 on July 13 ended up in mass graves, like the one above at Branjevo Military Farm.
By coincidence, a survivor from Branjevo testified on Thursday at the Yugoslav war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic. He appeared as a "protected witness" under the codename KDZ-333. Cross-examined by the former Bosnian Serb president, KDZ-333 said he was somewhere in the middle of the crowd in the American intelligence photo. Before nightfall on July 13, buses arrived to collect the prisoners, who were ambushed by Serb forces after fleeing the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica. The prisoners were taken to the town of Bratunac, where they spent the night in the buses.
International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia
Why the continuing focus on a 16-year-old atrocity in an obscure corner of the Balkans? Anyone wondering why I am paying so much attention to the Srebrenica massacre should take a look at some of the comments this blog has generated. The cold-blooded murder of 7,000-8,000 Muslim men following the fall of the United Nations "safe area" in July 1995 is probably the most documented war crime in history -- but there are still those who insist it never happened.
For examples of what I mean, look here and here and here. Then listen to the arguments of Stephen Karganovic, whose Bosnian Serb-funded website has become a hub of genocide denial studies. As long as there are people out there claiming that black is white, the rest of us have an obligation to point out that black is in fact black.
I have a simple question for the "black is white" crowd: What happened to the thousands of men from Srebrenica who were rounded up by Bosnian Serb forces? By way of example, look at the CIA overhead imagery at the top of this page. It was taken around 14:00 on July 13, and shows several hundred prisoners in a soccer field at Nova Kasaba, marked with a purple icon on the map below. (For a larger-scale image, click here.) A painstaking investigation by hundreds of international experts has established that only a couple of the prisoners you can see in this photo survived to tell their story.
For obvious reasons, intelligence agencies tend to hoard their secrets. If they can be induced to publicly release information about war crimes and genocide, the result can be extremely powerful. An information "multiplier" effect kicks in, similar to the multiplier effect in economics, unlocking even more important information. To understand how this works, consider the impact of the reconnaissance photograph above.
As the caption suggests, it shows a group of Bosnian Muslim prisoners at a place called Nova Kasaba around 14:00 hours on July 13, 1995, two days after the fall of Srebrenica. You can see buses travelling along the main road. The photograph was taken at approximately the same time the men in the soccer field were being addressed by Ratko Mladic. I have described in a previous post how the Bosnian Serb military commander promised the prisoners that they would be exchanged for Serb soldiers held captive by the Bosnian government.
This particular overhead image attracted the attention of CIA analysts after Muslim refugees from Srebrenica, a former United Nations "safe area," began telling gruesome stories of massacres by forces loyal to Mladic. Thousands of Muslims were captured by the Bosnian Serbs as they attempted to cross the road at Nova Kasaba in a desperate attempt to reach government-controlled territory to the north. Dutch peacekeepers detained overnight at the headquarters of a military police unit in the village also reported summary executions.
The photograph above is a unique historical image. It captures a massacre actually in progress near the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica around 17:15 on July 13, 1995. What makes this image even more remarkable -- and worth studying by anyone interested in the subject of genocide prevention -- is that it became a public document one day after the massacre, on July 14. It was part of a video reportage on events in Srebrenica aired by a Belgrade television station.
Granted, the photograph is initially difficult to interpret. If you look closely, however, you can identify bodies piled outside a warehouse, guarded by a soldier. In the video from which the image was taken (shown below), you can hear shots, and a reporter talking about "dead Muslim soldiers." Combined with overhead reconnaissance collected by the United States, intercepts, and eyewitness accounts, the fleeting image displayed on Belgrade Studio B was clear evidence that terrible events were taking place in eastern Bosnia.
International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia
Ratko Mladic has been described as "one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally-a charismatic murderer." What drove the Bosnian Serb military commander to order Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II? Could it have been prevented? Michael Dobbs, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, investigates.