THE HAGUE (Reuters Life!) - Of the more than one million American lawyers, California-born Peter Robinson is one of few to specialize in representing accused war criminals.
He now lives in The Hague and is a legal advisor to ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Karadzic has denied involvement in the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo by Serb forces, where 10,000 died, and the killing of about 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males at Srebrenica in 1995.
Robinson is so enthusiastic about his work that he has written a novel in which a lawyer represents a notorious Serbian warlord accused of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. He sells his book through his web site www.peterrobinson.com.
Q. Why would anyone want to become a defense lawyer for an accused war criminal?
A. That’s a really good question. I’d say my role in the situation is really to help him get a fair trial and I think everyone would agree that it is necessary to have fair trials.
Q. Who pays you and how much money do you earn?
A. The U.N. pays ... They pay me 71 euros ($92) an hour, up to 150 hours each month.
Q. How does that compare with how much a lawyer in the United States might earn?
A. It’s about maybe one eighth of what I would probably earn in the United States.
Q. How many war criminals have your represented?
Q. Are there ever people that you find unpleasant?
A. I’ve been very lucky actually not to ... To be able to be a leader of people, you have to have some kind of personal charisma, some kind of personality, that makes you engaging to other people. All of my clients have been like that. They are really personable.
Q. Would you draw the line anywhere? Would you represent Osama bin Laden? Hitler?
A. I wouldn’t draw the line because it isn’t my job to judge people. It is my job to see that they get a fair trial.
Q. You’ve written a novel that parallels your experience.
A. It parallels it but at the time I did not have those experiences. I was mostly watching other people and trying to write about what it might be like for an American lawyer to represent a war criminal... I got here and I was hoping to defend someone but nobody was arrested and there were no opportunities for me and I had decided to be here for a year with my family. I wanted to have something to show for that year, so I decided to write this novel.
Q. How has the book done?
A. The book is not a great best seller or anything. I think I have sold about 1,500 copies and it has been out for quite a while now ... It was much harder than being a lawyer to imagine a story and write it.
Q. When the trial is over, do you think you would write a real book about Karadzic?
A. No. I like being a lawyer in court, so when the trial is over I will look for another alleged war criminal to defend.
Q. What is Mr. Karadzic like?
A. Karadzic is very, very bright, very, very quick. He’s hard working and he has a great sense of humor. So it’s very enjoyable to spend time with him.
Q. You realize that a lot of people reading that description might be horrified and think that somehow you yourself are morally compromised.
A. Yeah, people have accused me of having Stockholm syndrome for being around someone like Karadzic and then becoming like them. But I really think that Radovan Karadzic, in a different context, could have been hugely successful in any country, any field that he had chosen.
Q. If this is a guy who is morally responsible for a lot of what happened during Europe’s worst war since World War Two, if you help him get off, there is a moral responsibility on your shoulders, no?
A. No, not really. It would only mean that I did my job and someone else did not do theirs.
Q. What do your family members think about your representation of Karadzic?
A. My mother thinks that it is not a good idea and she wonders how I could defend somebody who is supposed to have done horrific things, but my wife is a lawyer and she understands and is very supportive.
Q. You don’t listen to your mother any more?
A. No, she has lost that power over me a long time ago.
Editing by Steve Addison