In a harrowing and gripping personal account, a new OpEd by Jessica Stern describes what 48 hours alone with the convicted war criminal, Radovan Karadzic felt like. The Opinion essay by Prof. Stern, who is a Research Professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, was published in The New York Times on January 16, 2020, under the headline “Why Did I let a Convicted War Criminal Practice Energy Healing on Me?”
I wrote My War Criminal because I think it’s important for everyone to understand how a person becomes capable of overseeing a genocide – how he comes to power and how he succeeds. I am in no way condoning the monstrous actions of Radovan Karadzic, which I find repugnant.
— Jessica Stern (@JessicaEStern) January 18, 2020
An excerpt from the essay:
“Mr. Karadzic looked straight at me. “Would you like me to show you how it works?”
I was startled, unsure how to respond. I thought: If I say no, he will have won. He would see that I was afraid of him and of his claim to mystical power. But saying yes meant exposing myself to his touch. Not just his touch, but his “healing” energy. He was still looking at me, indicting me with his gaze. It came to me that he wanted me to sense his power, maybe to frighten me.
I reminded myself that although convicted of genocide, he has never been suspected of committing violent acts himself. I did not think he would strangle me. But I knew that the guard on duty, who was supposed to be monitoring us and keeping me safe, was sitting at a desk, idly flipping through the pages of a magazine.
By then I already knew, having spent many days watching him in court and some 10 hours speaking with him one-on-one, that whatever this man was, whatever evil he might have committed or supervised, he was also a believer in the divine. I told myself that I would be more or less safe with him, even if he came physically closer to me.
“Yes,” I said.
. . . . . .
In that moment, and in the days afterward, I vowed never to tell anyone about this incident. But later, it seemed to me that so much was captured in this story: his belief in the mystical, his power to manipulate. Cat and mouse. Or maybe cat and snake.”
Read full OpEd here.
Prof. Jessica Stern is a Research Professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. She is the coauthor with J.M. Berger of ISIS: The State of Terror; and the author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror; Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill; and The Ultimate Terrorists. She has held fellowships awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Erik Erikson Institute, and the MacArthur Foundation. She was a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, a National Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and a Fellow of the World Economic Forum. Stern has nearly completed her training as an Advanced Academic Candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Psychoanalysis. Learn more about her here.