Transcript of the interview
Scott Simon, Host:
Justice was delivered this week after a long delay. The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karodzic was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The trial lasted eight years. In the end, Karodzic was found guilty for his role in the Bosnian War, including the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men in the town of Srebrenica in 1995. But it took 13 years after that massacre to capture and bring Radovan Karodzic to even face charges. Julian Borger has written about this often bizarre chase in his book, “The Butcher’s Trail.” Julian Borger joins us now from The Hague where he’s been covering the trial for The Guardian. Thanks so much for being with us.
Julian Borger: A pleasure.
Simon: Many accomplished NATO Special Forces and military leaders, including, by the way, at a different state in his career, General David Petraeus, personally tried to put the cuffs on Karodzic. How did he evade them for so long?
Borger: From the very start after the Dayton peace treaty, there were 64,000 NATO-led troops in Bosnia. That was the time really to catch these war crime suspects, Radovan Karodzic in particular, but there wasn’t political will. There was a feeling that if you went after Karodzic and people like that, that it would disrupt the peace. Then when it did become a political priority, particular for the Clinton administration who really wanted to get Karodzic before the end of Clinton’s term in office – and they put huge resources into it – it was the biggest deployment of Special Forces anywhere before 9/11. But to some extent, they came too late. By then, he’d gone deep underground.
Simon: When Karodzic was arrested, he was, as we say, hiding in plain sight, wasn’t he?
Borger: That’s right. In the last few years where, as a fugitive, when he was living in Belgrade, he eked out this living as a new age guru. He grew a big bushy white beard, had glasses, had a top knot at the top of his head tied up with a black ribbon. He presented this rather remarkable monk-like figure and, as you say, hid in plain sight. He was often at seminars and conferences about alternative medicine.
He went to his local bar and he didn’t sit on the sidelines there. He took center stage and actually played a kind of Balkan fiddle called a gusle. And everyone stood around and clapped and applauded him. And he was sitting under a portrait of Radovan Karodzic, this man who was the hero for most of the people in the bar. And not one of them spotted the resemblance.
He lived across the stairwell in his block of flats from a woman who worked with Interpol. And her – every time she went into work, she logged on to her computer and saw the world’s most wanted, including Osama bin Laden and Radovan Karodzic. And the penny never dropped. It was like a long-running performance that only came to an end really when his brother made a vital slip.
Simon: He made a phone call, right? What happened?
Borger: He made a phone call. And he used a SIM card that he shouldn’t have used. It was one that was on the files of the people chasing Karodzic.
Simon: To put you on the spot a bit, does a sentence like this that comes 21 years after the Srebrenica massacre serve as a deterrent to alleged war crimes being committed today, let’s say in Syria and/or Iraq?
Borger: I think that the fact that they got all 161 names on the list of indicted war crime suspects did represent a very – a remarkable achievement when it came to pushing back in punitive war crimes. But I think that achievement and that legacy has since then unraveled because there is no more political will, no more political appetite for enforcing justice for war crimes. And so what we’re seeing in Syria and Iraq is really the price of this abandonment of what was achieved by The Hague war crimes tribunal.
Simon: Julian Borger of The Guardian, thanks so much.
Borger: Thank you.