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US, Bosnia catch up on war criminal prosecutions

Marko Boskic has been extradited to Bosnia to face charges.

In the United States, a country foreign-born war criminals and human rights abusers have traditionally come to because of its large immigrant populations and its lax war crimes laws, there is a newfound commitment to finding and prosecuting foreign human rights abusers and killers. Much of this effort is headed up by two units within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which are devoted to finding, prosecuting and deporting foreign-born war criminals living in the United States. (There are also new war crimes laws passed by Congress in recent years to give prosecutors more tools in court.)

In January, for example, ICE deported 45-year-old former Milwaukee resident Nedjo Ikonic to Bosnia, where he is now facing charges of genocide for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. In November 2008 the Bosnian war crimes court sentenced former Phoenix resident Mladen Blagojevic to seven years in prison for his role in the massacre.

Men who have done evil are sometimes disconcertingly likeable. I interviewed Blagojevic on his front porch in 2006 after his arrest and before he was flown in handcuffs from the United States. He was polite, pleasant and thoughtful. He was a respected soccer referee and clearly a devoted father to his then 8-year-old son, who also came to the door. “I came for my son,” Blagojevic explained to me as he blew cigarette smoke into the warm night air. “To give him future.”

There is little evidence to suggest that Boskic has Blagojevic’s charm. In 1996, Boston Globe reporter Elizabeth Neuffer interviewed Boskic in a cafe in the Bosnian town of Bjieljina. Neuffer described the encounter in her book published in 2001, two years before she died in an accident in Iraq. “Like any city tough,” she wrote, “his hands are jammed into his pants pockets and his muscular shoulders strain at the seams of his cheap black leather jacket. But when he looks at me, his eyes are as empty of expression as pure glass.”

Neuffer asked Boskic why he had taken part in the mass executions. “Would you like to get whacked?” Boskic asked her. “I want you to forget this street and this restaurant. It doesn’t exist any more for you. Don’t come looking for me any more. I cannot guarantee the safety of your lives.”