Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell" was on my beach reading list this past week —I highly recommend it by the way. The book is a study of the American response to genocide through the 20th centrury, from Armenia to Rwanda, with some lengthy and in depth study of our initial inaction and ultimate reaction to the Serbian crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo. So it was a strange coincidence that the arrest of Radovan Karadzic was in the news just the day after we got back from vacation.
Frankly, I was surprised that the fellow had been at large all this time. Reports are he wasn't even working that hard at keeping himself hidden. Karadzic has finally been detained by Serb police. It was unclear in the reports I read yesterday whether he was on his way to the Hague or if he would face trial in Serbia.
I'm not a real fan of trying to score the relative magnitude of atrocities, but Karadzic certainly deserves a special place in history for the siege of Sarajevo and the "ethnic cleansing" programs his forces carried out in Bosnia. The systematic murder of 8,000 "draft age males" rounded up in the U.N. "safe city" of Srebinika may not have operated on the scale of Pol Pot's killing fields or Hitler's death camps, but that was not for want of inclination or ambition.
Has it really taken us that long to detain Karadzic? Did the international community really have to wait on the etiquette of a proper Serbian arrest of this criminal before seeing him brought to justice?
There may be arguments as to prudent policy and proper process that might explain the slow pace of justice in this case. I'd welcome them here.
These past few years we have been engaged in what is called a "war on terror." It was spurred by the senseless murder of more than 3,000 innocents on American soil. Many profess that this war is the only appropriate response to such a crime.
It strikes me that Bosnia may be the perfect shadow of that situation. There, instead of hidden terrorists perpetrating the slaughter, uniformed military and paramilitary forces carried out a methodical program of cleansing and extermination. Innocents perished as well, though these were Muslims dying at the hands of "Christian" (please excuse the use of the term) forces. Ultimately NATO bombing curbed the most egregious crimes, sanctions and diplomacy and ultimately ground forces wrestled away some measure of security for the Bosnian Muslims. With intervention in Kosovo turning back another Serb offensive there, a cleansed and tenuous peace subsists in the region these ten years.
For nearly seven years we have sought the masterminds behind the terrorist attacks of September, 2001. We've dislodged a regime that harbored them and chased them into the mountains (and then become distracted). We broadened our concept of the war to include any number of ideological foes while turning our focus from the actual culprits of a specific crime. In the dozen years since the Dayton Accords, perhaps we've been inattentive to justice as well.
Are there lessons to be drawn here? Comparisons and contrasts that might be instructive? Is there something contradictory about a war on terror concomitant with a careful judicial approach to atrocity and —yes—genocide? Might each of these efforts learn from the other? Is it possible to combine the moral judgement of a truly international justice with the moral urgency of our war? Isn't it our obligation to try?