Prison Camp Lora and the Trial of the Lora 8


Sometimes beauty can be a mask for horror. The ancient and lovely city of Split, located in Croatia along the Adriatic coast, possesses such bountiful charm that it is difficult to imagine the unspeakable crimes that took place there. Nor would one ever guess that the town was the site of a momentous trial, given the cloak of invisibility provided by the Western press. In that trial, eight former guards of the Lora prison camp were charged with murder and torture. Lora has much to say to us about the nature of human rights issues in the West. That some crimes draw obsessive attention while others evoke complete disinterest ought to be a matter for reflection. Certainly it cannot be argued that attention to Lora was undeserved, for the case was remarkable from every standpoint and the camp ranks among history’s most disturbing examples of inhumanity. The trial itself was no less striking, where a few brave souls found extraordinary reserves of courage and spoke out, knowing that by doing so they risked death. Yet for all of its drama, Lora remains a cipher in the West.

Prison Camp Lora was situated in a former Yugoslav naval compound in Split. After Yugoslav Federal forces were forced to withdraw during Croatia’s violent war of secession in 1991, secessionist soldiers seized the compound and some time later established a prison camp on its grounds. In those days President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) manifested an extreme retrograde nationalism which saw no place in an independent Croatia for either minorities or dissent. In towns and villages across Croatia, people were thrown out of jobs, intimidated and driven from their homes. In the first two years of independence alone, more than 10,000 homes belonging to Serbs and dissident Croats were dynamited throughout Croatia. In many cases, houses were blown up while the occupants were still inside.

At that time the mayor of Split was an enthusiastic proponent of the concept of a “pure” state, and Serbian residents were systematically threatened and tossed out of their homes. Likewise, Croatian residents who opposed the HDZ were imperiled in the same manner. It was not only opponents of the HDZ who lived in fear. For ordinary apolitical Croats it was dangerous even to be seen near a Serb neighbor, as that risked being misinterpreted as association. “Everyone else knew what was going on,” remembered a former prisoner at Lora, speaking of life in Split before his arrest. “They literally ran away from us in the street.”

Those not incarcerated in Prison Camp Lora often fell victim to immediate violence. Over 550 violent attacks were recorded in Split, although the actual total was almost certainly much higher. The first murders were not long in coming. A Croatian couple, Djordje and Vesna Gasparevich, early victims of the purification drive, were threatened over the course of several months for their lack of support for the HDZ. Then one day in February 1992 soldiers burst into the Gasparevich apartment and abducted them; their bodies were later found atop a garbage dump in the nearby town of Zhrnovnica. Another incident occurred in August 1992 when military police shoved their way into the home of a Croatian resident, Djordje Katich, and hauled him off to Lora where he was subjected to torture. Nenad Knezevich, of Serbian ethnicity, fared worse. Dragged from his home to the local jail, he was beaten so badly that his entrails were turned to pulp and he died that same day.

Arrests and violence would soon be followed by bombings. Nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, houses and office buildings belonging to Serbs and Croat opposition were blown up during a two-year period beginning in 1992. On April 27, 1994, special police force officers blocked roads leading to the Mississippi nightclub and then proceeded to demolish its interior. One of the nightclub’s guards was taken to Special Forces headquarters where he was beaten and then later dumped from a moving car. The next month Croatian soldiers entered the Song Café, ejected the customers and proceeded to wreck the place.

The Stefanel Restaurant suffered extensive damage from an explosion in August 1992. Nearly one year later, on May 5, 1993, the restaurant was again bombed and the force of the blast was so powerful that nearby apartments were damaged. The owner of the Stefanel, Miro Bogdanovich, was targeted for having the temerity to belong to an opposition party called Dalmatian Action. In 1994, he was one of nine party members who were placed under arrest. In the end they were acquitted, Bogdanovich recalled, “only thanks to the courage of Judge Dukich.”

In the three years following his trial, Bogdanovich was routinely beaten and threatened by members of the Croatian Defense Forces (HOS), a fascist paramilitary organization clad in black uniforms. On no occasion did the local police take an interest in locating the culprits. In 1997, there was an incident in which Bogdanovich was blackmailed and threatened by soldiers. After the police arrived, he watched in dismay as they shook hands with his blackmailers. That evening, the soldiers returned and beat Bogdanovich, and then a few days later his car was stolen. As a result of the beatings inflicted on him over the years, Bogdanovich is now disabled and on dialysis, with severely damaged kidneys. In 2000, Bogdanovich published an open letter to the mayor of Split, asking him to apologize to all the “victims of terrorism in 1991 and 1992.” In his open letter Bogdanovich declared, “All those residents of Split who had any sort of Serb origin, or as ‘pure’ Croats were not supporting HDZ nationalism, became persons exposed to public scorn. Individuals were allowed to maltreat them, bomb their houses and property, liquidate them and never be held responsible for any of these acts.” [1]

During the time when extremists in Split were forcibly removing “undesirable” persons from their homes, the Dalmatian Committee for Human Rights did its best to assist the victims. Its president, Tonchi Majich placed his life on the line to defend unpopular victims. Often himself the target of threats, Majich met with violence on February 2, 1994. On that day, HOS blackshirts broke into the home of Slovenka Marinkovich, who lived alone with her two daughters. When Majich arrived and tried to block the eviction, he was threatened and insulted. A difficult two and a half hours passed before two military policemen and several HOS paramilitary soldiers arrived. A struggle ensued as a neighbor attempted to strike Marinkovich. When Majich intervened he was clubbed and his nose broken. A paramilitary soldier then seized Majich by the hair and started shaking him. Majich fell to the floor and soldiers started kicking him until he began to bleed profusely. As he was being dragged outside he observed that “civil and military policemen watched all this without even trying to intervene or stop” his assailants.

Majich and Marinkovich were taken for interrogation, after which they returned to her flat. When they rang the bell, a woman in a black uniform answered the door and screamed that this was now a fascist flat. HOS soldiers came running and shouted at Majich and Marinkovich that they would cut their throats if they ever returned. Moments later, Majich suffered a concussion when a paramilitary soldier ended the matter abruptly by clubbing him with a gun. [2]

Many of Split’s “undesirables” were destined for Prison Camp Lora. Although Lora was a prisoner of war camp, civilians from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were also interned there. In general, prisoners tended to be shuffled from one camp in Croatia to another, and the term of confinement in Lora varied from one person to the next. But for some prisoners, Lora was their last stop, for it was here where they died. The names of survivors have been withheld in most public sources of documentation, although they are on file. I have followed this practice where the names are known to me, out of respect for the privacy of the survivors and because the threat of death still hangs over many of them and their families. [3]

Survivors universally attest that they were beaten the moment they arrived at Lora. Newly arrived prisoners were stripped of valuables and then forced to run a gauntlet until clubbed into unconsciousness. One former prisoner related a typical story. As he stepped off the truck he saw a line of Croatian soldiers waiting, armed with batons, pieces of wood and electrical cables. “They kicked me mercilessly while I passed through the line,” he recalled. A 48-year old lawyer saw Croatian military policemen holding “wooden and rubber batons and pieces of plumbing pipes,” beating the newly arrived prisoners as they passed through the gauntlet until they fainted.

Another man remembered that as the prisoners descended from the truck one by one, they were “met by Croatian policemen and beaten up. In front of me, at some three meters, was Petar Spremo. One Croat soldier hit him hard on the head with the handle of a pistol and from a kick he fell and hit his temple on the sidewalk, after which he remained lying there, immobile. I did not see him after that. That same soldier also hit me strongly with the pistol handle on my head, from which my skull was cracked in four places and I was covered in blood.” Petar Spremo fell into a coma and in a few days he was dead. As they savagely beat the prisoners, policemen shouted curses and insults. “They threatened to kill us all,” said one former prisoner.

Some prisoners were greeted with a variation of this welcome. “They lined us up against the wall and ordered us to raise our hands in the air,” recalled one survivor. “Each prisoner would be hit. They kicked us with boots, fists, batons, pieces of metal pipes, etc. Most of us could not endure this and stand on our feet so we fell down and the policemen kicked us with boots and stepped on us.” A captured Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) reservist described his arrival at Lora in May 1992. “First they searched us naked, interrogated us for a short time, and then they lined us against a wall so that we were touching the wall with our nose and toes while holding our hands up in the air. Then one policeman by the name of Andjelko Botich hit us with a baton on the head and down to the waist, and the other one, named Ante Gudich, from the waist down. They were hitting us in a very cruel manner so that they broke two batons, and one was broken on me. When the two of them became exhausted, another one would join them. They let the music play very loud in order to hide our screams, but in spite of this the whole building echoed with our screams because the pain was terrible. They all dressed in Ustasha uniforms bearing the Ustasha insignia.” The Ustashe political party led the pro-Nazi puppet state of Croatia during World War Two, and Ustasha soldiers murdered Serbs, Jews, Roma and communists by the hundreds of thousands in concentration camps and in the towns and villages of Croatia and Bosnia. During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the paramilitary HOS quite openly adopted the symbols and ideology of its pro-Nazi predecessors, and the worst elements in the Croatian military and the ruling HDZ all the way up to President Franjo Tudjman occasionally expressed admiration for and styled themselves after the Ustashe.

Prisoners at Lora were housed in three blocks. According to a captured JNA soldier, “We were divided into several categories. I was in Block A where my soldiers were placed, pilots and reserve soldiers. In Block C there was extremely cruel treatment because the volunteers were there and the reserve soldiers of the former JNA. Prisoners from this block were not shown to the representatives of the International Red Cross. When the team of the International Red Cross was coming, prisoners from Block C who were beaten the most would be hidden in special bunkers situated in front of the prison and close to the sea.” The physical environment and supply of food varied among the blocks and from one period to another, but in no case were conditions other than exceedingly harsh. All prisoners were forced to endure torture, humiliation and deprivation, but those housed in Block C were singled out for the cruelest treatment.

A 62-year old retiree who was wounded when Croat soldiers raided his village spent two months in Lora. “During that time I slept on the bare floor without any cover or blanket. We received food only once per day, a piece of bread no bigger than 50 grams and most often some liver paste.” A 39 year old civilian who was taken prisoner in 1992 said, “Croatian policemen especially tortured us with food and water. They would give us some water only every third or fourth day and this was only 1.5 liters of water. At the time of my detention in Lora we would be given once per day only a few spoonfuls of warm water and a small slice of bread, not bigger than a box of matches. We had to eat that food in two minutes, and if someone would fail to do so, he was terribly beaten.”

Another man captured in 1992 remembers, “When I arrived at the prison cell I found there only one wet blanket and I was in hospital pajamas. We were given as food only some leftovers placed in a nylon bag thrown into our cell through the bars on the door, the guard saying, ‘Eat, you Serbian pigs’.” The experience of a civilian taken from his home in Split was no better. “They scarcely fed us while I was in Lora, and we did not even get food every day. I got water rarely, as well as food. Every five or seven days they gave us a plastic 1.5 liter bottle to share among five of us.” When prisoners asked to be taken to the toilet, “this request was sometimes granted and sometimes not, so that we had to urinate inside the cells. Sometimes we were so thirsty that we had to drink our own urine.” According to a man taken prisoner late in the Bosnian war, “We could not keep regular hygiene. We had difficulties with physiological needs, because there was one WC toilet seat and we had to stand in queue and wait and suffer.”

Occasionally the prisoners would be given a bath when the guards would turn fire hoses on them. This “pouring of strong jets of water over us,” a former prisoner related, “was not for cleanliness but for torture. From time to time they prevented us from having a bowel movement on a regular and normal basis because they would not allow us into the toilet, so we had to relieve ourselves in the cell, into a Coca Cola bottle or into a towel. When they found out, they would beat us all.”

In the charged political atmosphere of Tudjman’s Croatia, Serbs were reviled in some quarters as inferior and uncivilized. This attitude resonated among those possessing authoritarian personality traits, and such men formed a disproportionate share of those who joined the ranks of the military police. Furthermore, the commandant of Lora intentionally selected right-wing extremists as guards and often invited HOS black shirts as guests for the purpose of participating in torture. Several authoritarian personality traits lend themselves to a willingness to engage in torture, given the right set of circumstances. These include blind obedience to authority, admiration for power, hatred and racism against officially acceptable target groups, over-simplified thinking and ethnocentrism. There is also a natural psychological tendency for guards to assume a hostile attitude towards their prisoners. For some guards, it may have been enough that torture was encouraged by figures in positions of authority.

As Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram’s experiments in the early 1960s demonstrated, a surprisingly large percentage of “ordinary people” would willingly inflict pain on a helpless stranger given the guidance and presence of a perceived “authority” figure. In Milgram’s experiment, subjects were instructed to administer shocks through a control panel to an unseen person in another room when he answered questions incorrectly. The subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a study to determine the efficacy of punishment in the learning process. In reality, the purpose of the study was to measure the willingness to inflict pain given the approval of authority.

The person in the unseen room was an actor who merely played the role of someone who was connected to receive electrical shocks. The experimenter gently encouraged the subjects to increase the power of the electrical shocks for each wrong answer. As the levels increased, the actor began to shout. Although some subjects objected, they nevertheless continued to escalate the level of shocks when the experimenter told them it was necessary to do so. All of the subjects persisted to the level identified as “300 volts intense shock,” at which point the actor was screaming and kicking the wall. Some quit after this level, but far more continued to the next levels, labelled “extreme intensity shock” and “danger severe shock.” Depressingly, 65 percent of the subjects continued to the highest level, alarmingly labelled only “XXX”, at which point the actor made no noises at all, not even responding to questions. These subjects dutifully continued applying punishment because the actor’s apparent unconsciousness was interpreted as a failure to answer questions correctly. The presence of the experimenter in lab coat as a symbol of authority was important. In one variation, when the experimenter left the room, full compliance dropped from 65 down to 21 percent.

Given this potent combination of factors in a general societal environment where an authoritarian ruling party overtly expressed its national chauvinism, it is not surprising that prisoners of the “wrong” ethnicity would receive brutal treatment. The deliberate degradation of prisoners at Lora served to reinforce the contempt that a number of the guards felt towards them. Although many guards at Lora clearly possessed a sadistic personality disorder and sought out opportunities for the expression of that sickness, this was not the case for every guard. For those less driven to inflict pain, the degradation of prisoners served an important function. If the prisoners were forced to endure filthy circumstances, denied opportunities for bathing and normal hygiene and forced to relieve themselves in their cells, then all of this reinforced the racist and chauvinistic stereotypes that lessened the inhibition to torture and brutalize them. Such conditions helped to create an environment conducive for beatings and torture.

At Lora, brutality was a daily experience. M.K. was arrested at his home in Split on August 19, 1992 and taken to Lora where two military policemen interrogated him. “After my every reply, the three policemen hit me with hands on the head, pulled at my earlobes, twisted them, twisted my head, strangled me by holding my neck, hit with hands on my sides, kicked with their feet, raised me from the seat by pulling me up by my earlobes and neck muscles, all followed by screams and curses. This beating lasted for over two hours.”

M.K. was then taken some distance away to a house surrounded by a wire fence where about ten soldiers were waiting for him, greeting him with loud curses. “This is an Ustasha jail. You can go from here only back to your momma’s hole,” one of them yelled. “In that room they beat me as they wished,” M.K. recalled. A policeman “ordered that an inductor telephone be brought. They were ordered to tie my hands using live wires from the phone. They gave him the phone and he spun it as fast as he could. The electrical shocks delivered by the phone sent me into painful convulsions and made me fall off the chair. The men there laughed, threatened and slapped me.” Next the guards screamed at him and hit “with hands with full force over both ears at the same time. That caused terrible pain and ruptured my eardrum. After that they hit me with a club on my knees and joints.”

A policeman took out a gun and threatened to kill M.K. and he was then brought outside and stripped naked. “I crawled into the yard on all fours because I could not walk anymore. They kicked me and then pushed me against a wall and placed the barrel of a gun on my forehead. They were screaming and cursing all the time. I was only waiting for death and an end to my suffering.”

Another former prisoner recalled, “They beat us either in the corridor or in the prison camp circle throughout the day, but mostly at night when it was dark. That happened every day while we were imprisoned at this camp. Their specialty was to take us into a room where they would pour water over us and then place clamps connected with a cable of an inductor telephone on the ear and the other on the sexual organ, and by turning the handle would send electricity through our bodies.” A middle-aged lawyer detained at Lora for nearly one year from May 1995 until long after the war in April 1996 confirmed that conditions had not improved since the beginning of the war. “In Lora they forced us every day to enter doghouses and to bark,” and afterwards “to sing the Croat national anthem and Ustasha songs. They forced us to hit each other with open hands and fists and kick each other as hard as we could. I also remember that they forced us to eat live snails and to eat some worms and maggots.”

Throughout the entire period of his imprisonment he heard “constant screams and cries of imprisoned Serbs, especially after the fall of Knin.” Knin was the capital of the Krajina region which had a majority Serbian population. In August 1995, Croatian troops launched Operation Storm and drove out virtually every Serb from the region, over 200,000 in all. Those who stayed behind were generally slaughtered or sent to prison camps. Operation Storm was backed by the United States, which not only gave the green light for the attack, but also supplied weapons and training to Croatian troops. U.S. warplanes opened Operation Storm by bombing Serbian radar stations and anti-aircraft batteries, allowing Croatian planes to bomb and strafe with abandon columns of fleeing refugees. After Croatian troops launched their assault, American electronic aircraft assisted them by disrupting and jamming Krajina Serb military communications. [4]

“At that time,” the lawyer continued, “they were bringing in captured Serbs from Knin and its vicinity and they tortured them terribly. On one occasion I saw one captured Serbian soldier who was terribly beaten up by the Croat policemen so his testicles were swollen down to his knees, and I also saw one soldier whose left leg was broken by the Croat policemen.”

Another prisoner remembers as follows. “Very often groups of captured Serbian soldiers from Knin and the vicinity were brought to the prison and were terribly beaten. I saw several times these soldiers so badly beaten up that they could no longer move and they were from head to foot all bruised, swollen and bloody. On one occasion, I think it was in August 1995, after the fall of Knin, they showed us an arrested Serb whose name was Milosh and he was terribly beaten. They ordered Milosh to take off his underwear so we could see that his body was all blue with the bruises and traces of hits with different objects. Milosh was completely immobile, swollen and covered in blood.”

A soldier of the Army of the Republic of Serbian Krajina captured during Operation Storm survived to tell of his experiences at Lora. “Torture in Lora was such that the guards were catching live frogs, placing them in our mouths and forcing us to eat them. It was well known that the one who failed to eat the frog would be in disgrace. The disgrace would be, for example, tying me in chains for a month with the hands up in the air while seated on a stone. They would tie a rope so that they placed a loop around my testicles and then they would let me hang. They beat me terribly. When I would ask for some water they would pour one kilogram of salt into the water so we had to drink it.” This man was also connected to an induction telephone and tortured with electrical current. “I have forgotten the names of the people who tortured me but I can still see their faces every night in my nightmares. I escaped from the camp by asking one night to go to the toilet and when the guard took me out I succeeded in jumping over the wall and swimming up to the UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force, comprising mainly NATO troops] unit, which took a deposition from me and then returned me to Lora again. After UNPROFOR troops returned him to Lora, the prisoner was singled out for especially brutal treatment. “Then it became unimportant to me whether they would kill me or not.” During his imprisonment he lost over half of his body weight. “I was psychologically completely destroyed.”

A Serbian civilian taken along with his neighbors from their homes in Kupres spent only three days in Lora, but witnessed a lifetime of sorrow. “Life in Lora was insufferable. In the room in which we were detained Croat soldiers would enter every night with knives in their hands, threatening to slaughter us all. On such occasions they would ask for volunteers and after taking them out shots could be heard. I also heard that they were taking people out and were slaughtering them. I could hear their screams and cries and noises like when the throat is being cut. They told us all the time that they will kill us all. They took us out into the circle of the prison camp and forced us to move on our knees over crushed stone, ordering us to enter the doghouses and bark like dogs. During those three days of detention in Lora they did not give us any food to eat nor did they give us any water to drink, but we were subjected all the time to terrible torture.”

A former prisoner stated, “In our block there were no death cases, but we constantly heard the screams from Block C and one night I saw some prisoners making coffins. I do not know who was killed and how many they were, but the guards were boasting that they had killed some persons from Serbia who were members of the White Eagles.” Another ex-prisoner said, “We were also often forced to clean up and wash the blood that was in the corridors, on the walls and on the floors, so this was also a sign that there were liquidations in the prison camp. I cleaned up the blood several times. On one occasion I did not clean the blood from the floor well, because I could not bend down from the beatings that I suffered myself, so the wife of [camp commander] Toma Dujich came by and forced me to lick all the blood from the floor. On another occasion when I was taken out of solitary for the purpose of cleaning the blood, I saw that they were trying to place one large and tall man whom they had slaughtered into a black bag which was especially made for the dead. They were cutting up the body with a saw-ax into two parts and they placed the parts into that bag.”

The political philosophy of many of the guards revealed itself in their demands. Prisoner after prisoner related experiences similar to that of a civilian taken from Posavina, Bosnia. “For entire days on end we had to sing Ustasha songs which glorified their leaders, and also songs insulting Serbs. They appointed me as the oldest in the cell, when an Ustasha would enter and after we would all stand up, to raise my arm first and salute in the Ustasha manner with [the Ustasha slogan] “For homeland, ready,” and the others would have to respond in unison, “Ready!” A civilian prisoner from Kupres confirmed, “They forced us to sing Ustasha songs such as “Here comes the dawn, here comes the day,” then to salute a picture of [Ustasha leader Ante] Pavelich, and to salute their policemen with our raised arms and the words, “For homeland, ready!” Another prisoner recalls that Ustasha songs were played over the camp loudspeakers throughout the day.

D.T. suffered nightmarish treatment. “Besides these incessant beatings, they tortured me with electric shocks from an inductor phone. They would put one live wire in my earlobe by piercing the ear and pushing the wire through. The other wire they attached to my penis and they would deliver shocks like that. They forced us to slap each other until one of us would faint.” D.T. shared a cell with a priest, Z.P. “Father P. and I were forced to give each other blow jobs. We had to do that while attached to the phone inductor, so that they delivered electric shocks and beat us at the same time. During all of these beatings I had nine ribs broken on both sides, and I do not know when that actually happened.”

D.T.’s brother G. was also imprisoned in Lora, and his experience was just as bitter. “They beat us incessantly in Lora. When they got tired of hitting us, they forced us to hit each other. If one of us would not hit as hard as possible then they forced other prisoners to hit him as hard as possible. They forced us to perform unnatural sexual acts and perform fellatio on each other. One day they brought Father Z.P. into the cell and stripped him naked. Then he had to lie on the floor and we had to lie on top of him. On several occasions they connected P. to the phone inductor, then forced him to get on all fours and brought him to me and forced him to bite my penis. This was done several times with me and Z. as well as other prisoners in Block C.”

One day a guard led G.T. into a room and told him that he must search for [leader of the Radical Party] Vojislav Sheshelj and Slobodan Miloshevich “because they had hidden inside me. He ordered me to lie down, and then put a red glove on his hand. The glove reached down to his elbow. He forced the hand inside my anus and started to squeeze my internal organs. He inflicted indescribable and horrendous pain in this way and I also suffered from strong internal bleeding. The guard repeated this torture with me several times.”

Father Z.P. was singled out for special attention. He recalled, “Every day the guards and the Croat soldiers entered the cell – black shirt ones – and were beating us non-stop with batons. I was especially exposed to beating and torture. I received hundreds of hits, and when I fainted they would drag me around the corridors of the prison. In Lora I was exposed every day to the beating, torture, humiliation and other forms of inhuman behavior. On one occasion they took me to some room, blindfolded me and sat me on a chair, and then they placed on my temples some wires and poured water over me and at the same time sent electric current.” On another occasion Father Z.P. was crucified on the bars of his cell for three days. “After these tortures they applied electricity on me again by placing the wires of a field telephone on my fingers and turned the telephone, causing electrical current to pass. The guards were having their fun with us by forcing us to fight among ourselves, by forcing us to perform unnatural sex with each other, and they tried to force me to have sexual intercourse with a captured Serbian woman from Kupres. I could not do it so I was exposed to even greater beatings.”

A soldier in the Yugoslav People’s Army said, “Every second or third day drunken citizens would come to the camp and beat us with anything and everything: fists, feet, baseball bats and other objects. They bathed us in such a way that they would line us up stark naked along the wall and send a strong water jet on us under high pressure aimed at the area of our sexual organs which caused very acute pain. Salute was obligatory with a raised arm and the shout, “For homeland, ready!” This man was one of the “lucky ones,” assigned to Cell Block A, where the treatment was best. “The food was very bad. Most often we were given a slice of bread and a bit of jam for the entire day. There was no meat at all. From such food during the first twenty days I could not have a bowel movement. We did not have any medical care. In fact, we were not allowed to report and go to see a doctor because from the other prisoners we learned that some who had asked for medical examination were given beatings and pierced with needles.”

A soldier captured in 1992 reported, “I could hear every day from my cell the screams coming from the office or the room for interrogation of the warden Dujich as a consequence of the electric shocks and beatings. They were beating the most the reserve soldiers and those arrested at the Trebinje battle front and the pilots. I saw with my own eyes when in the circle of the prison camp they beat the prisoners with batons and baseball bats for as long as they gave any signs of life.”


Torture often took on the air of a social event. Local civilians were routinely brought to Lora in order to spit on the prisoners and club them with baseball bats. A reserve officer remembered that the worst beatings he received were at the hands of drunken citizens stopping at Lora after a late night of boozing. According to one former prisoner, “They would take us out one by one and beat us up. The civilians from the town would be coming without any control and with the approval of the guards and they were also beating us mercilessly with everything and anything.”

Psychopathic guards often rounded up children and brought them to Lora in order to inculcate them with their sick values. One man taken prisoner in 1993 explained the routine. “I was exposed to the most diversified forms of humiliation and beating, although I was wounded. In this prison camp I spent a month and a half, and during that time they brought three times from the city male children aged 7 and 8 years old. Then the prisoners would be individually taken out of the cells, among them myself, into the courtyard where we would be forced to sit on the concrete and one child would be placed on a chair close to which the prisoner had to sit and from that chair, from above, the child would urinate on the prisoner. Afterwards the prisoner would be returned to the cell and the next prisoner taken out.”

The first words a captured lieutenant colonel in the Yugoslav People’s Army heard at Lora were profoundly disquieting. “We were lined up and the person standing at the head of the line told us: ‘Well, now you are in an Ustasha state. Here the authorities are the Ustasha ones although we all belong to the Croat Army, but we are mostly of the Ustasha orientation and 80 percent of us are of a rightist orientation.’ Then they came, five or six of them, and they started to beat us. They kicked us with boots and fists. Some dozen men in uniforms came and they started to beat us also. They beat us with everything, and then they threw us down the stairs, some thirty stairs. They ordered us to take off all our clothes. We were ordered then to raise our hand up in the air and they told us that the one to make any sound would be slaughtered. Then the torture started. They beat us all through the night and then the dawn came and the sun was up and they were kicking us with boots, with fists, with wooden sticks.” Then the guards turned a fire hose on the men for one hour. The lieutenant colonel was taken to a room where he was hooked to an inductor telephone.

That night, the prisoners did not have long to sleep. After midnight they were taken from their cells into the corridor. “There they beat us up for about an hour. They beat us with batons, with some iron objects, baseball bats hitting us on the heads, on the legs, fingers and stomach, and with some wooden objects they hit us on the spine. Then they turned us up front and from a run hit us with boots in the lungs. I counted 170 kicks that I received.”

The beatings continued on a daily basis. One day a guard asked him if he had a family. “When I told them that I have two daughters, they told me that they will give me such a treatment that I will never again in my life have any sexual desires. They turned me towards the wall and asked me whether I know where sperm comes out. When I told them I did not know, they told me that it comes out of the spine and I will not have a spine any longer. They continued to beat me with batons along the flanks and buttocks. I had to spread my legs and they started hitting me with the batons on my legs, on the chest, on the stomach, and then on the sexual organ. After four blows on the sexual organ I fainted. I lost consciousness and so they threw me into the cell. For the entire night I could turn neither left nor right and was in terrible pain.”

Two days later, a guard plunged the lieutenant colonel’s head into a toilet bowl for thirty minutes. “My head was immersed in human feces. I remember that they forced the prisoners to have sexual intercourse with each other, to lick the anus of each other and the sexual organs. Those were terrible things, things that are killing to all that is human in a man. I saw with my own eyes the other prisoners having bottles forced up their anus and batons as well. We were forced every day to drink water from bottles with cigarette butts inside. I was forced to drink urine and the others were forced to eat their own cut off hair, their shaved beard and feces. We had to march in the legionnaire fashion with such a step until we would faint from exhaustion and all that time to sing their Ustasha songs. We had to bark, growl. They forced us into doghouses. I would like to forget everything that I endured in the Lora prison camp but it is engraved in my mind and certainly I shall never be able to forget such terrible torture.”

A reserve officer captured in 1992 described his experiences in Lora. “In the prison they showed us devices for gouging of eyes, for suffocation, for extraction of teeth.” Guards beat the prisoners “with great pleasure, some of them seeming to me to be abnormal personalities, sadists and psychopaths. They set our hair on fire with a lighter, forced the prisoners to eat their own hair and beard, but I was not forced to eat my hair. But like all the others I had to eat human excrement and to drink urine, because they forced us to urinate in each other’s mouth. They were sticking their fingers into our eyes and it seemed to me, while they were doing that, that my eyes were completely taken out and even today I cannot understand how it is possible that the fingers can penetrate so deeply into the eye socket. They poured urine into a bottle, cigarette butts and other garbage, and forced us to drink it. They hit us with batons on the groin. They extinguished cigarette butts on our bodies and we had to swallow cigarette butts. They pushed bottles and batons up our anus. They were especially bestial when they forced us to perform sexual perversities. Special torture was by induced electrical current. They would tie the wire on the fingers and then send electricity in and the person would be shaking so much that the body lifted from the ground. I was having so many spasms that I was almost floating in the air. All this was destroying my nervous system. There were people who had the wires tied to their ears or the sexual organ, toes, and then they would confess to anything and sign anything. I was tortured by induced electrical shocks at least thirty times and I have the scars on my fingers from the torture.”

A captured reserve soldier recalled, “In this prison at any moment one could hear the screams and cries of the prisoners. I watched once the prisoner B.D. being connected to the inductor telephone and they turned the handle until the blood started pouring from his ears.” Another prisoner observed that the suffering of the prisoners elicited a disturbing reaction from the guards. “At the moment the victim experiences an electric shock and starts shaking the guards start laughing and enjoying themselves.”

Death was a frequent visitor at Lora. A witness reported, “I remember a young man by the name of Bojan who was called ‘White Eagle’ or ‘Little Eagle’. He was detained alone in one cell. He was tortured in an especially terrible manner. He stayed completely naked, incredibly skinny, a real skeleton. He was tortured severely, beaten up and abused. One morning, when the guards brought in the breakfast, I noticed that he was lying on his back in his cell. His body was completely yellow. They returned us immediately to our cells. I heard them nailing the coffin and the guards whispering something in the corridor. After that I have never seen him again.”

Another murder occurred when a prisoner was caught attempting to escape. “That man was wounded,” recalled a witness. “I saw the director of the camp Toma Dujich jumping on top of this prisoner who later died.” An ex-prisoner said that in a cell close to hers, “they were beating up someone terribly. We could hear the blows, curses, screams and cries from that cell, and then suddenly there was silence. The next morning they took a man out from that cell, covered in a blanket, and he was dead. We women were forced to enter that cell and wash it up, so I have seen in that cell there was a lot of blood on the concrete floor and on the walls.”

“I remember well one evening they brought two Montenegrins who I think were captured at the Trebinje-Dubrovnik battle front and I saw that they were in military uniforms,” said another former prisoner. “They took them to a cell close to our own, so I could hear their screams and the blows. They beat them all night long. In the morning when they took us out for a walk before breakfast, they took out also these two so I could see that they could hardly stand on their feet. They were covered with blood, their heads all swollen, their eyes were closed and their clothes torn up.” Another former prisoner added, “I remember well on one occasion that we were walking around the circle, and although we were always forced to look down at the ground, I saw these three Montenegrins. There in front of me one soldier cut off the ears of one, and gouged the eye of another. They were completely deformed, bloody and in a terrible state.”

A prisoner who was taken to the cell holding the captured Montenegrin soldiers witnessed their ultimate fate. “Over there I found five men dressed in standard JNA uniforms so I concluded that they were members of the JNA. According to their talk I understood that they were Montenegrins. These men were so badly tortured, with broken arms and legs, that all this left a very strong impression on me and I shall never forget the sight. They all had their ears cut off and it seems to me that only one of them had one ear left. They were lined up down on the floor. Some were leaning against the wall and some were in a semi-reclining position. Some of these men had their eyes gouged out and in front of me the guards were gouging the eyes of the other ones.”

“I remember one of the torturers stabbing a knife into the tongue of one of them, then pulling the knife, cutting off his tongue. They did not gouge the eyes of one of the Montenegrins so that he could see what was happening, and then they started slaughtering them, one by one. They slaughtered them in such a way that they would hold them by the hair and with the knife would cut them on the throat. On that occasion every one of them had his head severed from the body. If one would try to defend himself, he would be fast overcome because there were five torturers, and they were all beaten up and in a very terrible state.”

“At the end, the only one that remained alive was the one still having his eyes, and then one of the torturers lined up three knives, one beside the others, and told him to choose the knife with which he would be slaughtered. This poor man who had enough of tortures and humiliation, pointed his hand at one of the knives. The slaughterer went completely mad with anger and resembled much more a beast than a man. With lightening speed he grabbed the knife and in a split second came up to the Montenegrin and in one slash severed his head from the trunk of the body. The lifeless body turned over and the head remained in the air because it was held in the other hand by the slaughterer. It was a terrible sight that can hardly be described, because while the Ustasha was holding the head, the eyes of the victim were still open, and also the mouth, and in such a state that they were opening and closing several times. From this sight even the criminals became frightened, so after a certain time the one who was still holding the head came to his senses and with all his strength he smashed it against the wall and it simply fell apart and one could see the brain sizzling. I was in a pitiful state and even now I cannot understand how I could endure all this and suffer all this, because I was expecting that they will slaughter me also any minute.”

“At that moment one man came, probably belonging to the superior ranks, and he was obviously appalled at the sight and told them that there was enough slaughter and asked if that was not enough for them in view of how many they killed the previous night. He addressed me and asked me from which cell I was and ordered them to return me there. That is how I escaped a certain death, because I am sure that I was taken to that room to be slaughtered. That room was covered in blood even when I arrived there. After a few days, also during the night, they took me out again with another nine men for slaughter to that same place.” The slaughter proceeded in the same manner as before. “On that occasion eight persons were slaughtered. In each case the head was severed from the body.” Once again the prisoner’s life was spared by the timely arrival of an officer who said there had been enough killing for the day.

After enduring a particularly brutal beating one day, an officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army was thrown into his cell, where he continued to be beaten. The guard finally left the cell and went to an adjacent cell, where he mercilessly beat another prisoner. “Then there was a deathly silence,” the former officer recalled. “In one corner F., in the other corner myself. Looking desperately at each other, neither one able to help the other. We were trying to get up, but could not do it. With great effort we succeeded in sitting up and we looked at each other with great sadness for a long time. We were weeping without tears. We were screaming without sound.” Moments later, a group of black shirts arrived, shouting that they had come to beat the prisoners.

Lora was never a newsworthy topic in the Western press. Even to mention the camp would have risked raising too many inconvenient questions about U.S. diplomatic support, arms shipments and military training for Tudjman’s campaign to purge the land of ethnic minorities. Furthermore, the victims of Lora were drawn primarily from the ranks of the officially designated “enemy” people who therefore could never merit attention let alone sympathy. Lora remains almost entirely unknown in the West, cast into the oblivion of disinterest and silence, and the case stands as a stark illustration of how political interests determine which human rights violations the public is taught to care about and which to ignore.

The most complete and thoroughly documented source of testimonies was produced by the Belgrade-based Committee for Compiling Data on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law. Our delegation visited the committee’s office in 1999, where we were told the committee was formed six years before in order to serve as a collection point for documentation relating to war crimes. The committee’s president, Zoran Stankovich, was a prominent forensic scientist who was involved in the excavation and examination of mass graves in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Members of the committee generally worked on a volunteer basis, often laboring long hours into the evening and weekends, motivated by a deep commitment to the project. Sadly, the committee ceased to exist in 2003, perhaps due to the changed political environment after the coup in Yugoslavia.

The committee supplied several detailed and well-documented reports to the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Subsequent inquiries by the committee concerning their documentation always elicited the same response from the ICTY: they were reading the documentation or they were preparing a case. Yet time passed and no action was ever taken by the Tribunal. [5]

The committee’s report on Lora was submitted to the ICTY shortly after its completion in October 1998. The ICTY had no objections to the report but explained that due to a lack of investigators and financial support they would be assigning the case to the Croatian judiciary. Remarkably, the ICTY did not bother to forward the committee’s report on Lora to Croatia. In fact, the tribunal provided not a single page of documentation of any sort, even though a Croatian delegation visited them for the express purpose of obtaining information on the Lora case. The District Prosecutor in Split managed to obtain a copy of the committee’s report only through electronic media. On the basis of the committee’s material an investigation was undertaken. [6]

It is interesting that the ICTY would claim not to have the resources to handle the case. Its staff of several hundred aided by a multimillion dollar budget was busily engaged in politically-motivated cases intended to provide post-justification for Western intervention in the Balkans, but there was little if any motivation for pursuing cases lacking a political payoff for Western interests. Not coincidentally, the ICTY received the bulk of its financing from the United States and other NATO countries. Nor was it surprising that war crimes committed by NATO during its bombing of Yugoslavia were simply off the table as far as the ICTY was concerned.

Aside from the Belgrade committee, the only other major public source of documentation on Lora was a series of articles published by the Feral Tribune, a Croatian weekly based in Split. This courageous newspaper endured threats, intimidation and legal actions throughout the Tudjman years and even after, yet never shied away from revealing crimes or criticizing the powerful.

Several war crime trials were launched in postwar Croatia, including the Lora case. However limited the scope of the trials may have been, and the Lora trial concerned only the murder of two prisoners and a few cases of torture, such efforts should not be taken for granted. The Lora trial, however, was fraught with difficulties from the beginning and its judge could not be seen as anyone’s exemplar of judicial probity. The Lora case opened in late September 2001 with a judicial investigation and the arrest of seven former guards: Josip Bikich, Miljenko Bajich, Davor Banich, Andjelko Botich, Emilijo Bungur, Ante Gudich and Tonchi Vrkich. An eighth defendant, former camp commandant Tomislav Dujich, eluded capture and went into hiding. Those arrested included some of the camp’s most brutal guards, although others of equal ruthlessness remained free. More importantly, no arrests were made of high-ranking officials who would have been aware of the situation at Lora and either tacitly or directly condoned the crimes that took place there.

On October 11, 2001, former Croatian military officer Mario Barishich testified before the investigating judge that on one of his visits to Lora’s Block C, he saw nine prisoners wearing uniforms of the JNA, “some of whom were making gurgling sounds as if their tongues had been cut off, while some were missing ears and eyes. They were all deformed.” When his superior officer, Tvrtko Pasalich, first led Barishich and other military police officers into Block C, he instructed them, “You will now see prisoners who have not been registered anywhere and with whom you might do whatever you want.” All nine of the prisoners were gone by the time Barishich returned for a second visit. Inquiring about them, he was told that two had been exchanged for Croatian soldiers and the other seven had been killed and thrown into a pit. Disturbed by this response, Barishich wrote a report about what he had witnessed and sent it to President Franjo Tudjman. His report brought a quick response, and Barishich was fired from his position while those he had reported as having committed crimes were given promotions. [7]

The local government in Split was still in the hands of the Croatian Democratic Union, and the case elicited open hostility. The moment the investigation was launched death threats were made against witnesses as well as against the county prosecutor and the investigating judge. [8] While M.K. was waiting in the hallway of the courthouse for an appointment to make a statement to the investigating judge on October 9, 2001, he was approached by a man who asked if his name was M.K. Answering in the affirmative, he was immediately encircled by ten thugs who told him they would kill him if he spoke about his experiences in Lora. One of the men then photographed M.K. Rattled by the threats and intimidation, M.K. declined to testify that day. Local journalists later added to M.K.’s woes by revealing his name in their reports, as did Croatian television. Returning the following week with a police escort, M.K. was approached by a man who told him he would be killed. Witnesses who had already testified were visited at their homes by men who cursed and threatened to kill them. Within two weeks the county prosecutor, Mladen Bajich, had already been threatened with death several times.

Tonchi Majich, whose Dalmatian Committee for Human Rights was responsible more than any other organization for applying enough pressure to bring the case to trial, received death threats over the telephone on a regular basis. Feral Tribune, which continued to publish exposés on the subject, was also the target of death threats. While its journalists were waiting to see the suspects as they were taken into custody, they were threatened by men who identified themselves as Ustashas. Policemen arriving later were seen openly shaking hands and talking amiably with the thugs. [9] Yet despite such obstacles, the defendants were finally indicted on March 27, 2002.

The trial opened on June 10, 2002 with all seven defendants pleading not guilty. Former camp commandant Tomislav Dujich, who remained at large, was tried in absentia. Semina Lonchar of the Coalition for Human Rights attended the trial during its opening days and reported, “The atmosphere is such that in the courtroom there are about 80 to 90 supporters of the defendants. They applaud frenetically when the defendants arrive in the courtroom thus creating a very tense atmosphere that threatens to cause incidents. We are very uncomfortable about it especially since during the hearing we get showered with abuse and even threats to which unfortunately the court police do not even bother to react.” Pero Jurisin of Slobodna Dalmacija observed, “The judge obviously has no control over the proceedings. He only asks the initial question and then does not even try to be in charge of the proceedings,” allowing “the initiative to be taken over” by defense witnesses.

Prosecution witnesses were claiming to lose their memory. Lonchar concluded, “We think that behind this lack of memory is the fear of the consequences of making public statements.” A reporter for Croatian Radio noted, “Criminal charges were filed by the father of a witness who suddenly lost his memory. The son and his family had received frequent threats over the son’s testimony. The trial, although inclusive, will send behind bars only the smallest of fish. The key witnesses claim they cannot remember, while those who would be courageous enough to speak out…regularly fail to appear before the court.” [10]

Five witnesses from Serbia were subpoenaed to appear during the second week of the trial. None did so, although all expressed a willingness to attend the trial if given adequate security arrangements. The first eleven prosecution witnesses appearing in court suffered a sudden lapse of memory and claimed they could not recall anything. Tonchi Majich urged authorities to provide witnesses with a police escort from the moment they crossed the border plus a document saying that they were not wanted for what would be in effect trumped-up charges for war crimes in Croatia. “By giving those guarantees the authorities will show whether they are capable of bringing war criminals to court at all,” he said. “It is important that these witnesses come to Croatia. The Croatian public has the right to know what was happening in Lora,” and the witnesses “who do not remember anything should be questioned again.” Majich publicly warned witnesses not to come to Croatia “without firm guarantees in order to avoid possible insults, attacks or even arrests under war crimes charges.”

To fill the void in the schedule caused by the non-appearance of the witnesses from Yugoslavia, the court called a former prison guard, Joshko Pribudich, who testified that nothing unusual occurred at Lora and he saw no signs of abuse. Before each session of the trial, Judge Lozina revealed his sympathies by shaking hands with the defendants. [11] Clearly a change of venue was necessary for the sake of the safety of witnesses and to ensure a minimal hope of justice, but the Croatian Supreme Court rejected a request by the Prosecutor to move the proceedings to another court.

M.K., the same man who had been threatened in the courthouse hallway during the investigative process, refused to appear as a witness in court, pleading “poor health.” A witness who had suffered unimaginable tortures and whose brother was murdered at Lora declined to appear because of “the general state of things.” A former prisoner who did appear, R.K., claimed in court that the fact that he had been electrocuted was “irrelevant,” and he could not identify the perpetrator. Z.S. and his family were threatened after he gave a statement before the investigating judge the previous October. When he took the stand during the trial in June he claimed that he could not remember his testimony from October because he was “under medication.” Nor was he able to recall any events from the time of his imprisonment in Lora. Although authorities in Split failed to offer official security guarantees for prosecution witnesses from Yugoslavia, they did give full police protection to two defense witnesses. [12]

The farcical proceedings were viewed with increasing dismay in Yugoslavia. Yugoslav Deputy Justice Minister Nebojsha Sharkich announced that the trial was “being carried out contrary to European and international norms,” while the ICTY, “which oversees such trials, has turned a blind eye to the inadequacies.” Sharkich pointed out that the defendants were charged with the death of only two prisoners, although many more had been murdered at Lora. After returning home from The Hague, Sharkich complained that although “a hefty file on the Lora massacres” had been handed to the ICTY, “we have not yet received a response.” [13]

Astonishingly, on July 22, Judge Slavko Lozina marked the summer recess by releasing the defendants from custody, claiming that the crimes the men were charged with were not serious enough to warrant imprisonment and that none of the witnesses had directly accused the defendants. In the week leading up to the release of the defendants, former Croatian military policemen testified that no crimes were committed at Lora. Tanja Belobradjich, the ex-wife of former commandant Tomislav Dujich, maintained from the stand that she had not heard anything about events in the camp. An ironic claim, given that the report written by the Committee for Compiling Data on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law documented numerous incidents in which Belobradjich personally participated in the torture of prisoners.

Tonchi Majich reacted to Lozina’s release of the prisoners with anger. “The ruling sends an unambiguous message: the court – and Croatia – does not want to try Croats for war crimes. It also indirectly advises the defendants to run away before the trial resumes.” The defendants wasted no time in doing exactly that. “It is up to The Hague tribunal to make a move now,” Majich declared. “They will have to react somehow.” Predictably, no response was forthcoming from the ICTY, which remained silent on the issue. Nine days later the Croatian Supreme Court overturned Judge Lozina’s ruling and ordered the defendants to be returned to jail. Four of the defendants were rounded up the next day, and a fifth a day later, but the remaining two could not be found. [14]

Judge Lozina continued to distinguish himself while the trial was in recess. On Sunday, September 15 he attended a rock concert performed by Mark Thompson, a former British citizen who took the Croatian name of Marko Perkovich when he adopted Croatia as his new home. Thompson felt drawn to Croatia by its most extreme radical elements, and only the month before he organized a public event at Slavonski Brod honoring the Ustashe. Thompson’s concerts were known for their enthusiastic displays of extreme right wing nationalism, and the concert Lozina attended at the Split football stadium was no exception. Many in the audience openly wore Ustasha and fascist insignia, and the moment Thompson raised his arm in a fascist salute, Lozina was seen “jumping for joy.” It was also noted that accompanying Lozina at the concert were the wives of some of the defendants in the Lora case. Responding later to the inevitable criticism, Lozina said he “feels sorry for anyone who has something against Thompson” because in his songs he “conveys a message of love for God and the people.” Seasoned liberally with fascist regalia and salutes, one might add. [15]

The trial resumed on September 19 with two of the defendants Lozina had released still at large. Former Croatian military policemen told the court they had seen no signs of abuse at Lora and had no knowledge of any crimes. Once again the five witnesses from Yugoslavia failed to appear. According to Savo Strbac of the Veritas Documentation and Information Center, they did not want to travel to Split “because their relatives in Croatia had been threatened after the publication of the names of the witnesses.” Left without witnesses for the week, the prosecution turned to a reserve witness who also refused to come to the courthouse. [16]

On October 15, Croatian pathologist Jakov Ivankovich braved death threats by appearing in court and testifying that autopsies of the two prisoners the defendants were charged with killing had shown that their deaths had been violent. Another Croatian witness, former military policeman Milorad Paich, also testified in defiance of threats and intimidation. Paich reported that he was told that Block C was reserved for “special guests” who were unregistered so one could do anything to them. “When I heard yells and saw blood-stained people crying for help, I had enough and went out.” He recalled seeing a table with an induction telephone and blood stains on the wall.

Paich co-wrote the Barishich report that was sent to the command of the military police battalion and to President Tudjman, Defense Minister Gojko Susak and other high-ranking officials. Like Barishich, Paich was removed from his position as a result of the report. Since providing a statement to the investigating judge the previous November, Paich said, he often received threats, and on one occasion someone phoned his children and told them, “We will impale your Dad on a stake.” Three days before Paich’s court appearance he received a telephone call in which he was told, “It would be better for you not to appear before that court, or we shall dispose of you.” [17]

For the third time, on October 21, the witnesses from Yugoslavia did not appear as scheduled. Defense attorneys charged that the explanation that the witnesses would not come to Split due to safety reasons “was unacceptable,” insisting that the witnesses appear in person to confirm the texts of their written testimony. [18] A letter from the Yugoslav Ministry of Justice informed the Croatian Ministry of Justice that they were not given sufficient time for subpoenas to be delivered to the witnesses by October 21, and requested 60 days advance notice to allow time for all arrangements. A similar request by the prosecutor was rejected by the trial’s panel of judges. The letter from Yugoslavia also mentioned that some of the witnesses had reservations concerning the conduct of the case. Defense lawyers reacted sharply, condemning the letter as a “diplomatic scandal.” Judge Lozina concurred, saying that the Croatian Ministry of Justice should have reacted to the letter, and the panel of judges announced that they regarded the letter as “offensive.” The panel, led by Judge Lozina, then ruled that it would not permit the witnesses from Yugoslavia to be subpoenaed again, nor would it allow any prosecution witnesses from Bosnia to be called. This edict effectively shut down the prosecution’s case, given that most of the witnesses from Croatia had been intimidated into silence.

After the last permitted prosecution witness appeared on November 11, the defendants then took the stand, claiming that no one had been abused at Lora and bitterly denouncing the prosecution witnesses. Defendant Andjelko Botich claimed he felt insulted by “the lies served by so-called witnesses,” referring to them with a derogatory ethnic slur. [19]

Exasperated by the conduct of the trial, Justice Minister Ingrid Antichevich-Marinovich requested on October 28 that the State Judicial Council initiate disciplinary action against Judge Lozina. On April 18, 2002, Lozina was the driver in a hit and run accident in which he inflicted serious injury on a man. Minister Antichevich-Marinovich said that if the charges were confirmed, Lozina would face additional charges of damaging the reputation of the court and his profession, resulting in his dismissal. Such an outcome would require the Lora trial to start again with a new judge. In addition, the Justice Ministry announced in September the launch of an investigation into Lozina’s conduct during the trial, based on numerous reports that he was hiding documents that proved the guilt of the defendants. Yet another investigation was initiated into his conduct at the Thompson rock concert. An outraged Lozina went on the offensive, announcing that he would press charges against Justice Minister Antichevich-Marinovich because she had “abused her office” by launching investigations against him. During Lozina’s press conference, a man claiming to be a friend of the Lozina family assaulted and threatened a reporter for writing negative articles about the judge. [20]

On November 14, the State Judicial Council quickly closed the investigation into Lozina’s hit-and-run accident, ruling that he should not be removed from the Lora case. As the State Judicial Council put it, there were no grounds for taking disciplinary action on the hit-and-run case since “a traffic accident can happen to anyone.” A smug Lozina said afterwards, “The decision is fair.” [21]

Deputy county prosecutor Michele Squiccimarro opened his closing arguments with a fatalistic aside. “It is useless to present the closing argument because the trial chamber has already decided on an acquittal.” This comment aroused the ire of Judge Lozina, who responded that the comment “constitutes an act of pressure on the court, a precedent that will be recorded in the court annals.” Continuing with his closing arguments, Squiccimarro said that the prosecution had proven that civilians were tortured at Lora “despite the fact that it was not possible to present all the evidence during the trial because the court summons had not been delivered in a timely manner to the witnesses from Yugoslavia.” Furthermore, he said, “some witnesses had received threats, which prompted them to change their initial statements.”

True to his word, two days later Judge Lozina announced that the panel of judges had submitted a report to the state prosecutor protesting the “inappropriate” behavior of Squiccimarro. In their closing arguments, defense lawyers argued that no civilians were imprisoned in Lora, and those arrested belonged to “organized rebel groups accused of terrorism.” War crimes cannot be committed against one’s own citizens, they claimed, nor had any evidence been presented against their clients. [22]

On November 22, 2002, Judge Lozina announced the long-awaited verdict. The decision reached by the panel of judges was unanimous, finding all eight defendants not guilty. “It is undeniable that there were unlawful actions in the Lora prison,” said Lozina. “Likewise, it is a fact that two inmates died, but people can only be tried for individual responsibility, and this was never established. I can affirm that – on the basis of the evidence – the panel was in no dilemma. There was simply no dilemma. There was no incriminating evidence by witnesses, and since there was no such evidence, material evidence was not sufficient to ascribe the crimes to the persons present here.” A nice piece of sophistry, given Lozina’s ruling forbidding the prosecution from calling witnesses from Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Furthermore, Judge Lozina habitually turned a blind eye towards the abuse of witnesses.

Regarding his proscription of witnesses from Yugoslavia, Lozina claimed that Yugoslavia “had set inappropriate conditions” for the witnesses to come to Split and give evidence. Presumably the desire by the witnesses for security arrangements and sufficient time to respond to the summons could only be construed as “inappropriate.” Lozina rejected the prosecution’s request to bring witnesses from Yugoslavia and Bosnia as “unimportant,” because “even if guilt were proved, there could be no question of war crimes, since Split was not in a war zone at the time and the inmates were Croatian citizens.” In other words, even if witnesses had been allowed to speak and give evidence freely, the defendants could not have been found guilty because the issue rested on a mere matter of semantics. Therefore, even torture and murder would not constitute war crimes under the circumstances. Lozina questioned the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses, and concluded, “There is not a trace of evidence to prove that any of the defendants acted as charged.” [23]

Within hours of the verdict the five defendants in custody were released. Prosecution witnesses faced the risk of violence, but Tonchi Majich was still brave enough to attend the reading of the verdict and speak out vociferously after the trial concluded. “This is a complete outrage,” he said. Calling the judge “biased,” Majich pointed out that Lozina was associated with extreme nationalist groups. “Dozens of witnesses were subjected to abuse and threats until they agreed to alter their pretrial testimonies,” he continued, while more than thirty witnesses from Yugoslavia and Bosnia did not appear because “they feared for their safety.” [24]

The defendants were free but their victims remained condemned to be forever haunted by the mental and physical echoes from their time in Lora. In Split, the milieu of threats, intimidation and intolerance continued to flourish. The outcome of the trial evoked complete disinterest on the part of the ICTY, for its mentors had no political interest hinging on a conviction of the defendants. Tudjman’s Croatia had been a Western ally. Few in the West learned of the verdict. Fewer still cared, for no television program had told them to.

It took nearly two years after the reading of the verdict, but hope for justice was rekindled once again on August 19, 2004, when the Croatian Supreme Court upheld an appeal by the Prosecution and overturned the verdict in the Lora case. The court ordered that the eight defendants be brought to trial once more, but this time before a new panel of judges. Three of the defendants, Tonchi Vrkich, Ante Gudich and Andjelko Botich, were apprehended by police and placed in detention. Some time later, a fourth defendant, Davor Banich, turned himself in. The other four could not be located. [25] The president of the Split County Court’s war crimes council, Judge Spomenka Tonkovich, promised that the retrial would begin no later than the end of 2004. [26]

In fact the retrial did not open until September 2005, with four of the defendants still at large. In the early days of the trial it appeared that little had changed. Several prosecution witnesses refused to appear in court due to threats and intimidation and one witness who did testify claimed he had been treated correctly and was attached to electric wires “only for a few seconds.” Not surprisingly, he asserted that he was unable to recognize or describe the guard who had connected him to the wires. Another witness said in a statement that he had not been abused and then failed to appear on the day that he was scheduled to testify. It was reasonable to surmise that threats were being made to kill or harm the families of witnesses. Mario Barishich, who had fearlessly testified to witnessing abuse at the first Lora trial, now said in the retrial that he could not recall most of the events he had witnessed at Lora because he was suffering from amnesia. The trial was not off to a promising start, but in time protections were offered to a few witnesses from Serbia, who did appear. [27]

The second trial came to a close on March 2, 2006, with all eight defendants being convicted of the charges. In delivering the sentences, Judge Tonkovich said the fact that the men had served in the Croatian military and had small children were mitigating factors. Consequently, she gave the defendants light sentances ranging from six to eight years, and time already served in detention would be credited. Some measure of justice had finally been done, although the sentences were too mild, four of the defendants remained at large and other guards guilty of torture have never been charged. More importantly, the senior government ministers who had encouraged such crimes face no risk of arrest.  But the verdict did at least make a symbolic point that should not be taken for granted.  It is unlikely that the U.S. will ever face up to its own role in the Balkans, Vietnam or Iraq. The Lora case exemplifies everything that is fraudulent about what passes as concern for human rights in the U.S. Wars of aggression waged by Western powers, in which bombs and missiles incinerate entire neighborhoods, are never viewed as violations of human rights. Nor do acts of torture and killing inflicted by Western proxies ever arouse the passions of those who trumpet the cause of human rights. For a reporter from Croatian Radio, the first trial raised questions. “It seems right to ask if Judge Lozina was deliberately put in charge of this trial against the Croatian knights who chose to demonstrate their patriotism and love of country far from the battlefield, in the murky corridors of a military prison where they had an ideal opportunity to get rid of their complexes. It depends on the Split trial whether electrodes, doghouses, telephone cords, rubber truncheons and boot marks on the bodies of the people who could not defend themselves will become more than a yardstick to gauge someone’s patriotism.” [28] In the United States, one wonders how long it will be before patriotism is no longer measured by enthusiasm for dropping munitions on civilians in some far-off land, or even how long one must wait before such questions are asked.


[1] Viktor Ivancic and Srdan Kaic, “A Chronicle of Violence,” Feral Tribune (Split), December 29, 1995.

Miro Bogdanovic, “Apologize to Victims of Terrorism,” Feral Tribune (Split), December 9, 2000.

[2] Stojan Obradovic, “The Split Blackshirts Also Beat Up People,” AIM (Paris), February 9, 1994.

[3] The testimonies of former prisoners of Prison Camp Lora are taken primarily from these sources: “Crime of Genocide Against Serbs in the Prison Camp ‘Lora’ in Split in the Period 1991-1997, Committee for Compiling Data on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law (Belgrade), October 1998.

Vladimir Matijanic, “Victims of Sadism,” Feral Tribune (Split), October 28, 2000.

[4] “Who Has Given the Green Light?”, interview with Stipe Mesic, Panorama (Milan), August 8, 1995.

Chantal de Rudder, “The United States Gave Us the Green Light,” interview with Mate Mestrovic, Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), August 10, 1995.

George Jahn, “International Inaction in Croatia Will Complicate Bosnian War,” Associated Press, August 7, 1995.

“NATO Destroyed Krajina Missile Systems,” SRNA (Belgrade), August 6, 1995.

Cvijeta Arsenic, “Abandoned People Must Flee,” interview with Slobodan Jarcevic, Oslobodjeje (Sarajevo), August 23, 1995.

Jasmina Kuzmanovic, “Croatian Minister Says U.S. Gave Advice on Offensive,” Associated Press, August 5, 1995.

“Croatia Takes Effective Control of What’s Left of Bosnia,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 1995.

Ivo Pukanic, “Thrilled with Operation Flash, President Clinton Gave the Go Ahead for Operation Storm,” Nacional (Zagreb), May 24, 2005.

[5] Interview with members of the Committee for Compiling Data on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law, by Barry Lituchy and members of the North American Solidarity with Yugoslavia Delegation, Belgrade, August 6, 1999.

[6] Correspondence from Committee for Compiling Data on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law to author, August 6, 2002.

Vlado Rajic, “Is The Hague Severing Cooperation with Croatia?”, Vjesnik (Zagreb), November 2, 2002.

[7] “Lora Prison Trial Witness: Superior Officer Said ‘Do Whatever You Want’ to Prisoners,” HINA (Zagreb), October 11, 2001.

[8] “Lora Prison Trial Witness: Superior Officer Said ‘Do Whatever You Want’ to Prisoners,” HINA (Zagreb), October 11, 2001.

[9] Vladimir Matijanic, “Who Will Be Hunted?”, Feral Tribune (Split), October 13, 2001.

“Lora War Crimes Trial Resumes with Testimony of Witness K,” HINA (Zagreb), November 7, 2002.

[10] Broadcast, Croatian radio, June 13, 2002.

[11] “FRY Witnesses Subpoenaed to Testify in Lora Trial Fail to Show Up,” HINA (Zagreb), June 17, 2002.

“Croatian Rights Group Warns Witnesses in War Crimes Trial,” Agence France-Presse (Paris), June 14, 2002.

Drago Hedl, “Croatia: Lora Retrial Eases Pressure on Sanader,” IWPR (London), August 27, 2004.

[12] Goran Vezic, “Lora Trial Prosecutors Seek Relocation,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting (London), June 24-30, 2002.

“Witness in War Crimes Trial Suffers Memory Loss Over Earlier Statement,” HINA (Zagreb), October 18, 2002.

[13] “Croatian Court Bungled War Crimes Trial, Says Yugoslavia,” Agence France-Presse (Paris), June 27, 2002.

[14] Lajla Veselica, “Croatian Court Releases War Crimes Suspects, Angering Rights Groups,” Agence France-Presse (Paris), July 22, 2002.

“Ex-Military Policemen Charged with War Crimes are Released from Detention,” Associated Press, July 22, 2002.

Loborka Kozole, “Sympathizing with War Criminals?”, Transitions On Line Balkan Report, July 29, 2002.

“Police Re-Arrest Four Croatian War Crimes Suspects,” Agence France-Presse (Paris), August 2, 2002.

Snjezana Vukic, “Supreme Court Orders Croat War Crimes Suspects Back to Prison,” Associated Press, August 1, 2002.

[15] Tihomir Ponos, “Neo-Ustasha Squeakers,” Vjesnik (Zagreb), September 3, 2002.

“Court Demands Probe Into War Crimes Trial Judge for Behavior at Concert,” HINA (Zagreb), September 17, 2002.

“No Official Comments From Split County Court on Judge Lozina,” HINA (Zagreb), September 18, 2002.

[16] “War Crimes Trial in Split Resumes with Two Defendants Still On Run,” HINA (Zagreb), September 19, 2002.

“Serb Witnesses at Split Trial Say Relatives in Croatia Threatened,” SRNA (Bijeljina, Bosnia), September 22, 2002.

“Lora War Crimes Trial Adjourned After Yugoslav Witness Fails to Appear,” HINA (Zagreb), September 23, 2002.

“Two Witnesses Testify in Lora Trial, Claim Inmates Were Not Abused,” HINA (Zagreb), September 24, 2002.

[17] “Pathologist Testifies to Torture in Lora Prison Camp at War Crimes Trial,” HINA (Zagreb), October 15, 2002.

“Former Military Policeman Testifies to Torture in Lora Prison,” HINA (Zagreb), October 16, 2002.

[18] “Witnesses from Yugoslavia Fail to Show Up at Lora Abuse Trial,” HINA (Zagreb), October 21, 2002.

[19] “Witnesses from Yugoslavia Not Coming to Split,” Blic (Belgrade), November 14, 2002.

“Croatian Court Requests Translation of Yugoslav Ministry’s Letter,” HINA (Zagreb), November 11, 2002.

“Accused in Lora War Crimes Trial Present Defense, Plead Not Guilty,” HINA (Zagreb), November 13, 2002.

[20] “Croatian Justice Minister Requests Sacking of Judge in War Crimes Trial,” HINA (Zagreb), October 28, 2002.

“Croat Judge Under Investigation for Hiding War Crimes Evidence,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, September 19, 2002.

“Controversial Croatian Judge to Sue Justice Minister,” HINA (Zagreb), November 5, 2002.

[21] “Judicial Council Decides Not to Take Measures Against Lora Trial Judge,” HINA (Zagreb), November 14, 2002.

[22] “Lora War Crimes Trial Ends, Verdict Expected on 22 Nov,” HINA (Zagreb), November 20, 2002.

“Few Defence Lawyers Give Closing Arguments in Lora Trial,” HINA (Zagreb), November 19, 2002.

“Prosecution, Defence Present Closing Arguments in Lora Trial,” HINA (Zagreb), November 18, 2002.

[23] “Split Court Releases All Defendants in War Crimes Trial,” Croatian Radio broadcast, “November 22, 2002.

[24] “Croatian Court Acquits Former Military Policemen of War Crimes,” Agence France-Presse, November 22, 2002.

Eugene Brcic, “Judge Acquits 8 War Crimes Suspects,” Associated Press, November 22, 2002.

[25] Eugene Brcic, “Croatian Court Orders War Crimes Retrials,” Associated Press, August 19, 2004.

Drago Hedl, “Croatia: Lora Retrial Eases Pressure on Sanader,” IWPR (London), August 27, 2004.

“Arrest Warrant Issued for Five Accused in Lora War Crimes Case,” HINA (Zagreb), October 26, 2004.

“One of the Accused in Lora War Crimes Case Surrenders to Authorities,” HINA (Zagreb), November 30, 2004.

[26] “Lora War Crimes Trial to Restart in December or January 2005,” HINA (Zagreb), October 18, 2004.

[27] “Croatia Reopens War Crimes Trial for Own Troops,” Reuters, September 12, 2005

Tena Erceg, “A Tortured Trial,” Transitions On Line (Prague), September 19, 2005.

“Witness in War Crimes Trial Asks to Testify via Video Link,” HINA (Zagreb), September 16, 2005.

“Key Witness in Lora War Crimes Trial Says Suffering from Amnesia,” HINA (Zagreb), September 22, 2005.

“War Crimes Trial Resumes in Split,” HINA (Zagreb), October 24, 2005.

“Serb Witnesses Tell Croatian Court of 1992 Torture,” Reuters, October 24, 2005.

[28] “Eight Croatian Ex-Military Policemen Found Guilty of War Crimes Against Serb Civilians,” HINA (Zagreb), March 2, 2006.

Broadcast, Croatian Radio, June 13, 2002.