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August 1st, 2008
08:45 AM ET

War criminal – crazy like a fox

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic during his initial appearance at the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic during his initial appearance at the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday.

Nic Robertson
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.


Filed under: Bosnia • Crime & Punishment • Global 360° • Nic Robertson
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. L. Bulatovic

    According to Mr. Karadzic he played his part of bargain that was requested of him by Ambassador Holbrooke- he was "invisible"
    Now former Ambassador Holbrooke vehemently denies any deal with Mr. Karadzic . Even though I have no intention of defending Mr. Karadzic it will be interesting to have Ambassador Holbrooke explain the complete deal in his effort to cut off the power base of the most prominent war-time leader, former Bosnian- Serb President Radovan Karadzic. In his interview with Ms. Charlayne Hunter Gault -PBS on July 22,1996 he is talking about being successful in executing an agreement with Mr. Karadzic to have him removed from political scene and make him "invisible' . In tipical Mr. Holbrooke fashion he stopped short explaining what was Mr. Karadzic getting in return? Freedom? No prosecution as war criminal? Or what else.? Since Ambassador Holbrooke denies any deal with Mr. Karadzic (Ms. Hunter Gault had a photo copy of some document signed by Mr.Karadzic) it will be interesting to ask Mr. Holbrooke why would Mr. Karadzic sign document which calls for his removal from power and public life if he did not get something in return?. Is Ambassador Holbrook rewriting history? Is he telling the truth? Why don't you have on your program so he can explain everything?

    August 3, 2008 at 2:40 am |
  2. Sandra Robertson, Wadley Ga.

    I have read the book by Taner Akcam "A Shameful Act." He uses the definition of genocide adopted by the UN in 1948 as "the partial or complete destruction of an ethnic, national, or religious group, whether in periods of peace or war." Karadzic is by all means guilty of ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica and should be brought to justice for his crimes of genocide. This former tyrannical leader will never admit to the carnage and destruction. It will be interesting to see how the tribunal handles this case and the time-frame in which they lay down justice. Thank you Nic for risking your own life in so many times of conflict and bringing excellent journalism to the American people.

    August 2, 2008 at 8:41 am |
  3. Tyrone

    THE WHITE BUDDY SYSTEM

    American should be asking why we are seeing so many ,government institutions and law enforcement fail! We got white police officers shooting unarmed black people and also other black police officers have been shot by white officers! Why are so many Senator showing bad judgement ? Like Senator John McCain who voted for the Iraq War ! That case over 4,000 to died for nothing! McCain like President Bush and many other Senators claim that they where given bad imformation! From official governmrnt intellegent . And with out asking any question voted for a war that should have never been started ! The 9/11 report stated that 9/11 and Iraq had nothing to do with each other. Yet to this day John McCain has never said that he was wrong to vote for the Iraq War! But he want Obama to say that he was wrong about the surge. The white buddy system is working to destory the country ! Unqualified whites are given job just because they are white and friends! This practice has been going on from the begining of America! It can also be called Affirmative action for whites ! Now whites will never admit to this ! They will rather live lies! Hard work "pulling yourself up by your boot straps" MERIT" qualified"' has nothing to do with white Americans! The white founding father did not factor into the system "'WHITE RACISM"' WHITE GREED"' WHITE DISCRIMINATION"'and THE BUDDY SYSTEM" !But today the country is witnessing the result of all these evils. The criticisms of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina primarily consisted of condemnations of mismanagement and lack of leadership in the relief efforts laids at the foot of TheBuddySystem. Chertoff designated Michael D. Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the Principal Federal Official to lead the deployment and coordination of all federal response resources and forces in the Gulf Coast region. However, the President and Secretary Chertoff initially came under harsh criticism for what some perceived as a lack of planning and coordination. Eight days later, Brown was recalled to Washington and Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen replaced him as chief of hurricane relief operations Three days after the recall, Michael D. Brown resigned as director of FEMA in spite of having received praise from Bush with the now-well-known phrase, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job! Another buddy relationship that fail!

    August 2, 2008 at 8:33 am |
  4. Francyne of the Beautiful Pacific Northwest

    Karadzic should be handed over to the women who were raped under his ethnic cleansing policies. They should be given ice picks.

    August 1, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  5. Tony

    Karadzic was, is and will continue to be a criminal. Unfortunately, "knowing" he murdered people and proving "how" he was involved in all the massacres will be up to the Hague and its prosecutors. Serbs, whether from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo have and continue to play the victim in their view of the world. Karadzic is no different. Serbia, and the Serbian people who culturally are decades...if not centuries behind the times... need to realize that the world is no longer tolerant of imperialsim, expansionism and totalitariansim. War is not war. There are rules of conduct. It is these rules that Karadzic and many murder hungery Serbs did not nor to this day understand. The concept of "Rule of Law." There are consequences to one's actions. What Serbia needs to understand is that Europe does not need Serbia, but unfortunately Serbia needs Europe to survive. Tadic and his government are helping that fact. With Karadzic's extradition, it was the first step. Hopefully, with some more small steps forward, Serbia will leave behind its Mideval mentality and join the modern world to make effective and strong changes to a better world for everyone on this planet. The Karadzic trial will hopefully help make Serbs and any nation understand that. If not, like all bullies – eventually people will tire of their antics, get left behind to play by themselves. Left to deal with their own problems. You can cry wolf so many times before people begin to ignore you ... especially when someone needs help the most.

    August 1, 2008 at 10:12 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    He looks like one cold customer in his picture. I hope the tribunal can prove the genocide and dole out the justice to this man that the survivors deserve. Its been too long coming.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 1, 2008 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Maggie Settle

    What is that creepy looking dude really thinking. I mean the straight face must mean he is thinking about somthing most likely bad. For example if he farted very badly yet not loud!!!

    August 1, 2008 at 7:44 pm |
  8. r1h

    Will he ultimately be repentant? Living in hiding surely changed him - hopefully for the better, but may he and all like-minded monsters burn in Hell nonetheless!!!

    Nic, thanks for being our eyes and ears. I don't know where you get your energy or how you process what you cover, but somehow you just go and get it done. Thanks.

    August 1, 2008 at 6:48 pm |
  9. Mariam

    Why is it that so few people in the United States turn their back to these horendous acts of violence due to war?

    August 1, 2008 at 5:47 pm |
  10. Mariam

    I know a Bosnian/Muslim family,

    I guess this is one of the few that survived this tragedy, at least were not butchered. I We in the united States don't have a clue of war persecution in your own country. They are a lovely family with incredible values. They are living in the United States, but unlike what we did for Cuban's they've had to struggle like I have never seen before. The dad is very dedicated to his family and has never abandoned them, ulike many men in the United States that abandon their children. Sometimes the excuse is poverty. It amazes me how this father has been taking care of his family through thick and thin. They raised 2 sons both are in Medical School. The youngest son who is deaf and mute, yet one of the brothers (only 21) found some services for his young brother. The mother has a mental disability. The father having no health insurance had to spend much of his earnings on medical services. They haven't been able to buy a home due to his credit score. Can anyone out there try to help this family?

    August 1, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  11. Alex from Ca

    Mr. Robertson,

    Thank you so much for bringing this story to the U.S. I can only wish that this story can get more attention from here. This is a very important story that deserves attention. I'm glad this man has been captured. Hopefully justice will be served. I hope there will be peace between the serbs and muslims someday in the future.

    August 1, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  12. Rae

    Why does everyone forget that the Balkan wars started because Bosnians were murderering the serbs in bosnia first. They picked a fight with the wrong people and when they got their repercussions they cried to the US to save them. They started it and got what they deserved.

    August 1, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  13. Heather.Ca,Us

    I remember the early 90's. I remember the covers of Time and Newsweek. I remember seeing images that I thought I would never ever see again. Barbed wire, men of all ages just skin and bones. I'm Jewish, I have seen so many pictures from the past. I know what was done to my people. I though the world had learned a lesson that no one would repeat again. I think people who make the choice to engage in treating human beings this way are not human themselves. No human being engages in this. There is a line that is drawn in life regarding what a human being can do to another. These are not human, not even animals. Animals are better behaved. They are monsters. I refuse to give them human like attributes. They are monsters. Actively wiping the existence of a group of human beings from the planet. I'm glad they caught him. I hope he is tried and convicted and served whatever sentence the court decides. Hopefully, no heart attacks. These monsters share one thing in common, they think they are above all law. They think they are above all justice. That what they did was an internal matter. Their hate has completely consumed them. From head to toe. But in the end, they are all cowards. If he knew he was going to be caught, he would have killed himself. They all do. He most likely thinks that any lawyer assigned to him is working as a spy. So the trial will be a circus. Since he has no knowledge of the system he will drag it out for as long as possible. I just think of all those who were murdered. I hope the families will find closure and justice is served. I hope any monsters out their on this planet know, you are not above the laws of humanity.

    August 1, 2008 at 3:40 pm |
  14. KAB

    I just seems, we as humans, are bent on killing each other. It happens time and time again. We teach about such things in school in hopes that these mass killings wont happen again, but they do. One man can never cause so much destruction. It may relieve some of their emotional burden to blame "him" (whom ever that "him" may be this decade) for all the slaughters, but these actions can never be done alone. I don't know what the answer is, I don't even know how this all started, but it is just so sad. The Balkans are beautiful. They can be a tourist hot-spot and make enough money for everybody. I guess we are just genetically programmed to survive, and kill .....

    August 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  15. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Sounds like the man needs a padded cell.............

    August 1, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  16. Bertha Ortega

    Who killed the electric car? With gasoline prices double what they were last year those cars would sell like hot cakes. GM was offered $1,900,000.00 for 85 cars by individuals who did not want the cars to be destroyed and GM refused the offer. I realize that they did not have the range of the gas engine, it does not matter, most of us don't need a car that has 300 mile range. If we can fly to the moon we can invent a battery with a longer life.

    Electric companies say they could not handle the additional load for electricity. I think it's better for our environment to have more windmills than off shore drilling or drilling in Alaska. Let the powerful oil companies keep their oil.

    Why didn't CNN investigate the death of the electric car?

    August 1, 2008 at 11:50 am |
  17. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Where is the Recognition from the Islamic extremists that Canada, America, the World went to war to help a people who were being persecuted who happened to be, guess what, Muslim?
    It is NOT a coincidence the conflict in Afghanistan is centered in the region of the billion dollar poppy fields.
    Oil, guns, and heroin are the roots of the world wars, not Christianity and Islam. The 'economic' forces paint it as religious conflicts.
    The World is prosecuting a 'Christian' terrorist who brutalised Muslims, can WE not do the same with 'Muslim' terrorists?

    August 1, 2008 at 11:41 am |
  18. kemstate

    Not many people cant do exactly what he did , he is a mastermind and one of a kind . Some people still have fear of that man but it was a war and that is a very likely outcome . People that support him have a reason he gave them a country and stood up for them when they were on the edge of life . The man simply outsmarted everyone in the war and he shouldnt go to court for that , crime charges in a war ? Are you serious ? Did you not know that there is no rules in Balkan wars !

    kent – michigan

    August 1, 2008 at 11:14 am |
  19. Ayse-London

    I am really grateful that CNN has returned to the Balkans story.

    I think that we all know genocide occured under Karadzic's leadership, but wont it be difficult to prove that he speciically ordered the killings? and since the soldiers actually undertook the murders does that mean that each and everyone of them will stand trial as well?

    Karadzic doesn't need a lawyer because dictators (and many heads of states) have an egoism which makes them beleive that they are the leaders of law and ethics which makes them also live, think and act as if they are are untouchable.

    August 1, 2008 at 11:06 am |
  20. Teresa, OH

    Radovan Karadzic is acting like he watched Saddam Hussein's trial very closely. Hopefully, the result will be the same. Losers.

    “I have an invisible advisor. I don’t need a lawyer.” I guess his defense will be that his lawyer wasn't looking after his best interests?

    In life it's always nice to see people get their just rewards, but the older I get the more I wonder: why were they allowed to do so very much damage until then?

    @ Cindy: I must admit I am so sick of the election coverage, I don't watch as much tv anymore. It's getting boring and I think everyone can pretty well figure out the outcome. Love your comments, Cindy.

    August 1, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  21. Paul

    I was wondering if 360 would report more on what Karadzic was suggesting at the court when he said he had some form of immunity from prosecution if he stayed away from politics from the Clinton government of the time.

    many thanks and in your words "just keeping them honest "

    August 1, 2008 at 10:02 am |
  22. Cindy

    Nic,
    Thanks for keeping us updated on Karadzic's trial. The man was sadistic and a real nut. I hope that he gets what is coming to him!!

    I wish that 360 would do something on this story as I haven't seen them doing anything at all on it and it is a very important one! Have they forgotten everything but politics these days!? It seems so. PLEASE remember 360 there are other things going on besides this election that we would love to hear about but have to go elsewhere to get it!

    Cindy...Ga.

    August 1, 2008 at 8:36 am |