Historian Backs Karadzic's Immunity Claim

A new book backs former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic's claim that was promised immunity by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke if he stepped down from politics. Purdue University professor Charles Ingrao, co-editor of the book Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative, says the offer was made because Western officials knew that Karadzic would not be be arrested.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To a very different courtroom now. In the case of Radovan Karadzic, the former president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, he has been charged with war crimes committed during the Bosnian War, and he'll stand trial in The Hague later this year. Karadzic, in his defense, says that he was promised immunity in 1996 if he stepped down from politics, which he did.

And that promise, he insists, came from the man who a year before had brokered the deal that ended the Bosnian War, Richard Holbrooke, who was then a senior official in the State Department under President Clinton.

Mr. Holbrooke denies this claim. But now, a new book out of Purdue University seems to add some more evidence to Karadzic's side of the story. Charles Ingrao is professor of history at Purdue and co-editor of the book "Confronting The Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative." Welcome to the program, Dr. Ingrao.

Dr. CHARLES INGRAO (Professor of History, Purdue University): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: You cite sources who are two State Department officials that had, as you describe it, intimate knowledge of Holbrooke's activities. What did they say exactly?

Dr. INGRAO: Well, what they say - and let me begin by saying that this is really a story not about Richard Holbrooke. This is a story about the much greater lack of political will in Washington, and in London and Paris, to apprehend war criminals. What they are saying is that Richard Holbrooke, by the time he is brought onto the scene, it is already a fait accompli, that Karadzic and other war criminals will not be arrested. He knows that. Karadzic does not.

And what they are saying is that in order to get Karadzic out of Bosnian Serb politics, which threatened to doom any possibility of rebuilding Bosnia, he was instructed to get Radovan Karadzic out of the government and to do whatever was necessary. And a certain amount of creative diplomacy was perhaps called for.

SIEGEL: Now, asked for a comment, Mr. Holbrooke repeated his denial in a written statement. No one in the U.S. government, he said, ever promised anything nor made a deal of any sort with Karadzic.

Dr. INGRAO: I think we have to understand that Mr. Holbrooke and his colleagues have a particular mission. And that mission includes not embarrassing the United States. If he is going to carry out the mission of representing the United States in a constructive way and not further undermining relations with the Bosniaks, who were, of course, the victims at Srebrenica and who most wanted Karadzic arrested, that he is under some obligation not to reveal these inconvenient facts.

SIEGEL: Now, was he actually ever in a position to offer a firm guarantee of immunity to Radovan Karadzic?

Dr. INGRAO: No. The United States government - even had he been acting under explicit orders - could not offer him immunity. This is something that the court has, on multiple occasions shown, is simply not operative. And they are not interested in this particular angle that Karadzic has assumed.

SIEGEL: Professor Ingrao, reading about this, I can't help but wonder, which is better, to offer immunity to some global villain, if that might help put an end to a war, or say - as we've seen recently in Sudan related to Darfur - issue an arrest warrant that no one is actually able or willing to serve, and it may actually exacerbate the plight of the victims in the short term?

Dr. INGRAO: Well, both have been done here. Of course, he was indicted twice. But at the same time, it was well-known within the State Department, which tried to get the military to go after the war criminals, that he would not be arrested. So, in a sense, what Holbrooke was doing, and why he is really not central to the story, is he was making a promise that was really not operative because they already knew, after trying and failing to get the Pentagon to arrest the criminals, that it was simply was not going to happen.

SIEGEL: Dr. Ingrao, when you say that your sources for this didn't want to go on the record by name because of concerns about their work, you seem to be - you sound like a journalist, not like a historian there. This is a kind of sourcing that people in my line of work are accustomed to, but wouldn't we expect of you some documents, something a little bit harder than those accounts?

Dr. INGRAO: Well, here we face a dilemma, because in dealing with recent history, you confront the situation where there are individuals who're willing to talk but only if they are kept anonymous.

We will be depositing the names of all eight of our confidential sources in a repository so that we are committing ourselves, that we are accountable for what we have written.

SIEGEL: Dr. Ingrao, thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. INGRAO: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Professor Charles Ingrao, a Purdue historian and co-editor, along with Thomas Emmert, the book, "Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative."

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