Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Deal?

Lawyers for the former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, say they will present evidence at his war crimes trial of a deal he allegedly struck with a top US diplomat. They want the charges against him thrown out on the basis of a promise, purportedly made in 1996 by the man who was America's peace envoy to the former Yugoslavia Richard Holbrooke, that Karadzic would be given immunity from prosecution. Karadzic has long claimed such a deal existed, and Holbrooke has always denied it, but now Karadzic's lawyers say they'll show us the evidence next week.

In one sense, this doesn't really matter. The lawyers want the charges thrown out because of this alleged deal, but the court has already said that, even if the deal did exist, it wouldn't be enough of a reason for the trial to collapse.

But there are two things to say about this. The first is that, if it turns out there really was a deal, it would be more than a little embarrassing for plenty of people back in Washington. That includes Bill Clinton, who would surely have known about such a promise, and Barack Obama, who recently appointed Mr Holbrooke as his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's one thing to be a pragmatic diplomat and talk to your enemies, but quite another to tell someone who is probably responsible (at the very, very least indirectly) for the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people that he'll be in the clear if he keeps his head down.

That point presumes the evidence of this supposed deal is believable. But even if it's not, we're now getting a sense of how the Karadzic trial will play out. And it's starting to look suspiciously similar to the trial of the ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Over several years, there were delaying tactics, some grandstanding from the man himself, hundreds of witnesses and lots of evidence - yet not much that really firmly established his guilt. In the end, he died before the trial finished. There's no suggestion Karadzic's health is as bad as Milosevic's was, but it's fair to assume we're probably years away from reaching the end of this case.

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