International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors on Friday questioned the conclusions reached by a military expert called by the defense, who concluded that war crimes accused Jean-Pierre Bemba was not in command of his troops that are said to have committed atrocities.
Prosecution lawyer Eric Iverson pointed out that General Jacques Seara, the expert who was testifying for the defense, did not review all relevant facts and material to enable him back up his conclusions that contradict those reached by the prosecution’s military expert.
In his report to the court, which has formed the basis of his testimony since Tuesday, retired French brigadier-general Jacques Seara disputed the conclusions of the prosecution expert. The prosecution’s expert, Kenyan retired general Daniel Opande, previously assertied that the accused had the necessary means to directly command his Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops during the conflict. Most of today’ cross-examination of General Seara was done in closed session.
“Would it surprise you to know he [General Opande] reviewed seven documents you did not review, totalling 100 pages, and when you haven’t reviewed the same information or datasets, is it unfair to criticize or assess his expert opinion?” asked Mr. Iverson in the few moments of open court.
“If the other expert received different documents, it is possible he might arrive at a different conclusion. Nevertheless, after reading the other military expert’s report, in addition to other documents, one could still make observations,” replied General Seara.
General Seara has also written an expert report for the court. His report, based on an analysis of documents availed to him by the defense and interviews with senior officers in the Central African army and the MLC, concludes that Mr. Bemba’s forces who were deployed in the conflict country were under the command of Central African military authorities.
General Opande wrote a report for the court on military command structures and command responsibility. The report was based on material provided by the Office of The Prosecutor (OTP), including witness statements and other resources. In his testimony last December, the Kenyan general stated that Mr. Bemba, through wire and radio transmissions, had “assured means” of issuing direct commands to his troops on the Central African frontline from his headquarters in Congo.
“If you have the means to monitor, the distance doesn’t matter. There are commanders who are thousands of miles away from their troops, but they are still in control of their troops,” said General Opande in his testimony.
In his testimony over the past three days, General Seara has said that he did not see how Mr. Bemba could have been able to command his troops without an operations center, intelligence information, and secure telecommunications. ”Commanding 1,500 people on the ground from a distance of over 1,000 kilometers in a situation where one is not informed of enemy troops, terrain, ammunition, details of the operations center, cohesion relating to the mission of the other forces, I do not see how it is possible for one to command under such circumstances,” said General Seara.
Mr. Bemba, the MLC commander-in-chief, is on trial at The Hague-based court over rapes, murders, and pillaging allegedly committed by his soldiers deployed in the Central African conflict between October 2002 and March 2003. Prosecutors charge that he made no efforts to train his troops on the law of war, that he ignored or discounted specific complaints about serious crimes committed by his soldiers, and that he made no efforts to punish the rowdy soldiers. He has pleaded not guilty to all five charges against him, arguing that he had no control over his troops once they entered the neighboring country.
The trial resumes next Tuesday morning with further cross-examination of General Seara by the prosecution.