Tyranny in the dock.After thirteen years of running from his crimes, the world's most wanted man has finally been captured. Serbian police 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 master-minding genocide the likes of which had not been witnessed on European soil since World War II. Karadzic, who had adopted the name Dragan Dabic and led a life as an alternative doctor, will be 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 into the European Union. If one looks at this development in a wider context, Karadzic's arrest may offer the opportunity for a new and progressive chapter in the United States' 'war on terror'.
The arrest of Karadzic immediately prompts memories of another infamous war criminal, the Nazi Adolf Eichman. Indeed the atrocities Karadzic stands accused of, including the Siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica, constitute the worst cases of war crimes in Europe since the Holocaust, which Eichman orchestrated. But it is not only their crimes that link the two men. It is also the length of time they evaded capture, the way both men totally adopted their new personas, and the constant suspicion that those in power aided and abetted their flight from justice.
Eichman, one of the primary architects of the Final Solution, witnessed the Third Reich burn, and thus the Nazis' dreams of ethnic cleanings consigned to the history books, before fleeing to Argentina in 1948. After finding refuge there, he adopted the name Riccardo Klement and lived the life of a rabbit farmer for twelve years. In May 1960 he was identified and abducted by Mossad agents. Throughout his time in Argentina there is little doubt that Eichman's was aided by right-wing elements within Argentine society. Similarly, Karadzic evaded both NATO and Serbian authorities for thirteen years, having adopted the persona of an alternative doctor, an identity he is thought to have created with the help of sympathisers and allies within the Belgrade establishment.
The fundamental difference between the men will be the way they have faced justice. Eichman'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, by comparison, will be handed over, voluntarily, by the Serbian government to the international court in The Netherlands and he will face multiple life sentences, as the court, mandated under the United Nations, does not exercise the death penalty.
Whilst the Eichman 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 been ignored by hubristic superpowers the United States 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 victor's justice and questions about 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 ensured he would never face justice for the infamous al Anfal campaign during which he 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 was a constant political threat throughout his time in power. The taunting did little to dissuade the Sunni population that the execution was no more then an act of vengeance at the hands of the Shia minority.
So it was that once his body was 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 Magazine suggesting that such problems would have been avoided if Saddam had been extradited to face war crimes charges at The Hague. By physically removing him from the political arena and placing him in what would undoubtedly have been a prolonged, 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 to be shared by Radovan Karadizic.
Of course it has not been Saddam Hussein or Adolf Eichman whom the mass media has attempted to use as a point of comparison with Karadzic; rather they have placed the spotlight on the elusive Osama bin Laden. The comparisons between the capture of Karadzic and the ongoing hunt for bin Laden are as inevitable as they are misleading. Karadzic has been the most wanted man on earth for over a decade. 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 conventional armed forces at his disposal he has not waged a conventional war. It is crucial to realise this in an age when US and British propaganda has repeatedly attempted to conjure links between al Qaeda and the deposed government of Saddam Hussein and Pashtun nationalists of the Taliban.
It should be emphasised that unlike Adolf Eichman, Charles Taylor, Slobodan Milosevic, Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein, or any other war criminal, 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 and underestimates the terror Karadzic brought upon the Bosnian people. Throughout his brutal role in the Balkan wars of the early 1990s 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 ongoing 'war on terror'.
In a interview with the BBC, Richard Holbrooke, the senior US diplomat who took part in negotiating the Dayton peace agreements 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 a fact that thirteen years after the toppling of Karadzic's government there was still 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 Karadzic to justice. This is an important lesson for NATO, as well as British and US troops who continue to scourge the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush for bin Laden.
It is an interesting coincidence that the capture of Karadzic coincided with a European and Middle Eastern tour by Barack Obama. If he succeeds in his ambition of reaching the Oval Office and he abides by his rhetoric, Obama will set in train plans for a new vision for US foreign policy, including a concrete, timetabled withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and a re-evaluation of the strategy in Afghanistan. A key part of Obama's tour aimed to reach out to European governments in a bid to bolster support for the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan, thus giving US forces room for withdrawal from Iraq.
The more progressive elements of the Democratic Party have long advocated treating al Qaeda and the issue of terrorism as a criminal, rather than a military issue, relying on international police co-operation rather than the invasion and bloody occupation of other nations. Over the past seven years we have witnessed the continued failure of the latter strategy, a strategy that 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 whom these wars were launched to capture continue to evade justice. The success of capturing war criminals and terrorists through international police work has been clearly demonstrated and perhaps, if the democrats win power in November, this could be a way to end the 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 his imprisonment, and the opportunity for change that it presents to us all.
Ben Norman is a British historian and freelance journalist.