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Magistrate Halts Bid to Refute Witness in Artukovic Case

February 28, 1985|WILLIAM OVEREND | Times Staff Writer

An expert in Croatian history portrayed accused war criminal Andrija Artukovic on Wednesday as a figurehead in the Nazi puppet government of Croatia and attempted to refute testimony by a key Yugoslav witness directly linking Artukovic to the murder of Serbs and Jews during World War II.

The testimony of Charles McAdams, administrator of a regional center of the University of San Francisco in Sacramento, was curtailed by U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr., however, on grounds that contradiction of witness testimony is not permitted in U.S. extradition hearings.

McAdams took the witness stand on the third day of Artukovic's extradition hearing in Los Angeles federal court over the objections of Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, the chief federal prosecutor in the case, who accused Artukovic's attorneys of attempting to stall the proceedings with irrelevant testimony.

'Inquest Into History'

"If this proceeding becomes an inquest into history, it will never end until history itself ends," Nimmer said.

McAdams began his testimony after defense lawyer Gary B. Fleischman had already attempted to challenge the statements of Avdic Bajro, a 60-year-old Yugoslavian truck driver who has sworn that he personally witnessed Artukovic order hundreds of civilians killed in the early years of World War II.

Fleischman said statements made by Bajro in a July, 1984, affidavit constitute the only new evidence presented by Yugoslavia against Artukovic, former minister of the interior of Croatia, since an unsuccessful Yugoslav extradition attempt in 1951.

"There is really one affidavit against him. One piece of paper is being used to send this man back to Yugoslavia for a short and summary trial prior to his death. Everything else was brought up in the '50s and rejected then," Fleischman said.

Bajro, who served 14 years in a Yugoslav prison after a 1950 felony conviction, testified in a Yugoslav court that he was a sergeant in the Ustasha, the Croatian police and military force during World War II, and served as an escort for Artukovic and Croatian Chief of State Ante Pavelic in the early 1940s.

Heard Order

He said in an affidavit attached to Yugoslavia's extradition request that he heard Artukovic order 400 to 500 Jews and other civilians machine-gunned to death near Zagreb, Yugoslavia, in 1941; witnessed Artukovic supervise the slaughter of hundreds of others by a Croatian tank unit in the town of Vrgin the next year, and observed him order the murder of at least 5,000 civilians at Kozara during the same period as a reprisal for the killing of 500 to 600 Ustashas by Yugoslav Communist forces.

Fleischman, who earlier had denounced Bajro's affidavit in court papers as "an utter sham and fabrication conjured up in exchange for his freedom" from a Yugoslav prison, again focused on Bajro's testimony after calling McAdams to the stand.

First the lawyer challenged a statement by Bajro that he had joined the Ustasha at the age of 17 in the town of Trebinje.

McAdams said there were no Ustasha forces in the Trebinje area of Croatia, which was occupied by Italian troops during the early 1940s. Nimmer quickly objected.

"At this point the witness is contradicting testimony, and he is barred by treaty from doing that," the prosecutor said.

"This is the only new document that's come up in 40 years, and I can't cross-examine this document," Fleischman responded. "All he said is that it was impossible for this to have happened."

Brown said he was sympathetic to Fleischman's plight but ordered him to continue the questioning in a way that would not directly contradict the testimony of the Yugoslav witness. On that basis, McAdams went on to question the likelihood that Bajro could have been an escort for either Pavelic or Artukovic at such an early age and to indirectly challenge some of his claims.

He said Pavelic had his own "elite guard" of 660 men who had been in exile with him before World War II, before Croatia was established as an independent state, and that no newcomers were allowed in the group.

Testimony Challenged

He also challenged the testimony that Artukovic had supervised a mass killing by a Croatian tank unit, citing a German military report in 1941 that said the Croatian armed forces consisted of 46 infantry battalions, one bicycle battalion and three cavalry battalions that were not fully equipped because they lacked horses.

Outside the courtroom, McAdams also challenged various estimates of the number of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies killed by the Croatian forces during the Yugoslav civil war that broke out at the same time as World War II, after Croatia was established as an independent nation for a five-year period, beginning in 1941.

Estimates of the number of Serbs and Jews killed have been put at 770,000 by various Yugoslav sources. Croatians have countered that Serbian forces killed 500,000 of their number during the same period.

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