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Kosovo rebel commander sentenced to 26 years in prison for war crimes in case overseen by the special counsel named in the Trump probe

By Evan Perez, CNN Justice Correspondent

A war crimes tribunal in The Hague on Friday sentenced a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army to 26 years in prison for the war crimes of arbitrary detention, torture and murder.

The Salih Mustafa case was one overseen in part by now-special counsel Jack Smith, a war crimes prosecutor appointed last month by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee investigations in the US involving former President Donald Trump.

The panel of judges in the tribunal found Mustafa guilty of crimes that occurred in April 1999 in a village in Kosovo used as a base by a KLA unit that Mustafa led during the conflict with Serbian government forces.

Mustafa’s conviction is the first war crimes verdict in the Kosovo tribunal.

Victims who were ethnic Albanians were accused of being spies and collaborators, were held in inhumane conditions and subjected to beatings, mock executions to obtain forced confessions, and at least one died from the treatment at the hands of the militant group, according to the tribunal’s verdict.

The panel concluded that “the physical and psychological abuse, coupled with the inhumane and degrading conditions of detention, left the detainees with life-long injuries, both physical and psychological.”

Smith participated in the Mustafa trial before stepping down last month from his role as specialist prosecutor in the Kosovo tribunal after being tapped to oversee the Trump-related investigations in the US.

He remains in the Netherlands while he recovers from a bike injury and is expected to return to the US in the coming weeks.

“Today’s judgment represents a victory for justice and, in particular, for the victims of Salih Mustafa and their families, all Kosovar Albanians, whose personal tragedies have been at the heart of this case and who have suffered more than two decades on account of Mr. Mustafa’s actions,” said acting specialist prosecutor Alex Whiting, who took over the role from Smith, in a statement.

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