AP, November 22, 2002
Judge Acquits 8 War Crimes Suspects
Croatian Judge Acquits Eight War Crimes Suspects in Disputed Trial
The Associated Press
ZAGREB, Croatia Nov. 22 A Croatian judge exonerated eight former military officers suspected of torturing and killing ethnic Serbs in a wartime prison, but human rights activists said the Friday decision was biased.
District prosecutors indicted the eight men earlier this year, accusing them of making random arrests and torturing and killing Serbs and Yugoslav army officers at the Lora military prison in 1992. Their war crimes trial highlighted a dark chapter of Croatia's successful 1991-1995 war against Serbs who opposed Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav army that supported them.
"There is no doubt that war crimes were perpetrated at the prison. But there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that any of these suspects committed them," Judge Slavko Lozina said Friday.
The prosecution's report alleged two inmates died of severe abuse and beatings, and at least two others were seriously injured at the prison in the coastal city of Split.
The report said detainees were deprived of food and water; some were forced to bark while sitting in a doghouse and lick wounds they sustained during beatings.
Croatian independent media and human rights activists, who reported extensively about the killings and brutality in Lora, criticized the judge's decision.
"This is a complete outrage," said Tonci Majic, head of an independent human rights group that monitored the trial. He claimed the judge was biased and associated with extreme nationalist and war veteran groups in the country.
"Dozens of witnesses were subjected to abuse and threats until they agreed to alter their pretrial testimonies," Majic said.
At least 50 potential witnesses were discouraged from testifying because the judge refused to guarantee their safety, Majic said.
District attorney Michelle Squiccimarro said prosecutors would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.
The nationalist government of late President Franjo Tudjman often gave amnesty to Croatian war crimes suspects and attempted to cover up crimes committed during the conflict.
Although the reform-minded government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan vowed to prosecute all war crimes soon after ousting Tudjman's party from power over two years ago, many human rights groups allege that the legal system is still cluttered with corrupt hard-liners.