Noting that the prosecution in the case of the Croatian generals acted as a ‘devil’s advocate’ alleging that there was ‘invisible ethnic cleansing’, Ante Gotovina’s defense lawyers called for his acquittal. As Gotovina’s defense noted, Gotovina was a ‘brave and honest soldier to whom the world owes a debt of gratitude because he put his life in danger to vanquish those who had ethnically cleansed the territory of ex-Yugoslavia’. The defense teams of Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac also called for their clients’ acquittal

Luka Misetic, defence counsel of Ante GotovinaLuka Misetic, defence counsel of Ante Gotovina

At the beginning of the closing arguments by General Ante Gotovina’s defense, his lawyer Luka Misetic said that the prosecution case could easily be summed up in a single line: ‘Your honors, do not believe your own eyes because nothing is as it seems’. The truth, as the defense contends, is obvious. There was no joint criminal enterprise to expel Serbs, only isolated crimes, for which Gotovina – as the key man of Operation Storm – was not responsible. In Misetic’s words, the prosecution offered a ‘complex conspiracy theory’ to implicate Gotovina.

The defense accused the prosecution of drafting the final brief as a ‘devil’s advocate’, not seeking justice but making allegations against Gotovina at any cost, denying that the accused had ever done anything good. Misetic commented on the prosecution’s allegation that President Tudjman – knowing that the international community would strongly oppose ethnic cleansing – did everything he could to cover up the expulsion of the Serbs after Operation Storm while it was still underway. The prosecution thus spoke of an ‘invisible ethnic cleansing’: even those purportedly ethnically cleansed weren’t aware of it, Misetic concluded ironically. According to Misetic, no Serb witnesses ever stated that they had fled Krajina in fear of shelling.

Countering the prosecution’s arguments, the defense noted that General Gotovina took all reasonable measures to prevent crimes and punish perpetrators, including issuing the orders to prevent and put a stop to the looting and burning of Serb houses which the prosecutor described yesterday as ‘insincere’. Yesterday the prosecution argued that the accused general knew that the orders would not be obeyed but did nothing to change the situation.

Gregory Kehoe, Gotovina’s co-counsel, rejected the allegations of indiscriminate shelling as an element of the joint criminal enterprise, noting that the prosecution failed to produce any video or photographic evidence of the destruction in Knin and other Krajina towns. The prosecution failed to produce the kind of crater analysis used at the trials of VRS generals Galic and Milosevic. Galic and Milosevic were convicted for artillery terror against Sarajevo. ‘If you look for evidence of large-scale destruction and civilian victims in Knin, you’ll look in vain because the prosecution has failed to call any’, Kehoe told the judges.

While Kehoe did not deny that there was looting and burning of Serb houses, he nevertheless contended there was no evidence to prove that it was part of an organized campaign. In Kehoe’s words, the HV soldiers couldn’t be held responsible for looting and arson in an area just because they happened to be there. Immediately after Operation Storm, many civilians rushed into Krajina bent on revenge. ‘The prosecution evidence on the murder of civilians is similarly defective’, the defense contends.

Payam Akhavam concluded Gotovina’s defense closing argument by saying that the accused general had been in detention for five years now ‘on groundless accusations’, adding that Gotovina was a ‘brave and honest soldier to whom the world owed a debt of gratitude for putting his life in danger to vanquish those who had ethnically cleansed the territory of the ex-Yugoslavia’. This is why Gotovina should be acquitted on all counts in the indictment, Akhavan concluded.

The defense also called for Ivan Cermak’s acquittal, arguing that Cermak was sent to Knin pursuant to President Tudjman’s decision, to deal with civilian, rather than military matters – despite the fact that Cermak had the rank of a general and was appointed military commander of the Knin Garrison. Defense counsel Steven Kay denied that Cermak had authority over the military and civilian police, urging the judges to disregard Cermak’s rank on paper but to focus instead on what was going on in practice. According to Kay, Cermak was preoccupied with the normalization of life in Knin and cooperation with the international representatives. ‘What happened here is that three generals were to be brought to trial and Cermak’s name popped up. Cermak was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did nothing wrong’, the defense counsel concluded.

The defense of former special police commander Mladen Markac contends that the prosecution has failed to prove a link between their client and the crimes in the field, dismissing the prosecution’s claim that Markac did nothing to prevent or punish those crimes. Only the crime police could investigate any crimes that the special police may have perpetrated and Markac could not take any measures at all, the defense noted.

The defense denied that Markac was responsible for the crime in the village of Grubori, where five elderly Serbs were killed in an action of the special police on 25 August 1995. According to defense, the accused did not know what was happening during the special police engagement in the village of Grubori. ‘If Markac’s subordinates lied to him and Markac himself merely forwarded their reports, he couldn’t be blamed for the cowardice of others, who did not have the courage to tell him the truth’, the defense argued.

Markac’s defense lawyer Goran Mikulicic denied that there was an armed conflict in Krajina after 8 August 1995, challenging the Tribunal’s jurisdiction over the crimes committed after Operation Storm. According to Mikulicic, ‘there is no way’ that the joint criminal enterprise to expel Serbs from Krajina ever existed.

The prosecution will deliver its reply, not longer than one hour, tomorrow, to address the defense’s arguments. The defense of each of the accused will then again have an hour to respond.