Barbarism was “a matter of routine”

Pornography, drugs and the tools of torture are found in a Serbian police station, where teenagers were among the victims.

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The most horrifying of the many appalling tortures that went on in the Serbian police station center on Cacak Street in central Pristina is suggested by a bed, with leather straps, its ratty yellow sponge mattress plunged through with bayonet and bullet holes, and the clothes of its victims piled onto the wet floor in the corner.

The bed is in one of three dank, dark dungeon-like cells in the basement of this house of torture, where Kosovo Albanians, many of them only teenagers, were taken by the Serbian police to be interrogated.

In the next room sits a single chair next to a collection of wooden bludgeons, some with nicknames scrawled into them. A small wooden baseball bat-shaped club is engraved with “the mini.” A larger one, studded, is nicknamed, in Serbian, “the mouth shutter.” Next to them sits a wooden box filled with knuckle busters, chains, axes, hammers and a collection of dozens of knives: butterfly knives that flick open, daggers, a sword, bayonettes. Knives lie throughout the four-floor police station, in a former student dormitory that now reeks with the stench of the bonfire set by Serbian police to destroy evidence of their murderous crimes as British paratroops arrived to take custody of the station. But it also reeks of rotted flesh.

Scattered across the dungeon’s floor are syringes, bloody rolls of gauze and vials and boxes of drugs, some still in their boxes with names such Nirypan, Torecan, Atrophin, which our military guide says are supposed to make the heart rate speed up. KFOR soldiers who discovered the torture devices say they also came across a collection of hardcore pornography that featured devils, werewolves and vampires torturing women.

“We were shocked,” said Lt. Dave Blakeley, the British paratroop who took over the station from the Serbian police on Tuesday. “I was shocked when I saw the weapons. But I was most horrified by the bed, filled with bullet holes, with leather belts, next to the most violent pornography, that showed men dressed up like werewolves and vampires involved with women.”

Upstairs, in the rooms the police used as offices and bunk rooms, are pinned pictures of naked women next to calendars with the Serbian saints. The ransacked offices are piled with the blue Serbian police uniforms the torturers left behind when NATO came three days ago. On the desks are still the bottles of tequila, vodka and gin the police apparently used to keep their spirits up during their torture sessions.

“The whole building gets to you,” said British Capt. Andy Reeds, who escorted a journalist through the police station Friday evening. He kneels to flip through the partially burned remains of a log book the Serbian police used. which show the names of the poor souls brought to be interrogated here, along with dates and other notes on their fate. Most of the log books the police successfully burned, evinced by large piles of crumbling white ash near the offices.

But neighbors have told KFOR soldiers about seeing family members of those held at the police come away empty-handed after having inquired about what happened to their loved one. Some of the photos of those interrogated inside show them to be no more than children.

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The evidence of the torture committed by uniformed Serbian police against the Kosovo Albanian population is part of a larger pattern of atrocities committed. On Thursday, NATO said it had already uncovered evidence of 100 mass graves that contain the bodies of more than 10,000 people killed by Serbian forces, police and paramilitaries over the past three months.

That number, which is far higher than earlier NATO estimates, seems set to go up, as each hour NATO-led peacekeeping forces and returning Kosovo Albanian refugees uncover more mass graves, bodies stuck in wells and other killings. It is impossible to drive a few miles in Kosovo without seeing KFOR troops roping off some new area where mass graves or dumped bodies have been found. At some sections of road in Kosovo, the smell of rotting flesh is overpowering.

“Tragically, our estimates of the numbers of innocent men, women and children killed will almost certainly have to be revised upwards,” British Foreign Office Minister Geoff Hoon told the press Thursday.

Investigators with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had toured the torture site in Pristina earlier Friday, and collected evidence of possible war crimes. War crimes investigators look set to be very busy in Kosovo.

According to wire reports, French peacekeepers found human remains in a house in the southeastern village of Vlastica, while several more bodies were found dumped in four wells in a village near the capital Pristina. Local villagers say as many as 100 ethnic Albanians were killed by Serbs before NATO troops entered Kosovo last week.

Italian soldiers in Kosovo discovered a mass grave that included the burned bodies of three children near the southwestern city of Djakovica, which saw some of the worst atrocities. Local Albanians told reporters that mass graves contained the remains of 120 men and boys killed on April 27 because they were suspected of being Kosovo Liberation Army rebels.

Villagers in Poklek, a hamlet 20 miles west of Pristina, say Serbian police killed 62 ethnic Albanians, most of them women and children from one extended family, in a home two months ago. According to a 15-year-old girl who survived the attack by jumping out a window, a Serbian policeman gathered the people in a house, tossed in a grenade and then sprayed the survivors with machine gun fire before setting the house ablaze. Near Poklek, at the Feronikl factory in Glogovac, several ethnic Albanians are reported to have been incinerated by Serbian police who used the blue factory visible from the main road as a strategic base.

About the house of torture in Pristina, British Foreign Office Minister Hoon said what was most disturbing was that, the station “seems to have been just an ordinary police headquarters. In other words, the barbaric acts carried out in this building were probably almost a matter of routine.”

Laura Rozen writes about U.S. foreign policy and the Balkans crisis for Salon News.

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