A War Crimes Suspect in Kosovo Slams the ‘Gestapo’ Court.
As the first trial of a war crimes court opened in The Hague on Wednesday, a former Kosovo rebel commander compared it to Nazi Germany’s secret police.
During the 1998-1999 Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) independence struggle with Serbia, Salih Mustafa is accused of murder and torture at a makeshift KLA detention center.
Mustafa, 49, declared as his trial began at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, “I am not guilty of any of the counts placed before me by this Gestapo office.”
Mustafa swung in his chair and tapped a pen on his fingers as he listened to the opening of the trial through headphones, dressed in a black hooded top and jogging leggings.
Mustafa, who was arrested last year while serving as a defense ministry consultant in Kosovo, is the first suspect to face the court, which was established in 2015 to investigate atrocities committed by the separatist KLA.
Prosecutors said Mustafa and his men “brutalized and tortured” fellow ethnic Kosovo Albanians in Zllash, a village east of the capital Pristina, whom they accused of collaborating with Serbs.
In his opening address, senior prosecutor Jack Smith said, “These were not adversaries of Kosovo, they were not spies.”
“Their only offence was that they held opposing political beliefs to the KLA and its senior leaders.”
The prosecutor called the session a “milestone” for the court, which has taken six years to bring anyone to trial and has experienced witness intimidation issues.
Mustafa is accused of murder, torture, brutal treatment, and arbitrary incarceration in the cases of at least six people.
Detainees were allegedly confined in a locked barn and subjected to “beatings with various implements, burning, and the administration of electric shocks,” according to the indictment. In front of other captives, several were urinated on.
Mustafa is accused of hitting one detainee with a baseball bat and slapping, punching, and kicking another.
Smith claimed that the inmates were held in “inhumane” conditions, with Mustafa himself participating in the beatings.
After being “repeatedly battered and tortured,” one young man died.
Mustafa is accused of being a co-conspirator in the murder since he was either aware that the crime was being committed or that the victim was in danger of being killed.
During September and October, the tribunal will hear from 16 witnesses, including previous detainees.
After an 11-week NATO bombing campaign, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s army withdrew from Kosovo, killing 13,000 civilians.
Following the wars that tore the former Yugoslavia apart. Brief News from Washington Newsday.