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Karadzic Appears in Court, Refuses to Enter Plea

BY Admin  July 31, 2008 at 5:20 PM EDT

Radovan Karadzic stands at The Hauge; AP photo

Shorn of the long white hair and bushy beard that disguised him as an alternative medicine guru until his capture last week, Karadzic was again recognizable as one of the top figures of the Bosnian war, only somewhat thinner and older. He told presiding judge Alphons Orie he would defend himself against charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

“You are Radovan Karadzic, aren’t you?” the judge asked. “Yes, I am,” Karadzic answered.

The judge noted that Karadzic was alone. Smiling, he replied: “I have an invisible adviser but I have decided to represent myself.”

The behavior of Karadzic — a flamboyant figure while in power — will offer clues to how he will conduct himself during his forthcoming trial, and whether judges can expect a repeat of the forceful display by Slobodan Milosevic in the same courtroom, Reuters reported.

“Until the final moments — when Karadzic attempted to introduce the first of what will surely be many political salvos — this morning’s proceedings were striking for the contrast between the sober civility of the court process and the extraordinarily horrific quality of the charges the presiding judge summarized,” American University law professor Diane Orentlicher told the Online NewsHour.

“Despite the legalisms, though, Karadzic’s first hour in court was quietly powerful and dramatic,” Orentlicher explained. “Here was a man who, along with Ratko Mladic, thousands of victims have associated with extraordinary evil and seemingly endless impunity at long last gazing at a judge from the dock. This won’t erase the 13 years that victims waited for justice, but I imagine it was a powerful moment for many, many survivors.”

The bulk of the charges against Karadzic focus on his role in the years-long siege of Sarajevo that left 10,000 dead, and the July 1995 massacre of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the United Nations-protected safe area of Srebrenica. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.

His Belgrade-based lawyer has said Karadzic plans to ask for the maximum of 30 days before entering his plea to the charges. Judge Orie scheduled a hearing on Aug. 29 at which Karadzic must enter pleas. If he does not, the court will enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Karadzic said his July 21 arrest on a Belgrade bus was illegal. “In Belgrade I was arrested irregularly, I was held kidnapped for three days… I had no right to a telephone call or even an SMS,” he said in court, according to Reuters.

Karadzic identified himself by stating his name, date and place of birth. He also gave his most recent address as his family home in Pale, Bosnia, but also gave the address of the apartment in Belgrade where he was living under an assumed name before his arrest.

When Orie asked him if his family knew where he was being held, Karadzic replied “I do not believe there is anyone who does not know that I am in the detention unit.”

Karadzic also slammed former U.S. Bosnian peace mediator Richard Holbrooke, saying: “If Holbrooke wants my death and regrets there is no death sentence at this court, I want to know if his arm is long enough to reach me here.”

Holbrooke, architect of the peace deal which ended the Bosnian war, did not immediately comment.

Karadzic confirmed he could follow the English-language proceedings properly via translation delivered through the headphones, the Guardian reported.

Karadzic smiled at times during the hearing and listened intently as Orie read a summary of the indictment. Prosecutors allege Karadzic masterminded atrocities, including the Srebrenica massacre and siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

“I am not interested in having someone else read the indictment to me,” he said. “I would rather receive the new indictment that has been announced and have sufficient time to study it and then have my initial appearance for that and enter my plea.”

Prosecutor Serge Brammertz confirmed that he plans to amend the indictment but offered no further details. Convicting him of genocide will be difficult because it requires proof of a deliberate intention to wipe out a specific ethnic group, in whole or in part.

As Karadzic was extradited to the tribunal’s detention unit in The Hague on Wednesday, Brammertz warned that the trial might not start for months.

“It will be a complex trial,” he said. “In order to prove these serious crimes, the prosecution will have to present a significant amount of evidence including the testimony of many witnesses.”

Orentlicher, who is also co-director of the American University’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, said Brammertz hopes to apply lessons from the Milosevic trial to Karadzic’s prosecution.

“The Milosevic prosecution has been faulted in part because the indictment was thought to be too ambitious, contributing to the trial’s marathon length,” she said in a phone interview. “Eight years ago, Serge Brammertz’s predecessor streamlined the original Karadzic indictments, and now Brammertz is considering whether the indictment can be stripped down even more. Brammertz also wants to make sure that the charges reflect recent case law from the tribunal, which has clarified the legal building blocks of criminal responsibility over the years.”

Karadzic’s brother was quoted Thursday as saying that Karadzic had prepared extensively for his defense while in hiding, adding that authorities who captured the former leader had confiscated his laptop and more than 50 discs containing documents prepared for his defense.

“He was well-prepared for his possible arrest and thinks everything will end well,” Luka Karadzic told the Russian daily Izvestia.