How Ratko Mladic Descended into Madness

As he maintains innocence, others recall the evolution of a monster

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After Mladic's capture last week, a Belgrade court ruled that he was healthy enough to be extradited from Serbia to face trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague. His defense lawyer plans on appealing, the Telegraph reports, although Serbian authorities are expected to dismiss the appeal on Monday. As war reporter Janine di Giovanni recounts, "for those of us who helplessly witnessed the destruction of Sarajevo, it was imperative to find Mladic. He had to stand trial if there was ever to be even a semblance of justice."

But Giovanni and others also recall events that shaped Mladic into a "monster." By all accounts, he was a cruel man from the beginning of the war. Giovanni recounts her one brief meeting with him in 1993:

Looking at me with a glacial stare, he seemed to regard me not as human but as some strange species. “Tell the reporter to move away from my car before I run her down,” he barked to one of his lackeys. I never saw him again.

And in an intercepted radio message in April 1993, the New York Review of Books wrote in a profile, Mladic could be heard ordering his commanders to pound with artillery force the trenches and woods where enemy soldiers were hiding. “Hit the raw meat,” he barked.

But it was after 1994, when Mladic's beloved daughter Ana killed herself with her father's favorite gun, that Mladic apparently lost his mind. The circumstances surrounding her death remain mysterious. Giovanni recalls the explanations:

In Belgrade, I got different versions: that she had read an account of her father’s atrocities in a newspaper and felt sickened, unable to live with the name Mladic; that Ana, a medical student, had come back from a conference in Russia, where she had been abused on account of her father, suffering some kind of emotional trauma; or that simply, like many of her compatriots, she was tired of living with war.

Those close to Mladic said that perhaps it was Ana’s death that pushed him deeper into violence. “Some people think he went mad,” one of Mladic’s commanders told Giovanni. “Mladic’s life had two phases—before and after the death of Ana... He never recovered. He was a broken man.” And one year after Ana's death was the Srebenica massacre, where Mladic's men slaughtered nearly 8,000 Muslim boys and men.

Now in custody, Mladic is continually demanding that be allowed to visit Ana's grave, according to his lawyer.

”It is impossible to talk to him sensibly about usual things, to talk about his defence case because he is really in bad shape psychologically,” said Milos Saljic, his lawyer. “He says if he can't go to the grave, he wants his daughter's coffin brought in here. His condition is alarming.”

Other accounts indicate it was the pressure of war that pushed Mladic into insanity. A growing rift with Radovan Karadzic, also indicted for war crimes, led Kardzic to insist that Mladic was a psychopath in 1995. “Ratko is a madman,” he told a meeting of local officials in Bosnia. “I am telling you this as a psychiatrist with long experience. He simply could not bear the strain anymore and went insane.”

But despite his madness, Mladic has long claimed his innocence. "I am just a man who defends his people," he said in 1995. And notoriously, he denied that his men raped thousands of Muslim women, by sneering "we Serbs are too picky" to do such a thing. To this day Mladic continues to claim innocence in the massacre. The BBC reports that on Sunday, his son Darko Mladic relayed the following statement from him: “He said that whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with it.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.