Senior Trial Attorneys at International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia
On July 11, 1995, as Serbian soldiers advanced toward Srebrenica, a Bosnian mining town deemed a U.N. “safe area,” thousands of its Muslim residents sought refuge in a U.N. compound. By evening, 20,000 to 35,000 civilians were in and around the compound, protected, they believed, by Dutch NATO peacekeeping forces.
It was hot and there was very little water or food. Serbian soldiers wandered through the crowds, tormenting and terrorizing them. A child was killed with a knife in the middle of the crowd. Gunshots and screams rattled the night. Heaped next to a tractor, a pile of bodies appeared.
The next morning, Serbian soldiers brought buses to take the refugees to safety, but men of military age and some young men and older men were not allowed to board. These men, along with thousands of other Muslim men caught in the area, were taken to other execution sites where earth-moving equipment stood ready to dispose of them. They were systematically massacred. In all, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men were slaughtered over a four-day period.
The first assignment for Peter McCloskey ’80 was to sift through the bodies. “We dug up the first set of mass graves ourselves with shovels, looking for evidence,” he says. “These were huge execution sites with shell casings all over the ground. It took years to gather the evidence.”
The genocide at Srebrenica is considered the most notorious crime on European soil since World War II, but it was only a part of the widespread terror and mass murder during the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995, in which efforts to ethnically cleanse large areas of Bosnia resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people and the displacement of more than two million people, according to the United Nations.
McCloskey and Alan Tieger ’75, are both senior trial attorneys at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) under the direction of Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
Alan Tieger was one of six prosecutors chosen by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1994 to participate in creating and building the tribunal. At DOJ, Tieger had specialized in cases of racial violence and police brutality, including the successful prosecution of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King in 1993. He has a degree in psychology from UCLA, and worked as a public defender in Santa Clara County.
Tieger’s first prosecution at ICTY was Dusko Tadic, a sadistic policeman in an ethnically mixed area of northwest Bosnia. Tadic was found guilty of war crimes arising from his cruelty, torture, and killing of Bosnian Muslims in the notorious Omarska camp and a Muslim village.
McCloskey, who had worked with Tieger at DOJ, arrived at The Hague in 1996, just as Tieger was returning to the U.S. to practice for four years. McCloskey had been a prosecutor in Santa Clara County and had practiced with his father, U.S. Congressman Pete McCloskey. He had a degree in political science from U.C. Santa Barbara and an interest in international law, developed during his summer at Oxford in SCU’s study abroad program. (He credits SCU Law Professor Ed Steinman for his interest in criminal law.)
For the past ten years, McCloskey has worked exclusively on the Srebrenica case. His team has successfully prosecuted Radislav Krsti, a Serb commander who led the assault on Srebrenica; Bosnian Serb officers Vidoje Blagojevi and Dragan Joki; and Momir Nikolic (via guilty plea). Krsti’s accomplices in the massacre, Bosnian Serb military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, also indicted, remain at large. (Slobodon Milosevic died of a heart attack earlier this year near the end of his trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and breaches of the Geneva Convention.)
Tieger returned to The Hague in 2001 and successfully prosecuted (via a guilty plea) Biljana Plavsic, the first female president of Bosnia and the first of the accused war criminals to admit to an “organized, systematic effort to remove Muslims and Croats from the territory claimed by Serbs.” Tieger also prosecuted Darko Mrdja for the mass murder at Koricanske Stijene, where 200 military-aged male civilians from a detention center were bused to a ravine, lined up in groups and shot.
For the past two years, Tieger has been prosecuting Momcilo Krajisnik, former president of the Bosnian Serb assembly, attempting to prove that he was involved in a plan to create an ethnically cleansed Serb state.
The war crimes cases are long, complex, high profile (broadcast live on the Internet), and grueling. Tieger finds “many sources of positive inspiration” including “the courageous victims, members of the international community who attempted to address the crimes, dedicated journalists who exposed the crimes” and even “revisionists and ultranationalists, who also instill a determination to continue.”
Tieger is also motivated by his family’s own ordeal. “My parents were concentration camp survivors as teenagers during World War II and were among the very few surviving members of their families. I grew up surrounded by refugees whose experiences were similar. The impact of war crimes is neither theoretical nor distant to me.”
McCloskey says the greatest satisfaction in his work is “finding some measure of justice for the surviving victims” as well as being involved in an important aspect of history. Both prosecutors find it important to get away from work, and do so when they can. McCloskey and his wife, Samantha, enjoy visiting their vacation home in Italy with children Joe and Caroline. Tieger is appreciating Europe “even more than before” thanks to his Dutch girlfriend, Inger.
Tieger and McCloskey, on a daily basis, listen to people attempting to justify the most atrocious acts imaginable. How do they avoid losing faith in mankind? “The Tribunal’s very existence,” says Tieger, “is an expression of hope for a future that curbs and perhaps eventually eliminates our worst impulses. As long as we maintain and constantly improve such institutions, this hope remains alive.”