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Wednesday, December 03, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Clark testimony to be censored in Milosevic trial
By Tom Hundley; The Associated Press
LONDON The Bush administration has imposed heavy secrecy and censorship measures on the testimony of retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, when he takes the stand this month at the war-crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic.
The administration's action will blunt the drama of what many expected to be a crucial moment in Milosevic's lengthy trial and perhaps one of the defining moments in the presidential campaign of Clark, who defeated the Yugoslav leader in the Kosovo campaign.
At the insistence of State Department's legal office, the courtroom's public gallery will be cleared when Clark is called to testify Dec. 15 and 16 in The Hague, Netherlands. Cameras that broadcast the proceedings on closed-circuit television and the Internet will be blacked out.
There also will be a 48-hour delay on the release of the trial transcript that will enable State Department lawyers to examine Clark's testimony and request the deletion of portions they deem harmful to national interests.
U.N. prosecutors are unhappy with the arrangement, but said they had little choice but to accept if they wanted Clark's testimony.
"It's always better when you have everything in public and out in the open, but this is the best we could get," said Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor.
Under the rules that govern the International War Crimes Tribunal, secret testimony is allowed, but it has usually been reserved for officials dealing with sensitive intelligence matters or actively engaged in intelligence gathering. There also are secrecy provisions to protect witnesses who have reason to fear for their safety.
But for a high-profile public figure, the secrecy surrounding Clark's testimony is unprecedented, especially in light of the fact that Clark has written a lengthy book and numerous articles on NATO and the Kosovo war, and has freely given his opinion on these subjects as a TV commentator and presidential candidate.
"We are concerned about the perception, especially in the countries that were involved (in the war)," said Hartmann. "If you do things in a closed session, people think you are hiding something and that it is not a fair trial."
The reason the department wants a 48-hour delay to vet Clark's testimony "is not to discourage or hinder reporting but to allow for the maximum provision of information by General Clark to the Tribunal while at the same time protecting against the inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information," said Lou Fintor, a State Department spokesman.
Other senior political and military figures have testified in open court against Milosevic, including Klaus Naumann, the German general who commanded the NATO war in Kosovo, and British envoys Paddy Ashdown and David Owen. U.S. diplomat William Walker, whose outrage at the Serbian police massacre of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo galvanized U.S. opinion in support of military action, gave his testimony in open court.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been the highest-ranking U.S. official to appear at The Hague. She gave her testimony in a public session during proceedings against the Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic.
"Closed sessions are for victims who might be harmed, not governments who might be embarrassed," said a tribunal source.
The Bush administration, which underwrites a large part of the tribunal's costs, has balked at sharing intelligence that would aid tribunal investigators and has thwarted attempts to call senior U.S. officials. Last year, Hague prosecutors wanted to call former Balkan envoy Richard Holbrooke, but changed their minds when the Bush administration insisted on closed sessions.
Milosevic, who is acting as his own lawyer, is defending himself against charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity in connection with a decade of war in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
During the trial, now in its 21st month, Milosevic has badgered and bullied witnesses. The technique has been effective with ordinary citizens from Bosnia and Kosovo, but has generally backfired when he tries to use it against experienced public figures.
Clark knows Milosevic well, having served as Holbrooke's military adviser during many hours of negotiations with the Serbian leader in Belgrade and during the Dayton peace talks. He directed NATO's 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia, forcing Milosevic to withdraw troops from Kosovo.
Clark has stated his willingness to testify against Milosevic, and political observers have viewed his appearance at The Hague as an opportunity for him to boost his stature in a crowded Democratic field.
Clark declined to comment on the restrictions and campaign spokesman Matt Bennett said "the campaign has no involvement at all in Gen. Clark's testimony."
Bosnian Serb gets 27 years
for Srebrenica massacre role
THE HAGUE, Netherlands Bosnian Serb intelligence officer Capt. Momir Nikolic, 48, who pleaded guilty of war crimes for his role in the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim boys and men at Srebrenica, was sentenced yesterday to 27 years in prison.
Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 15 to 20 years because Nikolic pleaded guilty and testified against other witnesses, including former superiors who are still on trial. He had originally been charged with other crimes, including genocide, but prosecutors dropped those as part of a plea agreement.
Judge Liu Daqun of China said the prosecution's recommendation failed to "adequately reflect the totality" of Nikolic's conduct.
He was an "active participant" in the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since World War II, and willingly terrorized Muslim civilians, beating them and destroying their property, Liu said.
Also yesterday, the two highest-ranked Muslims to be charged with war crimes in the Bosnian conflict went on trial for atrocities in a war often seen as fomented by mainly Christian Serbs. Retired Gen. Enver Hadzihasanovic, 53, commander of the 3rd Corps of the Muslim army in central Bosnia during the 1992-95 conflict, and Amir Kubura, 39, a brigade commander under Hadzihasanovic, both pleaded not guilty.
Testifying against his superiors, Col. Vidoje Blagojevic and Lt. Col. Dragan Jokic, whose joint trial is in progress, Nikolic admitted he had coordinated the separation of thousands of men from their families and arranged transportation to take them to execution sites after Muslims were rounded up in the U.N. safe haven of Srebrenica.
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