Thursday, June 10, 2010

War Crimes...and my personal history

Good Morning!

It is 10 June 2010 here in Washington, DC. It has been a couple of very difficult days based on the flare-up from Reiters as well as continued difficulties with medications…another round with the doctors today so hopefully it will all work out. Suffice to say I don’t want another repeat of yesterday.

I sat up this morning and read the daily news. Buried deeply within the context of the online “paper” was a story that probably won’t see the light of day unless you are actively following it like I am…two Bosnian Serbs were convicted this morning of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica. It was the harshest judgment ever delivered by the U.N. war crimes tribunal on the Balkan wars…but to be quite honest…these sentences handed down by the tribunal allowed these killers to get off easy.

Mr. Vujadin Popovic and Mr. Ljubia Beara, convicted of the worst crime in the war crimes statute, were high-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb Army that overran Muslim forces and thinly armed U.N. troops in the Srebrenica enclave. In the same trial a third individual Drago Nikolic was also convicted of aiding and abetting genocide while serving as a brigade security commander. All three were in the chain of command of General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who remains a fugitive 15 years after his indictment.

To give you some idea of the significance of this heinous act let me try to put it in perspective for you…the deliberate slaughter of some 8,000 Muslim's by these men was the worst massacre on European soil since World War II. Tens of thousands of civilians were evicted from their homes, in what the U.N. court has called a deliberate attempt to wipe out the Muslim community from that area. General Wesley Clark who was in charge of the theater of operations commented at the time:

“By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity”

The most violent of the aforementioned acts was initiated by Beara who was accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise led by General Ratko Mladic with a goal of capturing and then summarily executing by firing squad thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys aged 16 to 60 from the Srebrenica enclave from 12 July 1995 until on or about 19 July 1995. Having personally seen the mass graves exhumed in and around Srebrenica I can tell you that his actions stand in stark contrast to civilized and compassionate military units.

According to the indictment, Beara was said to have personally participated in the beheading of 80 to 100 Muslims on 12 July 1995 with the criminal intent and the state of mind to destroy a part of the Muslim population of Bosnia, as a national, ethnic or religious group which constituted a crime of genocide. In addition, he was also said to have persecuted the Srebrenica refugees on political, racial or religious grounds, to have forcibly displaced them, and finally to have exterminated them.

Now some of you will ask why I am so “close” to this issue and to be quite frank it hard to discuss without becoming emotional.

In the later part of the 1990’s I was assigned to a specialized element within the Department of Defense that was responsible for “hunting” individuals who were responsible for atrocities committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The following is taken from an award that was given upon completion of the operations:

“Throughout his 16 months in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Major Hayes conducted specialized intelligence and targeted capture operations that resulted in the subsequent detention of three other high value targets (HVT) for which NATO, The US Embassy in Sarajevo and The International War Crimes Tribunal issued sealed indictments for war crimes…at great personal risk to not only his men but also himself, Major Hayes upheld the principles of morality, personal integrity and justice and with flawless interpretation and commanded these inherently dangerous, complex and vital operations on behalf of the United States and NATO.”

Included in the aforementioned were operations to find and detain Serbians Mr. Vujadin Popovic and Mr. Ljubia Beara for their actions and participation in the Srebrenica Massacre in 1995. Although we never found or apprehended them I would like to think that our actions kept them on the run and continually looking over their backs. Both criminals finally succumbed to continued NATO operations and finally turned themselves in 2005.

Looking back on that time in my life I remember vividly the operations; the men assigned and the overall sense of despair of the people who suffered greatly at the hands of these "animals" ...these are images and thoughts that I will never forget.

It is a shame that this article and the events surrounding it will only receive a cursory review from the general public today before we all go back to our vacations, the soccer games and the other events that currently define our lives. Lost are the lives of countless individuals who were exterminated based solely on a religious belief and taken were the dreams of countless others who live with the vision of these horrors.

On 10 June 2010 a measure of justice for these people was handed down…but there is still much more to do.


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