Describing General Ivan Cermak’s role, defense military expert said he exercised ‘less than 20 percent’ of his de jure powers. When the prosecutor showed him some orders the accused general issued to the military police in Knin, the witness replied those were ‘informative orders’ that didn’t have to be carried out

Franjo Feldi, svjedok odbrane Ivana ČermakaFranjo Feldi, svjedok odbrane Ivana Čermaka

The prosecution continued cross-examining Ivan Cermak’s military expert, retired HV general Franjo Feldi, focusing mostly on the place the military police had in the Croatian armed forces. Yesterday, the witness seemed to agree with the prosecution argument that during Operation Storm the military police operated under the command of HV commanders in the field: Ante Gotovina was one of them. Today, on the contrary, he claimed that the military police units were under the exclusive authority of the Military Police Administration headed by General Mate Lausic. The confusion was caused in part by the manner in which the prosecutor cross-examined the witness, going into too many details, and General Feldi’s answers which were too long. Both were cautioned several times by presiding judge Orie.

Yesterday, General Feldi said that the military police was initially under the command of the Military Police Administration headed by General Mate Lausic, but that in late 1992 the Military Council of the Croatian Defense Ministry decided to place it under the command of the HV commanders in the field. This led to the conclusion that the military police units had been placed under the control of the commanders of operational zones, which later became military districts. Ante Gotovina, who was the commander of Operation Storm, was one of those.

At the beginning of the hearing today, it was became quite clear that the prosecution and the witness are in complete disagreement on this: General Feldi claims that there was another reshuffle in the military police chain of command in 1994. The new rules of service, the witness claims, stipulate that the military police units are again placed under the command of the Croatian Defense Ministry, and its Military Police Administration. According to the new rules, only the administration chief Mate Lausic could decide which military police units would be seconded to HV units and when.

As regard Ivan Cermak’s relationship with the military police, the witness claimed that as the Knin Garrison commander, he didn’t have any authority over the military police company in the town. While Feldi was drafting his expert report about the structure of the HV, he didn’t encounter a single document where General Lausic places any military police units under Cermak’s authority. The prosecution challenged the finding by bringing up a number of orders Cermak issued to the military police in the field after Operation Storm. According to Feldi, those were ‘informative orders’ that didn’t have to be carried out. Those documents patently did not meet the formal military operational standards, the witness went on to say, because the author never asked to receive reports about the results.

After all, the witness claimed, Cermak did not exercise in practice the de jure powers he had as the Knin Garrison commander. On paper, he had the authority to issue instructions and orders to HV units, and to monitor their implementation, but according to Feldi’s estimate, he had ‘less than 20 percent’ of those powers in practice, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he didn’t know what HV and military police units were stationed in Knin at all.

One of the key issues at the trial of Croatian generals is who had command over the military police units, linked with the charges of failure to prevent crimes and punish perpetrators. If the prosecution manages to prove that Gotovina and Cermak had control over the military police, it means that they could have ordered measures, through those units, to prevent the looting and burning of Serb houses, and to investigate murders and other crimes against Serb civilians. Police general Mladen Markac is in the dock with Gotovina and Cermak, facing the same charges for crimes committed during and after Operation Storm.

As the hearing today drew to a close, another of Cermak’s military experts, Pero Kovacevic, took the stand.