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The Case of Dragan Opacic:
Global Imprisonment of 'Witness L'
[June 21, 2000]
by Igor Gajic, 'Reporter,' Banja Luka, Srpska
For six and a half years, inside the walls of the Correctional Facility in Zenica, Dragan Opacic has been asking himself each day what he has done before God to deserve such a fate. Nevertheless, today he has at least one guarantee. He will live. Even in the case that he serves the entire sentence determined by the court in Sarajevo when he was imprisoned on the Treskavica Mt. as a private of the Republic of Srpska Army (VRS).
According to the decision of the court, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for alleged war crimes carried out in the Trnopolje collection center during 1992. At that time Opacic was 16 years old but this did not present an obstacle to the Higher Court in Sarajevo which sentenced him for 23 counts of murder by gunfire, two counts of murder by cutting of the throat and 10 rapes. The court was likewise not bothered by the fact that not a single witness saw Opacic in the Trnopolje camp, nor that he was not he at the camp during the period mentioned in the indictment. He was sentenced on the basis of a confession which he signed while in the hands of AID, the intelligence service of the Bosnia-Hercegovina (BH) Federation.
Ideal witness: "I had no means of survival. The only thing I could do was to sign the confession. Then they stopped beating me. They beat me with anything and everything. A rubber hose, split wood logs, they put salt into my wounds," Opacic is loath to remember. During his trial he did not see a single witness. The judge accused him and the judge sentenced him. Today he asks himself: "Which of those Muslims was in that war camp and saw me there? Let him step forward and say that I was at the war camp. They should feel free to step forward." This evidence was not provided by the Hague tribunal, OHR, IPTF nor the Office for Human Rights. Opacic has appealed to all of these institutions.
While he related his story to Reporter in the meeting room of the Correctional Facility in Zenica, Opacic at first appeared calm. Only after a certain time did it become apparent that this calm was nothing else but resignation or acceptance of his fate there.
Nevertheless, he has not given up on the battle to prove the truth, even though he himself believes in it less and less.
When he was imprisoned and sentenced, no one knew anything about him. Neither the Red Cross, nor UNPROFOR, nor his parents nor the VRS, which after his capture sought him as a deserter. He was carefully hidden and the reason become apparent immediately after the sentencing. At that time the Bosniak government desperately needed a Serb as a witness in the Hague in the case against Dusko Tadic. Dragan Opacic with his confession became the ideal witness. Ideal for the Hague investigators as well: they finally found a Serb willing to say that he was under Tadic's direct command.
He became Witness L.
The only man at that time who was interested in Opacic and his fate was Branislava Isailovic, an attorney from Paris, has a somewhat cynical explanation of the manner in which Opacic became Witness L.
"I think that Opacic had many advantages from the perspective of the Bosniaks. He was young, not too smart and he could be easily influenced. He was an ideal witness, created to be manipulated. He comes from a poor, uneducated family, the chance of his parents initiating a search for their son were minimal. While Opacic was a prisoner, his family did not know of his whereabouts. What is more, Opacic was less than 18 years old during the period when he allegedly committed the crimes for which the Bosniaks tried to make him responsible. They used the fact that Opacic was a minor to hold his trial behind closed doors; by doing so, they created even greater pressure on him to testify against Tadic," said Isailovic, who initiated several motions for the revision of the case against her defendant. For now all her requests are at a standstill.
Preparations: Opacic, who testified against Dusko Tadic, had never seen him in his life. He was prepared to testify by AID. While he talks about this he shakes his head: "I was prepared for a long time. I lived through all sorts of things. They worked on breaking me both physically and psychologically. I viewed all the tapes, all the photos but I was afraid to step out and say that all of it was a lie prearranged by the Federation and the tribunal investigators. They knew it, too, but they wanted to believe the government here."
His story at times is accompanied by bitter twitching of a relatively indifferent expression on his face.
Nevertheless, lying saved his life. Only in the Hague did the Red Cross find out about him. He became famous as Witness L.
"I told them things but they are trying to justify themselves even today and so they did not want to try me for false testimony because they knew that they themselves were involved in it. I have always told them: I am not guilty; I was not there; I didn't do anything."
The solution was simple. They prepared him even "better". They took him in secret to the scene of the alleged crimes. Cheap movie plots became Opacic's reality: "It was no use telling them that I had never been there and that I didn't know anything about the places they were showing us." After that, he decided to nod his head at everything that they showed him. "I procrastinated as much as I could in order to delay as much as possible so that I would have some kind of guarantee for staying alive. I had no idea whether my family was alive or not."
Washing hands: The deception with the witness, whom the prosecution had already termed a key witness, was first noticed by professor Mischa Vladimirof, then one of Tadic's defenders.
During the trial, on October 26, 1996, Opacic admitted to Tadic's defender that he was not the author of his confession. The hearing was held in the presence of the chief investigator of the tribunal, Reed, the day after the identity of "Witness L" was revealed.
"I know Trnopolje from 1993 when I was a refugee there. There were no Muslims there at all. There were just a lot of refugees there and I used to tell them that they wouldn't accomplish anything and that in the end the lie would be revealed. But they only believed what they were told by the government in Sarajevo." Opacic remembers when he first saw Dusko Tadic's photograph: "When they brought the picture of Tadic, I had no idea that this was Tadic. I saw him for the first time in person at the Hague, and before the Hague I saw him on videos which were shown to me by the Bosniak police."
This was the sign for the beginning of the washing of hands of the biggest deception in the history of the Hague tribunal.
Judge Gabriella Kirk McDonald was the first. She immediately returned Opacic into the uncertainty of Bosniak hands with the words: "We believe that Bosnia will act in the appropriate manner."
A legal expert from the Netherlands who is following the work of the tribunal, Heikelina Verrijn Stuart laughed at this. "The president of the tribunal based her decision on sympathies toward Bosnia at a time when the world still believed in the picture of 'the good guys and the bad guys'. Which is probably understandable and motivated by humanism but from a legal aspect completely unjustified."
Opacic's request for asylum in the Netherlands was not even considered and on June 12, 1997 Opacic left the Schiphol airport despite the opposition of several legal experts and Dutch attorneys.
"The Netherlands could not have acted otherwise," was the position of the Dutch court and the state of Holland but in the opinion of Jeuran Sluiter, a researcher at the University of Utrecht, the European convention on human rights should have been taken into consideration.
Since then, Opacic has been in Bosnia. The only person who has remained by his side is Branislava Isailovic, who searched for him in vain for almost a year because Dragan Opacic was hidden once again. She found him at his present location, in the Zenica prison, and since then has resumed her battle on his behalf.
Turning heads: She appealed to Izetbegovic and Silajdzic but the most powerful men in the Federation continued the trend of turning away their heads. They did not want compromise the independence of their judiciary.
Dragan Opacic turned to the institutions of RS: "I wrote a letter to Dodik, a letter to the RS government. Nothing yet," he says with resignation.
In the office of the RS government they know nothing about such a letter; they also do not know from what point any sort of action could be initiated. The ministry of "smoothing over troubled waters" or the ministry of justice, as it is called in RS, has kept the promise of its minister to undertake something with regard to Opacic to the same extent that they have abolished criminal activity in RS.
The assistant to the minister of justice, Strahinja Djurkovic, remembered the case but could not tell us anything concrete about it.
"We have been in contact and spoken with the ministry in the BH Federation and this case has received some mention. We know that he has been sentenced to 10 years but we do not know the circumstances under which he was arrested," the assistant to the minister demonstrated his enviable interest in the case. But he has problems in coordinating his schedule. "At that time we did not have the time to visit him. When we find time..."
Djurkovic also mentioned something about a parole committee; even Opacic does not believe in this. He is aware that as a prisoner from another entity and someone accused of war crimes he has no chance for a weekend visit, let alone a parole. The motion to retry his case was decidedly rejected by the ministry of justice because "this must be done according to a universal plan and consistently throughout BH". The ministry of defense has never even heard of him, even though he was captured and sentenced as a member of the VRS.
After all this, Opacic's belief that one day when after his release from prison he will have no place in either the Republic of Srpska or Bosnia-Hercegovina is not surprising.
No one wants Witness L anymore.
The most accurate and tragic comment came from Opacic's mother, Zorka: "We are poor so I guess that is how it has to be."
The family of Dragan Opacic lives in the village of Hrnici near Kozarac, 230 kilometers from Zenica, where Dragan is imprisoned. The Opacic family lives in the last house or more accurately, a hut, in the village. Their property consists of one cow. The hut itself is dark and damp. "We have not seen him for years," his mother, Zorka, grieves. She last saw her son when she saw him off to the Army. His father Janko and brother Pero saw him in the Hague where Dragan was afraid to admit he knew them. This was the first crack in the testimony of Witness L.
His mother, who cries every time Dragan's name is mentioned, swears that he was never in the Trnopolje camp. The local residents of the village even managed to gather a few hundred signatures on a statement asserting Opacic's innocence and his nonparticipation in anything that may have occurred in Trnopolje.
They have not visited him in prison yet because they do not have the money to do so.
Rights before and after Dayton
In addition to the attorney Isailovic, the only other active interest in Opacic's case has been expressed by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of RS. The president of this organization, Branko Todorovic, believes that this was a clear instance of a staged trial which was useful to AID for propaganda regarding "the bad guys". Todorovic also attempted to approach the Office for Human Rights but he received the same response as Isailovic: that the office has no jurisdiction in matters preceding the Dayton agreement.
When asked why nothing could be done for Opacic and what is the purpose of the existence of the Office for Human Rights, Reporter received a written response which allotted this human tragedy two cold paragraphs. "The office has considered the report of Mr. Opacic and adopted its decision regarding this matter on January 12, 2000. The office has unanimously decided that the report was unacceptable on the basis of the fact that one part of his report was inconsistent ratione temporis with article VIII(2)(c), while one part was completely unfounded with respect to article VIII(2)(c) annex 6 of the Dayton peace agreement," it is stated in the response of Theresa Nelson, the executive officer of the office.
Even more interesting was the reaction of the BH Federation judiciary. Mustafa Bisic, the prosecutor of the cantonal court in Sarajevo, swooped down on the Helsinki Committee, accusing them of requesting a retrial for political reasons, and saying that Opacic had a fair and honest trial. How fair and honest it really was, Opacic himself felt on his own skin. Literally.
Moment of truth
Reporter has received a transcript of the moment when professor Vladimirof discovered that Witness L was "planted" by the former and current Bosniak authorities.
Vladimirof: Have you ever read any kind of statement yourself or has someone read any kind of statement to you?
Vladimirof: Did you read your own statement?
Opacic: I just got the statement to sign.
Vladimirof: So you signed the statement without reading it first?
Opacic: They beat me. I was hurt and they threatened me. They constantly beat me and told me the most horrible things.
Vladimirof: Did you tell the judge that you were forced to sign the statement?
Opacic: No one asked me anything, not even my own attorney.
Vladimirof: You were in court, with a judge, police and someone who recorded everything. Surely you could have told the judge that you were forced to sign the statement?
Opacic: How could I? They said that they would kill me.
Vladimirof: I understand. Why didn't you tell Bob Reed what had happened?
Opacic: They told me that I needed to testify in the Tadic case. After that I would go back and then my prison sentence would be reduced or I would be freed. That is why they told me in the [Bosniak] Internal Security Service and in the court.
Translated by Snezana Lazovic [23 June 2000]
NATO's Tribunal: Straight From the Horse's Mouth
by Jared Israel [30 June 2001]
Want to know more about the Hague Tribunal on Yugoslavia? Is it the harbinger of an age where humanitarian justice triumphs over nations? Or is it the hitman of Imperial policy?
Below is a list of articles on the Tribunal with brief descriptions. The writers include Dr. Hans Koechler, a most respected analyst, associated with the United Nations.
You may skip right to this list. Or first consider the following direct evidence. It is straight from the horse's mouth.
Did you think the Tribunal was free to indict anyone without respect to rank or nationality?
Exhibit A: Interview with Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, during the aggression against Yugoslavia.
"QUESTION: Jamie, I wonder if you could comment on a speech made by Justice Arbour of the International Criminal Tribunal last week, a copy of which I left with your very fine secretary so that you would have reference to it. Judge Arbour in her speech said that as a result of the NATO initiatives being initiated on 24 March the countries of NATO have "voluntarily submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of her court whose mandate applies to the theatre of the chosen military operation and whose reach is unqualified by nationality and whose investigations are triggered at the sole discretion of the prosecutor who has primacy over national courts." Does NATO recognise Judge Arbour's jurisdiction over their activities?
"JAMIE SHEA: First of all, my understanding of the UN resolution that established the Court is that it applies to the former Yugoslavia, it is for war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
"Secondly, I think we have to distinguish between the theoretical and the practical. I believe that when Justice Arbour starts her investigation, she will because we will allow her to. It's not Milosevic that has allowed Justice Arbour her visa to go to Kosovo to carry out her investigations. If her court, as we want, is to be allowed access, it will be because of NATO so NATO is the friend of the Tribunal, NATO are the people who have been detaining indicted war criminals for the Tribunal in Bosnia. We have done it, 14 arrests so far by SFOR, and we will continue to do it.
"NATO countries are those
that have provided the finance to set up the Tribunal, we are
amongst the majority financiers, and of course to build a second
chamber so that prosecutions can be speeded up so let me assure
that we and the Tribunal are all one on this, we want to see war
criminals brought to justice and I am certain that when Justice
Arbour goes to Kosovo and looks at the facts she will be
indicting people of Yugoslav nationality and I don't anticipate
any others at this stage ."
[Our Emphasis, May 17, 1999 Transcript of NATO press conference by Jamie Shea & Major General W. Jertz in Brussels Transcribed by M2 PRESSWIRE (c) 1999]
Washington Created It; NATO Makes It Possible
Did you think critics were indulging in hyperbole when they said Madeline Albright was "Mother of the Tribunal"?
EXHIBIT B: Excerpts from speech by Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, President of the Hague Tribunal, at her award ceremony at the American Supreme Court on April 5, 1999.
"I am also pleased to be here tonight as a guest of the Coalition for International Justice, which was founded in 1995 with assistance from CEELI and the Open Society Institute. The Coalition has been a great source of support to the Tribunal. CIJ jumped in early and has stayed involved ever since. From running a workshop to assist the defense counsel in the very first trial, through seminars for the judges...
"Without the co-operation of the states and entities in the former Yugoslavia and the international community as a whole, the Tribunal had no way of bringing even a single accused to trial.
"Nevertheless, we persevered and did what we could to
build the institution. We benefited from the strong support of
concerned governments and dedicated individuals such as Secretary
Albright. As the permanent representative to the United Nations,
she had worked with unceasing resolve to establish the Tribunal.
Indeed, we often refer to her as the "mother of the Tribunal".
And I am proud of what we have accomplished. After those first
years of struggling to simply establish the court, we have now
really gotten on with the substance of our mandate."
(From http://www.pict-pcti.org/news/archive/April/ICTY.04.05.html )
Emperor's Clothes Note: The Open Society Institute, which Ms. McDonald found so helpful, is George Soros' outftt. Soros acts as a kind of high-profit wing of the CIA. On the one hand, he is a ruthless currency-pirate (that is polite), implicated in savaging the Thai economy, which launched the great Asian crash. On the other hand, his foundation sets up and funds front groups throughout the former Socialist countries and elsewhere as beachheads for U.S. penetration.
In his testimony at the July, 1999 hearing on overthrowing democracy in Yugoslavia, Special Yugoslav Envoy Gelbard spoke of the Open Society Foundation as a great help in carrying out Imperial penetration. CELLI appears to be part of a group of governmental and semi-governmental organizations which work together to develop Fifth Column organizations in countries targeted by the U.S. Empire. One of the main coordinators of this apparatus is a CIA-spinoff, the National Endowment for Democracy, about which see 'US Arrogance And Yugoslav Elections" at http://emperors-clothes.com/engl.htm#z and 'Eviscerating Democracy' at http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/szamuely/neda2.htm
Washington Finances It
Did you think this "United Nations" War Crimes Tribunal was funded by the United Nations?
Exhibit C: The Tribunal Thanks Washington for Donating the Money to Do Washington's Propaganda Work
"Press Release · Communiqué de presse
(Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document)
The Hague, 19 April 1999
"THE UNITED STATES PLEDGE USD 500 000 TO
"TRIBUNALS OUTREACH PROJECT
"PRESIDENT McDONALD GRATEFUL FOR GENEROUS CONTRIBUTION
"On behalf of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the President of the Tribunal, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, has expressed her deep appreciation to the U.S. Government for its pledge of USD 500 000 for the Tribunals Outreach project. Harold Koh, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, announced the donation at a press briefing at the Tribunal on Friday 16 April 1999.
"This generous contribution, which makes up over a third of the total Outreach budget, will, as Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh noted 'allow the Tribunal to carry its message of impartial justice not only to governments and legal practitioners in the former Yugoslavia, but, most of all, to the families of victims.'
"The President urges other countries and organisations to support this vital project, which is aimed at bridging the communications gap between the Tribunal and the people of the former Yugoslavia and helping in the international communitys overall reconciliation effort." (Emphasis added. From the official ICTY website http://www.un.org/icty/basic.htm )
Some Useful Articles on the 'International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia'
* In 'Illegal Tribunal - Illegal Indictment' Dr. Hans Koechler, the distinguished philosopher and social-legal analyst associated with the United Nations examines the Tribunal and does not like what he finds. Can be read at http://emperors-clothes.com/docs/prog2.htm
* In 'An Impartial Tribunal? Really?', Attorney Chris Black examines the Tribunal's history and methods of operations. Can be read at http://emperors-clothes.com/analysis/Impartial.htm
* Dr. Kosta Cavoski, a distinguished Yugoslav
legal scholar, has written a mind-boggling four-part series.
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