Friday, February 03, 2006

Jasmina Tesanovic sends me her latest dispatch: another searing account of the Scorpion war crimes trial in Bosnia:
Day 1, January 23, 2006

The fifth indicted Scorpion hardly speaks. When he does, one cannot understand him, in this small courtroom where the Scorpion trial continues today. It is minus 11 degrees here in Belgrade, it snows, we still have our Russian gas heating on, but for how long?

He mumbles, groans, and shakes his head while the severe judge woman interrogates him. From behind, I see his thick neck and body, distorted as if in pain. He is a couple of meters away from me. He is asked to speak louder, but he has nothing to say really; he pleads not guilty. Until recently his defense was silence. Today the few words extorted from him by the impatient judge are I DON'T REMEMBER, I DON'T KNOW...He twitches and his eyes are-directed to the patch of floor in front of him. He was the chauffeur who took the six Muslim prisoners to the meadow where they were
executed. He had a Kalashnikov, he had a pistol, and he claims he didn’t shoot. He saw them being executed but he says: my eyes were blinded by sudden darkness, I know nothing.

For five hours he tells this story. He was the driver, supposed to bring bread to his fellow soldiers, but brought them prisoners and then death. They shot first only four prisoners, and then made the other two take the bodies to a house nearby, where they shot them too. Lawyers and judges are interrogating him. He has nothing to say.

Finally one other indicted member of his paramilitary group comments that he was the one who shot the last two prisoners in the house. Then he screams: of course I shot, we all shot... Again, he lost his temper. Night blinded his sight. The judge
is angry with him. She says: all this time you claimed another thing! He recoils... hustle in the courtroom.

"I saw the film for the first time on TV and I think the film was manipulated, some people who were there are missing..."

Who is missing? The victims, the Bosnian officers, his paramilitary friends... again he knows nothing. The trial is adjourned.

We are silent, we Women in Black, together with friends of the victims who came again to Belgrade. The brutality and banality of the killer's coming-out has sucked away my sense of morality. If he has no regrets, nothing to say, is there anything at all to say in this world?

Day 2, January 24, 2006

Day of maps and confrontations. Today, hardly anybody mentions bodies or guns. It is a day of military jargon and display. If one didn’t know the trial was about the Scorpions, one could even get interested in their discourse. All of them have inflated egos and high self-esteem: now they are sitting in front of each other, and clashing in front of the judge, with their varying versions of who said what, who was
responsible for what, who was where... Ten years ago, that very day when innocent civilians were executed in cold blood.

That is not their main issue. Their topics are loyalty, the silence of omerta, honoring their hierarchy and sacred military duties. They are relatives, kin, godfathers to each other and to their children. One of them is married to another's sister. The judge asks him to explain their family ties. He replies: why do you think that being in bed with a woman makes me closer to her than to her brother?

He is the number one indicted, obviously responsible for the execution, but he is playing it tough, denying everything, waving his long hair in arrogance and showing off his built-up body as if he were a gay model. He despises the court, the judges
and the audience. He answers only to himself, and to Serbian honor, and he lies. He lies all the time, denying everything.

His subordinates are deluded. They are heavily disappointed and sad. They are spilling the beans, revealing what they think they know, but the deeper truth is coming out. Even the arrogant top guy didn’t give the ultimate orders. He got his orders from somebody else, from some proper Serbia authority, from the secret police, from the regime.

Tell the court who gave the order.

YOU tell, if you know. They are fighting each other. The name hovers in the air. Nobody is saying it. Their pledges of sympathy and innocence have nothing to do with reason or politics.

The courtroom was packed up, the press hustled from our media center room so that they could not get a proper insight. Another parallel trial is going on, the trial of the murder of our late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Not the trial of the Scorpion paramilitaries, but the trial of the Zemun Clan mafia.

We all meet on the coffee shop. We stare at each other during the recesses. A sinister guy from a mafia family hisses at us: Women in Black! When the Radical Party gets into power, you will be DONE!

I heard that many judges who presided firmly and justly against the clan power structures were put aside afterwards. Who rules in Serbia today? Who pulls the strings and gives the orders, six years after Milosevic left for The Hague?

Day 3, January 25, 2005

After days on end of war criminals and their lawyers, the victims appear on the podium. These are the grieving survivors. We no longer have the actual victims, for they are not only dead, but, as DNA tests proved, their scattered bones were dissipated into several mass graves. Some pieces are still missing. Is there hope to restore the identities of the missing?

Six family members of six victims are entering the courtroom today. Mothers, sisters, children and other kin, they came to Belgrade from Srebrenica and around in order to testify and identify their nearest and dearest. With Muslim names and clothes, they are aliens to this big dirty city, with war criminals loose, and to this clean fancy court, where justice is attempted.

Every day, B92 television is broadcasting documentary material about the Scorpions. I hear that, even when in prison, they are still among the richest war-profiteers in Serbia. Even if they get a life sentence, which in practice means 20 years, once
they are out, being men in their thirties now, they will still be rich and powerful.

The judge in the court says: International law is above the national law. So, we have to respect the decision of several other family members, who are afraid to come, but will testify via Internet. This is a big offense to swallow for the war criminals and their nationalist lawyers.

The first witness testifies, in despair more than in tears. This mother recognizes her missing 16 year old on the film of the killing. The audience trembles.

This morning I mingled with the relatives of the criminals. They are always loud, and they sit in the first rows. I broke through their solid, shoving front-line and sat in the first row myself. Now, their wives and sisters of the killers are sobbing uncontrollably, along with me.

The sister of the dead boy has to interrupt her testimony, because she cannot speak. She manages to say: You cannot imagine the situation that day, July 11, 1995. The UN troops were doing nothing. The Serb militia were raging. People were being bombed, pushed from one side of the country to another, divided up, and executed... Girls were torn from their families and raped. In the camp where we spent the night, we fifteen thousand souls, insane screams would wake us during the night, and we would all start shivering. Waiting to be executed, people were committing suicide, or going out of their minds. Nobody knew the truth of what was happening, but we all felt death, and we were right.

The eighteen-year-old son of the executed father says: I was eight. I saw him leaving us. I knew I was seeing the last of him. I saw the film, made a few hours later, shown here ten years after they shot him. He had that same shirt, and that same face I loved so much. I will never forget. I need no DNA tests. I know that is my father.

His father was filmed while executed. And the 8myear old boy was also filmed, while being given sweets by Ratko Mladic, the child fed candies while his father was shot.

Another mother cannot go on with the photo identification. She does not even weep; she simply faints. I understand this woman best. When they tell us: if you were not there you cannot understand, I can recognize that: I know that I don't understand. These six people in front of me lost almost all of their nearest and dearest in those few days of killing.

They all have the same earnest question: WHY. Those who were killed were not soldiers. All they wanted was to flee the UN enclave and live. Invariably, after their speeches, they turn in amazement to see the faces of the guys who did it. They stare. The men she did it stare back. Nobody utters the words: ethnic cleansing.

One of the indicted even manages an apology. A witness hears him: my deep condolences. But I obeyed the orders.

One question is the central issue at this trial. Who ordered this? Natasa Kandic, human right activist, wants to prove that was state terrorism. The criminals want to define themselves as honorable civil warriors. We sit through the evening with our
new Bosnian friends. They ask only justice, and even believe they will get it here in the special-court in Belgrade.

We are knitting our new lives together. We speak the same language, though we call it different names. We share a history, though from opposite sides. We
have the same beliefs. Call them justice, and truth, or love for the world.

In this second round of the Scorpion trial, the banality of evil was revealed by these six simple heartfelt voices of reason.

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