The arrest of Radovan Karadzic, and the recent European and Middle Eastern tour of Presidential candidate Barack Obama may present an opportunity for a dramatic and progressive shift of America’s ‘War on Terror’.
After 13 years of running from his crimes, the world’s most wanted man has finally been captured. Serbian police forces made the arrest as this most famous of fugitives got off the number 83 bus in Belgrade.
Radovan Karadzic has been wanted by the International war crimes tribunal for masterminding genocide, the likes of which had not been witnessed on European soil since the Second World War.
Karadzic, who had adopted the name Dragan Dabic and had led a life as an alternative doctor has been deported to The Hague to face trail, thus following in the footsteps of his former ally, ex-Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. His arrest not only heralds another step away from the bitter wars which have become synonymous with the Balkans, it also places Serbia one step closer to a coveted entry to the European Union.
However, if one were to look at this development in a much wider context Karadzic’s arrest may offer the opportunity for a new and progressive chapter in America’s ‘war on terror’.
The arrest of Karadzic immediately prompts memories of another infamous war criminal, the Nazi, Adolf Eichmann.
Indeed the atrocities Karadzic stands accused of, including the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica, constitute the worst cases of war crimes on European soil since the Holocaust that Eichmann orchestrated. However, it is not only their crimes that link the two men, but also the length of time they evaded capture, the way that both men totally adopted their new personas and the constant suspicions that those in power aided and abetted their flight from justice.
Eichmann, one of the primary architects of the Final Solution, witnessed the Third Reich burn and with it the consignation of Nazi dreams of ethnic cleanings to the history books before fleeing to Argentina in 1948. After reaching the safe refuge of Argentina, Eichmann adopted the name Riccardo Klement and lived the life of a rabbit farmer for 12 years.
In May 1960 he was identified and abducted by Israeli Mossad agents in a quiet suburb of Buenos Aires. Throughout his time in Argentina there is little doubt that Eichmann’s evasion from justice was aided by right wing elements within Argentine society.
In comparison Karadzic evaded both NATO and Serbian authorities for 13 years having adopted the persona of an alternative doctor since 1998, an identity he is thought to have ascertained with help from sympathisers and allies within the Belgrade establishment.
The fundamental difference between the men will be the way they will face justice. Eichmann’s abduction from Argentina to Israel severely strained diplomatic ties between the two countries and after a much publicised trial in Tel Aviv the elderly conductor of genocide was led to the gallows. Karadzic in comparison was handed over, voluntarily, by the Serbian government to the international courts in the Netherlands and he is facing multiple life sentences as the court, mandated under the United Nations, does not exercise the death penalty.
Whilst the Eichmann trial is perhaps the most famous war crimes trial after the Nuremberg trials of 1945 it is the more recent trial of Saddam Hussein that future historians will compare with the pending trial of Karadzic. All too often the international criminal courts have ignored by the hubristic powers of America and Britain.
This was made all too clear during the trial of Saddam Hussein. Whilst Hussein was tried, found guilty and eventually executed by an Iraqi court accusations of victors justice and questions of the political objectivity of the court were never out of the picture. Indeed the execution of the fallen dictator not only removed him from the political arena but also ensured he would never face justice for the infamous al-Anfal campaign during which the tyrant of Baghdad mercilessly deployed chemical weapons against the Kurds.
During his execution in December 2006 Hussein was taunted and jeered with the name of Muqtada Al Sadar, the Shia cleric whose family constituted a constant political threat throughout Saddam’s time in power. The taunting did little to dissuade the Sunni population that the execution was little more than an act of victors justice at the hands of the Shia minority.
So it was that once his body had been cut down protests erupted, not only in his birth town of Tikrit but also in the Gaza strip as the fabled strong man of the Arab world became a political martyr. At the time, I wrote an article for “Arena” suggesting that such problems would have been avoided if Saddam has been extradited to face charges of war crimes at The Hague.
By physically removing him from the political arena and placing him in what would undoubtedly have been a pro-longed, at time tedious but totally comprehensive trial the fallen dictator would have received true justice and his support would have slowly, yet certainly ebbed away. This was indeed the fate of Slobodan Milosevic a fate now shared by Radovan Karadzic.
Of course it has not been Saddam Hussein or Adolf Eichmann who the mass media have attempted to use as a point of comparison; rather they have placed the spotlight on the elusive Osama Bin Laden.
The comparisons between the capture of Karadzic and the ongoing hunt for Osama Bin Laden are as inevitable as they are misleading. Karadzic has been the most wanted man on Earth for over a decade with allegations of committing the worst war crimes on European soil since the close of the Second World War. Osama Bin Laden on the other hand has not committed war crimes. His role in orchestrating terrorist attacks across the globe is undeniable, but these actions are criminal.
As Bin Laden has never been a head of state with a conventional armed force at his disposal he has not waged a conventional war. It is crucial to realise this in an age when American and British propaganda have repeatedly attempted to conjure links between al-Qaeda and the deposed government of Saddam Hussein or the Pashtun nationalists of the Taliban. It should be remembered that unlike Adolf Eichmann, Charles Taylor, Slobodan Milosevic, Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein or any other war criminal, Osama Bin Laden and his followers are members of an international criminal organisation rather than leaders of a sovereign nation state.
A like for like comparison between Bin Laden and Karadzic achieves little but underestimates the terror Karadzic brought upon the Bosnian people. Throughout his brutal role in the Balkan wars of the early 90s Karadzic achieved more horror and suffering then Bin Laden and his cohorts could ever aspire to. However, there is one potential connection, which if realised could open the door for a new and progressive era for the on-going War on Terror.
In a interview with the BBC Richard Holbrooke, the senior United States Diplomat who took part in negotiating the Dayton peace agreements when stationed in Bosnia in 1995, stated that “it is significant that NATO continued to fail and the Serbs captured him… a major thug has been removed from the public scene.”
Indeed it is the fact that 13 years after the toppling of Karadzic’s government there has been no military solution to capturing the world’s most wanted fugitive, instead old fashioned police work coupled with new and developing levels of international police co-operation brought the most wanted man on Earth to justice. This is an important lesson for NATO, as well as British and American troops who continue to scourge the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush in the hunt for Bin Laden.
It is an interesting coincidence that the capture of Karadzic coincided with a European and Middle Eastern tour of Barack Obama, the Democrat presidential candidate. If he succeeds in his ambition of reaching the Oval office and abides by his rhetoric Obama plans a new vision for the United States foreign policy including a concrete, time tabled withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and a re-evaluation of strategy in Afghanistan.
A key part of Obama’s tour aimed to reach out to European governments in a bid to bolster their support for the on-going occupation of Afghanistan, thus giving American forces room for withdrawal. The more progressive elements of the Democrat party have long advocated treating al-Qaeda and the issue of terrorism as a criminal, rather than military issue, relying on the work of international police cooperation rather than the invasion and bloody occupation of nation states.
Over the past seven years we have witnessed the continued failure of this latter strategy, a strategy which has resulted in the death of millions, the displacement of hundreds of thousands and the occupation of two nation states whilst all the while the men who these wars were launched to capture, continue to evade justice. The success of capturing war criminals and terrorists through international police work has been a clearly demonstrated success and perhaps, if the Democrats win the White House in November this could become a way to end America’s war on terror and the start of renewed international cooperation.
So the capture of the world’s most wanted man should not be celebrated in the Balkans alone, we should all toast to his imprisonment and the opportunity for change it presents to us all.