Ratko Mladic's defense witness denies that he beat up Trnopolje prisoners. Some prisoners may have called him 'Chetnik', the witness said, and this may have caused him to push them. The judges asked the witness if such pushing could inflict injuries. 'I’d say that it could not', the witness replied

Slavko Puhalic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialSlavko Puhalic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

In the cross-examination of Slavko Puhalic it became clear why the Trial Chamber had cautioned him at the beginning of his evidence last Thursday in line with Rule 90E. The rule allows the witness not to answer any potentially incriminating questions. If the judges insist on his answering those questions, the answers cannot be used against the witness. The rule is applied when there are indications that a witness was involved in crimes. Today the prosecutor confronted the witness with such allegations.

Prosecutor Traldi went on to note that non-Serb detainees at other trials in The Hague had identified Puhalic as the deputy of Major Slobodan Kuruzovic, who commanded the Trnopolje prison camp. Puhalic denied it, saying that he was a ‘rank-and-file soldier'. The fact that he served as an intermediary between Kuruzovic and the people held in Trnopolje was misinterpreted and those people thought he was the deputy commander.

At the trial of Dusko Tadic in The Hague two persons who were detained in Trnopolje identified Puhalic as one of the soldiers who took part in the abuse of prisoners. Witness Gutic said that Puhalic had interviewed prisoners in his office and that some of the prisoners were beaten up. Mustafa Mujkanovic, another Trnopolje detainee, testified that a group o Serbs beat him up heavily with bats and cables. One of the Serbs was ‘captain Slavko, a butcher from Prijedor’; his last name may have been Puhovski. Puhalic denied that it was him, noting that there were several other butchers called Slavko in Prijedor. Also, the witness stressed that, according to Mujkanovic, those who beat him up wore the Chetnik insignia on their caps. As Puhalic explained, he came from a ‘Partisan family’.

Puhalic nevertheless agreed that he ‘may have pushed someone off’ if that person made him angry by calling him ‘Chetnik’. This prompted Judge Orie to ask Puhalic if such a push could cause injuries. Puhalic ‘thought’ that it couldn’t. ‘Do you think it could not or is it a fact that it could not’, the presiding judge insisted. ‘I’d say that it could not’, the witness replied.

During the war Puhalic drove a Mercedes Benz 300D that used to belong to a local Muslim. Puhalic claimed that the man had handed the vehicle to the army ‘voluntarily’. Soon afterwards, the Muslim ceded the car to Puhalic, again ‘voluntarily’.