22 July 2008

The New "Dr" Death

At least one can be reasonably objective about this particular war criminal (unless, that is, one is a political supporter): Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of Serbia who bears ultimate command responsibility for significant "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia, was arrested on Monday and will be turned over to the international war crimes tribunal in Den Hague for trial on long-standing charges of genocide. This is only the beginning of a long, unpleasant process, and it has its pitfalls.

  • He deserves a fair trial. Every defendant deserves a fair trial; even Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin would have deserved fair trials. (We'll have plenty of time to shoot him afterward.) This is one of the few times that a jury would not be appropriate. There's a good — and, in many senses, compelling — argument at a fundamental level that if one is going to have a death-penalty system, a trial to a multimember bench is better than a trial to a jury. That argument is not completely compelling, though, because I agree with Justice Blackmun's final opinion of the death penalty; although I can envision instances in which it is the most, and perhaps indeed the only, appropriate punishment, I cannot simultaneously envision acceptable machinery of death.
  • Any trial is going to be complicated by the absence of his top military commander. In US parlance, he is probably an "indispensible party" to proving command responsibility unless there is indisputable, authenticated documentation from Karadzic's own hand of the orders for genocide. This is not an issue of responsibility (that's not really in question), but of proof.
  • At least Karadzic was captured by Serbs, not furriners. That is still going to lead to suspicion of results from the tribunal by many grasping at any reason... and some who are merely ignorant.

But how did Karadzic manage to avoid capture? By posing as an unregulated professional for nearly a decade! He maintained a practice as a New Age doctor in Belgrade. The multiple levels of irony in that little disguise are too complex (and amusing) to unpack without quite a bit more caffeine than I have in me at the moment.