The Forensics of War

Under NATO control, Kosovo has become a vast crime scene, containing evidence of thousands of killings. With mass graves around almost every corner, teams from the F.B.I., the R.C.M.P., and Scotland Yard are trying to find the strongest cases to bring before the international war-crimes tribunal.
  • Award Winner
  1. Homo homini lupus. (Man is a wolf to man.) — Plautus, Asinaria.

    ***

    No one knows who he was, but he almost got away. He broke and ran when the Serbs started shooting, and he made it to a thicket before the first bullet hit him in the left leg. It must have missed the bone, because he was able to keep going—along the edge of a hayfield and then into another swath of scrub oak and locust. There was a dry streambed in there, and he probably crouched in the shadows, listening to the bursts of machine-gun fire and trying to figure out a way to escape. The thicket stretched uphill, along the hayfield, to a stand of pine trees, and from there it was all woods and fields leading to the Albanian border. It didn’t offer much of a chance, and he must have known that.

    He tied a sweater around the wound in his thigh and waited. Maybe he was too badly hurt to keep moving, or maybe he didn’t dare because the Serbs were already along the edge of the field. Either way, they eventually spotted him and shot him in the chest, and he fell backward into the streambed. His killers took his shoes, and—months later, after the war ended—a fellow Albanian took his belt buckle and brought it to the authorities in Gjakovë. It was the only distinctive thing on him, and there was a chance that someone might recognize it.

    I saw the dead man in late June, two weeks after NATO had taken Kosovo from the Serbs. It was a hot day, and my photographer and I stood peering at his corpse, in the same mottled shade ...