Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Under The Blue Flag: My Mission in Kosovo by Philip Kearney

Book description:
Seeking to escape the monotony he had come to endure in his job as assistant District Attorney in San Francisco, Philip Kearney needed a change. His solution came one day in a casual email from a friend: "U.N. has opening here for an international prosecutor doing war crimes stuff. You should apply, gotta go."

"Here" meant Pristina, Kosovo. And "stuff" - Kearney soon finds out, after landing the job despite his inexperience with international law and an inability to speak any foreign languages - meant a harrowing string of investigations involving the most brutal and devastating crimes imaginable. Abruptly removed from the comforts of home and the order and stability of America's justice system, Kearney finds himself the sole international prosecutor assigned to a region of nearly one million people. Welcome to the Balkans circa 2001.

Kearney is thrown headlong into a series of historic investigations that quickly land him under the protection of four armed security guards. Armed himself with only the region's archaic criminal justice code, Kearney is soon prosecuting local street thugs, shutting down a ring of international sex-traffickers and spearheading an investigation into secret death camps - a case that ultimately implicates local officials and inflames ethnic violence. He developed an urgent passion, stemming from devastating stories of torture, murder and slavery that dominate Kosovo's bleak landscape.

Though I haven't been to Kosovo, I did spend two years living in Bosnia which struggled with many of the same challenges in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Kearney does a good job of framing an incredibly complicated set of issues in order to make them palatable to readers unfamiliar with the complexities of war crimes tribunals. His picture of working for the UN as an American rings true and provides an excellent introduction into that lifestyle. Though I would have preferred more focus on the issues and less on his perception of them, the book was certainly a good strong read.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This does sound like an interesting book. I do think more focus on the issues would be appropriate.