This is not a tale for the faint-hearted. The event which spawned it supposedly took place in mid-June 1992, allegedly on Wednesday the 17th, although there is no way of knowing for sure; there are almost as many versions of what happened that day as there are people who claim to have witnessed it.
This version, told by someone who admits to having been a participant, appears to be the most reliable. The voice telling the story belongs to HK, a young Bosnian Muslim who at the time was a prisoner at Omarska, an iron ore mining complex in northern Bosnia converted into a prison by the Bosnian Serbs during that first summer of "ethnic cleansing" in 1992. Thousands of Muslim men and 37 women from the nearby town of Prijedor and its surrounding villages were packed into Omarska's hangars and sheds for "interrogations and processing". Sanitary conditions were appalling. Food was scarce. The guards were brutal.
This particular story began when HK and other detainees were called to the garage in the main hangar. There a group of Serbs, former neighbours of some of the prisoners, were alternately boozing, beating inmates and forcing them to wallow in the sump oil collected in the garage service pits. By the time HK arrived, at least one man was already dead and one dying. The guards told HK and another prisoner, Emin J, to go down into a pit, grunt like pigs and drink the oil. A third prisoner, Fikret Harambasic, also known as Hari, a former policeman from Kozarac, was then thrown in on top of them.
"Hari suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He was naked and had been badly beaten. He was covered in oil mixed with his own blood. The guards were listening to a folksong called 'Don't Disturb My Happiness, Let Me Live', singing, laughing and beating us with truncheons. They then ordered us out of the pit and told Emin and me to lick Hari clean. They ordered us: 'Lick him.' The music playing in the background only encouraged them."
It was then that one of the Serbs, waving a knife, ordered Emin to castrate the policeman with his teeth. HK's account continues: "'Bite his balls off,' the Serb shouted. 'You know, the way they do it to horses.' I wanted to get up and start running, in which case they would have shot me and it would have been over then. I remember yelling at Emin, telling him not to do this thing, that he shouldn't listen to them. Then the Serb put a knife to my face and told me to hold Hari's head so he couldn't scream. He said: 'If either one of you utters another sound, I'll take out your eye.'
"Hari was lying naked in front of me, squeezing his legs together, trying to hide his manhood with his hands. Emin went crazy and started beating him. He was like a madman, kicking and screaming and shouting things that the Serbs told him to say: 'Filthy Turk! You are never going to make Muslim children again!' When Emin succeeded in separating Hari's hands, he bent his head down and bit Hari's testicles. He was ordered to do that. The screams were terrible. I had to hold Hari to try to stop him. Finally he couldn't scream any more but lay groaning in my arms. Emin lifted his head and let a small white thing drop from his mouth. I got sick. Even now I can see it sliding towards the sewer drain and falling through..."
That is all. Hari is thought to have died from his wounds. Emin ran out of the room and another guard told HK to leave unless he wanted to be next.
HK now lives in Britain. He arrived in early 1993, about six months after all four Prijedor camps - Omarska, Keraterm, Manjaca and Trnopolje - were closed down following an outpouring of international outrage and pressure. Emin is a refugee in Malaysia. He is said to be deeply traumatised by his experience and emotionally disturbed. His version of events differs from HK's. Emin has told journalists that he was forced to castrate three men that day - Enver Alic, Emir Karabasic, and Jasmin Hrnic - but not Hari. Testimony from other witnesses casts doubt on this, but, again this is unclear.
HK says he did not recognise the man who ordered the castration. Emin says that he did and has named a former karate teacher from Kozarac. Differing accounts shroud the incident in confusion. What is certain is that versions of the castration story spread through the camp like a dark Chinese whisper. Parts were embellished or abolished in the retelling; identities were changed. In a few versions, the deed is said to have taken place in other parts of the camp under different circumstances. Some of the stories may have kernels of truth in them, others none.
In the first published reference to the castration, in April 1993, the human rights group Helsinki Watch noted the ambiguity of the differing accounts of camp survivors: "It remains unclear if the witnesses viewed the entire incident, part of the incident or if there was more than one case in which men were castrated in Omarska." Nevertheless, this one brutal incident has become an analogy for the entire Bosnian Muslim experience at the hands of their Serb neighbours during that bloody summer. It was one crime that, perhaps more than any other, defined the horrors of Omarska, of Prijedor, of all Bosnia. Now, three years after the start of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, someone is about to face an international court for what happened that day in June, as well as for other horrors commited before and after. The only question is whether justice will be served by putting him on trial.
"CRIME," Bertolt Brecht wrote, "has a name and a face." In future, the crimes of Omarska may be tagged to one name and one face, those of a part- time karate instructor, caf manager, policeman and born-again Serb nationalist: 39-year-old Dusko "Dule" Tadic.
He is one of 22 men, all identified as ethnic Serbs, who have been formally accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a United Nations war crimes court in The Hague. The accused range from relative small fry like Tadic to Zeljko Mejakic, the Omarska camp commander. But 21 of these men will never be in the dock. They are safe in the Serb mini-state that they carved out of Bosnia, far from the grasp of any Western court. Only Tadic sits in a holding cell in The Hague, awaiting trial as the first alleged war criminal to face an international panel of judges since the Second World War.
He is charged with 132 counts of "crimes against humanity" and breaches of the Geneva conventions, including murder, rape and torture of Muslim men and women within and outside the Omarska camp. Foremost among these alleged crimes is his "participation" in the castration of Fikret Harambasic. Tadic, who faces life imprisonment if found guilty, denies the accusations. The actual trial is expected to start in a few weeks' time.
There has not been a defendant like Dule Tadic in half a century. There have been war crimes trials over the years, but those represented either a settling of scores after civil wars or were cases of justice catching up with men who eluded capture in 1945. Not since the trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo has anything approaching the current attempt to enforce existing international criminal law been tried.
When Tadic steps into the specially built courtroom in the wing of an Art Deco insurance building in The Hague, he will become the successor to Nazi and Japanese militarists like Goering and Tojo. But while Tadic may stand in their place, he could never lay claim to their importance. The Dule Tadic who emerges from circumstantial evidence and the testimonies of people who claim to have been his victims is merely a vengeful opportunist: a small- town bully who took advantage of the rise of Serb nationalism in Bosnia for his own personal gain. He is often said to have been in the background of what was going on but does not seem to have been the key figure that some have made him out to be. He was not even an official guard at Omarska.
"He is nothing," said Ragib Hadzic, the dir- ector of the office of the Bosnia-Herzegovina War Crimes Commission office in Zenica, 40 miles north of Sarajevo. "Who created Dule Tadic? Who created the framework in which Tadic could exist? It is the creators of the system who must be prosecuted." Perhaps they will be: last Monday, the war crimes tribunal named Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic, as war crimes suspects. But no charges have yet been laid against them, and they, too, are safe in Serb Bosnia. So, Tadic in the dock may be much more important than he ever was in the chain of command that ordered the destruction of the Muslim communities of Prijedor. For Bosnian Muslims, Tadic will be a symbol of their suffering on trial. For the West, his presence will show the world that it is not as spineless as it appears when it comes to Bosnia. For the Serbs, who believe that Tadic is an innocent man at the centre of a show trial staged to ease Western guilt over Bosnia, he will be a martyr.
In The Hague recently, a Tribunal official sighed deeply when discussing the difficulties that Tadic posed for the court. "We are well aware of the problems of this case," he said. "but we have always said that we will pursue the guilty, no matter who they are or what position they hold, as long as we have the evidence. We are not saying that Tadic is sufficient. We are only saying that he is a beginning. Let us make the best of it. No matter what happens we are making history. Either way - if we succeed or if we fail - we are making history."
THE MAKING of history for the Tribunal actually began on the morning of 12 February 1994, when Dule Tadic left his dreary flat in Munich and walked straight into a German police trap. Tadic had gone to Munich, where his brother Mladen owned a caf and karate club, some weeks earlier, to escape problems back in Bosnia. He ended up in much bigger trouble. He had been warned to stay away but hadn't listened. But then Dule never had much common sense.
By all accounts, he was born with the gift of fury, but not of brains. Those who knew him best used to call him "glupi Dule", stupid Dule. They would never say this to his face, of course. Squat and powerful, Tadic had a temper and, as a karate instructor, the physical skills necessary to make that temper dangerous. But behind his back it was always "glupi Dule".
Most of his former neighbours remember Tadic from before the war as a failed businessman and a braggart. "He was a trouble-maker, not very bright, but he was not evil," recalled an elderly Muslim who knew him from happier days in Kozarac. In those days, in the Eighties, Tadic was known mainly for his karate and his temper. He was also remembered as being in debt to some Muslim friends, of whom he had many. Among them was Emir Karabasic, a man he would later be accused of murdering. All that remains of their friendship of those days is a photograph of Tadic and Karabasic embracing for the camera in a backyard. A dog plays at their feet. Such normality would soon end.
In 1990, Yugoslavia began to break apart on a tide of resurgent nationalism. Serbs in neighbouring Croatia, frightened by Croatian moves towards independence, were arming to fight for a separate state. A similar Serbian minority, banded together under the banner of the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), was also lurking in Bosnia.
That year, Tadic's family was constructing a caf near their house. The money to build the place actually came from Dule's brother Mladen, but Dule was listed as the owner, and the burst of building activity led Dule's creditors to ask for their money back. Tadic's response was to discover his Serbian identity. "All of a sudden he became this big Serb," remembered Kadira, a former neighbour, "throwing people out of his house and the caf and saying that he wanted nothing to do with Muslims."
The final transformation appears to have taken place on 27 August 1990, when Tadic claims that he received a letter signed by local Muslim militants which ordered his family to leave Kozarac or be slaughtered. An investigation later determined that the letter was a hoax, but it was used by Tadic as an excuse to "seek the protection of the SDS", for whom he became a local activist.
On 6 April 1992, war broke out in Bosnia. Three weeks later, Serb nationalists seized control of the Prijedor's multi-ethnic district government. The campaign to cleanse and control Prijedor began immediately. The Muslims of Kozarac surrendered to the Serbs, but the Serbs attacked the village anyway, massacring hundreds of men in the process.
Eyewitnesses place Tadic in the village after its fall, directing the transfer of Muslims to the camps. Tadic, through his family and lawyers, claims that this is simply not true. "My client said he sensed trouble and fled to nearby Banja Luka with his family during the time of fighting," said Steffen Ufer, who has been representing Tadic in Germany. "He does, however, admit to returning to Kozarac after the war to work as a policeman and a party official."
United Nations investigators say that Tadic's role as an SDS official implicates him in the hierarchy responsible for cleansing Kozarac and creating Omarska. The hierarchy and Tadic's role in it are crucial for the prosecution of Tadic as a war criminal. In cases of crimes against humanity, the law requires proof that any violent acts committed were part of a systematic campaign of persecution. But survivors of Omarska who claim to have been witnesses of Tadic's alleged excesses often say that personal enmity, not politics, was what motivated him.
Sitting in the Caf Bosna, a haven for Bosnian Muslims in Hamburg, Fehim S said that he remembered Tadic well and knew his alleged victims even better. "The three men killed - Jasko [Jasmin] Hrnic, Enu [Enver] Alic and Emir Karabasic - were murdered as part of Dule's own private war," Fehim said. "He killed Emir because he was jealous that Emir was a better karate fighter. Jasko died because he had more money than Dule. And Enu was killed because he had beaten Dule up as a kid."
Edin Kararic, another Omarska survivor, and Jasmin Hrnic's best friend, agreed. "After the actual fighting ended, most of the killing was personal. It was settling accounts with someone who stole your girlfriend or who didn't lend you a cigarette."
SOME TIME in 1993, things started to go wrong for Dule Tadic in Kozarac. Ufer said that Tadic wanted to leave Bosnia because he was about to be drafted. "They wanted him to kill people, Muslims, every day. He didn't want to do that. He was actually running away from the war. Not the response of a man who supposedly likes to kill and torture Muslims, if you ask me."
Other possible explanations have been suggested for Tadic's departure. There are reports that he insulted senior Serb officials and got involved in a dispute over "cleansed" Muslim property with a powerful local mafioso. What- ever the reason, though, Tadic sent his wife and daughter to Munich in the late summer of 1993 and joined them a few months later. It turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life.
His face and name had appeared in German television documentaries linking him to the horrors of the Bosnian Serb detention camps and the video footage of those emaciated prisoners. In Germany, of all places, the echoes of those pictures were too loud to ignore. It was also common knowledge that large numbers of refugees and camp survivors from Prijedor lived in and around Munich. "I told him not to come," recalled Dule's elder brother Mladen, who left Germany for Belgrade after his brother's arrest. "I said to him, 'You may get in trouble here in Germany.' And he told me that he was coming because he wasn't guilty of anything. 'I killed nobody,' he said to me."
Soon after Tadic arrived in Munich he was recognised by camp survivors at a government registration office. Word that Dule Tadic was in Germany spread quickly among the refugees. After that, he seldom went out, although occasionally he would be seen at a window in his flat.
But living in the same small room, talking to the same patrons in his brother's dingy bar, day after day, night after night, must have got to him. Cabin fever set in, and on 12 February he chanced an excursion with his brother and walked right into a police ambush just 30 metres from his front door. He was wrestled to the ground and jailed on suspicion of being an accomplice to genocide.
Then came the politics. The Germans, while quite happy to take credit for Tadic's arrest, really did not want to try him. The German authorities normally strive to maintain the lowest possible moral profile, either because they do not trust themselves or because they think others do not trust them. Considering Ger-many's own historic involvement in Yugoslavia, the authorities sensed that Tadic was a potentially embarrassing political problem. The Ger-man Federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe immediately called the fledgling War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague with news of its catch.
At first the Tribunal, which was not yet six months old, was reluctant to take on the case. But then the UN Commission of Experts published the final report of its investigations of war crimes in Bosnia, concluding that the events which took place in the Prijedor region after 6 April 1992 were unquestionably crimes against humanity but could also legally qualify as genocide. Shortly afterwards, Richard Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge, was appointed prosecutor for the Tribunal. After reading the Commission's study, Goldstone, keen to make his mark, decided that Tadic was destined for the Tribunal.
"Given that Prijedor was selected, Tadic becomes part of our investigation," Graham Blewitt, the deputy prosecutor, told the New York Times last October. A month later, the tribunal requested that Germany surrender jurisdiction in the case.
Not everyone was 100 per cent pleased. Hanne Sophie Greve, a young Norwegian judge who helped draft the UN Commission's report, has no doubts that Tadic was guilty of committing horrible acts. But, she says: "He is not the level of person I would like to see at the Hague. I think they should have aimed higher up."
Edin Kararic, Jasmin Hrnic's best friend, agrees. "Too many people are willing to blame everything on Tadic because they have him in jail and he will go to trial. Tadic was a bastard but I would defend him just so the world is forced to get the guys who are really responsible for what happened."
"THE STAGE is set and the curtain is about to be raised," a Tribunal official announced a few weeks ago. But behind the bluster and the talk of impending courtroom drama there are fears of disaster. "It could really become a huge fiasco," warned Judge Antonio Cassese, who is the president of the Tribunal and the most senior of its 11 judges. "There are so many inherent political and legal problems, and we do not have our own police force. But we are working day and night in the hope that this will not go down in history as an aborted attempt by the international community to enforce international law."
One should not underestimate the magnitude of the undertaking for the court's staff of 70 investigators as they try to piece together evidence from a country where war is still going on and the truth is hard to separate from propaganda. Their task is even more daunting when you consider that the court has no powers of arrest and cannot conduct trials in absentia. The court can issue international arrest warrants, but its ability to bring suspects to The Hague is limited. And, as Richard Goldstone recently admitted, the world will judge the tribunal's success or failure "by the degree to which the most guilty are adequately punished".
This is the real issue surrounding Tadic. It is not the just the question of his guilt or innocence, but rather of whether the excesses with which he is charged were an essential part of the Bosnian Serb war effort or a by- product of it. Will his trial and possible conviction serve justice and redress the world's moral failure over Bosnia? Or is he simply being made into a scapegoat who happened to be within easy reach of the court while others more guilty remain at large?
The Tribunal has said that it hopes to establish that Tadic's alleged crimes "provide a clear illustration of a plan for the widespread and systematic destructive persecution against the civilian population of the Prijedor region." But already the initial charges laid out in the Tribunal's request for jurisdiction from Germany have been watered down in the final indictment. In most cases Tadic is charged not with direct action but with "participation" in various acts (which is still punishable under the statutes of the court).
Even these charges are nonsense, according to Milan Vujin, the lawyer who will represent Tadic at The Hague. "The accusations are very vague," the Belgrade-based attorney said recently. "The sexual harassment and eventual murder of Fikret Harambasic, according to the indictment, were committed by a group of Serbs 'including Dusko Tadic'. What Tadic actually did we are never told. Then 'Tadic participated in the wilful killing of Emir Karabasic'. How? Did he hit him? Spit at him? Deliver the mortal blow? All I can say from this indictment is that the trial in The Hague is going to be very interesting."
Although Goldstone cannot discuss it, privately he has said that he is confident of his case against Tadic. At the same time, though, he admits: "If in two years time Tadic is all we have to show, then clearly we will have failed."
The failure of the Tribunal would be a blow not only to international efforts in Bosnia but also to the international human rights movement. "What are the alternatives?" Goldstone asked while looking out of his office window in the insurance building-cum-courthouse. "It seems to me that if you don't have international tribunals, you might as well not have international law."
Emin J, the victim turned perpetrator of Omarska, does have an alternative, although it might not appeal to Judge Goldstone. "I would like to punish him by myself. To meet him and to punish him. Just me and him." !