Guest Host: Tom Gjelten

Serbian protestors wave Serbian flags and hold a picture of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic during an anti-Kosovo independence rally in Belgrade on February 21, 2008.

Serbian protestors wave Serbian flags and hold a picture of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic during an anti-Kosovo independence rally in Belgrade on February 21, 2008.

The wars accompanying the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s included the kind of brutality Europe vowed never to allow again – mass killings, the creation of concentration camps and systematic “ethnic cleansing.” After the Dayton Accords brought peace to the region, the question of how to mete out justice became key to maintaining stability. The UN created an international criminal tribunal, the first truly global court set up to pursue war criminals. It began with a list of 161 suspects. Fourteen years later, the court had accounted for every single one. The story of one of the world’s most successful manhunts.


  • Julian Borger Diplomatic editor, The Guardian

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from The Butcher’s Trail by Julian Borger, published by Other Press on January 19, 2016.  Copyright © Julian Borger. Reprinted by permission of Other Press.

  The Butchers Trail

Photos From The Book


  • 11:06:54

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR in today for Diane Rehm because she's away on a book tour. After Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s, people there were filled with anger and resentment. Not since the Nazis had Europe seen such horrific war crimes. But the perpetrators remained free. Some even held political office. In order to bring justice to the region and maintain peace, the UN created an international criminal tribunal. It took 14 years, but the courts' prosecutors and investigators eventually accounted for everyone of the 161 people it had identified as possible war criminals.

  • 11:07:37

    MR. TOM GJELTENAs a reporter, Julian Borger covered the conflicts. Now, he traces the hunt for the Balkan war criminals in his new book, "The Butcher's Trail" and he's with me here in the studio. And you can join us. Call us at 1-800-433-8850 with your questions and your comments. We wonder what you remember of those wars. You can also send us a message via Facebook or Twitter. Welcome, Julian, it's good to see you again.

  • 11:08:04

    MR. JULIAN BORGERIt's good to be here.

  • 11:08:06

    GJELTENSo we both covered those wars. We've known each other for a long time. Back then, Julian, we thought that this was a hugely important story. We felt, I think it's fair to say, a responsibility to bring the world's attention to what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, in Bosnia and Croatia. Since then, the wars in the former Yugoslavia have been somewhat eclipsed, I think it's fair to say, by 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Looking back on those wars now, what do you think is the significance of them? What relevance do you think the wars in Bosnia and Croatia have even now in the aftermath of this new focus on the war on terrorism?

  • 11:08:52

    BORGERWell, there's one lesson that I would pull out in particular and that is after NATO finally intervened and stopped the fighting, the generals went in and they saw justice as being something at the expense of peace. They looked at the whole idea of going after and catching these war criminals as mission creep, they called it. That's not what we're here to do. We're here to keep the peace. What they found, very painfully, over the following years is that peace and justice are compliments. They're not substitutes.

  • 11:09:32

    BORGERAnd what they found was that the fact that these war criminals were still at large, still in charge and still determined to stop the reintegration of Bosnia meant that there couldn't be a long term without justice, without the war crimes tribunals, indictments being delivered and arrests being carried out. And so finally, after a couple of very painful years, that changed their minds and there was -- I think that is the one big lesson that I would draw out of it.

  • 11:10:06

    GJELTENThat there is no necessary tradeoff between peace and justice, that justice may, in fact, be essential to peace.

  • 11:10:14

    BORGERAbsolutely. And I would carry that forward to today. I think one of the great achievements of this manhunt was that it pushed back the edges of impunity for mass atrocities or mass crimes and the achievement that that represented has been allowed to unravel. We don't give much support to the ICC, the International Criminal Court, which is really the successor to the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. And we see the price of impunity for mass atrocities unfolding in the Middle East. Terrorism is the big focus now, but it has its roots in the mass killings that happened under Al-Malaki in Iraq and under Assad in Syria.

  • 11:11:00

    BORGERAnd we didn't -- no one paid attention them. It's out of fashion now for there to be a sense of the international community's responsibility to protect civilian populations. But the price we're paying is on our television screens every day.

  • 11:11:18

    GJELTENWell, the big victims in -- whether it's Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, once again, have been civilians, but that was very much the case in the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia and in Croatia, wasn't it? That is where we first saw real civilian suffering and death as a result of the wars that were taking place. You talk about mass atrocities. For those of our listeners who may not recall those wars and what they meant, let's talk for a minute about these mass atrocities that did result in war crimes indictments. Let's talk -- obviously, we know a lot about Srebrenica and Sarajevo, those are the places that have gotten the most attention.

  • 11:12:00

    GJELTENBut you focus in your book on some of the horrific things that happened in places like Banja Luka, Foca, Visegrad. Why don't you talk about -- let's start with Foca, for example, a name that's not probably familiar to many of our listeners. What happened there, Julian?

  • 11:12:15

    BORGERWell, it's a town in eastern Bosnia on the Drina and it was in an area that had been targeted by Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president at that time, to be ethnically cleansed and that was a phrase that we still -- we've inherited from Bosnia. The whole area was...

  • 11:12:33

    GJELTENA bit of a euphemism, isn't it?

  • 11:12:34

    BORGERAbsolute euphemism. It's a suggestion that there's some kind of -- purifying something that is inherently appalling and tarnishing anything it touches. And so towns like Foca were targeted to be cleansed. It was a long, very meticulously planned operation.

  • 11:12:55

    GJELTENBecause there were a lot of Muslims. There were a lot of Muslims living there and the Serbs wanted it cleansed of the Muslims.

  • 11:13:01

    BORGERAbsolutely. Yeah, the mosque would be next door to the Catholic Church, which would be next door to the Orthodox Chapel and these towns, that is not how Milosevic and the Serb Nationalists saw the future. They wanted an entirely Serb area that would be eventually part of a greater Serbia. So these people were in the way. And so in the spring of '92, Serb paramilitary started to appear in towns like Foca and started to round up the men. There were a lot of mass executions at the beginning in '92 to strike terror in the rest. And in Foca, what stands out about Foca is a lot of the women were put into concentration camps and they were systematically raped and this lead, eventually, to -- the Foca case lead eventually to rape -- systematic rape of the sort being classified as a war crime, which it hadn't been hitherto.

  • 11:14:06

    GJELTENNow, I learned a lot from your book, Julian. And I was intrigued by the story of the police chief in Foca, a man by the name of Dragan Gagovic, who, as you portray him, in the beginning of the war, was not someone who you might has suspected to be capable of the kind of crimes for which he was later charged. What happens to people in wartime situations, do you think, that make them, especially positions in -- people in positions of responsibility, that make them capable of carrying out these horrible things? What does the story of Dragan Gagovic tell you?

  • 11:14:43

    BORGERWell, it tells you that I think there are various different kinds of people who get caught up in this. I mean, one of the things we learned from Bosnia is that all around us, there are psychopaths. They came from all walks of life, who once all the rules have been relaxed and they were actually allowed to act out on their sadistic fantasies seized the opportunity. Gagovic wasn't like that. He was of another category where, initially, his instincts were honorable. He protected his Muslim colleagues in the police force. He allowed them to get away and initially he pulled out his Serb policemen out of the police station in protest of what was happening to the Muslims.

  • 11:15:32

    BORGERBut eventually, he went back and over the months and years that followed, he seems to have been corrupted by the power, by the availability of these completely submissive women who were there at his disposal and in the end, he was drawn into that, I guess, that corrupting environment that this war created.

  • 11:16:00

    GJELTENAnd yet, there were also some truly evil characters who didn't have even that, you know, that element of decency in them, people like, Milan Lukic in Visegrad. Tell us about Milan Lukic. I remember him as one of the absolute characters in Bosnia.

  • 11:16:16

    BORGERAbsolutely. He and his relatives put together this team, this hit team from the very beginning. And they went around Visegrad and the surrounding villages rounding up Muslim men and just carrying out executions. When I talked about, you know, the psychopaths around us, that is someone, you know, I very much had in mind. He seized the opportunity and carried out horrific mass executions. He would execute people on the Visegrad Bridge, very famous bridge, toss them into the river.

  • 11:17:00

    GJELTENReenacting executions that had taken place hundreds of years earlier.

  • 11:17:03

    BORGERAbsolutely. There's a long history, a bloody history to that place and it was people like him that keep this awful legacy going.

  • 11:17:14

    GJELTENWell, Milan Lukic was eventually apprehended. It's an amazing story of how he was apprehended. Dragan Gagovic, who we were talking about, the police chief in Foca was tracked down, as were every single one of the 161 identified war criminals in the Balkans. It's an amazing story. It's one, Julian, that is largely untold. We're gonna take a break now, but when we come back, I'm gonna want you to tell some of these stories of how these guys were caught, were apprehended and eventually brought to justice.

  • 11:17:49

    GJELTENJulian Borger is my guest. He's the diplomatic editor for The Guardian and the author of "The Butcher's Trail: How The Search For Balkan War Criminals Became The World's Most Successful Manhunt." I'm Tom Gjelten. We'll be back after a short break.

  • 11:20:02

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we are talking today about the hunt for the war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, 161 of them. They were all eventually tracked down. And Julian Barger -- Borger, excuse me, Julian -- Julian Borger, the diplomatic editor for The Guardian tells the story in "The Butcher's Trail: How the Search for Balkan War Criminals Became the World's Most Successful Manhunt." It's a new book that is just out.

  • 11:20:32

    GJELTENYou can join our conversation. Remember, our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Julian, I want to get to the stories of some of these individuals and how they were tracked down. We have a couple of comments that have come in on the website already. One of them, pointing out that you really can't give much credit to the United Nations for doing this. He writes, the U.N. was an abject failure from the beginning. U.N. soldiers used the brothels the Serbs set up, holding Bosnian girls as slaves. And the U.N. stood by while the Army of the Serbian Republic gathered over 8,000 Bosnians -- most but not all men and boys -- over a period of several days and massacred them. He's talking about Srebrenica.

  • 11:21:17


  • 11:21:17

    GJELTENHere's another question and this is from Joey. He writes, how did we identify every war criminal? He thinks 161 seems like a low number. But there actually were, I think you write, thousands of people who were originally on the list. And then they narrowed it down to how many they could actually indict, how many they could actually bring charges against, right?

  • 11:21:39

    BORGERWell, it was originally supposed to be that The Hague would do the top people -- a handful of top people. And then state courts in the region...

  • 11:21:47


  • 11:21:47

    BORGER...would do the rest. And it turned out in the end that it was a bit of a mix. The Hague did a lot of the top people -- including, you know, former president -- and some of the middle ranking and junior, because at the beginning that's all they could get their hands on. But the idea -- there are many more, obviously, than 161. Because 100,000 people died.

  • 11:22:07


  • 11:22:08

    BORGERThere are a lot of more war criminals out there. But the state courts are going after, albeit slowly, a lot of the others. And you'll read every day about arrests and trials going on in the region.

  • 11:22:18


  • 11:22:19

    GJELTENWell, Slobodan Milsosevic, the former President of Yugoslavia -- the man, I think, many people hold responsible for this war -- was ultimately apprehended. He actually died in custody, in prison. Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and Ratko Mladic, the military leader, were themselves apprehended. They are still awaiting trial. We're going to get to their stories a little bit later. But let's talk for a minute, Julian, about how these guys were, in fact, tracked down. Because, as you said at the beginning, it didn't seem to be a high priority for the United Nations' peacekeeping forces that were there or the NATO forces, the U.S., the British and French troops.

  • 11:22:57

    GJELTENAnd yet you describe a very determined effort by small groups, individuals, to go after these people one by one, and really some amazing stories of how they were caught. Tell us, for example, about one that caught my attention, Stevan Todorovic. How was he caught and how was he turned over to forces -- the NATO forces in Bosnia?

  • 11:23:22

    BORGERWell, originally, the American forces that were based in northern Bosnia had a list of names of the indictees in their zone.

  • 11:23:31

    GJELTENThey are called, persons indicted for war crimes, PIFWCs.

  • 11:23:34

    BORGERYeah, PIFWCs. That's right. Which, you know, many objected because it made it sound kind of Dickensian and rather frivolous. But that was the acronym and the military love acronyms. So they had five of these indictees initially targeted in their zone. And their first idea was to go after all of them, including Todorovic and this guy, Goron Jelisic, who called -- styled himself the Serb Adolf. He was a...

  • 11:24:04


  • 11:24:04

    BORGER...horrible, horrible individual, who had carried out just random executions. And so the idea was to go after all of them at the same time. What went wrong was, back then, the Pentagon wanted to do things their way. They wanted to do it in strength in numbers. So what was initially going to be arrests carried out by small (word?) of (word?) officers, turned into this big production with a huge C-17 plane arriving in Tuzla where the base was. And all these colonels came -- because you've got to remember, before 9/11, this was the only show in time for the...

  • 11:24:46


  • 11:24:46

    BORGER...special forces. It was the biggest special forces deployment anywhere. So all these people turned up. And of course the Bosnian Serbs got wind of this. And so the States' operation...

  • 11:24:57

    GJELTENNot exactly a clandestine operation.

  • 11:24:59

    BORGERNot very clandestine. And that's one of the lessons. Don't go big. If you're looking for individuals. Don't go big. Be small, agile. But that was lesson learned in Bosnia and taken to the War on Terror. So that failed. They decided then to go after Jelisic, because he was the most egregious. And they got him in a relatively straightforward operation. But the consequence was that Todorovic did a runner. He went to Serbia, which was outside NATO's area of jurisdiction.

  • 11:25:31

    GJELTENAnd who was he?

  • 11:25:32

    BORGERHe -- Stevan Todorovic was a local official in a town called Bosanski Samac...

  • 11:25:38


  • 11:25:38

    BORGER...who had -- as in all these towns, go -- rounded up Muslims and Croats, put them into detention centers and tortured them horribly and people died. And it was not the biggest but, you know, each of them, when you read about the details, is horrible.

  • 11:25:58

    GJELTENSo he runs away to Serbia in order to escape these -- the hunt.

  • 11:26:01

    BORGERThat's right. And there was -- he got help from the Serbian Mafia, who had links with Karadzic, and they hid him away in this little mountain resort where they had a casino, called Zlatibor. So the Americans did go after them. They sent the Delta Force people and they tracked him down, partly because he'd been quite loose-lipped about how he loved Zlatibor back home in Bosnia. They found him. But the rules of the game that led -- passed down by the lawyers was, you can look but you can't touch. You could find him, but you can't go and do the arrest. So the CIA...

  • 11:26:40

    GJELTENWas that because he was in Serbia?

  • 11:26:42

    BORGERBecause he was in Serbia. It was outside the jurisdiction of NATO, the NATO Force, IFOR, and then SFOR. So what they did -- what the CIA did is got a bunch of Serb -- they were no mercenaries, but they'd also spent the war in Sarajevo, so they weren't nationalists, they were Bosnians first. And they went and did it. And they went and…

  • 11:27:06

    GJELTENThey went and grabbed him.

  • 11:27:08

    BORGERThey went and grabbed him. They knocked on the door and knocked him down with a baseball bat. And then they tied him up and put him in the back of a red -- battened old red Mercedes, drove it to the border, which is there -- which is the River Drina, and floated this car over the river on a barge and then gave their U.S. contacts a call and said, your packaged ham is waiting for you in a red Mercedes in this place. And so, officially, he had been caught in Bosnia. And he arrived in The Hague officially having been apprehended by NATO troops in the course of their duty, which wasn't the case at all.

  • 11:27:50

    GJELTENNow that's a story that could make for a movie, Julian. And I'm actually surprised. This is something that happened in 1998. How is it that these stories haven't come out before?

  • 11:28:00

    BORGERBecause the people involved were from special forces and the intelligence services, so not supposed to talk about it. But also, right in the middle of this hunt, 9/11 happened. And suddenly the world's attention was focused on the War on Terror. And the people involved, like Petraeus...

  • 11:28:20

    GJELTENGeneral Petraeus.

  • 11:28:20

    BORGER...David Petraeus, yeah, and he was involved in this and immediately sent off to Afghanistan. Same with a lot of the special forces resources. And so the world's attention shifted. And so when I went back -- when they finally completed and accounted for every name on their list in 2011, I found there were all these amazing stories. That there was this vast manhunt that people didn't know about. And so, you know, it seemed like something worth writing about.

  • 11:28:50

    GJELTENSo the world's attention shifted but the hunt for these war criminals continued at pace.

  • 11:28:54

    BORGERYes. But not in the same way. It shifted in terms of the phase. The NATO phase ended and the big fish, like Karadzic, Mladic, took refuge in Serbia -- the correction suspects in Croatia, and were to a large extent sheltered by those regimes. And then, after that, it was a question of pressure on those regimes and then regime changed in Belgrade, in Zagreb, that eventually led to the big fish.

  • 11:29:31

    GJELTENSo there was cooperation between the local authorities, the local police forces and these international investigators and special operators who went after these people. It's really -- it was quite painstaking police work that led to some of these arrests. Tell us, for example, about how they were able to track down and apprehend this guy we were talking about before, Mila Lukic who was in charge in Visegrad, where he was killing people and throwing them off the bridge there. Tell us the story of how they got Mila Lukic

  • 11:30:03

    BORGEROh. He was really a victim of his own hubris. He had fallen out with the Karadzic people. And so some of the investigative reporters in Yugoslavia wrote about it. And he logged on to say, no, I'm still loyal Radovan Karadzic and Mladic. And he did so from Brazil. And so he wasn't hiding in Brazil, he was hiding in Argentina. But at least it narrowed down the search to Latin America. And then they were able, by intercepting calls made by his relatives, eventually track him down to Argentina and arrest him there. But that was very much -- that was a recurring theme that, ultimately, a lot of these people were caught through -- by being careless about security when it came to making calls.

  • 11:31:01

    GJELTENNow, one of the points you make, Julian, is that you can't give credit in this case to armies, to -- even to institutions. You give credit to individuals who were committed to this. Why don't you explain that?

  • 11:31:16

    BORGERAbsolutely. The institutions, when it came to the agencies or the armies, were on the whole very reluctant to get involved. And I think one of the most interesting stories is the first arrest on behalf of The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, ICTY, which was done in western -- sorry, eastern Croatia by a kind of pick-up team of different nations who all kind of came together and thought actually it'd be a really good idea to do one of these arrests. There was an American general, diplomat General Jacques Klein. There was American prosecutor Clint Williamson. There was a British bobby from Stratford on Avon. There was a Czech homicide detective.

  • 11:32:04

    BORGERAnd there was a Polish Special Forces Unit and it was their first time outside Poland. The Iron Curtain had just come down. The Berlin Wall, you know, had just recently come down. And all of them decided that they would fulfill this U.N. mandate to carry out an arrest without telling their governments, who mostly would have disapproved and would have stopped it. And they concocted this elaborate and successful sting operation to lure this guy across the border where he could be arrested. And they did it with the law -- the evergreen law of real estate profit.

  • 11:32:45

    GJELTENHmm. Julian Borger's new book is "The Butcher's Trail: How the Search for Balkan War Criminals Became the World's Most Successful Manhunt." I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, as you say, Julian, governments weren't always all that enthusiastic about deploying resources in this effort. It took a very determined effort by some individuals and by the chief prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal. People like Carla Del Ponte and Louise Arbour. But you wrote that when -- that Louise Arbour actually had to sort of go around governments sometimes in order to get what she wanted. She was dealing -- you said the Pentagon for a while was actually ignoring her.

  • 11:33:29

    BORGERAbsolutely. Not just the Pentagon, the British and the French, because she was going to them and saying, you have to go and do this extra job, not just the peacekeeping job.

  • 11:33:37


  • 11:33:37

    BORGERAnd it's hard to remember now, but before 9/11, the militaries were so risk-averse.

  • 11:33:45


  • 11:33:46

    BORGERThey were so averse to the idea of any casualties whatsoever. It was said, in the American military, you couldn't get an extra star if any casualties happened under your watch. And so there was an immense amount of resistance. And at one point, she was considering -- contemplating creating her own kind of SWAT team that would be answerable to her...

  • 11:34:08


  • 11:34:08

    BORGERAnd that would be a tribunal, multinational SWAT team, which was a very high-risk venture. But in the end she was saved from having to do that by political change. Tony Blair came into power in Britain. Bill Clinton won reelection, so was less worried about casualties under his watch. And eventually -- and they were spurred into action as well by this kind of improvised pick-up team arrest that opened the floodgates. So those factors came together and brought NATO in and spared her the necessity of building her own team.

  • 11:34:43

    GJELTENAnd she kept some of these indictments secret -- secret even from her own governments, from the governments with which she was allied. You, I think that the Austrian government, for example, invited -- what was his name -- Talic, Momir Talic to come to Vienna for a meeting, without knowing that he was actually indicted. And once he got there for the meeting, he was snatched. That was a pretty brazen move on her part not to even inform the Austrian government that that guy they had invited was about to be arrested.

  • 11:35:12

    BORGERYeah. The Austrians were quite cross and said, why didn't you tell us? And she said, well, if we told you, you wouldn't have allowed him in the country in the first place. So, you know -- but by then the Tribunal had been set up in '93 and by '97 they had very few people in its cells. So there was -- that needed creativity, it needed improvisation.

  • 11:35:32

    GJELTENI'm going to go to the calls now. Remember, our phone number is 1-800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments for Julian Borger and his story of the Balkan war criminal hunt. First, we'll go to Perry, who's on the line from Brunswick, Md. Hello, Perry. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:35:50

    PERRYGood morning, Tom. Thanks for taking my call. And, Julian, thanks for your fascinating book.

  • 11:35:54

    BORGERThank you.

  • 11:35:54

    PERRYWhat a great compilation of stories. It must have taken a good deal of digging to get all this out. My question has to do with the -- I guess the goal, their goal was to create a religiously pure state, as I understand it. And I'm wondering how that clearly isn't criminal. At least it doesn't seem to be criminal to me. But -- although, culturally, we don't accept that here. But -- so the crime was the murder and the rape and the -- how they went about assuring that the -- criminal -- they would -- the religious purity of the state. I'm having trouble with these ideas because the concepts are so repugnant.

  • 11:36:35

    GJELTENWhat is it, specifically, that they were -- what were the crimes that they were guilty of?

  • 11:36:40

    BORGERThere was a whole range. There were crimes against humanity in terms of driving people out, burning their homes, killing them, rape, you name it, all in the name of creating this atmosphere of terror that would force the, in this case, of the Republic of Serbs -- the non-Serbs to leave. And we've got to remember, of course, that Croatia and Franjo Tudjman wanted to do the same thing in western Bosnia, create a greater Croatia there. So it was ethnic cleansing through appalling crimes.

  • 11:37:14

    GJELTENIt was the actions that were undertaken in order to carry out this policy of ethnic cleansing, not necessarily the ideology behind ethnic cleansing itself, I think, was Perry's point. Thank you for that call, Perry. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, more stories from the Balkan manhunt. I'm Tom Gjelten. Keep tuned.

  • 11:40:01

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today. And my guest is Julian Borger. He's the diplomatic editor for the Guardian Newspaper in London. And he's the author of a new book "The Butcher's Trail: How The Search For Balkan War Criminals Became The World's Most Successful Manhunt." So, Julian, you were mentioning earlier how reluctant a lot of the outside forces, whether it's UN peacekeepers or British troops or American troops or French troops were to go after, to take on this additional responsibility of go after war criminals who were moving around quite freely in Bosnia.

  • 11:40:38

    GJELTENWe actually have a comment here from a Ranger. He doesn't give his name. But he was a member of a surveillance unit in the Military Intelligence Brigade based in Germany who was assigned to patrol in Eastern Bosnia. He says, "We spent a lot of time patrolling an area around the safe haven of Srebrenica where men and boys had been -- thousands had been machine gunned and buried in place."

  • 11:41:07

    GJELTEN"And many," he says, "were left to rot above the ground. You could see spent bullet shell casings. You could see bones. And yet," he says, "whether it's the CIA, the NATO units, the French, none of them had the will to go in arrest and these people. The ultimate tragedy," he writes, "is that the UN and NATO let the Bosnian Serb Army and Paramilitary thugs from Belgrade get away with systematic murder, instead of going in in 1992 or 1993." And he points out that what eventually brought the war to an end was, in fact, a military intervention.

  • 11:41:43

    GJELTENNow, you mentioned that at the very beginning of the program, that this is one of the lessons that early intervention can be very effective, and belated intervention can be very costly.

  • 11:41:54

    BORGERAbsolutely. Yes. If you think that enforcing international law is expensive, try impunity, and the results of impunity we are seeing, again, and we saw them in the Balkans, we saw them now in Syria, Iraq. Absolutely right. But it is hard. I mean, it'd be wrong to suggest, oh, it's just easy, just when you see some atrocities, go in quick. Every intervention is a really hard call. And anyone who says these things are easy to decide doesn't understand the scale of the problem, because when do you know when you're not going to make the issue -- make it worse.

  • 11:42:35


  • 11:42:36

    BORGERLook at Libya, that was a humanitarian intervention to save the people in Bengasi. The complications afterwards are a major, major headache.

  • 11:42:46

    GJELTENWe're going to go back to the phones in a minute, but before we do that, Julian, we have to talk a little bit more about the three big fish from the war in former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Really the commanders of everything that happened in terms of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia and in Croatia. And yet they were not apprehended by outside forces. It took to the great credit of the government of Serbia. In each of these three cases, you had Serbian authorities who were largely responsible for bringing these three men to justice.

  • 11:43:28

    BORGERThat's absolutely right. I mean, under huge pressure from the West. I mean, there was a lot of U.S. money...

  • 11:43:32

    GJELTENSerbia wanted to join the European Union, for example.

  • 11:43:34

    BORGERYes. I mean, most immediately a lot of American aid was made contingent on it. And a lot of the arrests were just in time for deadlines for American aid. But there was a major shift in Serbian politics, support Boris Tadic into office. And that's when you saw the big change, ultimately the big fish were delivered by political change inside the region.

  • 11:43:59

    GJELTENLet's go now to Phil who's on the line from Greenbelt, Md. Hello, Phil, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:44:05

    PHILHi, thank you for taking my call. My question is just about kind of going forward, if there's any concerns about future tensions or even potential conflict again within Bosnia and Herzegovina? Because the reason I ask is because I noticed very -- it was very striking how -- it's ten years ago now, but around that time I was in Bosnia, and I noticed in the Republic of Srpska part of Bosnia, the federation, that I saw nothing but -- I saw a lot of Serbian flags, you know, hung up in front of houses and whatnot.

  • 11:44:36

    PHILAnd I never saw any Bosnian flags which made me wonder, you know, how much, you know, I mean, granted that doesn't necessarily mean that there's going to be tensions again, but I'm wondering if, you know, how much unity is there really in the country, and if there's not, what could that mean going forward in terms of potential tensions again? Do you see there being that potential again in the future?

  • 11:44:55

    GJELTENThanks for that, Phil.

  • 11:44:57

    BORGERWell, you're absolutely right. The country remains divided. The peace treaty that ended the war is a major constraint on developing the peace and reuniting the country, because it split the country along ethnic lines into two. And the Bosnia Serbs' leadership have refused to play along and act as a united state. And so that has made it very difficult for Bosnia to move forward. That's created awful economic problems. It's got the highest -- by the official figures, highest youth unemployment in the world. And this is just building up problems for the future.

  • 11:45:36

    BORGERWill there be another war? I don't think so, not on the same scale, but I think it is a big concern for Europe that here you have a Muslim population who have been treated in an appalling manner. Denial is coming back. A state of denial is coming back among the Serbs. There are no prospects. And ISIS or ISIL is actively going out and trying to recruit them, putting out very high production videos appealing to their sense of Muslim identity. This is a big problem, and Bosnia is a problem that has been allowed to fester.

  • 11:46:18

    GJELTENSo now the conflict in the former Yugoslavia is being linked to this broader problem. And, in fact, you and I both know that Bosnia Muslims historically were among the most secular Muslim populations on the plant. I mean, you saw very few women covered. You saw a lot of drinking on the part of men and women both. And yet the fact of being targeted for their Muslim-ness can be a radicalizing experience.

  • 11:46:45

    BORGERAbsolutely. And it is still incredible. You go back there, and after everything they've been through, there isn't much sign of extremism, very little sign of fundamentalism. You still see very few head scarves on the streets of Sarajevo. They're incredibly resilient. The secular nature and the moderate nature of Bosnian Islam is very deep and has its roots in Sufi and the history of the country. But still it is a major concern.

  • 11:47:15

    GJELTENMm-hmm. When were you last there?

  • 11:47:17

    BORGERLast year.

  • 11:47:18

    GJELTENJust last year.

  • 11:47:19


  • 11:47:19

    GJELTENSo we talked about Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic who are now at the Hague. They are being pried. We're in the middle of their trials. Both of them have tried to sort of appeal to that Serb nationalism. Did you get a sense when you were back there that either Karadzic or Mladic are still seen as heroes among their people?

  • 11:47:43

    BORGERYes, probably more so Mladic. You see his picture here and there. I think the reality is they are yesterday's men, and when they were picked up, there were some protests. But, you know, it wasn't as if all of Serb-dom was in flames as some had predicted.

  • 11:47:59


  • 11:47:59

    BORGERI think they are identified as the people who took the region into hell. But there is the return of denial or this denial about the extent of what happened and there was a particular problem with Serb nationalism has a hold there. And so there isn't a coming to terms with it. And for that reason, nationalism, the same kind of nationalism that led to the war is still a strong force there.

  • 11:48:31

    GJELTENStill a potent force. And what's the latest with the trials of Radovan Karadzic as the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs and Ratko Mladic as the military leader?

  • 11:48:40

    BORGERKaradzic's verdict is expected in a few weeks, maybe next month.

  • 11:48:44


  • 11:48:45

    BORGERAnd Mladic's trial is still going on, but in the latter stages.

  • 11:48:49

    GJELTENBoth of them still defiant, right?

  • 11:48:51

    BORGERAbsolutely. You will never see any remorse from either of them.

  • 11:48:55

    GJELTENLet's go now to Nino who's on the phone from Chapel Hill, N.C. Hello, Nino. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:49:03

    NINOHi, Tom. Hi, Julian. I'm Croatian American, but I grew up in the city of Vukovar in Eastern Croatia that was completely destroyed in the war. I happened to visit two weeks ago, and I sat at the same table with one of my friends who looted my house after it was hit with two mortar shells. That was quite an experience. No apologies, just it happened. And those were ordinary people. I mean, Karadzic and Mladic were leaders, but it's really disappointing what happened with ordinary people who were absolutely atrocious to each other.

  • 11:49:43

    GJELTENDid you forgive this guy?

  • 11:49:46

    NINOI moved on and it was sad.

  • 11:49:52


  • 11:49:53

    NINOI can explain it just as sad.

  • 11:49:56

    GJELTENMm-hmm. Well, I think that's one of the sad stories, isn't it, Julian, that in many cases people who had been friends, who had been neighbors proved themselves capable of acting against people they'd known for years and years.

  • 11:50:10

    BORGERYes. And the story he told is...

  • 11:50:14

    GJELTENIt's one you hear a lot, isn't it?

  • 11:50:15

    BORGERHear a lot. And if you go back to Srebrenica, a lot of the Muslims have gone back and outwardly they live side-by-side with the Serb neighbors and they get along, but they also -- to me, the condition for getting along is not to talk about what happened. To me that would be agony if you lost your relatives, you saw people being -- you know, they're executed, they're in mass graves everywhere, and you're not allowed to talk about it.

  • 11:50:39

    GJELTENNow, one of the arguments for war crimes trials is that it takes away the collective responsibility of an entire people. So you don't say that the Serbs as a whole were responsible for this war. You say individual people were responsible for specific crimes. That's a really important principle, isn't it, in reconciliation and peacemaking?

  • 11:51:00

    BORGERAbsolutely. And if you talk to the Serb politicians who decided they were going to cooperate, people like Boris Tadic and his advisor, Mickey Rakic (sp?), that was the argument they made. We have to cooperate because we have to come to terms with some of the people among us did these things, and only then will we come to terms with the fact that crimes were done, but we are not all responsible. We have the possibility of redemption.

  • 11:51:32

    GJELTENJulian Borger, the author of "The Butcher's Trail." I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Nemomia. Is that right, Nemomia? Did I get that right? I don't know if it's even spelled correctly.

  • 11:51:44

    NEMOMIAYeah, it's close enough.

  • 11:51:48

    GJELTENWelcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:51:50

    NEMOMIAThank you so much, Tom. I had a question for Julian. I'm actually -- I was actually born in Sarajevo, and I was really young and then me and my mom, we moved as refugees and we lived in Serbia for about 15 years. But at the end of the -- at the beginning of the show, Julian said that he found Hague to be a success. But when in fact when you go to Bosnia and Serbia, many of the people disagree. In fact, as he mentioned, many people stay on trial for years and years and nothing happens. So I was just wondering how he can call it a success when people in the region do not find it a success.

  • 11:52:27

    GJELTENWell, Nemomia, explain why people don't see it as a success. Why do some people think that it has not worked out? What is the reason?

  • 11:52:33

    NEMOMIAWell, for example, for the Serbian population, it's basically because they feel as if most of the people's target is actually Serbians. And for the Bosnian Muslim population is because even those who are in Hague, they stay on trial for so many, many years. Let's take, for example, (word?) , for example, he has been on trial for years and years.

  • 11:52:53

    GJELTENHe's a radical nationalist, yeah.

  • 11:52:55

    NEMOMIAYes. And, you know, there was -- nothing happened. In fact, he was back in Serbia. And just, you know, if you talk to both sides, they actually agree that, you know, Hague was just a huge mistake and that it hasn't done anything. But people in the West, you know, they talk about it, how it was like a huge success.

  • 11:53:13

    GJELTENYeah. Well, that's interesting. What he's saying, Julian, is that different groups have, for their own reasons, concluded that the war crimes tribunal was not successful. Serbs say it's unfairly targeted Serbs. Too many of the people indicted were Serbs. Bosnian Muslims say that even though these people were arrested, that doesn't necessarily end the story.

  • 11:53:33

    BORGERAbsolutely. I mean, when I talk about the success, I talk about the success of the manhunt.

  • 11:53:37

    GJELTENOf the manhunt.

  • 11:53:37

    BORGERNot necessarily of the judicial process, which obviously a lot of people have issues with when there are acquittals or convictions that they don't agree with as a separate thing. It was a job of these sort of international police force to go and get these people, fugitives to get justice, so that they can stand trial. And it's true that if you go, for example, and talk to Serbs, generally they will say that Serbs have been unfairly targeted.

  • 11:54:06

    BORGERAnd it's true that a lot of crimes against Serbs have gone unpunished, but it is also true of crimes against Bosnians and against Croats, to the extent I found there was a discrimination, it is a process that discriminates against the victim in favor of the perpetrator, because you will never be able to do full justice for the scale of the killing that took place. And so many murders will forever go unpunished.

  • 11:54:40

    GJELTENTo Nemomia's point about the Serb complaint about the process, actually Jim sent in a question from Kent, Ohio wondering if you know the percentage of war crimes that were contributed by each national group.

  • 11:54:53

    BORGERWell, 80 percent of the civilian casualties in Bosnia were Bosniak. So they were the overwhelming victims, both from...

  • 11:55:02

    GJELTENYou say Bosniak as opposed to Serbs and Croats.

  • 11:55:05

    BORGERYeah, Bosniak is Bosnian Muslim.

  • 11:55:06


  • 11:55:07

    BORGERIt's the modern term. So the overwhelming victims were on the Bosniak side, but they were of course Serb and Croat victims. And when I did the numbers, it more or less, in terms of the indictees, when you look at acquittals and convictions, it's a slightly different story, but all in all, they reflected the scale of the killings carried out by each side. I mean, there are Croats, there are Bosniaks, there are Kosovars who have gone on trial. There have been acquittals in those cases, but there've also been very controversial acquittals of Serbian officials too.

  • 11:55:51

    GJELTENI noticed in your book that Rasim Delic is one of the people at the Hague. Now, I remember from covering the war that Rasim Delic was a very important general in the Bosnian Army. So there certainly are high ranking Bosnian Muslim soldiers, commanders who are in prison as well.

  • 11:56:05

    BORGERThat's right. Now, there is a separate issue in Kosovo where terrible crimes were carried out against Serbs after the Kosovo war, but that fell out of the remit of the Hague tribunal, but a new tribunal is in the works to address those crimes that happened after the war in Kosovo against Serb civilians.

  • 11:56:32

    GJELTENWell, we've been talking here this hour about a very successful manhunt. Every single person who was indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia was ultimately tracked down. They're either standing on trial. Some of them died while in custody or in the process of being arrested. Some were later acquitted, but they were all tracked down. We certainly are not able to say that about some of the war criminals who have been involved in other wars around the world, but it's a fascinating story. My guest has been Julian Borger. He's the author of "The Butcher's Trail: How The Search For Balkan War Criminals Became The World's Most Successful Manhunt." Julian, thanks so much for coming in.

  • 11:57:12

    BORGERThank you.

  • 11:57:13

    GJELTENAnd I'm Tom Gjelten. Thanks to our callers. Thanks for listening. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

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