Ante Gotovina US Links to Croatian War Crime?

Former Croatian General Ante Gotovina stands accused of war crimes in connection with a 1995 military offensive. Some 150 civilians were killed in the advance. Now, it looks like he may have had help from the United States.

His trial may not get started before the end of 2006 or the spring of 2007, but already the case against former Croatian general Ante Gotovina promises some surprises. Gotovina, who is accused of being responsible for the murder of at least 150 Serbian civilians and the eviction of some 150,000 Serbs from the Krajina region in August 1995, may have had some American help.

Croatian military sources told SPIEGEL that Gotovina had direct though secret support from both the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency in planning and carrying out the "Storm" offensive, which was designed to retake the Krajina region from the Serbs. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) behind chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte has charged Gotovina and the late Croatian leader Franco Tudjman with committing a "joint criminal undertaking" with the goal of ethnically cleansing the Serbs from Croatia.

In preparing for the offensive, Croatian soldiers were allegedly trained at Fort Irwin in California and the Pentagon purportedly aided in planning the operation. Additional training assistance is said to have come from the American firm Military Professional Resources Incorporated. Immediately prior to the offensive, then-Deputy CIA Director George Tenet allegedly met with Gotovina and Tudjman's son -- then in charge of Croatian intelligence -- for last minute consultations. During the operation, a US aircraft is said to have destroyed Serbian communication and anti-aircraft centers and the Pentagon allegedly passed on information gathered by satellite to Gotovina.

Earlier this month, the Zagreb weekly Globus, claiming sources within Gotovina's defense team, alleged that then US President Bill Clinton knew all about the planned offensive. Clinton, the paper alleged, was angry at the Serbs for having overrun the UN protected Bosnian "safe area" of Srebrenica the previous month and wanted them punished.

Gotovina was arrested in early December after having been in hiding for years. The European Union had made his arrest a precondition  to resuming accession negotiations with Croatia. Gotovina has pled not guilty to the war crimes charges levied by the Hague tribunal. News reports have indicated that Gotovina's lawyers may be planning to rest his defense on the American participation in the offensive.

A recent addition to the Gotovina defense team, though, may alter that strategy. At the insistence of the Pentagon, the American lawyer Greg Kehoe will help defend Gotovina at his trial. If convicted, the former general who many in Croatia still consider a hero could face life in prison.