Closing arguments are over at the trial of Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj. The prosecution contends there is enough evidence to sentence all three to at least 20 years in prison, the defense counters that the prosecution’s case is based on ‘unreliable and false’ evidence of witnesses who are all ‘liars’ and ‘arch-spies’

Gregor Guy-Smith, defense attorney for Idriz BalajGregor Guy-Smith, defense attorney for Idriz Balaj

The defense contends that the case against Idriz Balaj for crimes in the KLA-run camp in Jablanica, Kosovo, in 1998, is based not on facts but on his ‘bad reputation’, engendered by rumors. He and his special unit in the KLA, the Black Eagles, were reputed to be cruel and unscrupulous. His defense counsel, Guy-Smith believes this is not sufficient for a conviction. ‘We are in a court of law, not in a coffee house where every one can say whatever they want’, he said.

The defense lawyer was scathing when he spoke about the witnesses who alleged Balaj had been involved in the torture of the prisoners, calling them ‘proven liars’ and ‘people who either lie or have mental problems’. Speaking about a witness, he said his evidence was ‘like spoiled milk – you take a sip and you know you don’t want to have any more’. The defense denies Balaj was close to the first accused, Ramush Haradinaj, saying there is no valid evidence to prove Balaj was his body guard and associate. The defense counsel is convinced the Trial Chamber will acquit Balaj.

Brahimaj’s lawyer Richard Harvey was no less scathing about the witnesses who described the crimes in Jablanica, labeling them ‘manipulative, dishonest and guided by their own interests’. He compared the evidence of witnesses who said they had been kept in a basement filled with water up to their waist to ‘science fiction tales’ worthy of a ‘Stallone and Van Damme movies’. As for the testimony of a witness who said his ear had been cut off, he said it ‘came straight out of the dream world’. It sounds like something taken from a Dali painting or a film made by Bunuel or Lynch. He called former Serbian State Security Service officer Zoran Stijovic, who talked about the information the police had about the camp in his evidence, ‘an arch-spy’ who used blackmail to gather his evidence.

The defense denies that Lahi Brahimaj was commander in the Jablanica camp, trying to shift the blame on his brother Nazmi. The evidence shows Nazmi threatened a witness, and Haradinaj spoke to him when he interceded for a detainee, seeking his release. The defense lawyer says the identity of the Jablanica commander is unknown because confusion reigned at the time. He is certain, however, that Lahi Brahimaj could not have been the commander. One of the reasons is the fact that in 1998, Brahimaj spent a lot of time at the Berisha mountain, in the KLA Main Staff. He was a member. Because of his frequent absences, Haradinaj removed Brahimaj from the post of his deputy in the Dukagjin Operational Zone, the defense counsel contends.

Paraphrasing a law professor who quipped that the acronym of the joint criminal enterprise, JCE, stands for ‘just convict everybody,” Harvey said that in this case, the prosecution wants the judges to ‘just convict anybody’; otherwise, the whole re-trial would have been in vain. He believes that no one should be convicted, least of all his client, Lahi Brahimaj. Harvey called for his acquittal which would make it possible for Brahimaj to continue ‘studying law and human rights in Pristina’ and continue striving toward ‘reconstruction and peaceful development of his country’.

In July 20120, the Appeals Chamber confirmed Lahi Brahimaj’s six-year sentence for the crimes against civilians in Jablanica. In the same judgment, the Appeals Chamber quashed Haradinaj’s and Balaj’s acquittal and ordered a re-trial for the torture and murder of detainees in the Jablanica camp. The re-trial was completed today. As Judge Moloto indicated today, the judges will deliver their judgment in due course.