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As described in chapter 2, the former Yugoslav People’s Army is known to have been equipped with grenades and other munitions containing the hallucinogen BZ, and to have developed doctrine for its use, which depended on the strength of the opposing forces, where they were, and how they were deployed. Effectively used, BZ would force any persons who were hidden to betray their presence by coughing and sneezing as a result of their exposure to smoke spreading from an exploding munition. They would also be likely to betray their presence by their behavior. The full effects of BZ would start after approximately one hour or later and would be observable in that affected persons would start acting in an unpredictable way.

The Yugoslav military doctrine envisaged the use of a number of so-called diversionary agents in an ambush, including CS gas (a potent tear gas) and possibly also chemical agents similar in nature to BZ.106 The apparent thinking behind the mixing of BZ (or a BZ-like compound) and CS in an attack was that the victims would be led to believe that they were being attacked with CS gas only, the effects of which they knew to be light and of short duration. Their concerns about exposure to the gas would therefore be lessened, and they also would not be prepared for the kind of effects that BZ, or a BZ-like compound, would produce in a person after some time had passed. According to the doctrine, the use of an incapacitating agent on an armed group during an ambush would facilitate the capture of large groups, which would be disoriented and cease to be an effective fighting force. The doctrine notes that the ideal place for the use of such munitions would be where escape opportunities for those attacked were limited, for example ravines, bridges, narrow streets, or similar places.

Given that the column marching from Srebrenica passed frequently through woodland areas and as such was often not visible to Bosnian Serb forces, the circumstances might have been conducive to the use of a wind-borne agent that would spread out over the area where the marchers were suspected of being and cause disorientation among those affected by it. The disorientation might result in some individuals revealing their presence and in this way allowing Bosnian Serb forces to direct their fire more accurately at the column. Generally, the chemical agent would create mayhem in the ranks, with those affected acting in a most irrational manner, thereby facilitating their killing or capture.107

Some Question Marks

Some of the testimonies concerning strange smoke and bizarre behavior do indeed suggest that something out of the ordinary may have happened in Srebrenica. Yet it would be wise to question at least some of the evidence that emerges from the testimonies.

A number of the persons interviewed by Human Rights Watch described circumstances in which they observed explosions of munitions that apparently did not release much, or any, shrapnel. Instead the shells broke into sizable chunks upon impact, indicative of the absence of an explosive like TNT (present in a standard high-explosiveshell), and released smoke that, rather than rising straight up into the air, spread out in a mushroom-like cloud. The reports of bizarre behavior following the sightings of these shells would suggest a possible connection between the two.

On the other hand, it could be supposed that the shells (or at least some of them) may have been ordinary smoke shells, which are frequently used in warfare for marking purposes during daytime conditions. There would have been nothing unusual per se about the use by Serb forces of shells containing smoke to signal the location of the column, which at times moved through dense woods, to the Serb batteries seeking to fire high-exlosive shells and other munitions at the marchers.

Moreover, some of the descriptions of the smoke’s behavior should be approached with skepticism, as visibility was restricted at the time of some of the events in question, either because they occurred at dusk or at night, or because of the wooded terrain through which the column passed. However, if in fact such shells were used at night, as indicated for example in the testimony of Mujo Salihovic (see chapter 3), this would have been unusual, as smoke is less useful as a marker at night than alternative flare-type agents such as phosphorus. Moreover, the design of regular smoke shells makes smoke rise, not spread out.

In addition to difficulties with the physical identification of munitions and their manifestations upon explosion, the accuracy of the marchers’ recollections should also be approached with caution. One year after the Srebrenica death march, when survivors were interviewed, they still vividly remembered the terror and trauma they had suffered. Understandably, though, there are limits on the level of detail one might reasonably expect a person who suffered such an experience to recall a full year later. The primary concern of everyone involved in the march was to escape, not to document the experience. It is likely, for example, that some of the details that might have been helpful in determining whether a chemical attack occurred had been forgotten by the summer of 1996. These include such apparently trivial information as, for example, the marchers’ physical condition and their need to urinate and defecate at the time.

To this should be added the role that the marchers’ prior knowledge of the existence of chemical weapons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s military arsenal might have played. The possible expectation that Serb forces might use chemical weapons may have led to hasty conclusions about the nature of munitions actually used during the march. Moreover, a number of the military officers among the marchers who had served in the JNA may have been aware of the existence of the manuals describing the doctrine for the use of BZ, cited above. Some of those interviewed asserted that the Bosnian Serb forces had used chemical weapons in order to disorient the marchers, adding their own analysis to their observations.108 At the same time, it would be difficult to ascribe the hallucinationsto a mass hysteria induced by the marchers’ belief that their adversary was using chemical weapons, as not all those who described their hallucinations to Human Rights Watch claimed that chemical weapons might have been used, or even showed any awareness that the Bosnian Serb forces might have had that capability.

Prior knowledge about Serb capabilities may also explain the contradictory information collected by Human Rights Watch about the reported presence among Serb forces of another item associated with the use of chemical weapons: gas masks. One witness, Kadrija Softic, a lieutenant in the Bosnian army, says that at around 2 p.m. on July 13 he saw about a dozen Serb soldiers wearing “side-mounted gas masks” near the bodies of marchers who had died in the clearing near Kamenica Hill that had been the site of a major attack the previous day and possibly the site of a second attack on July 13 (see chapter 3). The clearing was some 300-400 meters away from him, and he says he observed them through binoculars.109

No other witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that they had seen Serb soldiers wearing or carrying gas masks.110 One witness, though, Ramiz Masic, who had been in a party which returned to Kamenica Hill to rescue some of the wounded, said that he found plastic bags on the ground with blue cloths in them. These cloths, he said, would have been intended for cleaning gas masks, and would have been kept in the bags along with the masks. He also said that he had pointed out the presence of the cloths to his comrades at the time, and had remarked to them that the Serb forces were always well-equipped because they carried gas masks with them.111

Yet despite this inconclusive and sometimes apparently contradictory information, the fact remains that a combination of strange sightings and aberrant behavior occurred during the march that remains unexplained. Witnesses, often not acquainted with one another and interviewed separately, have told by and large consistent stories about what happened to them and their comrades during their trek to safety. They must be taken seriously.

In addition to questions about the nature of the strange shells, the smoke that these shells produced, and the accuracy of the marchers’ recollections of these phenomena, the nature and causes of the critical element in the possible use of BZ—hallucinations—have also defied definitive resolution in the Srebrenica case. The march from Jaglici on the periphery of the Srebrenica enclave to safe territory around Tuzla was a terrifying experience for those involved, who were at a distinct disadvantage: They were ill-equipped for this type of journey, lacking basic necessities; and they were under constant pressure from Serb forces, with little or no opportunity to sleep. Many were in a fragile mental state. Many experienced what they described as hallucinations.

The marchers themselves offered various theories about what had caused the hallucinations which they had experienced themselves or observed in others: attacks with chemical shells by Serb forces, poisoned water sources along the route, and the cumulative impact of a combination of stress and a shortage of food, water and sleep. Regardless of the cause, one pattern emerged starkly from the marchers’ testimonies—that there had been two distinct types of hallucinations: one, predominant during the first two days of the journey particularly among those exposed to direct shelling attacks by Serb forces, and which was accompanied by erratic and aggressive behavior; and the other, manifested throughout the trek to Tuzla but increasing in preponderance as the journey wore on, which was more akin to the experience of having visions or illusions.112

The Doctors’ Interpretations of the Unusual Phenomena

The testimony of three of the doctors who were on the march is very important in determining what happened because, while not one of them is an expert on the phenomenon of hallucinations and its possible causes, all three were particularly well-qualified, as medical practitioners, to describe the symptoms which they observed in the persons who appeared to suffer from hallucinatory behavior, and to distinguish between the different types of hallucination.113 Dr. Fatima Dautbašic, for example, contrasted the hallucinations she had observed in others with the more common form that she herself had experienced: “Every one of us had minor hallucinations, particularly when we came out of the woods into the light. I saw roofs of houses. I attributed this to sleep deprivation.”

By contrast, she said, “the people who had real hallucinations, they were shouting and acting aggressively, very strongly so. They couldn’t recognize their surroundings and were acting as if they didn’t recognize any one of us.” She attributed the hallucinations from which many of these other marchers suffered to extreme stress. She explained that conditions had been bad even before the fall of Srebrenica, and that

even at the beginning of the trip people were off balance. I and all the others were aware of how dangerous the journey was going to be, and what we would have to go through. The psychological pressure was considerable even at the beginning, and it lasted the whole journey. You can imagine what you might expect would happen, and when things happen and they are what you imagined, itmakes things really bad, especially because at the very beginning of the route, everything terrible started.

Some people, she said, had hallucinations on the first full day of the march, whereas none had occurred in Srebrenica in the preceding days.114

Dr. Ilijaz Pilav had an experience similar to that of Dr. Dautbasic. During the four days before the column left the Srebrenica enclave, he had been working constantly in the operating theater, tending to those who were wounded during the Serb assault. He did not sleep during those four days. According to Dr. Pilav:

I was surprised how well I felt for the first four days of the march. When we started I didn’t think I would last through. After four days I had a crisis. But it was for a short time. I had a hallucination. It wasn’t a real hallucination. Maybe it was just the effect of a change of scenery, and fear and exhaustion.

We were walking on a wild trail and suddenly we had to turn left into the wood and it was twilight. The wood was very big. The trees were huge, and as I was entering the woods I was completely calm. Immediately after I entered the woods I saw buildings and a stairway that I should go down. I stopped and realized that it couldn’t be real.

It scared me because things were happening to me which were happening to others. I knew that my brain was functioning well, but my eyes saw something different. I stopped, and I also stopped the first guy next to me and asked him what he could see. He told me that he could also see buildings. So I stepped aside from the column and closed my eyes.

After a few moments I opened them and I saw that I was in the woods. There were no buildings and there was no stairway. Later on when I talked to others I found that many had these visual effects. Mostly they had these ‘hallucinations’ when they went from light to dark. Consider that we were very thirsty. So I think that the visual effects were what people wanted to see.

I don’t link these effects to the use of chemical weapons, in contrast to the first hallucinations. In these cases, including mine, there was no aggressive behavior, no suicides, and people recovered very quickly. We need to distinguish between [phenomena] caused by exhaustion, fear and hunger, and, in my opinion, those caused by some kind of poisons.

About the earlier hallucinations, Dr. Pilav noted that there was “one indisputable fact: The number of hallucinations increased after each Serb attack.” He also theorized about the possibility of the Serb forces poisoning water sources along the marchers’ projected route:

We knew that there were large parts of the march where we had no water, and when we came to water we didn’t check to see if it was clean or if someone was standing in it. After this, the number of hallucinations increased. I thought about this later on, but not at the time.

....After [the Serbs] realized where we were going, it is possible that some springs were poisoned. Not everyone drank at every spring, because we didn’t all pass the same spots....What made me come to this conclusion in the last days before we reached Tuzla, and particularly the last night, was that it was increasing in intensity.

The symptoms in one particular case, referred to above, Dr. Pilav specifically ascribed to some form of chemical poisoning.115

A third doctor, Dr. Avdo Hasanovic, made a similar distinction between the two types of hallucination. He reports having witnessed the behavior of many soldiers who appeared to suffer from hallucinations and were unable to orient themselves, and who were mistaking those around them for Bosnian Serb soldiers. According to Dr. Hasanovic, many of those thus affected eventually surrendered.

He says he thought it extremely odd that so many people were affected in that particular way, and speculates that, had the Serbs attacked at that time, everyone could have been killed. Perhaps, Dr. Hasanovic says, Bosnian Serb forces put “chemical poisons” in the water along the route that had caused psychological effects among the marchers. He remembers drinking water and noting that it had an odd taste.

Dr. Hasanovic himself experienced hallucinations on the fourth night of the march. He describes seeing a huge building with lights and a feeling that he needed to sleep.116

Alternative Explanations for Hallucinations

From the interviews it is not possible to identify the number of individuals who suffered from serious hallucinations, including psychotic episodes leading to bizarre, even aggressive behavior. It is evident that there were some who hallucinated on the first day on which the column marched. These were not persons who had shown other signs or symptoms prior to this behavior. Had an agent such as BZ been used on the column, it is reasonable to expect that larger groups of individuals would have displayed this aberrant behavior. However, it is possible that the wooded terrain may have limited the movement of any chemicals that could have been present in the air.

Moreover, had an agent such as BZ been used, some if not all of those affected could be expected to have suffered from a range of physical symptoms (nausea, increased heart rate, decreased sweating, and blurred vision, among others) before the onset of delusional complaints. Yet there are no reports that these individuals had this combination of symptoms after the attacks and before they began to have hallucinations. On the other hand, it is difficult to rule out that there might not indeed have been some physical symptoms of this nature in those who subsequently began to hallucinate. Such symptoms might have been minor compared to the hardship of the journey generally and the disorientation caused by the hallucinations, and therefore may not have been remembered as clearly one year after the events. As for the doctors on the march, who might have observed such symptoms, they were extremely hard pressed and unable to tend to all in need. According to Dr. Dautbašic: “There were far too many injured, including those who were hallucinating, for us to be able to help them all. We tried to help them.”117

It should be noted that there is a distinct possibility that an incapacitating agent other than BZ—but in its effects resembling BZ—was used. The use of such an agent might not result in the types of physical or psychological symptoms that are triggered by exposure to BZ. A U.S. military manual, for example, states that “some anticholinergics are capable of causing marked disorientation, incoherence, hallucinations and confusion (thepathognomonic features of delirium) with very little, if any, evidence of peripheral autonomic effect (such as tachycardia and dilated pupils).”118

There are also questions about the nature of the hallucinations: According to at least one expert, calming talk would not have reduced, even temporarily, the effect of hallucinations induced by a BZ-type agent.119 Dr. Dautbasic reports that individuals who were very agitated and who experienced hallucinations had, at times, to be physically restrained by friends who also talked to the affected individuals to calm them down. In some cases she administered sedatives which, she says, had some effect: “The tablets didn’t help in the acute phase when they were shouting and being [hyper-]active. Only restraint helped at this stage. After we talked to them and calmed them down, the sedatives began to work. What really helped them most was having someone next to them to talk to them and calm them down.”120

One possible explanation for the occurrence of hallucinations is stress.121 Clearly, for most of those interviewed, the march was an extremely stressful experience, conducted under physically demanding conditions. The need to escape and not be detected by Bosnian Serb forces placed great strains on those who were marching.

Investigations by clinicians attending Israeli soldiers who fought in the war in Lebanon in 1981 revealed a wide spectrum of symptoms and behaviors in those who were diagnosed as suffering from combat-stress reaction (CSR). CSR victims were anxious, depressed, apathetic, unresponsive, tense, and/or phobic. An inability to concentrate, a lack of understanding or ability to communicate, and forgetfulness were also documented in the casualties. Observed physical symptoms included heavy perspiration, vomiting, nausea, headaches, dizziness, palpitations, tics, and tremors. The victims’ behavior was highly variable. Some became listless and were found gazing into space. Others displayed symptoms of restlessness and irritability. Some expressed rage out of proportionto any provocation that might have been offered. There were others who became unduly concerned about the state of their equipment. Those affected reacted badly to any rumors which they heard, and were vulnerable to panic.122

In addition to stress, the cumulative impact of food, drink, and sleep deprivation has been offered as an explanation for the strange behavior that afflicted many of the Srebrenica marchers. Most of the marchers were totally unprepared for the arduous journey which they were compelled to undertake. Many were exhausted, forced to march for many days with little food, water, or sleep.123 This condition was further exacerbated by the constant presence of Serb forces.

Many witnesses report having been extremely thirsty and obtaining supplies of water whenever they encountered streams or wells. Because of the shortage of water, most of the marchers gave little thought to hygiene and water quality. In these circumstances, they drank water which they would not consider fit to drink under normal circumstances.124

Food and water deprivation are generally recognized as being conducive to the experience of hallucinations.125 The degree of deprivation appears to be crucial to the onset of the condition. Vision, hearing, and the supporting nervous system are reported to remain relatively unaffected by severe undernutrition.126 Hallucinations may occur when death from starvation approaches, or where any organic basis for the phenomenon is present. Numerous reports document hallucinations in survivors of shipwrecks where there is the threat of starvation, together with the fear associated with a sudden calamity. The transition from relative security to a hazardous existence may trigger severe psychic trauma.127

Sleep deprivation can also cause an individual to hallucinate. When deprived of sleep, it has been shown that even the most disciplined of soldiers can be prey to visual illusions or full-blown hallucinations, and the longer someone is deprived of sleep, the greater the tendency to hallucinate. In subjects who are deprived of sleep but are also required to carry out activities, it appears that an interaction occurs between the two, the physical activityappearing to sensitize subjects to the onset of these perceptual distortions.128 From the evidence presented by the marchers, it is clear that some went without sleep for a period of several days before they set off on the march, and then didn’t sleep much, if at all, during the five-day trek.129

On the other hand, the hallucinations appear to have started generally during the afternoon and evening of the first day of the march, July 12, when exhaustion, and the symptoms associated with it, could be expected to have been less severe than later on during the journey. Moreover, not all marchers suffered from hallucinations, even if their overall experience during the march was similar to that of others who did. Lieutenant Ibrahimovic, for example, who has described the explosion of a smoke-producing shell at Udrc (see chapter 3), did not attribute the hallucinations he witnessed in others following the impact to exhaustion and the stresses of the journey under constant enemy fire: “I’m sure that it wasn’t because of exhaustion. I was exhausted and others were too. In the six days [that it took to reach Tuzla] I slept for only two hours. I didn’t behave like this. I never hallucinated. Among the first 200 men at the head of the column, none that I know of hallucinated.”130

In another example, Nedzib Budovic, who spent eighteen days wandering in the area between Srebrenica and Tuzla before reaching safety, remarked on the condition of himself and a handful of companions that “none of the thirteen in my group behaved strangely. Our group had no food. We didn’t rest much, and in this situation you shouldn’t [allow yourself to] fall asleep.”131

Likewise, a policeman who was on the march, Mehmed Efendic, noted that most of those who had suffered from hallucinations had also been very sleepy. But, he said, in December 1992 he had been part of a group which had traveled for five days from Tuzla to Srebrenica. Although the members of this group had not slept or eaten very much, he said, they did not experience any hallucinations.132 Other witnesses who were able to describe hallucinations occurring to those around them stated that they themselves had remained free of the experience, even though, they said, they had gone for days without sleep.133

Intriguingly, Bosniaks fleeing the town of Zepa two weeks later did not report any similar phenomena during their respective trek to safety. Zepa was a smaller U.N. enclave in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, deep in Bosnian Serb controlled territory. It was attacked in force immediately after the fall of Srebrenica.134 When Bosnian Serbforces overran Zepa on July 25, 1995, the town’s defenders tried to escape to an area near Kladanj in Bosnian government controlled territory in a multi-day journey. During their march, these men endured conditions similar to those faced by the men from Srebrenica, including constant enemy presence (though not much shelling), and a lack of food, water, and sleep. They did not march in one large column but traveled in smaller groups. None of the eight men from Zepa interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported experiencing hallucinations or seeing people behave strangely on their journey. They were also unaware of any other men from Zepa who had experienced hallucinations or behaved strangely during the trek, they said.135

Of course, the behavior of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon or of the survivors of shipwrecks may not at all be comparable to that of the Srebrenica marchers. One expert who reviewed the testimonies collected by Human Rights Watch commented that “I have been involved with many individuals coming from combat and stressful battlefield situations, but have never encountered so many specifically described hallucinations.”136 A second expert contacted by Human Rights Watch remarked likewise that “the kind of disorientation, bizarre hallucinations (hugging trees etc.), and suicidal behavior recorded in these documents and testimonials are not the kind of symptoms usually associated even with the most severe acute traumatic stress reactions. The high prevalence of disorientation, hallucinations, and suicidal behavior among the refugees from Srebrenica suggests that PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and other stress reactions (even if present) cannot account for these symptoms.”137

A Preliminary Assessment

On the sole basis of the testimonies that Human Rights Watch was able to collect from Srebrenica survivors, the use in Srebrenica of an incapacitating chemical warfare agent, which might cause hallucinations, cannot be ruled out, but conclusive evidence remains elusive.138 Although we had hoped to be able to obtain a clear result from the interviews with the refugees, we recognize some of the problems of relying on an interview sample of only thirty-five individuals, while we lack physical samples, for example pieces of clothing taken from the bodies of those who failed to reach safety. Most of the persons interviewed were in the front portion of the column and were therefore not subjected to the intense bombardment of those in the rear. The rear of the column was shelled constantly after the marchers had left Jaglici, and was exposed to particularly heavy shelling on Kamenica Hill, including shelling that yielded “strange smoke” and was followed by “people acting strangely.”

It has to be remembered that probably more than two-thirds of those who set out on the march are still missing. In all likelihood, these individuals met their deaths during the journey or after their capture by Bosnian Serb forces. These were people in the rear of the column, and those subjected to the heaviest shelling. It is reasonable to assume that those most afflicted with aberrant behavior at this time would have been the least likely to have been able to continue on their journey unaided, and are therefore the most likely to have been killed or captured—and thenexecuted—by their pursuers. Whether those who did not survive the march were more likely to have been victims of the use of chemical agents cannot be known with certainty from the testimonies of the survivors.

For a more truly representative cross-section of the marchers, we would have had to interview more of those who were in the second half of the column. Tragically, there are very few of these people alive and thus available for interview. If this had not been the case, there might have been clearer evidence of the types of munitions used and the type of hallucinations experienced during the earlier part of the march.

Other avenues of investigation, which Human Rights Watch did not have the resources to undertake, may provide clues to throw further light on the situation. Additional information obtained by Human Rights Watch—apart from the testimonies—and by other parties is suggestive that a chemical agent may have been used in Srebrenica, warranting a further investigation.

The United States government became aware of the allegations of BZ use at least as early as August 1995, when the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, John Shattuck, reported on a visit to Bosnia and Hercegovina that “there were many credible accounts of the shelling of large columns of civilians attempting to flee, and four separate accounts of the possible use of chemical weapons that severely disoriented fleeing people, causing several to commit suicide.”139 Human Rights Watch subsequently met with a number of officials in various parts of the U.S. government, none of whom agreed to speak for attribution, but who told Human Rights Watch that we were “on the right track,” and who were able to provide additional information. From these sources, as well as from documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, we know that:

· A small team of U.S. military personnel interviewed a number of Srebrenica survivors in the summer of 1996, concluding that their accounts supported the contention that a chemical incapacitant had been used. This conclusion, which was sent up the chain of command at the Department of Defense, was deemed “highly significant.”

· The U.S. undertook a larger investigation that included physical sampling in late 1996 or early 1997. (Human Rights Watch does not know the results of this investigation, nor can confirm that it actually took place.)

· In late 1996 or early 1997, the U.S. intelligence community had information suggesting that chemical weapons might have been used in Srebrenica in July 1995. (Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm this information.)

· The U.S. was aware that the JNA had been involved in modifying BZ and investigating the effects of other incapacitating agents.

· The U.S. was aware that the pre-breakup Yugoslavia had a sizable chemical weapons program. This program was detailed, for example, in a 484-page intelligence document of April 1994, which includes a list of the persons suspected of being involved in the program.140 Most of this program (facilities, equipment, and experts) is now understood to be in the Republic of Yugoslavia.

There may be other types of evidence available in the former Yugoslavia. One of the marchers, Maj. Šemsudin Mumilovic, the chief of the intelligence service attached to the Bosnian army’s 28th division in Zivinice, told Human Rights Watch that

we followed everything that happened during those days [of the march] with our surveillance equipment....Most of the data we got was from listening to Serb communications....We found out from their communications that in Konjevice Polje, Nova Kasaba, Udrc, and Kamenica they used tear gas and psychochemicals during ambushes. According to the information we received, the aim of the Serbs was to break up the column into smaller groups.141

According to Major Mumilovic, the tapes were transcribed and then re-used. He thought the transcripts would still be available, but an extensive search and specific requests to the Bosnian government by Human Rights Watch yielded no results. None of the information provided by Major Mumilovic concerning the content of Serb radio transmissions could therefore be confirmed.

Experts have also stressed that definitive proof of the use of a chemical agent will only come from sample evidence, for example pieces of clothing or footwear—worn by those who perished in the area—that are found to contain traces of BZ or BZ degradation products.142 Some research of this sort has already been carried out, but on a small scale, using an unrepresentative sample. In July 1997, the United Nations Centre for Human Rights reported the results of the work of a forensic expert team from Finland. The team, which was charged by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1996 with the task of locating, identifying, and studying the remains of ostensible war victims from the Srebrenica area, with the aim of establishing the cause of death, additionally agreed to collect a few samples of clothing, especially leather, from some of the bodies it had exhumed after Human Rights Watch had alerted it to the possible use of a chemical agent. These samples were analyzed for the presence of BZ by the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention at the University of Helsinki in 1996-97. The U.N. report concluded that “traces or degradation products of BZ (3-quinuclidinyl benzinate) were not detected.”143

This conclusion was based on a very small sample of materials taken from two limited sets of skeletal remains: thirty recovered by the Finnish team in the Kamenica Hill area in July 1996, and 250 recovered by Bosnian authorities in the fall of 1996. Moreover, the institute at the University of Helsinki was able only to test for BZ, not for BZ-like compounds. The possibility that a compound similar to BZ, rather than BZ itself, was used in Srebrenica should not be overlooked.

In light of the above, a more systematic investigation of skeletal remains, especially of those found in the Kamenica Hill area where the alleged chemical attacks occurred, ought therefore to be considered. Useful information could also be obtained from soil samples from the sites in question. Moreover, in the analysis of clothing or soil samples, tests should be performed not only for BZ but also for other known BZ-like compounds.

As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the Finnish team’s investigation is one of the very few that have been carried out, and the only one whose findings have been made public. In our view, the international communityhas been remiss in its responsibility, as the protector of the Dayton Accords and therefore of the fragile peace in the former Yugoslavia, to investigate the serious allegations about the possible use of chemical weapons that have been made, or, in those cases in which an investigation was carried out, to make the results of the investigation public. United Nations personnel in Bosnia and Hercegovina were well aware of the reports of chemical weapons use by the survivors from Srebrenica, but Human Rights Watch has received no indication that a U.N. investigation was ever carried out.144 Allegations of chemical weapons possession and use in other areas of the former Yugoslavia were apparently investigated by UNPROFOR units during the war, but no information has been released to the public about these investigations.145 Human Rights Watch also knows that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), while aware of the allegations of chemical weapons use on marchers from Srebrenica, did not consider these to be a priority, and no investigation was therefore carried out. The ICTY has been seriously understaffed since its creation.

Moreover, U.S. officials have told Human Rights Watch that the information which the U.S. government says it has in support of the claim that a chemical agent was used is classified and cannot be released. One official told Human Rights Watch in December 1996: “We do not see an advantage in declassifying those documents related to chemical weapons use in Bosnia....We have spoken with people and received assurances that other channels are being pursued that we believe would be more effective and achieve a more favorable outcome rather than simply publicizing them.”146

Given the role of the United States, and of U.S. forces, in the former Yugoslavia, and given also the continuing instability in the region and the outbreak of war in Kosovo, it is incumbent on the U.S. government to make public any information it may have about the possible use of chemical weapons during the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, including in Srebrenica in July 1995. After all they have suffered, the people of the states comprising the former Yugoslavia deserve to be informed about, and protected from, these most horrible of weapons.

106 According to a U.S. intelligence document, “To produce an agent-obscuring cloud, an irritant chemical agent (usually a riot-control agent) is added to a neutral obscurant mixture composed of a neutral obscurant agent, a fuel, and an oxidizer. After the disseminating device is ignited, the high temperature causes the irritant agent to sublimate and disperse with the smoke. Known irritant agents include: Three-quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ), adamsite (DM), chloro-acetophenone (CN), chloropicrin (PS), etc.” U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, “Nonlethal Chemical Effectors Worldwide,” in Nonlethal Technologies—Worldwide (U), a Defense Intelligence Reference Document (May 1995), p. 30, obtained by Human Rights Watch under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. BZ, in its pure form, is an aerosol or white powder. 107 Human Rights Watch also has in its possession a copy of a Yugoslav civil defense manual which describes the effect of a variety of chemical warfare agents, and notes the dangers of an enemy’s poisoning of water sources such as wells. Obrana i Zastita, pp. 144-45. (The copy was in poor condition; its title page with some of the relevant reference information was missing.)

108 The expected use of chemical weapons may also affect the victims’ behavior, even if no chemical weapons are used in reality. In 1985, a battalion of the French Foreign Legion stationed in Corsica prepared itself for an exercise during which it was to be exposed to a water vapor simulant of a chemical warfare agent, administered during an attack. The soldiers were briefed extensively about the nature of the exercise. A single plane was to be scheduled to pass above the troops, at low altitude, and water vapor was to be emitted in the place of a chemical gas. The trainees were not warned that the water vapor was to be replaced with an inert red substance.

It is recorded that, immediately following the discharge of this inert material, even those legionnaires who were most experienced in combat situations were severely shaken by the experience. It was believed that a tragic error had taken place, and the troops scattered in confusion. Many of the legionnaires fell to the ground, apparently writhing in agony. Their symptoms appeared to be like those which might be expected following a genuine chemical attack.
Some of the individuals affected during this incident appeared to be close to death, although their problems were of psychological origin and not due to exposure to any actual chemical agent. The remaining troops either panicked and ran from the site, or else they stood still, as if waiting for death. This exercise demonstrated in a vivid fashion the reaction of the most disciplined of soldiers in circumstances when they believed themselves to be the victims of an attack with chemical weapons. R. A. Gabriel, “Les armes chimiques,” in R.A. Gabriel, editor, Il n’y a plus d’héros: folie et psychiatrie dans la guerre moderne(Paris: Albin Michel, 1990), p. 54.

109 Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, July 20, 1996. Another soldier, Samir Delic, also an army lieutenant, who was with Lieutenant Softic at the time, says that when he used the same binoculars immediately after Lieutenant Softic had made his observations, he did not see any Serb soldiers wearing gas masks, and that he had wondered at the time whether Lieutenant Softic might have been mistaken. Human Rights Watch interview, Seona, July 21, 1996. The details of the event as recounted by Lieutenant Delic differ from those provided by Lieutenant Softic in other respects as well. According to Lieutenant Delic, they obtained the binoculars on July 14, not July 13, and from where they were at that time, they could not even see Kamenica Hill. When re-interviewed, Lieutenant Softic stated that he stood by his original statement, reaffirming that he had indeed seen Serb soldiers wearing gas masks: “I was looking through the binoculars. I saw Chetniks for two or three minutes. I didn’t talk to anyone [about this at the time] because I thought it would create panic among the others. We borrowed the binoculars from a boy called Husnija....I’m not even certain now that I’m sitting here, but I’m 98 percent certain that I saw them wearing gas masks. Samir [Delic] was doing something else when I was looking through the binoculars. During these few days, Samir wasn’t behaving completely rationally.” Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, July 23, 1996.

110 It is worth noting that agents such as BZ, according to a U.S. military handbook, are likely to be “dispersed by smoke-producing munitions or aerosols, using the respiratory tract as a portal of entry. The use of the protective mask, therefore, is essential.” Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, NATO Handbook on the Medical Aspects of NBC Defensive Operations, AMedP-6 (Washington, D.C.: 1973), part III, p. 6-2.

111 Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, July 3, 1996. Mr. Masic also said: “At that time I wasn’t thinking that chemical weapons had been used. I was laughing at [the Chetniks], as a gas mask seemed an unnecessary burden. In the former Yugoslavia, every citizen was given a gas mask.....In the JNA I practiced wearing gas masks. In all these situations the cloths were with the masks, so I couldn’t have mistaken them. The use of these cloths is in case your mask doesn’t fit well, and if the eye piece gets fuzzy, you can use the cloth to clean it.”

112 Many of the marchers report having seen visions toward the end of their ordeal. Some individuals observed stairways and castles in the air. These visions appear to have been commonly encountered when there was a change in the conditions of the light. This could occur when people marched out of the woods into a clearing, or when the reverse happened. Some of these later episodes appear to fit into the category of visual illusion. Other episodes as described are more like hallucinations.

The difference between illusion and hallucination is often not understood. Illusion is a tendency to misjudge, for example the length of a vertical or horizontal line when it is set in a particular visual context. In contrast, the sensory deception in hallucination involves a much greater degree of misperception which, according to one review, “is based on an apparently internally generated stimulus, which has major consequences for the individual’s immediate experience, his behavior and his future circumstances.” P. D. Slade and R. P. Bentall, Sensory Deception: A Scientific Analysis of Hallucinations (London: Croom Helm, 1988), p. 51.

113 All three were in the front section of the column and therefore did not themselves experience directly the heavy shelling that took place around Kamenica Hill in the late afternoon and early evening of July 12.

114 Human Rights Watch interview, Zenica, July 24, 1996.

115 Human Rights Watch interview, Vogošca, July 24, 1996. The case is that of two men, one of whom survived, who were unable to tell the doctor their names and who couldn’t walk. The person in question was saying things like: “Please call my wife; she’s in the next room.” (See chapter 3.)

116 Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, August 3, 1996.

117 Human Rights Watch interview, Zenica, July 24, 1996. Dr. Dautbašic also said that she and her four medical colleagues had very limited supplies of medicine during the march. These included a few ampules of antibiotics and a few tablets of analgesics (painkillers) and sedatives. This was quite inadequate for the treatment many of the marchers required.

118 The manual goes on to say: “This should not dissuade the medical officer from considering the likelihood of a centrally predominant anticholinergic being the causative agent, since very few other pharmaceutical classes can produce delirium in militarily effective doses.” Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, NATO Handbook, part III, p. 6-2.

119 Letter from Dr. Jan Willems, professor of toxicology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, to Human Rights Watch, October 14, 1996. The matter has yet to be adequately researched, but it appears that the content of hallucinations is greatly influenced by the culture in which individuals find themselves and by the historical period in which events take place. G.L. Belenky, “Unusual Visual Experiences Reported by Subjects in the British Army Study of Sustained Operations, Exercise Early Call,” Military Medicine (October 1979), pp. 695-96; and A. Brierre de Boismont, Hallucinations: On a Rational History of Apparitions, Visions, Dreams, Ecstasy, Magnetism and Somnabulism (Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1853), p. 27. According to Slade and Bentall, “It seems reasonable to assume that even when hallucinations are caused primarily by biological factors, their content may reflect important psychological concerns or conflicts.” (Slade and Bentall, p. 51). Hallucinations may also consist of what individuals would wish to see. For example, miners trapped underground have reported seeing stairways and other routes of escape. Ibid., p. 88.

120 Human Rights Watch interview, Zenica, July 24, 1996. Earlier in the interview, Dr. Dautbašic stated: “People were very restless. It was impossible to calm them down.” Dr. Ilijaz Pilav described the treatment of a young medical student who began hallucinating after having been wounded in both legs. The student had not lost any blood. Dr. Pilav administered painkillers, and these stopped the student’s pain but did nothing to stop the hallucinations. Human Rights Watch interview, Vogošca, July 24, 1996.

121 According to one expert who reviewed the information collected by Human Rights Watch, “my overall impression is that four different factors may have contributed to the terrible suffering endured during the march from Srebrenica: PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], sleep deprivation, water deprivation, and an incapacitating psychoactive chemical agent. None of these are mutually exclusive.” Letter from Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Dartmouth Medical School and executive director of the National Center for PTSD, to Human Rights Watch, March 3, 1997.

122 Z. Solomon, Combat Stress Reaction: The Enduring Toll of War (New York and London: Plenum Press, 1993), pp. 30-31.

123 According to Dr. Fatima Dautbašic, one of the five medical doctors on the march: “No one had enough food. We couldn’t predict how long the journey would take, and even so we couldn’t carry that much food with us.” Moreover, she said, many had thrown away the little food they were carrying when they were forced to run to avoid the shelling. Human Rights Watch interview, Zenica, July 24, 1996. By contrast, Asim Omerovic opined: “I think the lack of food didn’t cause these problems, because 70 percent of the people [who made it all the way to Tuzla] had enough food.” Likewise, he said, “We rested during the day. In my opinion, we had more than enough time to rest. I saw others who slept during the day. I personally never hallucinated. I had enough food en route. I didn’t use all my sugar and salt. I was eating very little. I had bread with me but didn’t eat it all; I shared it with others.” Human Rights Watch interview, Crveno Brdo, July 22, 1996.

124 Human Rights Watch interviews with Maj. Ramiz Becirovic, Zivinice, July 19, 1996; Samir Delic, Seona, July 21, 1996; and Dr. Fatima Dautbašic, Zenica, July 24, 1996.

125 See E. Lomax, The Railway Man (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995), and Slade and Bentall, Sensory Deception.

126 A. Keys, et al., Biology of Human Starvation (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1950), vol. I, p. 581.

127 Ibid., vol. II, pp. 767-836 and 905-18.

128 Slade and Bentall, Sensory Deception, p. 88. See also H. Babkoff, “Perceptual Distortions and Hallucinations Reported During the Course of Sleep Deprivation,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 68 (1989), pp. 787-98.

129 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Ilijaz Pilav, Vogošca, July 24, 1996. For contrast, see the interview with Asim Omerovic above.

130 Human Rights Watch interview, Zivinice, July 22, 1996.

131 Human Rights Watch interview, Vousa, July 23, 1996.

132 Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, August 3, 1996.

133 This was reported by Kadrija Softic, Nedzib Budovic, Mohamed Matkic, Ismet Hasanovic, Samir Sokolic, and Dr. Avdo Hasanovic. Human Rights Watch interviews, Bosnia and Hercegovina, July-August 1996.

134 Shortly after the fall of Zepa, the New York Times reported that a number of soldiers from the former U.N. enclave claimed that they had been attacked with an incapacitating gas during the siege of the enclave in the days prior to its collapse. Chris Hedges, “Bosnia Troops Cite Gassings at Zepa,” New York Times, July 27, 1995. Subsequent efforts by Human Rights to locate these soldiers were unsuccessful. Many soldiers and civilians from Zepa did give detailed and consistent descriptions of the use, during the siege, of munitions filled with tear gas, presumably CS. Human Rights Watch interviews, Bosnia andHercegovina, August 1996. See also “U.S. Takes Seriously Reported Serb Poison Gas Use,” Reuter, July 27, 1995, quoting State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

135 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bosnia and Hercegovina, August 1996.

136 Electronic mail message from Dr. Brian Davey to Human Rights Watch, November 22, 1996.

137 Letter from Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Dartmouth Medical School and executive director of the National Center for PTSD, to Human Rights Watch, March 3, 1997.

138 According to Dr. Jan Willems, “the picture drawn from the interviews, characterised by the occurrence of strange behaviour and hallucinations, cannot be used as firm proof, before a court, that a chemical warfare agent, in casu BZ, has been used.” Dr. Willems continued, however: “It can never be excluded that some individuals have indeed been exposed to BZ and, because of the major psychiatric effects, forgot the minor physical disturbances.” Letter from Dr. Jan Willems, professor of toxicology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, to Human Rights Watch, October 14, 1996.

139 This report is contained in a cable, no. 194772 160138Z, by Mr. Shattuck to the U.S. Department of State on August 16, 1995, obtained by Human Rights Watch under the Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Shattuck’s findings were also reported in the U.S. media, for example: “U.S. Rights Official in Bosnia Is Told of Mass Killings,” Baltimore Sun, August 2, 1995.

140 U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Foreign Science and Technology Center, Guide: Former Yugoslav Chemical Warfare Program (U). Most of the text was deleted from the copy obtained by Human Rights Watch under the Freedom of Information Act. See also, Human Rights Watch Arms Project, “Clouds of War.”

141 Human Rights Watch interview, Zivinice, July 19, 1996.

142 For example, Dr. Brian Davey in an electronic mail message to Human Rights Watch, November 22, 1996; and Dr. Jan Willems, professor of toxicology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, in a letter to Human Rights Watch, October 14, 1996.

143 U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report of the Finnish Forensic Expert Team,” G/SO 214 (77-5)/BMA/cmc (July 8, 1997), p. 6.

144 Human Rights Watch interviews with U.N. personnel and international reporters in the United States and the former Yugoslavia, 1996 and 1997.

145 “Chemical Weapons Claim Probed,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, August 21, 1993, p. 5, and Human Rights Watch interviews with former UNPROFOR personnel in the former Yugoslavia, 1996 and 1997.

146 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Washington, D.C., December 1996.

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