22 Mar Holbrooke Promised Karadzic He Wouldn’t Be Prosecuted
That is the conclusion of the most comprehensive study of the issue to date, “Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars’ Initiative,” conducted by Purdue University. From the New York Times, which held follow-up interviews with some of the sources cited in the study:
Charles W. Ingrao, the study’s co-editor, said that three senior State Department officials, one of them retired, and several other people with knowledge of Mr. Holbrooke’s activities told him that Mr. Holbrooke assured Mr. Karadzic in July 1996 that he would not be pursued by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague if he left politics.
Mr. Karadzic had already been charged by the tribunal with genocide and other crimes against civilians.
Two of the sources cited anonymously in the new study, a former senior State Department official who spent almost a decade in the Balkans and another American who was involved with international peacekeeping there in the 1990s, provided additional details in interviews with The New York Times, speaking on condition that they not be further identified.
The former State Department official said he was told of the offer by people who were close to Mr. Holbrooke’s team at the time. The other source said that Mr. Holbrooke personally and emphatically told him about the deal on two occasions.
While the two men agreed, as one of them put it, that “Holbrooke did the right thing and got the job done,” the recurring story of the deal has dogged Mr. Holbrooke.
Mr. Ingrao said Mr. Holbrooke used Slobodan Milosevic, then the Serbian leader, and other Serbian officials as intermediaries to convey the promise of immunity and to reach the deal with Mr. Karadzic.
“The agreement almost came to grief when Holbrooke vigorously refused Karadzic’s demand, and Hill’s appeal, that he affix his signature to it,” the study says, citing unidentified State Department sources.
The study, the product of eight years of research by historians, jurists and social scientists from all sides of the conflict, was an effort to reconcile disparate views of the wars that tore the former Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, Mr. Ingrao said.
The American who was involved in peacekeeping insisted in an interview that Mr. Holbrooke himself told him that he had made a deal with Mr. Karadzic to get him to leave politics. He recalled meeting Mr. Holbrooke in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on the eve of Bosnian elections in November 2000, just after Mr. Milosevic had finally been ousted from power in Serbia.
Mr. Holbrooke was worried about the outcome of the Bosnian vote because he knew that Mr. Karadzic was still secretly running his nationalist political party and picking candidates, including mayors and police chiefs who had run prison camps and organized massacres.
“Holbrooke was angry; he was ranting,” the American recalled. He quoted Mr. Holbrooke as saying: “That son of a bitch Karadzic. I made a deal with him that if he’d pull out of politics, we wouldn’t go after him. He’s broken that deal and now we’re going to get him.”
Mr. Karadzic’s party won those elections in the Bosnian Serb republic. Shortly afterward, he disappeared from public view.
Not surprisingly, Holbrooke continues to insist that “[n]o one in the U.S. government ever promised anything, nor made a deal of any sort with Karadzic.” Such intransigence appears increasingly desperate — indeed, Holbrooke refused the New York Times‘ request to comment on the study’s allegations. After all, who are you going to believe: a study with no partisan axe to grind, or someone who has every incentive to lie?
P.S. As is usually the case, the New York Times‘ article incorrectly describes the Holbrooke-Karadzic deal as an “immunity agreement.” The deal is more accurately described as an agreement not to prosecute in exchange for Karadzic’s cooperation — no different than a prosecutor who promises a criminal who “flips” that he won’t be prosecuted in exchange for his testimony against his higher-ups. Readers interested in the legal arguments for why the agreement might be enforceable against the ICTY should read the defence motion here.
P.P.S. In case there are any readers out there who don’t know, I am currently serving as one of Dr. Karadzic’s legal advisers. All the normal caveats about bias thus apply.