Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

How NOT to Win Over Bernie Bros

Bernie Bros and others who support and have supported Bernie Sanders are good people. They are not miscreant children so please do not lecture or condescend to them. They have good values just as Bernie does, just as you do. They don’t want a totalitarian state or a communist government. They want our communities to be healthy, educated, comfortably housed, well-fed, gainfully employed with a livable wage, and safe. That includes addressing the global warming and Covid-19 emergencies, prioritizing life on this planet over corporate profits.

If Joe Biden becomes the Democratic candidate for president and your highest priority is defeating Trump, bullying and criticizing Bernie supporters will not get them to the polls. How about recognizing their concerns as legitimate and having a discussion with them (and Bernie) about which ones should be included in the Democratic platform? How about valuing them (and their votes) and INVITING them to support Biden? Some pundits believe we cannot defeat Trump without courting disaffected Republicans and moderates, at the same time they disparage Bernie supporters as leftwing extremists. Does this make sense? Is this any way to unify opposition to Trump after a bruising primary?

I am not a Democratic Socialist, but I share many of their values. I supported Elizabeth Warren and am saddened on many levels that so few saw her brilliance, vision, compassion, and leadership. Now, in my seventies, I have spent nearly all my adult life voting AGAINST a candidate (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Robert Dole, George Bush). Only twice did I enthusiastically vote FOR a candidate (Barack Obama despite disagreeing with some of his policies).

If Joe Biden is the Democratic candidate, I will once more vote AGAINST the Republican. I worry about Biden’s lack of courage and vision, evidenced in his leadership in passing the 1996 Crime Bill, a major factor in mass incarceration, and welfare “reform” that significantly increased the number of Americans living in poverty, as well as his opposition to busing to implement Brown v. Board of Education. I worry about his belief in compromise and bipartisanship given today’s Republican Part. Consider how it worked for Obama. I am not convinced he is the best candidate to defeat Trump, as I imagine him on a debate stage with this unscrupulous bully and liar. Will he be able to stand up to him? Still, I will vote AGAINST Trump.

Please, Biden supporters, have some respect for those who have a different view, but also want to hold onto and improve our democracy. ASK (politely). Don’t TELL.


            For a while now, I have been worrying about the characterization of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as extremists, likening them to extremists on the Right – who promote white supremacy and oppose anything considered “politically correct.” We Leftists or Liberals are warned that, if we support Warren’s and Sander’s policies, we’ll be responsible for Trump’s reelection. We need to be more centrist, we’re told. We need to support those who favor compromise with Republicans, aka “working across the aisle.” This, despite the fact that Republicans are not interested, as they’ve so blatantly shown over the last 11 years.

            On November 16, 2019, Roger Cohen wrote an op ed in The New York Times relating an interview he had with “Chuck Hardwick, lifelong Republican, former Pfizer executive, now retired in Florida, voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but not without misgivings.” Hardwick isn’t sure who will get his vote in 2020. “He admires the president’s energy, his courage in taking on difficult issues like China ‘stealing its way to prosperity,’ his corporate tax cuts, and what he sees as a revitalizing impact on American ambition.” But he’d fire Trump if he was a corporate officer because of his inability to manage people. Hardwick is looking to the Democrats. He likes Michael Bloomberg (a former Republican), but he might be okay with Joe Biden. Cohen, who knows the Republicans in Congress will never vote to impeach Trump no matter how damning the evidence, tells us “he will never be dislodged the conventional way.” And advises, “Think Hardwick.” In other words, let disgruntled Republicans determine the Democratic nominee and, by extension, the next President.

            On November 17, the NYT published an Op Ed by N. Gregory Mankiw, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers for George W. Bush, and later, economic advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. Mankiw has relinquished his Republican Party membership and become an Independent because of Trump’s trade wars, huge budget deficit, attacks on the Federal Reserve, denial of climate change, and attacks on U.S. allies – AND because, as an Independent in Massachusetts, he can vote in the Democratic primary. So, who will he vote for? Not Elizabeth Warren (Senator from his home state) or Bernie Sanders. They “are proposing to move the country too far in the direction of state control of the economy,” which “will tempt those in the center and center right to hold their noses and vote for Mr. Trump’s reelection.”

            Mankiw will vote for the Democrat who supports a return to Free Trade, a market-based approach to climate change, incremental healthcare reform (i.e. not “medicare for all”), and doesn’t demonize the wealthy. In the past, that would have been a Republican agenda. It is now creeping into the Democratic Party and will influence who their presidential candidate will be. In other words, Republicans are diluting the progressive policies of the Democratic Party. The Party is becoming more Republican as Republicans look to it as an alternative to Trumpism.

            Warren and Sanders are no more moving the Democratic Party to Socialism than Franklin Roosevelt did. Their platforms favor community, where all can reach their fullest potential, improving society as a whole, over a self-aggrandizing individualism, where the wealthy believe they earned every penny solely through their own efforts, ignoring the hard work of those (underpaid) workers who made it possible for their businesses to succeed. Mankiw does not want to share because he apparently believes that his business success has already raised living standards and contributed to higher productivity – which sounds like the debunked trickle down theory that Republicans have been promoting for decades. So, he should not pay higher taxes, and, as he says, the proposed wealth tax won’t be enough to raise living standards anyway. (I can’t help wondering whether he uses loopholes available to the rich to significantly reduce or erase his tax contribution so those who might also be entrepreneurs could afford an education and contribute to society.)

            First, the pundits warned that the Democrats needed to court white working class men who abandoned the Party to vote for Trump, i.e. dump the ‘radical’ Left and support centrists. Now, we’re told we need to support centrists (who sound a lot like Republicans) because the rich feel demonized and Republicans won’t vote for Leftist “extremists.”

            Trump is driving Republicans toward the Democratic Party. With their influence, are we in danger of turning the Democratic Party into what was once the Republican Party?




A conundrum: Many pundits and media assert that only a “moderate” Democrat can beat Trump. That apparently means they expect that all those Left of Moderate will compromise and vote for the Moderate, but that the Moderates won’t compromise and vote for someone considered more Left. Who is moderate here? Who is willing to compromise in order to defeat Trump? Why are so-called “Moderates” so inflexible?

I’m Running for President!

Well, why not? Everyone else is. And I could certainly do a better job (even with my failing memory) than the current holder of the office, who has no memory at all of what he’s said from one day (hour) to the next. So, I’m joining the list of 21 (soon to be 22 when de Blasio jumps in) Democratic candidates. You might consider running as well and others among your friends and family and maybe your French Poodle.

What are the benefits? I can write a book and become rich. Well, I probably won’t become a millionaire like Bernie, but richer than I am living on Social Security. I will get my name in The New York Times, if only because I will be the 23rd or 40th declared Democrat. They may even ask me my opinion about . . . Healthcare for All, the Green New Deal, immigration, taxing the rich and jailing corporate officers for failure to pay taxes. When reporters ask if I believe in the death penalty, I will say yes, for corporations that willfully contribute to climate change. They are “people,” after all. In this way, I will gain notoriety.

And think of the enemies I’ll make: the NRA, Fox News, Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, the list is endless. I might even get a tweet or two from Bonzo (oh, that was another troublesome president), uh, the Orange Menace and a nickname like “Jude the Obscure.” Of course, you will all have to pay me gobs of money and contribute to the 65,000 signatures I’ll need to debate the other 22 or 39 Democrats. Or you could pay me not to run. Perhaps, we might do that for some of the other 22 or 39. Other ideas? Oh, and please let me know if you plan to run. I’ll add my signature, but don’t expect a check until the book revenues come in.

Democrats, Don't Take Me For Granted!

I am not a white working class male. I am a Democrat only because I want to vote in the primaries and Democrats put forward policies I usually support, though they don’t always follow through. I am tired of voting for the least worst candidate, which I did until 2008. Now, the Dems are telling me I have to do that again because white working class males are more important than I am. Don’t take me for granted. Yes, Trump is a disaster. He’s done untold damage to our country. So, you say, I should vote for anyone YOU think can beat him. I think you’re wrong. The Democratic Party has long been cowardly. It tries to make nice when faced with a bully. From personal experience, I can tell you it doesn’t work.

Apparently, you think the Dems lost the 2016 election because working class white males jumped ship. What about Russian interference? That’s been established by all our intelligence agencies and the Special Counsel. What about the failure to take decisive action against those efforts? What about Democratic campaign mistakes? What about Comey’s announcement on the eve of the election to reopen the investigation of Clinton’s emails? What about an unfair system (the Electoral College) that weights Ohio votes heavier than California votes? What about an unfair system (gerrymandering) where political parties carve up the map to dilute the other party’s votes? What about voter suppression of black and brown people? Do you really think that all those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 will vote for Trump in 2020? And all independents?

I hear that we need a white male candidate. Cowardly pandering to racism and sexism. The media promotes that view, the view of the establishment, read “old white males.” Were you asleep in 2018 when women, people of color, and young people changed the make up of the House? Or have you just disregarded that because it doesn’t fit your view of what is right and proper, what power looks like? Most of the mainstream media promotes your position, trying to make it a fait accompli. I don’t think it will work.

The primaries are nearly a year away. Debates begin in June. Democrats should celebrate the diversity of those who have stepped up to run in the primaries.


Most everything has been covered by the pundits. The report is available to the public and easily downloaded. Still, here are two thoughts I find worth emphasizing.

1. Trump knew what he was doing was wrong. When he heard Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate his and his campaign’s ties with Russia and his attempts to hide them, he responded: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.” Not sure this can be called a conscience, but there it is.

2. Russia was successful. This is not to say it tipped the election in Trump’s favor. It is impossible to determine which of many factors had the most influence. But Russia, the long time master of propaganda, succeeded in ramping up divisions among the American people. That and Trump’s election have seriously undermined our Democracy and our reputation in the world. Putin hasn’t yet gotten sanctions relief, but I’ll bet he has a bottle of vodka on his desk for toasting our demise.

It’s no longer easy to get to the full Mueller Report on the Department of Justice’s webpage, though I did it yesterday. Today, my google search takes me to the DOJ website and Attorney General William Barr’s comments. Better to try the New York Times site: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/18/us/politics/mueller-report-russian-interference-donald-trump.html



Oregon is spending millions of dollars on a system that is useless for its intended purpose – and, in fact, causes harm to thousands of people. The law requires everyone convicted of a sex crime to register with the Board of Parole and Post Prison Supervision (BPPPS). Currently, 31,000 people are on the Oregon Registry. The intent is to prevent future sex crimes by monitoring those who have been convicted, regardless of whether the crime is sexting or serial rape. The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of those convicted of sex crimes are unlikely to commit another sex crime. Only 5.6% do. While for decades we monitor the sexually curious 10 year old who touched his 6 year old sister’s private parts, the sexual psychopath can be lost in the numbers.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature adopted a new way to categorize sex offenders, changing from a crime-based system to a risk-based system. The BPPPS was to have it in place by the end of 2018. But having to assess the risk level of over 30,000 people, the Board has made little progress -- despite the fact that risk levels are determined by a simple 10-item check list, called the STATIC-99R. Though widely used throughout the U.S., it is controversial. The STATIC is an actuarial tool, i.e. it was developed by pooling populations of sex offenders and discovering what they had in common. None considers the seriousness of the sex offense for which he was convicted.

A person receives points against him (the STATIC is not applied to women or juveniles) for being less than 34.9 years of age at release; for not having lived with a lover for at least two years; for having an unrelated victim, a stranger victim or a male victim; for having four or more prior sentencing dates for other crimes, however minor; for having been convicted of a violent crime at the same time as the sex offense; for having been convicted of a prior violent crime; and for having committed prior sex offenses. If the offender receives a score of three or less, he is considered at low risk to reoffend (Level I). If his score is four or five, he is at moderate risk (Level II). High risk offenders are those scored six and above (Level III).

How does this square with the more accurately determined recidivism rate of 5.6%? It doesn’t. A person who has a history of greater involvement with the criminal justice system – not because of prior sex crimes – will score higher and be considered a greater risk of committing another sex crime, not another non-sex crime which is more likely. But only those who have committed a sex crime are placed under surveillance for anywhere from five years to life, even though they are less likely to commit a future sex crime than someone who has never been convicted of one.


This makes no sense. It reflects our knee jerk reaction to the rare but heinous sex crime (usually the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a child) committed by a psychotic serial offender. When these crimes occur, we understandably and laudably want to do something to prevent them happening again. Yet in our haste we pass legislation, set up huge bureaucracies that are based on myths about sex offenders (‘once a sex offender always a sex offender,’ ‘all sex offenders are alike’). And once the bureaucracy is in place, it is very hard, if not impossible, to change – regardless of whether it is effective or not.

The consequences are harsh – for those placed on the Registry and those we seek to protect. Former offenders will face the suspicion of those whom the police notify (neighbors, school officials, colleagues, fellow church members, etc.). They will find it difficult to get a job or find a place to live. They fear vigilante violence by some righteous person who finds them on the Registry. While Oregon places only those who have a STATIC score of six or above on the public registry, it is easy to find others through private for-profit websites.

Oregon provides a possible way off the Registry for everyone except Level III offenders. After five years from the date supervision ends, Level I offenders may APPLY to be removed. It is up to the Parole Board or the Court to decide if they meet the lengthy criteria in the statute.[3] After 10 years, Level II offenders can apply to drop down to Level I and, after five more years, they may apply for removal, a total of 15 years.

For example, a young man convicted of statutory rape (consensual sex when he was 20 with a 15 year old) with a five year sentence could be on the registry until he is 40 if he has had other problems with the law. Given that African American men are over-represented in the criminal justice system, they are more likely to score higher on the STATIC, which makes the STATIC – and the whole Registration system -- discriminatory. It also discriminates against gay men – note the extra point if the victim is male. Constitutional challenges to registration have mostly been unsuccessful since the majority of courts consider it a regulatory scheme, not punishment, where constitutional protections (ex post facto, due process, and prohibitions on excessive sentences) apply.

Every state and the federal government requires registration of people convicted of sex offenses. Despite the fact that registration is ineffective in making us safer, we are unlikely to get rid of it and put money into prevention of sex crimes and treatment of offenders, because we have invested millions of dollars and countless hours to build the registration edifice. More than that, the myths about sex offenders prevent even minor reform, lending themselves to salacious headlines and opportunistic politicians focused on reelection or higher office.

Perhaps the only way to bring down this behemoth and divert resources to something that works to prevent sexual assault is to wait until the system reaches its logical conclusion and a majority of citizens are or know someone who is on the registry and become intimately familiar with its destructive consequences.


[1] Cathleen Meaden.

[2] Laurie Guidry, Massachusetts-based licensed clinical and consulting psychologist who focuses on the treatment of sex offenders and the prevention of sexual violence.

[3] ORS 163A.125 (5) sets out nine specific items the court must consider, plus “any other relevant factors.”


Because you are a writer, you get out of bed, pee, start the coffee, and head directly to your office computer. No teeth brushing. No getting dressed (writers can stay in their p.j.s all day). This is because you aren’t disciplined enough to eat breakfast and read the paper in less than three hours and you really do want to get that book finished and another dozen queries sent.

Over time, because you are not a disciplined person, your email sneaks into first place, followed by BING, because it has beautiful photographs – and news items. After an hour or more, you get to your writing, but soon it is time for breakfast and the New York Times, which takes up another hour and a half. You do not read it on line. The pop up dancing ads in the middle of an article drive you mad so you cling to your hard copy, i.e. the REAL New York Times, which sometimes lands in the bushes in your yard providing the opportunity for an early morning hunt, followed by drying the paper over the heat vents. By this time it is noon and your writing sits there like a poor neglected cousin. And it is soon time for your regular coffee date with an old friend, your counseling appointment, a board meeting, or your writing group (ha ha ha!).

On another normal day in the technologically dominated 21st Century, you open your computer and begin to print out a contract, but nothing happens. You change ink cartridges. Still nothing. You turn the printer off and back on. Still nothing. You call for technical support. After taking over your computer, the young man with a lovely Indian accent tells you your computer has been hacked by someone in Germany. 98% of your files have been corrupted. He fixes the problem. Several hours have passed. It will cost you $349.99 for protection. You cancel your current anti-virus contract because it failed to protect you against hacking.

You sit down to pay bills and find a charge for $198.48 from “Webnetworksolutions” that you’ve never heard of. When you call them, a woman in Florida asks what your account number is with Frontier. You say “I’ve never heard of Frontier.” She asks what is your phone company. You answer, flustered (it is still early), “I don’t remember but it’s not Frontier.” You tell her there is a charge on your visa bill for $198.48 giving their phone number and you did not agree to any service, whatever that service might be. You can’t understand her answer (you often cannot understand people speaking from your cell phone and long for the old land line—some technology improvements need improvement). You repeat that the charge is wrong and you have no account with Frontier. She tells you to call your Visa –or, at least, that’s what you think she says. When you call Visa to dispute the charge, the woman can’t find your Visa account, but eventually does. You say you don’t know anything about this company. She checks something, then says they are going to remove the charge. They consider it fraud. In one or two days they will send you a new Visa card with an entirely new account number. Then, you will have to notify every organization that automatically charges to your card each month. There are 11 of them. Notifying them will be your task for another morning – before writing.

You responded to a special deal to get DirecTV streaming for $10 a month for the first three months and $35 monthly thereafter. When a better offer appears in your inbox, you contact DirecTV and change contracts. They bill you for both. You call to ask why they have not canceled the first contract. After an hour and a half on the phone, they tell you they have resolved the matter. They haven’t. Next day, you spend another hour and a half on the phone with another person forced to do this work for lack of better options. The problem is not his fault. He sincerely wants to help you – and after 90 minutes he supposedly has corrected the problem. When you try to watch DirecTV, however, the screen flashes a message that you are unsubscribed. You contact DirecTV again. After a 90 minute on-line chat, during which you run numerous times between the TV in the living room and the computer in your office and repeatedly ask him to explain what he is talking about (you are computer-age illiterate), the technician tells you to call Amazon Fire and hangs up. The woman at Amazon Fire fixes the problem in less than 5 minutes.

Now you have time to drive 45 minutes to the doctor’s to figure out why you can’t breath and why you have a pulsing headache (brain tumor? aneurism?). They don’t know. You huff and puff to your chair, pop two Tylenol, and stick an ice pack on your head, while you read about the fall of U.S. civilization and the coming Fascism. Thus, ends a new normal day in the life of a sometime writer in the 21st Century.




[Following revocation of probation for smoking pot and missing a meeting, the judge reminds my grandnephew (who I call Daniel here) that he told him he had to be perfect, something not possible for a 20 year old with mental health issues). After the judge ordered my nephew to prison, his grandmother spoke up, “The system didn’t have to be perfect.” The judge warned her not to talk. When she asked if she could hug her grandson who was in tears before they took him away, the judge told her to shut up or he’d send her to jail!” And so dies faith in justice and the rule of law not only for the convicted, but for family as well.]

Did the judge really think prison would make him better? His attorney had implied as much when she was unable to find a treatment program in the community and naively suggested a stay in prison would provide one. Or was the judge merely punishing Daniel for not being perfect? Sending this young man to the dangers and harsh conditions of prison to live in a milieu of hardened offenders would not make him a better person. He would be lucky just to survive.

*    *     *

Three a.m. Flipping like a hooked fish on a river bank, over and over, from my right side to my left, and onto my back, beginning the sequence again and again. My restless brain refuses to imagine lying on soft meadow grass, watching clouds move among a cathedral of fir branches, listening to the chirps and trills of birdsong. My attempt at meditation rouses images of a small, tight space with glaring light, gray cement walls, a door that can keep out hurricanes and keep a young man in, steel bars, the headache-inducing sound of metal slamming metal, a cacophony of unquiet voices, a hard bed with a meager blanket, a metal toilet with no seat, tough, tattooed prisoners with muscles bulging.

Daniel is in segregation, locked in an 8 by 10 foot cell 23 hours of every 24. He cannot make or receive phone calls. We are dependent on the prison staff to know if he is alright. For a while they answered my phone calls, said they checked on him, reassured me. No longer. I call and leave messages, asking about his meds, his health, his state of mind. I tell them he sent a letter. He is afraid of what will happen when he is released into the general population. He is a sex offender. His victim was a “child.” Nevermind that the sex was consensual and she lied about her age. He is called a “chimo” and a “rapo.” They will beat him up, he writes. Sex offenders get raped in prison.

            I want to have a conversation with the judge who so casually revoked Daniel’s probation, as if he were signing a permission slip to leave school early. The judge (a former prosecutor), a current prosecutor, and the probation officer were of one mind. This kid was uppity and needed to be taught a lesson.

            I want to wake this judge and ask how he can treat people that way. I want him to feel the pain he has caused, not just to my grandnephew but to his grandmother, his mother, his father, his grandfather, his aunts, his sisters, his girlfriend, his son. I now understand “gut wrenching.” I want this judge to see into the future like I do every night. A young man whose life is ruined. He has no prospects. It will be a miracle if he finds even the lowest paid, unskilled job when he gets out. He will not be able to support his son. Will he even find a place to live? Since felons are denied public benefits, he will have to beg or eat in soup kitchens. And how will he get the medication and the treatment he needs? He will not. The prison door will revolve as the judge revokes his parole again and again.

            The judge is elected by the people. Is that what makes him tough on crime? To them, my grandnephew is a criminal, a felon of the worst kind: a sex offender, “one of the most despised groups of people in American society—along with terrorists and perpetrators of genocide.”[i] . . . .

            It’s now nearly 5 a.m. Abby will wake soon. Maybe then I will sleep. I wonder what Daniel is doing now. It’s the middle of the night in Oregon. I hope he is not having a restless night. It can signal a manic episode and then he’ll end up in the hole again. And the judge? Sleeping peacefully? No second thoughts about the young man he so cavalierly sent to prison for a year? Sleeping the sleep of the just.



[i]Lisa Anne & Laura J. Zilney, Reconsidering Sex Crimes and Offenders: Prosecution or Persecution? Santa Barbara, Denver,  Oxford: Praeger (2009) p.xiii.



“The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.” ICTY Trial Chamber on sentencing Ratko Mladic to life in prison.

General Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, was convicted of 10 counts of war crimes, crime against humanity, and genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on November 22, 2017, and sentenced to life in prison. Why aren’t all Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) overjoyed?

They aren’t unhappy that he was convicted of those crimes. They’re distressed that he was not convicted of genocide for the Bosnian Serb campaign to drive out non-Serbs from over 40 municipalities at the beginning of the war in 1992 (the prosecution charged him with genocide in six of those municipalities). No one has been. The 22 years from indictment to conviction is also not a cause for rejoicing. Nor is impunity for the 1000s of hands on perpetrators.

The ICTY Trial Chamber found that the VRS had committed mass executions, forcible transfer and deportation, brutal rapes of women and children as young as 12, detention and near starvation in camps. Two of the three judges (Judge Orie dissenting) found that the physical perpetrators in five municipalities “intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in those Municipalities as part of the protected group,” a necessary finding for genocide. But they concluded it was not genocide because those murdered were not a “substantial part” of the protected group, another requirement for a finding of genocide.

While agreeing with the prosecution that four “joint criminal enterprises (JCE) existed,”* the Trial Chamber decided that the evidence did not support a finding that the purpose of the “Overarching JCE” included the commission of genocide in the Municipalities. That let Mladic off the hook for genocide in the Municipalities. He was, however, found guilty of genocide for the Srebrenica JCE that resulted in the murder of 8,000 men and boys and the forcible expulsion of all non-Serbs from that region.

Some of the incidents that led two judges to conclude that physical perpetrators intended to commit genocide in the Municipalities were:

• In Sanski Most, Bosnian Serb forces forced 28 Bosnian Muslim men to jump off the Vrhpolj Bridge one by one, then shot them in the water. Only one survived. Four other men were killed on the way to the bridge.

• Twenty-four Bosnian Muslim detainees suffocated while being transported to the Manjaca Camp detention center, after being forced to consume salt and denied water for the nine hour trip.

• At the Keraterm Camp, chemical gas was thrown into a room, causing detainees to panic and try to get out. As they exited, the guards and soldiers executed them with automatic weapons. Between 190 and 220 were killed.

• In detention camps, “[D]etainees were forced to rape and engage in other degrading sexual acts with one another. . . .”

• Many Bosnian women were raped. At “Karaman’s House in Foca Municipality, several groups of women, and girls as young as 12 years old, were routinely and brutally raped.”**

It has been estimated that from 3,000 to 6,000 people were killed or disappeared in the Prijedor region alone (including at the infamous concentration camps at Trnopolje, Omarska, and Keraterm). In 1992, the first year of the war in Bosnia, 45,000 people were killed, nearly half of the total killed (100,000) during the entire war. Bosnian Serb forces raped anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 Bosnian Muslim women throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Evidence of all those murders and rapes could not be presented in one trial, which lasted four years as it was. Though the Chamber found that the murderers and rapists in each of these municipalities had an intent to destroy a part of the protected group of Bosnian Muslims, they didn’t combine the numbers, thereby creating a silo effect. The killing of 24 men with intent to destroy the Bosnian Muslims as a group was not a substantial part of the entire community of Bosnian Muslims living within territory claimed by the Bosnian Serbs. Therefore, the Trial Chamber held, Mladic, the commander of Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, could not be held responsible for genocide in the municipalities.

Right or wrong, this is a legal argument. It does nothing to assuage the grief of those who lost their families when the Bosnian Serbs forced forty of them into a house, locked the doors, and burned it down. As the screams subsided and the flames died, the killers passed around a bottle of plum brandy. Nor is it a comfort to Fikret Bacic who lost his daughter, son, wife, mother, and 14 other relatives when Serb forces ordered them out of the house where they, with 26 other women and children, had sought safety, killing all but one young boy.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Bosnian Serbs who shot the guns, locked the doors, lit the match, and shared the plum brandy were never held to account. They live ordinary lives in the cafes and streets of Sanski Most, Prijedor, Koto Varos, Foca, Kljuc, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Zvornik. . . . The Bosnian Muslims who returned to those areas see them daily. A woman turns from her table in the café and sees her rapist, casually drinking coffee or rakija. He looks through her or gives a haughty smirk. An elderly man walks slowly through the square, where a group of adolescents are hanging out, laughing, enjoying the sun and free time. Quite possibly, they are children of the men who murdered his children, when they were the same age or younger.

Journalist, Janine di Giovanni, who reported on the war, wrote in a New York Times Op Ed after the Mladic verdict:

“As I saw firsthand, the men who did the truly nefarious acts — those who pulled the triggers on women and children, who dug the mass graves in Srebrenica, who took part in the mass rapes in Foca and other towns in Bosnia — walked free. Those men, to me, were the truly evil ones.

"Many years after the war, in Srebrenica, I met a broken woman who had been held in the notorious Foca gymnasium as a teenager and raped dozens of times. Justice for her was a laughable illusion. She told me that she saw one of her rapists every day in the village that they both came from. She knew he would never go to The Hague and face justice: Very few men were tried there for rape.

“It was she, the victim, who dropped her eyes in shame when they passed each other on the street, and he, the rapist, who walked by triumphantly. This was not a rare occurrence. I interviewed mothers and daughters who were raped side by side and still saw their rapists in the towns they had returned to after the war.” fn. 1

Bosniak Poet, Darko Cvejetic gives voice to this reality:

“I am trying to capture it in a poem, this coexistence of the killer and the victim, this relationship, this situation which is now escaping rational analysis. I have seen things, where people as harmless as bunnies become military commanders, and who after they stop being commanders go back to “normal,” to being bunnies again.” 

For an insightful and beautifully written account of Prijedor then and now, see Refik Hodzic’s ““Flowers in the Square. A Struggle for Justice in a Bosnian Community Whose Significance Resonates Far Beyond the Balkans,” from which this quote was taken. http://www.ictj.org/sites/default/files/subsites/flowers-square-prijedor/

Justice was done in part by convicting Ratko Mladic, the man who commanded the forces who carried out the atrocities and murders. It felt too late for some (22 years after the end of the war in Bosnia and more than six and a half years after Mladic’s arrest). Hasan Nuhanovic, a Bosnian survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, told The New York Times after the verdict: “This should all have been behind us by now. The only thing that is behind us is that war.” Even with Mladic’s life sentence, it can never be enough for those who lost everything, their worlds turned upside down, changed forever. But without a conviction, the Tribunal would have ended in infamy. For all its shortcomings in its near-quarter century existence, it brought a measure of justice to some and provided a beacon for the permanent International Criminal Court to follow.

As the writer Srdjan Garcevic, concluded:

Even if ICTY has not managed to punish all those who contributed (and still contribute) to this shame, at least it brought some solace to those who lost too much, and gave us a touchstone from which we can begin to understand the bloody depths of our common embarrassment.”

Most disturbing, nationalism continues to hold sway in Serbia and Republika Srpska,*** where Mladic is hailed as a hero and martyr and the governments refuse to acknowledge that genocide occurred in Srebrenica, let alone in the Municipalities, let alone that Serb forces were responsible. In Republika Srpska, Bosnian Muslim and Serb children are segregated and taught different versions of history in school. And Vojislav Seselj, commander of paramilitary forces in Bosnia who was acquitted by the Tribunal in an inexplicable and outrageous decision (it is on appeal), is currently a member of Parliament in Serbia. General Vladimir Lazarevic, convicted of crimes against humanity, now teaches at Serbia’s top military academy. As Lydia Gall of Human Rights Watch warns:

“Unless governments in the Western Balkans, and their EU and US partners redouble their efforts to bring those responsible for wartime crimes to justice and make a commitment to establish an independent commission to unravel the truth about the region’s bloody past, there is a danger that history will repeat itself.

“Without these combined efforts, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which resurgent populist nationalism in the region and heightened tensions could spill into violence.”

What Refik Hodzic writes about Prijedor is true for all the former Yugoslavia:

“For Prijedor has a chance to be a community where humanity will be a value above the myths about ethnic superiority, inferiority of “others,” celebration of crimes and discrimination, only if it faces the truth about the crimes that changed it so. . . . But it is important that the reckoning with the past is honest and thorough, and that the outcomes of this reckoning are built into the history of Prijedor in a manner accessible to its present and future inhabitants.”

Leaders and politicians in Serbia and the Republika Srpska provide the nationalist rhetoric that prevents healing, just as they led the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, neighbors and friends, to hate and kill one another. If anything, their disinformation has intensified: "[The] time of shame is over and the time of quiet pride has begun." [Ana Brnabic, Serbian Prime Minister]’; "We were told for too long to be ashamed of our war heroes [convicted of war crimes, but no longer." [Aleksandar Vulin, Minister of Defense].

Srdjan Garcevic provided a hopeful response to the Mladic verdict:

“While too few people still know about the amount of suffering heaped on those from other nations, and still too often wave criticisms away with whataboutism, all around the region an enormous number of people are connected by a strong underlying feeling that the wars in 1990s were a shameful mistake that left us all poorer and more miserable, especially given all the sacrifices we had to make.”

The question for the people is how to hear each other over the duplicity of their leaders. “As long as we keep telling stories to shield ourselves from accepting how deeply embarrassing and futile our wars were, we will still not see the shame nor humanity in each other, and reconciliation will stay on the horizon, as opposed to an achievable goal.” fn. 2


*A Joint Criminal Enterprise is, in simplified terms, a method of holding an individual accountable when he/she shares a common criminal purpose with others and at least one of them takes action to carry it out. Each JCE member is held responsible for the crime.

**Rape was used as a weapon of war, intending to force Bosnian Muslim women to birth Serb babies.

***The Dayton Accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 divided that country into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (consisting of Bosnian Muslims and Croats) and Republika Srpska (consisting of Bosnian Serbs), thus giving the aggressor Bosnian Serbs the spoils of war in exchange for a cease fire.

fn. 1: Janine di Giovanni, “Flawed Justice for the Butcher of Bosnia,” New York Times Opinion, November 22, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/opinion/mladic-hague-bosnia-butcher.html

fn. 2: “Confronting the Shame of Nationalism After Mladic Verdict,” December 7, 2017. http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/blog/confronting-the-shame-of-nationalism-after-mladic-verdict-12-04-2017