"Man, this is no way to live. I have no words to describe what I have gone through."
Marica, like a good host, offers coffee and fruit juice in the small room. She, her husband Mladen and their children are also refugees. They have moved countless times in the past ten years since they fled for their lives from Bosanska Bojna in the Cazinska Krajina. They finally settled down in the village of Ba near Ljig. The people from the Red Cross in this town helped the family move into a small house on the outskirts of the town. This is where we find Marica now, overjoyed to see her brother Dragan.
"For three years, since the autumn of 1994, we had no word of him at all," says the young woman with a trembling voice, holding back her emotions and her excitement. "He was recruited into the Republic of Srpska Army in the summer of that year; he had just come of age. A year before that our family fled from Bojna to Kozarac near Prijedor. For three years we searched and asked everyone about Dragan's whereabouts and we received different answers. That he had deserted, that he had signed his discharge papers, that he was listed as missing. I never lost hope; I believed the day would come when I would see him alive again. I dreamed of him; I knew that he was alive."
"We were surrounded; I'm sure we were betrayed but for several days we resisted anyway. My brothers in arms died one by one. In the end, I was the only one left. I thought I was in hell then but if I had known what was to come, I would have shot myself in the head on the spot. I was wounded; for five days I dragged myself along like a beaten dog, seeking help. Then, at the entrance to some village I lost consciousness."
Opacic fainted at the entrance to a military camp of the Muslim army. They transferred him as prisoner of war first to Hrasnica and then to Sarajevo to some sort of basement prison. There they began to interrogate and to beat him. With wet ropes, bats, whatever was handy. They did whatever they wanted to him, cursing and abusing him. On many occasions he thought he would die. And he wanted to die just to be free of the horrible suffering.
In the spring of 1995 Dragan Opacic was taken before the court. He was given a court-appointed defender and the prosecutor accused him of having committed 23 murders by execution, two by slitting throats and ten rapes during 1992 and 1993 in the Trnopolje camp near Prijedor. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
"I never even saw Trnopolje; I was a child at the time. All that I know is that it was located close to Kozarac where we stopped when we fled from Cazinska Krajina. My defence and appeal, of course, were not accepted. In the conviction, not a single name or even a nickname of a single victim was listed. After that, the police came to the prison and told me they had evidence that I had helped somebody named Dusan Tadic and that we killed people together. At the time, I had never heard of Tadic. They beat me some more. They beat the living daylights out of me. This lasted for many days and nights. They put salt in my wounds, gave me some sort of injections that dazed me. So that I would sign. At first I wouldn't but the more they beat me, the more I wanted to live to prove that everything was not true. When they told me I was going to The Hague to testify against Tadic, it occurred to me that this was a chance to get out; once I got there, I would tell the truth and ask for protection! And so I signed.
"The investigators from The Hague arrived, William Reed and Grant Neumann. They took charge of me and secretly took me to the scene of the "crime" so I could show them. Whenever I wanted to say something else, I was reminded of my previously signed statements and they made me repeat them in front of the cameras. Then they took me to the prison in The Hague by way of Split. I was kept in complete isolation. I waited for them to take me before the court as an anonymous protected witness. I was behind the dark glass, Tadic was on the bench. That was the first time I saw him in my life. I was without a life history, without a father and brothers, Witness "L". In front of the court I hedged, played the part of a bad actor so that I could somehow let them know that something was not right. Because I wanted them to know that I was lying, that I was coerced so the court would keep me in Holland."
It will remain a mystery how Tadic's attorney, Misha Vladimiroff, began to suspect that something was not right and how he got the idea to do a little investigation on the witness. Dragan assumes that his youth, the fact that he was a minor and nevertheless accused of so many serious crimes, seemed unconvincing to the experienced attorney.
"I was afraid that they would send me back to Bosnia. I was in the Scheveningen prison but completely isolated from the others. The guards were decent, the food was good, the medical care, too. I recovered, my wounds healed. I had no contacts with the others at first. When they exercised, I was in my cell. When everyone else was in their rooms, they took me out to stretch my legs.
Dragan is interrupted by his sister Marica. She says that at that time the papers wrote about the appearance of Witness "L" in the trial of Dusko Tadic. There were no specifics except that he was from the Prijedor area.
"At the time I said that it must be my brother Dragan; I was almost certain but the rest of the family convinced me that I was wrong. But something inside me kept telling me that it was my brother. For a long time there was uncertainty and anxiety, sleepless nights, shaky reading in the newspapers of everything remotely related to The Hague... When Vladimiroff and some other people came to get our father Janko and our brother Pero, then I was sure. They did not tell them where they were taking them but to me, everything was intuitively clear at that point."
The investigators soon gave up on his testimony and chief prosecutor Louise Arbour had no more choice in the matter. She declined to prosecute Opacic for giving false testimony which suited Dragan. He wanted to stay in The Hague where his life was much safer than in Bosnia.
"I wrote an appeal asking them to let me to stay in The Hague but some kind of secret deal was made beforehand. Rumor of the scandal spread and they wanted to hush it up. I got to 'enjoy' life in a civilized country for a little while longer; then, after almost two years in Holland, I was transferred to the infamous prison in Zenica [in the BH Federation]. There were a lot of prisoners there from the Cazinska Krajina, [Muslims] who fought under Fikret Abdic against Alija's [Izetbegovic's] troops; so they knew me, since we are from the same part of the country and to some extent they protected me from revenge. I spent three years in Zenica serving time for war crimes that I did not commit. Last summer I got the first piece of good news. Me and one other Serb were going to be exchanged for two Bosniak prisoners in the Republic of Srpska. We would be going to a prison in the Republic of Srpska and they would go to a prison in the BH Federation. According to my conviction, I am supposed to stay behind bars until 2004. But I am determined to fight and to clear my name. The defense ministry needs to check where I was in 1992 and 1993, that the accusations have absolutely nothing to do with me".
"My fight isn't finished. I still have to clear my name, to prove that I was falsely accused and prepared under coercion for the rigged trial of Tadic. When I finally met him for a moment, shortly before the end of my stay in The Hague, I told him I was sorry and that justice will triumph in the end. I believe in that. Tomorrow I am going back to prison but I want it to be known that I am innocent. Why doesn't someone do something, hold a retrial, give me a chance? That's my only task now. I saw my parents in Kozarac before New Year's; now I've seen my sister and her family. I want to be free to come and go as I please; I want to be looking for a girlfriend like others my age, not looking for justice."
OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT THE CASE OF DRAGAN OPACIC:
"Opacic in Srpska", former "Witness L" moved to Srpska, Reporter, Srpska, B-H, November 15, 2000
"The Global Imprisonment of Witness L", Dragan Opacic's case, Reporter, Srpska, B-H, June 21 2000
"I Confessed to Murders at AID's Request", Dragan Opacic, a former star secret witness for the prosecution in the case against Dusan Tadic in the Hague explains how he ended up testifying against Tadic and talks about his experience from The Hague, Dani, Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina, B-H, October 8 1999