Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 1: Apricots and Plums (5/7)

“I was thirsty, you see,” responded Mustafa in halfhearted jest. “I merely wanted to make sure we had properly catalogued it. Since the bottle was found next to the remains of Z34 and Z35 respectively, we couldn’t be certain if it belonged to one of the victims. We did suspect that one of the perpetrators threw in the bottle. Since the deaths were perimortem, we postulated that the brandy-drinking killer was enjoying it just before or during the executions.”

“Well that makes sense,” said Selderhuis. “They probably got themselves drunk silly before hacking them to death.”

“Hacking? No, that’s what they do in Africa,” replied Mustafa. “It’s the Balkans, so we’re talking about slit throats and gunshots to the head. Most of the forty-three victims had multiple bullet holes. Besides, men don’t kill because they’re drinking; they just drink to make the killing easier.”

“True enough,” said Parkinson.

“When we first got to the site,” explained Dr. Anderson, “we could see bullet scars on the trees nearby, too many to count. We practically tripped over a sea of brass casings. They really went to town. Dare I say, this evidence of a free-for-all shooting embarrassed Drago, as his own account at the trial revealed.” She consulted Mustafa with a gesture of her hand and he nodded in agreement.

“Of course he didn’t voice this embarrassment outright. And I say embarrassed, not ashamed. Drago has tried to cultivate the reputation of a professional soldier who dispatches the enemy with discipline and precision. Can you believe it? No Serbian commander in the field ever bought it, but as long as he was killing Croats and Muslims, who cared? As for the bullet holes, we started to mark them with little red flags to determine the direction of the grave before exhumation. We did have the satellite photos with us, and so we knew where it was, just not the details. By the time we finished marking off the site, the whole area was festooned in a sea of red.”

“Had a U-2 spy plane not produced photos of displaced mounds of earth in the area, by the way,” explained Parkinson to Selderhuis, “we probably wouldn’t be here now.”

Parkinson stubbornly focused on the plum brandy. “What I don’t understand, Mustafa—and I’m sure Wim wants to know as well—is why you were so adamant about this bottle, the Slivovitz, being the key to convicting Drago? I mean, sure, everything you unearth at a site is potentially crucial evidence and treated as such, but it’s almost as if you knew what happened?”

Dr. Anderson quickly responded.  “You don’t think I’ve tried to get that out of him, Gary?  I think Mustafa agrees that we might have tested that bottle anyway, but how he…”

“I thought we’ve been through this before, Lynn,” interrupted Mustafa, now in his colleagues’ jocular spirit. “A djinn whispered into my ear, Good doctor, the key to the case lies in the bottle. Follow the bottle.” Dr. Anderson shrugged, as if to say to Selderhuis and Parkinson, See, what’d I tell you?

Dr. Anderson obliged to sum things up. “Suffice it to say, were it not for the fact that you could trace the brandy bottle back to Drago, we wouldn’t have had a conviction.”

“Funny how future developments hinge on such a small detail,” said Selderhuis. “Come now, Mustafa. How did you know to pursue that detail so relentlessly?”

“Science, my friends! I simply go where the science leads me.” Mustafa was aware of an irony in his comment that his colleagues would not appreciate; more than forensic science directed his steps.

Dr. Anderson steered the conversation from the investigation and back to the trial. “They should have gotten life, as far as I’m concerned. That’s international justice for you!” Aida’s similar words in the hotel lobby reverberated in Mustafa’s mind.

“I would say death, but on behalf of my EU-loving countrymen or what’s left of them, including our dearly misguided president and prime minister who still pine for that elusive membership in the European club, I’ll say life imprisonment.” Mustafa hadn’t shaken his witty mood, undoubtedly an emotional release of tension from events that transpired earlier in the day.

“They’re going to prison, good riddance,” said Selderhuis. “Let’s face it, though. The history of the world is replete with war and genocide. We haven’t made a dent in solving this problem.” Selderhuis was entering Mustafa’s well-trod path, and the latter took notice. “Think of all the time, money, personnel, international wrangling, and political machinations necessary to put three men on trial, and I’m not counting the tactical planning and legal hurdles involved in their capture. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity—whatever you wish to call it—are rooted in the human species as much as is the drive for sex or the ability to make tools.”

“Tell us something we don’t know, sagacious one,” said Dr. Anderson.

“Wait, I’m not done. We’ll have another round of Dragos, Saddams, and Pol Pots this century, I’m sure. They’re like regional antichrists waiting somewhere to usher in their respective apocalypses when they come of age.”

“So we’re elevating Drago to the level of a Saddam Hussein, are we?” Parkinson remarked. “Or should I say lowering?”

“Why not? He started out as a street thug too. Look, I’m not saying that we throw up our hands and embrace the doom and gloom of the human condition,” continued Selderhuis, “but let’s at least keep things in perspective. What’s the solution we hear from putative experts? I’ll answer for you, my friends, because I’m the sage: education. Rubbish. If someone wants to kill another person, all the education in the world won’t stop them. What kind of education are we considering, anyway? A madrassa in Pakistan or what?”

“Most high school students in America, and many in Europe, I read in The Economist yesterday,” Dr. Anderson interjected, “can’t locate Iraq or Afghanistan on an unmarked globe. So much for the fruits of education in the West!” With her head tilted slightly, she glided her eyes toward Selderhuis. With her glasses perched on the end of her nose and a raised chin, she had the same professorial look she gave students in her survey courses when she posed some trick question and watched them fumble for answers.

“How about democracy?” threw out Parkinson. “Conventional wisdom has it that democracies don’t commit genocide.”

“I know the conventional wisdom,” responded Selderhuis.  “That’s a joke! Give me a break. Whose democracy!”

“I beg to differ, Wim, but I’ll give you the floor.” Parkinson was tiring of Selderhuis’s pedantic ravings and more interested in accompanying his dinner wine with a shot or two of bourbon.

Dr. Anderson attempted to rein Selderhuis in. “Must you be so dreary on an evening of celebration, Wim?”

“You’re right. I have a nasty habit of finding the fly in the ointment. Let us talk about more pleasant things like….well…give me a topic. Children playing in the park?”

“No,” said Parkinson. “How about the benefits of education and democracy for global peace?”

“Don’t get Wim started, Gary!” Dr. Anderson had a keen sense of Parkinson’s sarcasm.

“I’m having fun, Wim!”

“I would presume—and Lynn knows I don’t like presuming…,” began Mustafa.

“That’s true,” Dr. Anderson confirmed with a snicker. “He doesn’t like to presume…I presume.”

“We all share Wim’s less than sanguine perspective on human nature. Even you, Gary, don’t avow the perfectibility of mankind, if I recall our conversation the other day.” Parkinson stifled a response. “But the verdict’s still out on whether we as a species, someday, will have a system in place to prevent genocide or,” Mustafa reconsidered his statement midstream, “more likely, diminish its impact.”

“My, my, we’re optimistic here aren’t we, Mustafa?” Selderhuis had been half-consciously looking for a good debate and thought the jousting had begun, never mind that Mustafa, unlike Parkinson, agreed with him in essence.

“He didn’t exactly say we’d beat our swords into plowshares, Wim,” said Parkinson. “Believing in the perfectibility of humankind is foolish enough, but creating a system, a tripwire if you will, to prevent the species’ worst crime against one another, well, it’s worth trying. There are so many variables. Scholars have tried to come up, as you know, with an early warning system.

“A fool’s errand, I say,” Selderhuis objected.

Dr. Anderson sought to cut Selderhuis off before his expected diatribe. “Problem is, you can’t invade a country and force a regime change Bush-Cheney style just because a dictator imposes censorship, tries people for political crimes or discriminates against an ethnic minority. Things usually start out okay, and these wicked dictators are well-intentioned, arguably, to do good for their people, the majority group at any rate.”

“Whilst pocketing a little lucre from state coffers on the side,” Parkinson retorted, “and paying off their cronies. I don’t take your dim view of humanity, Wim. But I also don’t disagree with you about our ability to predict genocide. Did the world know what Hitler was going to do when he took power in, what, 1930?”

“He became chancellor in 1932,” corrected Selderhuis.

“In the end it’s no more scientific than judging a tree by its fruit,” said Dr. Anderson.

“What’s this?” Mustafa was more taken by the tree analogy than the larger discussion.

“The Bible…”

“Yes, yes, I know the reference.” Know a tree by its fruit, Mustafa thought to himself, as the wistful expression on his face amused his colleagues. The fruit will tell you what kind of tree it is. Or maybe the fruit in and of itself determines the tree, for the seeds are contained in the fruit. Apricots and plums swirled in his fecund mind. Apricots and plums. In his hotel room he would reflect on Rumi’s words in the Masnawi:
Seemingly the bough is the cause of the fruit, but really the bough exists because of the fruit. Were he not impelled by desire of fruit, the gardener would never have planted the tree. Therefore in reality the tree is born from the fruit, though seemingly the fruit is born from the tree.
“Let’s solve the world’s problem another day,” said Parkinson, navigating the conversation away from the murky waters of genocide and toward the terra firma of the courtroom. “What do you make of that circus at the end of the trial today?”

“Oh yes, I heard that the lawyers lost…how shall we say this…their professional demeanor,” said Selderhuis. “If you ask me, those Serbs and Russians are thugs in suits and ties, just like their clients.”

“That’s a little strong, don’t you think, Wim?” protested Dr. Anderson. “But maybe they were the ones who gave our Mr. Drago his Turkish vocabulary.”

Selderhuis looked at Mustafa. “Thanks for reminding me. Tell me, Mustafa, how is Mr. Drago able to speak in a foreign tongue so fluently? That was the case, no? What did he say to you?”

Mustafa remained quiet for a about ten awkward seconds, making Mr. Selderhuis and company wonder if the former’s Dutch accent was too difficult for Mustafa’s less-than-fluent command of the English language or if they were broaching a touchy issue. The forensic anthropologist then sat up in his chair, stirred his black tea, meticulously set down the spoon on the saucer, placed each hand on the table, and looked up from his cup to scan each of his colleagues. In an exaggerated gracious tone he responded: “He wished me and my family many blessings and expressed to me in a most cordial manner how grateful he was that justice prevailed in the end. He also wanted me to know that he had unfairly misjudged Muslims and Turks such as myself.”

“All that in a few words, huh?”  A tone of disappointment escaped Dr. Anderson’s lips as she shook her head and played along.

“Come now, Mustafa,” said Parkinson.  “I suppose he’s now carrying a photo of Atatürk in his wallet. Is that it?”

“No,” came the quip, “a photo of Bill Clinton.” Mustafa smiled and turned toward the window overlooking the dark green waters of the Hofvijver.

“I’ll tell you where he picked up Turkish: The Hague Hilton.  Where else?” Parkinson was referring to the detention unit a few miles away from the courthouse in Scheveningen, where the ICTY houses its detainees. “They get classes in foreign languages to while away their time, not to mention a gym, TV, computer, fresh bedding every night, conjugal visits and the list goes on. How wonderful! Is it a wonder that these guys come into the courtroom without the slightest worry?”

“Ah yes, The Hague Hilton,” sighed Dr. Anderson. “I’m sure the accommodations were better than his shoddy chain of hotels throughout the Balkans.” In the decade between the war and his capture, Drago had owned Star Comfort, a business conglomerate operating eleven luxury hotels and a vacation resort in Serbia, Croatia, Republika Srpska, and Montenegro. “We’re well aware of the party that Drago hosted last year on his floor: the fancy Serbian dishes, the hors d’oeuvre, the Turkish pastries, plenty of Pepsi…”

“Don’t forget the plum brandy,” reminded Mustafa.

“That’s right! He had the audacity to order plum brandy, though he knew alcohol is forbidden.”  Dr. Anderson stated the obvious.  “A Slivovitz undoubtedly.”

“Mr. Slovac is not one to waste an opportunity in thumbing his nose at the rule of international law,” added Mustafa.

“Disgusting! And you can be sure that’s where Drago picked up his Turkish to tell you…” Parkinson elongated you, probing for his answer from Mustafa again.

“ thank me for my diligence as an investigator.” Mustafa wore his wry face again. Selderhuis no longer pressed him on the matter. He could only assume the words were hateful and he need not press the matter.

For the moment, everyone at the table became transfixed by two swans fighting over a piece of bread on the terrace outside their window.  A waiter came to clean the table and shooed them away. Serbian and Muslim swans. Isaac and Ishmael. No, more like US and China. Laughter. Here comes the U.N. Watch out! More laughter.