Military and other secrets*

Sandra Petrušić, NIN, 15.1.2015.

*Independent CEAS translation of the article published in the NIN weekly magazine, issue no.3342, on January 15, 2015.


In mid-October 2014, the Deputy Public Prosecutor ordered members of the Ministry of Interior to file criminal charges against seven members of the Gendarmerie for „attack on a military officer in the performance of military duty“ and for „abuse and torture“. Such righteousness, even when it comes to colleagues, would pose as good news was it not in any case related to the event that took place at the corner of Svetozara Markovića and Birčaninova street during the Pride Parade, when Gendarmerie officers were securing a high-risk event and when, at least as stated in the conclusion based on which a disciplinary proceeding was initiated and signed by the Gendarmerie Commander, four persons showed up, acting „presumptuously and arrogantly and refusing to identify themselves“, having the Police Officers „physically assaulted“ by these unidentified persons. The question is why the Police failed to also file criminal charges against these persons?


Till date, the public is still unaware of what sort of secret military assignment members of the Military Police of the Serbian Armed Forces Saša Stanković and Saša Jovanović were on, but was made aware of the punches and curses they exchanged with the Gendarmerie officers, and that one of them pulled out a handgun (one version) or dropped it after being hit with a rubber baton (another version), but according to both version there was a bullet in the chamber. The full truth might finally see the light of day following the criminal charges filed on Tuesday by the Ombudsman Saša Janković against members of the Military Security Agency.


Whatever happened, the fact is that Police Officers were securing the gathering, had orders to set up a cordon in that place, and that, according to official Police documents, four strong persons attempted to break through it, insulting and assaulting the Police Officers, with one person having a weapon in his possession, which would in some other countries be considered as enough to have the Police also use weapons and not be held responsible for it. Our Police has, as it often did in the past, employed batons and excessive use of force, hence denying those that were injured the right to timely medical assistance, which is why the Ombudsman joined the criminal charges against seven members of the Gendarmerie, but only in the part in which they are suspected of abuse and torture. But he, unlike the Ministry of Interior, asked whether there is also blame on the other side.


Asked why he filed criminal charges only against military officers and not the two civilians of which one is the Prime Minister’s brother, Andrej Vučuć, and the other is the Mayor’s brother, Predrag Mali, and why the Police has not filed charges either against the military officers or against these civilians, Saša Janković explains that he, as the Ombudsman, is legally authorized to file charges only against public officials and Government employees, but not against citizens.


„I was also surprised by the actions of the Police. The Deputy Public Prosecutor did order them to file charges against their colleagues and that is a fact, but no one can forbid them to file charges against someone else for whom their official records show violated the Criminal Law. Ultimately, the Deputy Prosecutor, as they wrote down, did tell them not to submit their documentation to the Ombudsman, but they nevertheless obeyed the law and did this“, Janković explains to NIN.


The strangely demonstrated inferiority of the Police could somewhat be understood if we bear in mind that the miraculously „leaked“ footage shows members of the Gendarmerie beating, in the same way they beat up protesters prior to the democratic changes, but very few had the illusion that in this sense anything changed significantly. But what completely unexpectedly emerged from the story of one apparent street clash is the power relationship between members of civilian and military security forces and their relationship towards human rights. Because, when the Ombudsman requested the needed documentation in order to review the case from his angle (omissions in the work that led to human rights violations), the Armed Forces said – we do not give. First, General Petar Cvetković, Director of the Military Security Agency, and then the Minister of Defense Branislav Gašić himself, with a signature and a seal.


“I do not remember that one administrative body ever openly refused to submit the requested information, because that would be direct violation of the law. The Ombudsman is a constitutionally established control body and has the jurisdiction and security certificate to see even what citizens cannot, precisely in order to be able to, as someone who nobody has the right to order how to operate – therefore, as an independent body, guarantee the citizens that all state affairs, even those shrouded in secrecy, are conducted lawfully and properly. That is the interest of all citizens of Serbia which is why the Constitution grants control authority to the Ombudsman. In case that anyone, especially a security service, is allowed to decide, at its own discretion, whether it will be subject to control and who will among the control bodies be allowed to control it, then we no longer have democratic, civilian control of the security sector, that is, what we started to build, the Minister of Defense and the Military Security Agency Director can wipe out with one stroke of the pen, and Serbia is brought decades backwards”, Janković highlights.


If it still exists, the independent prosecution will have its hands full. After criminal charges of the Ombudsman, maybe it will also be discussed before the court why members of the Military Security Agency, despite it being under within the jurisdiction of the Police, confiscated surveillance tapes from nearby branches of Komercijalna and Alfa Bank (we hope that it is not because the Police does submit documentation to control bodies for inspection) and invaded an investigation that is not theirs, which Janković also stated in his charges. Or why members of the Military Security Agency interviewed all potential witnesses before the Police Officers who are carrying out the investigation. But the problem does not end with this event and an analysis of one ugly brawl because of which seven Police Officers were suspended, and two members of the Armed Forces are still at their jobs. Late last year, the Ombudsman scheduled the first systemic audit visit to the Military Security Agency in order to inspect the findings on illegalities and irregularities that he came across. Some of these are: dealing with union leaders – of military and civilian unions; dealing with some political parties; operative treatment of judicial office holders; access to communications content without a court order; failure to submit criminal charges against senior executives of service despite suspicions that they illegally appropriated funds (instead only retirement or dismissal); abuse of powers through counter-intelligence protection of selected officials outside the defense system; responsibility for the damage worth millions for unfounded accusations in the “Pancir” affair…


“Due to obstruction by the Ministry of Defense and the Military Security Agency in the case during the Pride Parade, I was forced to cancel that audit visit because it is absurd to go for an audit if the subject of the audit choses what he will or will not give you. The law is completely clear: all information, regardless of its level of secrecy (in accordance with the law), which is essential to the Ombudsman in order to achieve his control or preventive function, must be made available for inspection”, Janković says. Asked who are the persons he doubts the Military Security Agency is protecting outside of its jurisdiction, he says: “The Prime Minister is a civilian official, and from the conflict between the Gendarmerie and the Cobras we learned that members of the military make up his security, just as from the case “camera in the hotel” we learned that the Military Security Agency protects him through counter-intelligence. Even the previous Minister of Justice had, according to my knowledge, military security and counter-intelligence protection of the Military Security Agency. It needs to be inspected how was this the case, when the law limits activities of the Military Security Agency to the protection of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces, and none of them is the Armed Forces’ Commander in Chief, but the President of the country”, explains Janković.


It is no news that the Ministry of Defense is not glad to provide the requested information, but not only have times changed (the Security Information Agency provides the Ombudsman with absolutely every requested document and he has carried out several audits there), but the head of the Ministry is a man who understands “military secret” extremely seriously, even though this term is officially out of use for seven years now. Minister Gašić recently very theatrically replied to the Commissioner for Information Rodoljub Šabić with the words: “My message to Šabić is that he can penalize me all he wants, but the part which cannot be given (to the public), simply cannot be given, and that is where the conversation ends”.


The Minister “forgot” that the law does not leave it to him, but to the Commissioner for Information, the final assessment on what is to be publically available, and that the Commissioner is entitled to remove the label of secrecy from any state document.


Unfortunately, the law does not even allow Šabić to penalize any official, hence this statement remains what it is – a theatrical outage of the Minister, but the Commissioner is authorized to request his dismissal. The question is whether this is enough when he is faced with such as obstacle?


“This is the first case of non-cooperation, if it was to happen again I would have a legal right to file a proposal for dismissal of the official or the employee refusing cooperation. I believe that it is not good to have problems in the security sector addressed in public, but much greater damage will be done if I agree to keep quiet about it. We have a serious problem with military agencies invading the civilian sphere, which is a sort of militarization; there are serious findings on abuses that must be inspected independently, and democratic civilian control over military services received a “let it go”. I am not glad that I have to say this all publicly, nor do I feel safe for doing so, but the Military Security Agency Director and the Minister of Defense left me with no other solution if I want to get involved in my own work. Unfortunately, once again I have to call the Serbian public to be the greatest controller in the protection of citizens’ rights, the Constitution and the law”, says Janković.


In any case, it is better for the public to find everything out now, bearing in mind all the security disturbances an event such as the Pride pushed to the surface, then to wait some other high-risk event.