Defense warns against scapegoating at historic war crimes trial

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Pale, impassive, wearing a baggy blue suit and flanked by U.N. guards, a 40-year-old Serb faced international justice Tuesday in the first war crimes trial to come out of the Bosnian war.
The Texas judge presiding over the U.N. tribunal reminded all present that Dusan Tadic was innocent until proven guilty. Tadic’s lawyer said he was a victim of mistaken identity, swept up by authorities frantic to find a scapegoat for the atrocities of Bosnia.
But the chief prosecutor accused the former bar owner of offenses of “unspeakable horror,” including murdering Muslim prisoners with karate kicks, torture, rape and forcing one prisoner to castrate another with his teeth.
The trial, which is to include video testimony by alleged victims too terrified of Tadic to face him in court, opened in a building ringed by steel barriers and flanked by tents to accommodate hundreds of reporters.
A 30-yard-wide wall of bulletproof glass separated the judges, attorneys and defendant from the packed spectators gallery, and scores of armed U.N. and Dutch police patrolled inside and outside the courtroom.
The three-judge panel, wearing black and scarlet robes, sat behind a raised wooden bench fitted with computer screens for viewing documentary evidence, including maps.
The first war crimes trial since Nuremberg “has certain historic dimensions,” presiding judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald of Houston said in her opening statement, referring to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals that ended in 1956.
“Nevertheless we should all remember first and foremost that this is a criminal trial,” she said.
Tadic is charged with crimes against humanity for taking part in more than 30 murders and torturing Muslims in and around the Serb-run Omarska prison camp in northwestern Bosnia in 1992. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
According to prosecutors, Tadic allegedly terrorized three camps in Bosnia’s northwestern Prijedor region from May through December 1992. He also is accused of rounding up Muslims and Croats in the area, killing or assaulting some, and driving others into the camps.
In his opening statement Tuesday, chief prosecutor Grant Niemann of Australia described Tadic’s transformation from a small businessman in the northwestern Bosnian town of Kozarac to a nationalist zealot freed by the Serb uprising to indulge his sadistic impulses.
He described one attack on inmates at Omarska in which Tadic, a martial arts expert, allegedly kicked Muslim inmates to death while other Serbs used baseball bats and lengths of cable.
But defense lawyer Mischa Wladimiroff warned Tuesday that the Yugoslav tribunal was an experiment in justice that could fail.
“The tribunal must be wary of desires for revenge and the need for a scapegoat,” Wladimiroff said.
“There is evidence that the case is viewed as a symbol of everything that has happened in the area and Dusko Tadic has been portrayed as the archetype of a war criminal,” he said.
The court-appointed lawyer said he would call witnesses who say Tadic was in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka when the atrocities were committed. He also plans to call character witnesses and survivors of detention camps to deny Tadic’s involvement in crimes.
Tadic originally also had been charged with rape, but in the opening minutes of the trial, the court dropped that charge at the request of prosecutors, who said the victim was too frightened to testify.
Court TV broadcast the proceedings live to the United States, and the plaza in front of the tribunal building was ringed with TV satellite dishes pointed skywards.
The U.N. court has indicted 57 suspects, among them Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, but the highest-profile suspects have not been arrested.
The accused architects of the mass slaughter and torture that were so much a part of the Bosnian war are being shielded by both Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs, who reject the court’s authority.