Doublethink Online | 8.6.08
By Alan W. Dowd

Radovan Karadzic, the self-styled Bosnian-Serb leader who was captured in Belgrade in late July after a 13-year search, has been spirited out of Serbia and transferred to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

The good news is that justice is finally catching up with Karadzic, indicted for his role in the Srebrenica massacre and the brutal Sarajevo siege. The bad news is that he probably won’t experience anything close to justice at The Hague.

Before we get into what awaits him there, it pays to recall what Karadzic visited upon his fellow Slavs in Bosnia.

Karadzic’s bill of indictment includes extermination, murder and genocide. Some 250,000 people died while he led a Serbian republic within Bosnia, serving as one of Slobodan Milosevic’s henchman.

In 1995, when NATO finally broke lose from the UN’s unworkable command structure and mustered the will to end the bludgeoning of Bosnia’s Muslims, the West demanded that Belgrade hand over Karadzic for his role in the mayhem and murder. Inexplicably, NATO did little to apprehend Karadzic for several months. And by the time the alliance got serious, “Dragan Dabic,” as he came to call himself, was able to hide in Belgrade—in plain view apparently, aided by a mangy beard and the identity of a New Age guru.

The fact that he was “found” in the Serbian capital serves to underscore that he received aid and comfort from his countrymen, a significant portion of whom still condone and even applaud his actions.

But don’t take my word for it. As The International Herald Tribune reports, public opinion surveys of Serbians reveal that “more than half the respondents either did not know about war crimes in Bosnia or did not believe they had taken place.”

Just consider the protests held in Belgrade on July 29 in support of Karadzic. The AP reported that “busloads of ultranationalists” poured into the Serbian capital. An estimated 15,000 protestors descended on the city. Doubtless, many of them were part of the 100,000-man mob that firebombed the US embassy after Washington had the temerity to recognize Kosovo’s right to be independent from, well, people who would rally in defense of the likes of Milosevic and Karadzic.

To be sure, Serbia has come a long way since the ouster of Milosevic. The government of Boris Tadic, which has the backing of most Serbs, is saying and doing the right things. But the Karadzic and Kosovo tantrums underscore that many Serbs still have a long way to go before their country begins to resemble its European neighbors—virtually all of whom believe in political, religious and ethnic pluralism.

Of course, some of Serbia’s European neighbors—at least the ones who run the EU, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and war crimes tribunal at The Hague—also believe that monsters like Milosevic and Karadzic can somehow be deterred by harshly worded resolutions, indictments, jail time and “international justice.”

As one ICC advocate declared in 2000, the court will “achieve justice for all…end impunity…end conflicts…deter future war criminals.”

That’s laughable, especially when we consider the “justice” Karadzic will be treated to at The Hague detention center.

Even the guilty should be treated humanely, of course, but The Hague Hotel provides something well beyond humane treatment—and thus something far less than justice.

First, as with the late Milosevic, Karadzic will be given a platform and megaphone to spew his ideas. One of the reasons Milosevic’s trial dragged on so long was his ability to play to the cameras and frustrate the court with absurd motions and claims. Doubtless, Karadzic will read from the same script.  

Rather than being aired live, such trials should be recorded and released as appropriate. This isn’t censorship. After all, the Nuremburg Trials were not beamed across the world—or Germany—in real-time. As Court TV noted on the fiftieth anniversary of Nuremburg, “There were many days when nothing was filmed.”  Moreover, it pays to recall that the most important court cases in the United States—those heard and decided by the US Supreme Court—are not televised. Yet somehow the American people cope with these deliberations and decisions being handed down (gasp) in writing.

Next, there’s the matter of The Hague’s accommodations

Milosevic, for example, had a private room with a fax machine, computer and satellite television, as the BBC reported. He had daily access to “a gym, a recreation room and an outside courtyard.” The BBC described the cell as “comfortable and informal,” adding that Milosevic and other inmates could “telephone their families for seven minutes a day, cook for themselves, paint or play the piano or guitar.”  

The description of the detention center by Slate’s Julian Davis Mortenson is even more eye-opening and dispiriting: “The accommodations looked like nothing so much as a string of dorm rooms in a college residence hall,” according to Mortenson, who adds that the facility is located adjacent to a “seaside resort.”

“With radios, coffee machines, and full private bathrooms, the cells looked at least as comfortable as your average Super 8.” Mortenson calls it “startlingly cheery—even homey.”

Even Karadzic concedes, “I’ve been in worse places.”

For their crimes, the likes of Milosevic and Karadzic can play games and sports. They can read from a library of books, build models, dabble in ceramics and learn about computers. But they cannot be put to death, no matter how heinous their crimes or how obvious their guilt.

In other words, given the hell he visited upon Bosnia, Karadzic won’t receive anything close to justice. Not only will he live, which is more than we can say for any of his victims, he will live far more comfortably than many of his countrymen.