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From Prison to War
| "Her Face Tortures Me" | Justice for All? | We Need Justice

"Her Face Tortures Me"

The 17 former Serbian fighters we spoke with did so only after we promised not to use their real names. Almost all admitted attacking Albanian civilians. Some fighters also said they carried out summary executions, though none admitted involvement in the gruesome murder of Chaush Lushi.

Most of the fighters volunteered for what they saw as a legitimate campaign against terrorists. But their actual motivations varied. Vaso is a slender man in his 30s who was born and raised in Serbia. Once a Yugoslav Army soldier, Vaso was unemployed when he signed up to fight in Kosovo. As he watched others in the security forces killing Albanian women and children, he grew troubled. But, Vaso says, he continued to obey orders.

"We were armed with some kind of patriotic sense of duty, especially with the intensity of an active war," Vaso says. "We were soldiers, we were like dogs of war who kill without thinking about it. That was us. We were also armed with hatred. ... I think the generals created a project, a plan of some kind, to fill us with pure hatred of the Albanians."

Other fighters, especially men from the militias, were fueled by different passions and had no qualms about killing Albanian civilians. We meet Milan at a noisy outdoor café. He is unshaven with darting, troubled eyes. He also has an extensive criminal past. Milan says he belonged to the militia gang Lightning, the kind of group where a Serbian patriot could also be a state-sanctioned kidnapper.

"Early on, the Serbian secret police were transporting Albanians safely to the border by hiding them in the trunks of cars," he says. "They charged them $2,700. When the guys in my unit heard about this, we started doing it too. Later, after the NATO bombing got worse, I wouldn't bother taking the Albanians to the border. I'd just take their money and kill them."

Milan says he did not participate in the attack on Cuska. So we go see a guy who did. He is called Predrag. He wears a black Versace T-shirt, black jeans and has the menacing build of a bouncer at a bar. Predrag insists we meet in the basement of a grungy seaside tourist hotel. Throughout our conversation, Predrag sits on a chair with a nickel-plated 44 Magnum tucked under his crotch, pistol grip at the ready.

"First, I'm not talking to you because I like to talk," he says. "I've just had it up to here. I'm fed up. Some things I can no longer keep inside. Whether or not you wanted to, you had to work for the police. You had to have money to live on. Factories weren't running, nothing was working. I didn't want to see people die, to see blood on all around me, but I got used to it."

Predrag's eyes look tense and haunted. Sweat drips from his chin. He agrees to meet us in part out of anger toward Milosevic for abandoning Kosovo after the war. It is a feeling shared by the other fighters. Predrag also expresses rage towards his own family and friends in Serbia for refusing to believe the stories of what he saw in Kosovo. Above all else, it seems, Predrag wants to talk to someone -- even two American reporters.

"Brother, it's harder to watch the separations of men from their families than to do the actual killings," he says. "There's nothing worse than when you see the faces of the mothers, sisters, children ... how they wail when their fathers and brothers are taken away."

Predrag breathes deeply, then continues: "One woman approached me in Cuska. She was maybe 50, and she had six or seven children. The militias took away her husband. She offered $3,000 to me if we would let him go. In her eyes I saw my own mother begging for my life. I wanted to help. But if I tried to, I'd just get killed myself. At night that woman's face tortures me."

Several Serbian militiamen tell us the same thing. The memories of Kosovo, especially of the anguished women and children, trouble them. So how could guys like this kill so many people, and kill them so methodically. Just following orders?

We ask these questions of another man who was at Cuska, a guy called Dragan. Dragan is a young, former Yugoslav army soldier who volunteered for a militia unit calling itself the Czar Dusan Brigade, the name of a medieval Serbian conqueror. Dragan fiddles nervously with his cigarettes as we talk in a café about the attack on Cuska. Dragan says Lightning and OPG soldiers led the assault and entered Cuska 500 yards ahead of his own unit.

"All sorts of things happened in that village," he says, referring to Cuska. "You would find a guy and apprehend him. Then he's start crying or he'd lie down. He'd even offer to pay you to save him. But our unit didn't allow these kinds of bribes. And our main motivation at Cuska was revenge."

Dragan explains that several comrades in his militia unit had died in recent clashes with the KLA. So when they attacked Cuska, the surviving members were starving for vengeance. As Dragan's story from Cuska unfolds, the details match eerily with those given to us by Akif, one of the massacre survivors.

Dragan: "There were around 12 of them that we decided to interrogate. We'd already finished clearing the Albanians from our sector so we took the men to an empty house."

Akif: "They took us inside a neighbor's house and lined us against the living room wall."

Dragan: "We determined that men from that village had been part of the earlier attack on us. So our commander ordered us to kill them."

Akif: "One of them, a young soldier, came and told us to wait while he talked things over with his comrades."

Dragan: "It was clear that some of them were in the KLA. We found some were wearing green T-shirts under their peasant clothes. And green socks -- military green. That was their mistake. We took revenge."

Akif: "I don't know what they talked about. It only took a second, but he came back and said, 'In the name of Serbia, you will all be executed.'"

Dragan: "I told them we were doing this in the name of Serbia. I alone did the shooting. There was no need for anyone else. Why waste the bullets?"

Next: Justice for All?