Senior International Correspondent
Editor's Note: Nic attended the first day in the war crimes trial of former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. This is what he saw.
When he first appeared, he seemed almost like a school boy who knows he'd done wrong, diligently following the instructions of his three tribunal guards, not at all the bombastic, flamboyant Serb leader I remember from my years covering the Bosnian war.
Radovan Karadzic was looking older, thinner in the face. But whatever he was thinking, it didn’t show on his face. He sat staring straight ahead, unflinching, unemotional as the judge read the charges. Accusations of the most heinous crimes - genocide, extermination and murder.
The first flicker of something behind the stony façade was a half wry smile. Judge Alphons Orie asked if he planned to have defense lawyer, Karadzic said, “I have an invisible advisor. I don’t need a lawyer." I was instantly reminded of his more obscure moments during the Bosnian war when he would state something so obviously full of contradictions that it defied logical explanation.
Maybe he meant God was with him, maybe we’ll learn more in the trial. It was at that moment I knew what we could expect. As his courage grew in the unfamiliar surroundings we’d see flashes of the man who on the eve of war infamously warned Bosnia’s Parliament the country’s Muslims “could face extinction."
One of Karadzic’s traits during the Bosnian war was to depict Serbs as victims. Indeed many were killed, sometimes barbarically, but in the gruesome ethnic tally of death, Muslims died in far greater numbers. So when Karadzic began to recount in court that he is the victim of a U.S. assassination plot, I recognized the theme.
He also seized on a statement by the prosecutor who promised a speedy trial that some how he was now the victim of a plot to go behind his back and deny him justice.
It all felt in some strange way as if the clocks had been turned back a decade and a half. But what was refreshingly different about the court room in Hague, rather than Karadzic’s war time Bosnian mountain redoubt in Pale, was both the Prosecutor and the judge were having none of it.
At one point Dutch judge Alphons Orie told Karadzic he was either not understanding what he had been told or was deliberately ignoring the judges instructions. No one used to talk to Karadzic that way, at least not in public.
I knew going in to the court we’d been witnessing a battle of wills. The judge and prosecutor trying to bring some luster back to the tarnished image of the tribunal criticized for lengthy trials and cozy cells and Karadzic intent on what? Defending himself? Defending his ideal of a Serb state? Proving his worst fears that he and his fellow Serbs are the victim ?
I came out feeling it was a rather inauspicious, albeit not too surprising, start to Karadzic’s trial. If the prosecutors fail to prove genocide they’re be plenty of armchair pundits ready to claim the tribunal a failure.
I spent three years in Sarajevo, it was madness. When you’ve seen such killing it’s impossible not to hope collectively we become more responsible about preventing future carnage. Some of the answers are going to be found in the Hague.
I for one will be watching the rest of the trial closely.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with