PARADOXES AND ABSURDITIES OF THE HAGUE INDICTMENT
Nedjeljko Mihanovic, PhD
General Ante Gotovina is being accused of the war crime, »that he knew, or had reason to know, that forces under his effective control were preparing to commit murder of Krajina Serbs« (150 of them). A war crime, as defined under the Hague convention of 1907, stipulates and includes: »killing, maltreatment, or deportation to forced labor of civilians; killing or maltreatment of prisoners of war; execution of hostages, destruction of towns and villages, or such devastation as cannot be justified by military necessity«.
None of that could have been committed in the military-police operation »Storm«:
a) because there was no way to kill a population which had already fled, because the Serbian population has evacuated itself to the Republic Srpska in B&H, and further towards Serbia proper, of its own volition, according to the plans of its leadership from the top of the Knin authorities;
b) because no one could organize any forced labor of civilians who have willfully fled, nor was this planned in any which way; and
c) because all prisoners of war have been unconditionally released by the Croatian authorities after the capitulation had been signed, and the »Storm« operation, which had lasted for four days, was over; finally
d) »destruction of towns and villages« was logically not part of the military-police operation, because all the towns and villages in question, which had been occupied by Serbian terrorists for four years, were Croatian state territory, so rather than stumbling into self-destruction, the purpose was to liberate the country.
Crimes against humanity include »organized murder, extermination, delivery into bondage, deportation of civilian population, their disappearance, torture, or inhuman procedures.« In point I, article 23, general Ante Gotovina is being summarily accused of all these crimes.
First of all, the quoted number of »150 murdered Krajina Serbs« is not broken down in the indictment. It is known that Serbian terrorist squads, as they carried out the orders of their superiors for the evacuation of the Serbian population, punished those Serbs who refused orders to evacuate by shooting them.
The indictment accuses General Ante Gotovina (along with Cermak and Markac) for »extermination of the civilian population«. It is a generally known fact that the Serbian population started to withdraw and evacuate according to its own strategic plans, respectively the orders of its paralegal government (Milan Martic and Milan Babic), several days before the military-police operation »Storm« was due to begin. Most of the Serbian population accepted this strategic inspiration of their leaders, and such a contrarian plan, to return in an organized fashion, after a new campaign of war, as victors. There was no »forcing to flee« (point I, article 23), nor could it have, physically, taken place.
In order to acquire a complete picture of the events surrounding the military-police operation »Storm« one should know that the Serbs from the so-called Krajina did not only flee. They also put up armed resistance, especially in ambushes, in which 200 Croatian civilians and more than 100 Croatian soldiers, defenders, lost their lives.
On August 6, 1995, I was in Knin and on the Knin citadel as President of the Croatian Parliament, in the company of President Dr Franjo Tudjman. I had unofficial exchanges with Croatian operational officers, who were involved in »Storm«. They recounted how they followed the evacuation of the Serbian population through binoculars, two days before »Storm« began. They thought the evacuation was in preparation for vigorous military activity by the Serbian paramilitary units. However, they were puzzled by the Serbian refugees burning their own homes and property, immediately after abandoning them on tractors and trucks in the direction of the Bosnian border. Similar Serbian burning of own houses was observed in the conflict of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, when individual Serbs were abandoning the region. It was motivated by an irrational contrarian attitude: let there be nothing left to the enemy!
Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for the Hague tribunal, commented on this self-induced and strategically malign planned evacuation of the Serbian population in her book Milosevic – La Diagonale du Fou: »Every Serbian refugee could testify that the Serbian population was fleeing under instructions from their own leaders. Every (Serbian) soldier could testify to the intentional withdrawal of the Serbian army, a consciously planned abandonment of the Krajina«.
We ask, what is this »deportation« (point I, article 23) all about? Within the scope of such a qualification, one should be aware of the testimony of US Ambassador Mr. Peter W. Galbraith, who was peaceably driven on a refugee tractor during the withdrawal of Serbs from Croatia. One should also consider the reports of UNPROFOR observers, which testify to the willful, premeditated and planned evacuation of the Serbian population from the territory which they kept under terror and occupation for four years. Thus no organized and premeditated war crime against the rebel Serb population was committed on Croatian territory, because that population was withdrawing several days before the military-police operation »Storm«, according to its own contrarian strategic plan, aiming to return to Croatia in organized fashion following a new campaign of war.
In point 7, article 46, of the Indictment it is stated that the »Croatian army already applied itself to planning to return by force the RSK, i.e. Krajina region«. In objective reality, Croatian diplomacy had undertaken everything, up to and including the Geneva talks of August 3, 1995, in numerous exhausting and patient negotiations with the intransigent structures of the Knin authorities, to peacefully resolve and terminate a state of occupation, violence, persecution and liquidation of the Croatian population, and put an end to the nightmarish despotism of a terrorist para-state set up on Croatian historical state territory, such as it was continuously from the 6th century to this day. Logically the malicious and insulting formulation »to return by force« should read, by all standards of international law and moral/intellectual awareness, »to liberate« the territory usurped by the RSK. With the Serb occupation of Middle-Dalmatian Croatian territory, Croatia was geographically de facto cut in half, the southern maritime Croatia separated from the northern Pannonia one. One could only reach Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik through the Gorski Kotar and by Rijeka. Which nation, and which state, would have tolerated such an endangered and paralyzed national existence. In the Falklands war, England had protected its islands, 12,000 km away from Great Britain. Why should permission to protect the territorial integrity of the state only be granted to great imperial powers, and denied to little nations. O tempora, o mores!
In my several conversations with President Tudjman, which I led at the time as President of Parliament, he expressed a markedly humanistic approach. His main political goal was: a peaceful ending to the state of war, into which we had been thrown by the Greater Serbian conquering megalomania, territorial expansion and greedy economic voracity. His war options and victorious impulses were both humane and peacemaking. In carrying out his decisions he acted according to the highest standards of humanitarian law. Immediately after »Storm,« he amnestied and released all prisoners of war, members of Serbian paramilitary units, among which there were Seselj's and Arkan's volunteer Chetnik hordes, soaked in blood to their whiskers. He let them go as if they were innocent tourists, who had strayed into Croatia by accident. There was not a case of segregation or exclusion when turning over Serbian paramilitary prisoners. There is no occasion of such a generous and humane turning over of prisoners of war in the whole history of warfare. According to his own statement, for Tudjman »Storm« was: »The end of Croatia's historic cross«. (Vlak slobode (Freedom train), Zagreb 1996). Similar peaceable motives can be established from Tudjman's public speeches and missives to the nation and the world.
We must be truthful and objective enough to admit that, immediately after the »Storm« operation moved towards the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there took place random destruction of property of the fleeing Serbian population, in the villages and hamlets of the recently occupied territory (burning of houses, barns, and stables). This was done by Croatian refugees who had started returning to their houses after four years of displacement, and found them completely destroyed, burned to the ground. These were displaced Croatian returnees, who carried by themselves the enormous burden of memories, displacement, and bitterness, who had encountered in their villages their own houses in a sorry state, with schools, churches, cultural buildings, and all their property destroyed. It should similarly not be forgotten, that Serbian terrorist squads also acted as a kind of punitive expedition for those Serbs which turned a deaf ear to the evacuation orders, and themselves burned the greater part of Serbian homes, especially all public property (factories, commercial buildings and industrial halls), with the mindless intention: let it not be left to the enemy! After four years of adversity, suffering and displacement, the Croatian population was greatly embittered. The anger people felt, on whom such a misfortune was inflicted, was difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, this was not a »systematic attack against the civilian population,« as claimed in the Indictment, but a desperate, random, unpremeditated outburst of irrational revenge.
It is known from World War II that military and civilian units of the French Resistance movement persecuted the German national minority in Alsace and Lorraine, including destruction of their private property. The American front-line general George Smith Patton was on the Franco-German border at the time and led military operations. He too did not know, nor could he have known, what was to happen behind the front lines. Neither General Ante Gotovina knew, nor could he have known, what was to happen, and had begun to happen, behind the front lines. No one from the current Prosecution would dare indict General Patton for a »joint criminal enterprise« with the French Resistance, involving a »planned« destruction of the German minority's property. Why is a double and duplicitous moral position applied in the judgment of equivalent acts, in the case of Gotovina?
On August 13, 1995, President Tudjman spoke on the phone with US Vice-President Al Gore about the basic, essential question of the strategic effects of the military-police operation »Storm«. Vice-president Gore expressed in most unequivocal fashion his praise and appreciation, what »Storm« meant for the international community and the unsuccessful, impotent UNPROFOR: »liberation from the efforts to protect Bihac and its 'pink zones', thus greatly contributing to the realization of the American peace initiative on the territory of former Yugoslavia«. President Tudjman received a similar admission from the aide to the US Secretary of State for European affairs Peter Holbrooke on August 16, 1995. The American ambassador Peter W. Galbraith, who had followed the Serbian evacuation from the occupied territories of Croatia physically in person, also expressed his agreement and appreciation. Between October 21 and 25, 1995, President Tudjman took part in the celebration of 50 years of the UN in the US, and met with a number of statesmen, among them the American President Bill Clinton, who praised him for the quick and successful operation »Storm,« and for establishing the peace in the region of western Bosnia. We cannot imagine that President Clinton was not well informed by his observers in the »Storm« operation. Now all of a sudden, ten years later, this liberating and peace-bringing undertaking is being called in the Indictment »criminal«, and in addition »joint«, »combined«, a collective, general national crime. Even the German people at Nuremberg were not stigmatized with such attributes. It is glaringly clear and conspicuous to any objective and impartial judgment, that such a construction to perceive the Croatian liberation war, with its fatal ignorance and neglect of actual facts, is itself monstrous, unscrupulous, absurd, scandalous, and more personal than professionally objective.
Nedjeljko Mihanovic: PARADOXES AND ABSURDITIES OF THE HAGUE INDICTMENT
CROATIAN GENERALS ARE NOT GUILTY