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The Devil's Garden

A War Crimes Investigator's Story

Cencich, John R.

Publication Year: 2013

In 2002 John Cencich traveled to a safe house in Belgrade to interview the former head of a Yugoslav secret intelligence agency. In less than an hour, Cencich had what he needed: corroboration of information provided by another spy. This evidence would be used against Slobodan Milosevic in his war crimes trial at The Hague. For the veteran United Nations war crimes investigator, however, the mission was business as usual.

The Devil's Garden is the inside story of the investigation and indictment of Slobodan Milosevic and the identification of fifteen coperpetrators in the joint criminal enterprise (JCE) that had resulted in the massacre of thousands of civilians. As the senior American investigator at The Hague, Cencich drew up the investigative plan, codeveloped the prosecution theory of the JCE, and wrote the first significant draft of the indictment. He also led the international team of police investigators, detectives, and special agents on the case against Milosevic and his inner circle of secret police, assassins, spies, terrorists, underworld figures, and murderous paramilitary leaders for crimes committed throughout Croatia.

Here, readers will travel alongside Cencich as he journeys to The Hague and will see how these once-in-a-lifetime experiences affect him to this day. Detailing one of the largest international criminal investigations ever undertaken, this book is a unique blend of history, international law, and true crime in Europe's deadliest battles since World War II.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Other Books in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-13

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pp. xiii-xvi

In the summer of 1992, TV reports were broadcast across the globe that showed pictures, reminiscent of the Holocaust, of emaciated prisoners behind barbed wire in concentration-like makeshift camps. These were followed by the graphic images of the shelling of the jam-packed central...

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pp. xvii-xix

In 1945, with the close of World War II, man’s inhumanity to man was to have come to an end. Atrocities such as those committed by the Third Reich were never to happen again. But they did. Almost fifty years later, in Yugoslavia, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed, tortured...

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Author’s Note

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pp. xxi-23

At the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the language spoken throughout the region is referred to as B/C/S, or Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. In its Latin form, there are few letters in B/C/S that are different from those in English. To avoid the difficulties...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

Cast of Key Characters

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pp. xxvii-xxx

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pp. 1-4

I was under surveillance just minutes after my plane landed in Zagreb. It was 2007, and I had returned to Croatia five years after my experiences working international war crimes. As soon as I left customs and immigration, I was bird-dogged all the way to a forested park...

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1. The Hague

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pp. 5-13

I first saw the prison not long after I arrived in The Hague, the international city of peace and justice in the Netherlands. It was September 1998. With the sound of the crashing waves from the North Sea and the tall walls and Gothic architecture, the premises seemed more...

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2. Bosnia

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pp. 15-27

I woke as the sun began to peek above the horizon on my first morning in Sarajevo, a Bohemian-looking city of about 300,000. From the window of my apartment I could see minarets and hear the muezzin call the Muslim faithful to prayer. The echoing calls sound spiritual to some...

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3. Wooden Rifles

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pp. 29-43

On a busy day in Mostar, I stepped into a gloomy brick structure that once had been used as a battle fortification. It was almost completely black inside, but as my flashlight cut through the darkness, I could see remnants of the death dealt to the Bosniaks who had defended...

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4. A Policeman’s Murder

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pp. 45-58

The time had come to execute a search warrant at Štela’s headquarters. I knew from our intelligence that the premises, bearing the large, bold letters “HVO” over the entrance, would be covered by members of the Herzegovina mafia. And there they were, all...

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5. Two Spanish Legionnaires

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pp. 59-67

For a moment, perhaps, he wondered if he would be punished for what he was about to do. He likely had no real understanding of the legal concept of “superior orders.” The triggerman may have been a psychopath, but more than likely he was just a confused young man who was...

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6. Kosovo

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pp. 69-78

I saw horror seize the young man’s face as the muzzle of my gun flashed twice and the report echoed inside my car. The first round went through the car door and struck his hand as he leaned against the doorjamb. His eyes were wide open as the bullet—and his right thumb—...

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7. Team Four

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pp. 79-108

It was a dark day for the soul in September 1991 when members of the JNA began a frontal attack on the small Croatian village of Škabrnja. Flashes of light and the sound of explosions filled the air as the armed, violent attackers began shelling the village. Residents...

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8. The Conspirators

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pp. 109-121

They came from the secret police and from the highest ranks of the JNA. They included members of the Presidency of the SFRY and individual presidents of several constituent republics. One was perhaps the most feared and deadly killer in all of Europe....

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9. Inside the Shadows

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pp. 123-141

In the dark corners of the Serbian city of Novi Sad, and deep inside the shadows of Milošević’s inner circle, was the MP Royal. A mob-owned casino run out of the Hotel Putnik, it looked from the outside like nothing more than a large, Cold War–era building in a dodgy...

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10. Indictment of a President

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pp. 143-161

It was a tense thirty-six-hour armed standoff. Slobodan Milošević was threatening to kill himself. Shots had been fired, and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if he had followed through on the threat. Years before, and at different times, both his parents had committed...

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11. Mala Jaska

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pp. 163-170

The C-47, heading east, roared over Josip Cenčić’s beloved village of Lokve, occupied by the Nazis. My great-grandfather and members of the Partisan resistance, including my relatives, had no way of knowing that a clandestine mission to save hundreds of Americans...

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Epilogue: The Hague Crucible

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pp. 171-189

Speculation began at once and included talk that Milošević had been murdered by poison. In fact, the tribunal’s inquiry into his death revealed that nonprescribed medications at times had been found in Milošević’s blood, most recently one month prior to his demise....

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pp. 191-192

It has been more than ten years since I completed my work at The Hague, and I have worked on this book on and off throughout this time period. It goes without saying that a project like this cannot be done in isolation, and I have many people to thank....

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Appendix I. Cenčići Jerbićevi

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pp. 193-206

The earliest traces of the Cenčić clan were in the Čapljina area of Herzegovina, a place that fell victim to the hideous war crimes I investigated. The Cenčić surname is said to have derived from the Proto-Slavic sobriquet cene, likely meaning “dinner.” Other versions have the name originating...

Appendix II. Cases and Related Legal Documents

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pp. 207-208


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pp. 209-211


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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-223

About the Author

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pp. 225-256

E-ISBN-13: 9781612341736
E-ISBN-10: 161234173X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781612341729
Print-ISBN-10: 1612341721

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013