In their documents and intercepted conversations Bosnian Serb military officers tried hard to cover up the Srebrenica crimes in July 1995. However, it was not difficult for prosecution expert Richard Butler to reconstruct the course of the events from the capture to the mass executions, the burial of the bodies and their transfer to other graves in a secret operation to eliminate the evidence of the crimes

Richard Butler, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialRichard Butler, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

Documents of the Bosnian Serb Army and intercepted conversations of its officers never explicitly referred to the mass executions of the men from Srebrenica in July 1995. However, American military intelligence officer Richard Butler highlighted in his evidence the details that enabled him to reconstruct the entire process. Butler was able to analyze the reports on the movements of some units and match the coded telephone conversations with other evidence about the situation in the field.

In the telephone conversations of VRS top officers intercepted by the Bosnian side, the executions were mainly called the ‘job’ that had to be done or completed while the prisoners were referred to as ‘parcels’. In a conversation on 14 July 1995, the chief engineer in the Zvornik Brigade Jokic put his foot in it, saying there were ‘big problems with the people, I mean with the parcels’. The next day, security chief in the Main Staff Ljubisa Beara informed Radislav Krstic, the Drina Corps commander, that he still had another ‘3,500 parcels to distribute’: this meant he had to kill those prisoners.

The prosecution expert says those were captured Muslims who were detained at the time at various locations around Zvornik. In Butler’s opinion, the figure is a ‘little bit exaggerated’ as by then about 800 to 1,000 prisoners had been executed in the school in Orahovac and another 800 to 1,000 people had been killed in Petkovci. Butler estimated that about 2,500 detainees were still in the schools in Rocevic and Kula and in the Pilica Cultural Center. By 17 July 1995, all of them were executed; few survived the executions.

The bodies of the victims were found in several mass graves in the Zvornik and Bratunac areas. In all of the six trials where Butler has testified so far, the defense teams claimed that the bodies were buried there when the terrain was cleaned up: the victims were Muslim fighters killed as they fought against Serb soldiers. The witness said that no army would waste its resources and risk the lives of its soldiers to collect the bodies of enemy fighters in a combat zone. Also, Butler noted, meticulous records were kept of all the movements of VRS engineer units. Those units used excavators and backhoes at the execution sites from 14 to 17 July 1995.

It is interesting to note that on 14 September 1995 Mladic ordered the delivery of five tons of diesel fuel to the engineer unit of the Zvornik Brigade. The consumption records are meticulous throughout July 1995, yet there is no mention about how this fuel was spent. Butler explained that the large-scale operation to cover up the crime began at that point in time. The bodies were dug up from the existing mass graves and transferred to other locations, further away from the execution sites. In intercepted conversations, Mladic was mentioned with his code name, Panorama 01. Other speakers mention Mladic when they talk about orders arriving from ‘above’ or from the ‘chief’instructing them what to do about the detained Muslims and later their dead bodies. At the same time, according to Butler, the accused had nothing to do with the decision to open a corridor on 16 July 1995 to let thousands of Srebrenica inhabitants to reach Tuzla. Having examined a number of documents Butler concluded that Vinko Pandurevic, the Zvornik Brigade commander, decided to do this when he realized that his unit could suffer heavy losses.

Butler will continue his testimony on Monday. The prosecutor will finish Butler’s examination-in-chief in an hour.