A few days ago ESI put a short excerpt of the new documentary on the transformation and EU accession of Croatia on our website: Twilight of heroes. Croatia, Europe and the International Tribunal. You also find it here. (We will show the complete film in English in London next week; and in Berlin the week after).
The film tells the story how Croatia’s EU aspirations and the demand that some of its former generals be handed over to the ICTY to be put on trial for alleged war crimes triggered the escape of Ante Gotovina, and a man hunt that finally led to his arrest in Spain in 2005. It is a dramatic story, which ended with Ante Gotovina being sentenced to 24 years in prison by the first instance court. And it is not over: in a few days the appeals court will announce its judgement in this matter.
It is against this background that Luka Misetic, the lawyer of Ante Gotovina, reacted to the excerpt from our film on his blog. He accused ESI of distorting facts, and writes that he was “stunned by the level of factual inaccuracy in the film.” He posted on the ESI facebook page:
Luka Misetic The European Stability Initiative @ESI_eu distorts the facts about Ante Gotovina. See my blog criticism here:
This is a charge which deserves an answer. Luka Misetic writes on his blog:
Thursday, November 8, 2012
European Stability Initative Distorts the Facts about General Gotovina
The European Stability Initiative has recently broadcast a film about General Gotovina entitled, “Twilight of Heroes.” Admittedly, I have not been able to view the entire film because it is not yet available for viewing in the United States. Nevertheless, I was able to review the nine minute preview clip on YouTube. I was stunned by the level of factual inaccuracy in this documentary, and viewers should be warned that the factual claims in this film are demonstrably false.
At the outset, the film shows Carla Del Ponte speaking about Operation Storm, which was led by General Gotovina. Del Ponte claims:
“They thought if you are doing a legitimate war, you must not consider if crimes are committed, war crimes or crimes against humanity. It is collateral damage. But that is why the International Tribunal was created. A war is not the permission for the commission of crimes.”
One minute later, the film’s voiceover speaker ominously claims, “Prosecutors suspected that murders and intimidations of Serb civilians during Operation Storm were not isolated incidents, but the result of a policy to ethnically cleanse these parts of Croatia of their Serb population. A criminal conspiracy planned and implemented by Croatia’s leaders.”
What the filmakers fail to tell the viewer (at least in the preview clip) is that the Trial Chamber in its Judgement rejected Del Ponte’s claims that the Croatian leadership “did not consider if crimes were being committed against Serbs, war crimes or crimes against humanity.” Furthermore, the Trial Chamber rejected the Prosecution’s claim that Croatia’s leaders had planned and implemented a criminal conspiracy to allow murders and intimidations of Serbs in order to pursue a policy of ethnic cleansing. As I noted in one of my earlier posts, the Trial Chamber found:
“The Trial Chamber finds that the common objective did not amount to, or involve the commission of the crimes of persecution (disappearances, wanton destruction, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, and unlawful detentions), destruction, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, and cruel treatment.“(Judgement, paragraph 2321);
Rather, the evidence includes several examples of meetings and statements (see for example D409, P470, and D1451), indicating that the leadership, including Tudjman, disapproved of the destruction of property. Based on the foregoing, the Trial Chamber does not find that destruction and plunder were within the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise.” (Judgement, paragraph 2313);
In light of the testimony of expert Albiston, the Trial Chamber considers that the insufficient response by the Croatian law enforcement authorities and judiciary can to some extent be explained by the abovementioned obstacles they faced and their need to perform other duties in August and September 1995. In conclusion, while the evidence indicates incidents of purposeful hindrance of certain investigations, the Trial Chamber cannot positively establish that the Croatian authorities had a policy of non-investigation of crimes committed against Krajina Serbs during and following Operation Storm in the Indictment area.”(Judgement, paragraph 2203).
The Trial Chamber thus established that the Croatian leadership (1) did not have a policy to allow crimes like murder and intimidation to be committed against Serbs, and (2) did not have a policy of non-investigation of crimes committed against Serbs.
Accordingly, two things were very clear to me within the first five minutes of viewing the preview clip: (1) Carla Del Ponte continues to mislead the international public about what the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded, and (2) the producers of this film did not bother to read the Trial Judgement or interview anyone who had actually read the Trial Judgement.
If the filmakers don’t have time to read the Trial Judgement before making a film about Gotovina, then I don’t have the time to watch their film.”
Mr. Misetic writes correctly that the film excerpt which he saw quoted the leading ICTY prosecutor at the time, Carla Del Ponte. He also correctly quotes the voiceover in the film:
“Prosecutors suspected that murders and intimidations of Serb civilians during Operation Storm were not isolated incidents, but the result of a policy to ethnically cleanse these parts of Croatia of their Serb population, a criminal conspiracy planned and implemented by Croatia’s leaders.”
However, where is the distortion of facts that he claims to have observed? Even he as laywer of Ante Gotovina should be able to agree that – as a statement of fact about what prosecutors at the ICTY suspected at the time of Tudjman’s death, which is what the film describes here - this voiceover is both true and factual. After all, the film also quotes those in Croatia who at the time and later argued the opposite: that Gotovina was a hero, that Tudjman just did what leaders have done throughout history, or that, as one prominent supporter of the general is quoted, Mrs. Del Ponte is a “crook.” These are obviously not ESI’s views: our aim was to give an objective sense of the arguments and emotions which made cooperation with the tribunal such a difficult issue for Croatia’s leaders to address.
ESI responded to Mr. Misetic on our facebook page. We wrote:
Later the court asked Croatian state authorities to hand over Gotovina and other generals to the ICTY. It was backed in this demand by the entire European Union. Nothing else is either being said or implied here. So which facts are being distorted?
As for the first instance sentence of Ante Gotovina, which comes much later in the film (which you admit you were not yet able to see) there is no voiceover at all, but the original material from the Hague. Here the court explains why it sentenced Ante Gotovina in its own words.
To this Mr. Misetic responded by continuing to accuse us of “distorting facts”:
Dear ESI: Your post suggests that the film later acknowledges that ICTY rejected the Prosecutor’s allegations that there was a “criminal conspiracy planned and implemented by Croatia’s leaders” to allow murders and intimidations of Serb civilians as a matter of policy. Does the film actually come out and make this clear? Also, please advise as to the “original material from the Hague” which you used in order to make this clear to the viewer. In contrast, if the film does not make clear that Del Ponte’s allegations (which you use to promote your film in the first 5 minutes of the preview clip) were in fact rejected by the Court, then I stand by my assertion that this is a clear “distortion” of the truth, because your film continues to reinforce the myth that Croatia had a policy of allowing crimes to be committed against Serbs. The Trial Chamber convicted Gotovina because it found that 5% of artillery shells out of 900 fired in the town of Knin fell “too far” from known military objectives, killing and injuring exactly zero civilians, but nevertheless these 5% of shells caused fear in Serb civilians and triggered their flight from Croatia. If your film makes this point clear, and makes clear that Croatian leaders in fact did NOT have a policy of allowing crimes against Serbs, then I will withdraw my criticism. If not, I stand by my comments.
But is it really ESI that is distoring facts concerning what happened at ICTY? Take Mr. Misetic’s claim (above) that
“… is a clear “distortion” of the truth, because your film continues to reinforce the myth that Croatia had a policy of allowing crimes to be committed against Serbs. The Trial Chamber convicted Gotovina because it found that 5% of artillery shells out of 900 fired in the town of Knin fell “too far” from known military objectives, killing and injuring exactly zero civilians, but nevertheless these 5% of shells caused fear in Serb civilians and triggered their flight from Croatia.”
In the documentary the prosecutor, the court and Mr. Gotovina’s supporters are all speaking for themselves. When we describe the sentencing in 2011 we use original footage from the ICTY and have no voiceover at all. But make up your own mind: read the judgement, or, if you want a synapsis of the ICTY’s view, read what the court, in its official press release, said in 2011 about why Mr. Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years:
“These crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region by force or threat of force, which amounted to and involved deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution through the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures, unlawful attacks against civilians and civilian objects, deportation, and forcible transfer. The Chamber found that the joint criminal enterprise came into force no later than the end of July 1995 in Brioni where the Croatian President Franjo Tuđman met with high ranking military officials to discuss the military operation which commenced a few days later on 4 August.
The Chamber found that Tuđman was a key member of the joint criminal enterprise and that he intended to repopulate the Krajina with Croats. Other members of the joint criminal enterprise included Gojko Šušak, who was the Minister of Defence and a close associate of Tuđman’s, Zvonimir Červenko, the Chief of the Croatian army Main Staff. The members of the joint criminal enterprise also included others in the Croatian political and military leadership who participated in Presidential meetings and were close associates of Tuđman’s.
The Chamber found that Gotovina participated in the Brioni meeting and contributed to the planning and preparation of Operation Storm. Gotovina’s conduct, including his order to unlawfully attack civilians and civilian objects through the shelling of Benkovac, Knin and Obrovac on 4 and 5 August 1995, amounted to a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise. The Chamber further found that other charged crimes, although not part of the common purpose, were natural and forseeable consequences of the execution of the joint criminal enterprise, including to Gotovina.”
(see the full press release and link to the judgement on the ICTY website)
We hope that Mr. Misetic will acknowledge that the charge that ESI distorted facts, is neither fair nor accurate nor warranted.
PS: Twilight of heroes is also not a film about Ante Gotovina as Mr. Misetic writes. It is a film about Croatia, and how this country managed to break out of its isolation in 1999, faced its past, and transformed itself.