AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, in his first legal brief to the U.N. war crimes tribunal published on Friday, claimed he is the victim of a U.S.-inspired media witch hunt that will prevent him from getting a fair trial.
He declined to plead to the 11 charges against him, and another hearing was scheduled for Aug. 29 when he will again be asked to enter a plea. If he again refuses, the judge will enter not-guilty pleas on his behalf.
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In court Thursday, Karadzic tried to protest what he called "numerous irregularities" leading to his arrest. Judge Alphons Orie cut him short, saying the plea hearing was inappropriate for such remarks.
Orie suggested that Karadzic, who has asked to act as his own attorney, submit his statement as a brief to the court after the hearing.
In the four-page document published on the tribunal's Web site Friday, Karadzic said he expected his case to be subjected to a "lynch atmosphere in the media and the public," fueled by the United States, which he claimed was out to kill him.
"It is now unimaginable to many people that this court could acquit me," Karadzic wrote. "I believe that this fact seriously jeopardizes the trial itself."
Karadzic outlined a tale of intrigue that began in 1996 when, he said, U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke offered him a deal: If Karadzic quit as president of the Bosnian Serb republic and disappeared, the U.S. would ensure "that I will not be tried before this tribunal."
But Karadzic said the United States reneged and was intent on silencing him.
He said he still feared for his life, even in the U.N. detention center where he will stay for the duration of his trial. "I do not know how long the arm of Mr. Holbrooke is ... or whether that arm can reach me here," he wrote.
Holbrooke denied Karadzic's account in an interview with Associated Press Television on Thursday.
"He's one of the greatest mass murderers of the world and he's putting this out in order to defend himself. It's an invented story and no one ought to believe it," Holbrooke said.
"What I said was, 'If anyone deserves the death penalty, it's Karadzic and Mladic,' " Holbrooke said, referring to Karadzic's top military commander Ratko Mladic, who is still a fugitive. "That was my specific reference and if Karadzic is in The Hague and is still scared that I have an arm that long, I guess I should treat it in a backhanded way as a compliment."
Karadzic's appearance in court was the first time he had been seen by the public without his disguise since he went into hiding more than a decade ago.
In recent months he had been living under a false identity in Belgrade, disguised with a bushy white beard, long hair and thick-rimmed glasses, and practicing alternative therapies.
On Thursday, he appeared clean-shaven with a trim haircut and a business suit.
In his filing, Karadzic claimed he was kidnapped by unidentified civilians while riding a bus and was held captive for three days before being turned over July 21 to Serb authorities, who then announced the arrest.
During his confinement, he said he was not allowed to make telephone calls or send text messages. "For those 74 hours I did not exist."
More than 100,000 people were killed in the 1992-95 Bosnian war begun by the Bosnian Serbs in an effort to drive out other ethnic groups and integrate the area into a "Greater Serbia."
Karadzic is charged with genocide for the murder of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the U.N.-controlled zone of Srebrenica in 1995 and complicity in genocide for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, when 10,000 civilians died.
In an indication of his line of defense, Karadzic wrote in his brief that the media campaign against him began in the Muslim press even before the conflict broke out. The media "proclaimed me a war criminal at a time when the only victims were Serbs."