Kitty Felde |

Pressing Richard Holbrooke

In the midst of the plaudits and praise for Richard Holbrooke, I'll remember him for letting war criminals off the hook.

I met Holbrooke only once.  I'd been covering the early days at the war crimes trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  Those in the prison at Scheveningen were the "little fish" - thuggish prison guards and low level soldiers like Drazen Erdemovic who confessed to killing "no more than 70" of the 12 hundred killed at a farm near Srebrenica.  

But what about the generals and politicians who ordered the slaughter of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica?  

They were walking free, their arrest was not part of the peace agreement hammered out by Holbrooke at Dayton.  

Holbrooke was speaking at a seminar at Voice of America during one of my visits to Washington in the late 1990's.  Afterwards, in the hallways of the VOA, I pressed him on the subject of the deal.  Why was Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic not arrested?  (He was, but not until 2001)  What about General Ratko Mladic?  (still at large)  Was peace possible without justice?

I remember Holbrooke brushing me aside, dismissing my questions, saying something like "it's complicated, you wouldn't understand."

I still don't.

Diplomacy is difficult.  And as we've seen in the cables in Wikileaks, often two faced.  I'm glad as a reporter I'm asking the questions instead of playing the part of a diplomat having to answer them.