Bail denied for Beaverton woman charged with war crimes

By Nigel Duara

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Nearly 18 years to the day after a Beaverton woman was alleged to have executed a group of Bosnian civilians and prisoners of war, a federal judge denied her bail while she awaits a ruling on her extradition.

Rasema Handanovic, 38, appeared in U.S. District Court in Portland Friday afternoon for a detention hearing in which U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald C. Ashmanskas ruled that she poses a danger to society in the United States and Bosnia.

Handanovic and an Everett, Wash., man are accused of war crimes in Bosnia for their alleged part in a massacre of 16 or 17 people in a tiny mountain village called Trusina on April 16, 1993. The charges of war crimes against civilians and war crimes against prisoners each carry a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The charges are based off the statements of fellow combatants who were given anonymity and state protection by the Bosnian government in exchange for their testimony.

Ashmanskas ruled Friday that Handanovic doesn't have any needs that would make her stay in jail untenable while she awaits an extradition hearing.

"A 20-year sentence is a powerful incentive to flee," the judge said.

Prosecutors argued that if Handanovic were released on bail and fled, it would endanger the credibility of the U.S. in extradition matters, and complicate future requests for extradition from other governments.

Civil war among Bosnia's three main groups — Muslims, Serbs and Croats — broke out in 1992 and lasted until 1995, killing 260,000 people and driving 1.8 million from their homes. Muslims and Croats were allied against the Serbs at the start of the war, but they became enemies when Croat forces sought to capture territory held by the Bosnian army.

War crimes trials have been occurring since the end of the war. The worst atrocity was Bosnian Serbs' slaughter of 7,500 Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995. The killings galvanized international will to end the war.

The testimony from combatants differs somewhat, but the underlying narrative, included in the prosecution's file, is consistent.

According to it, Handanovic's unit rounded up a group of Croat residents and, along with three captured soldiers from the Croatian military, bound and shot them, the combatants said.

As they lay dying, she "shot into the heads of two or three (Croat) soldiers who were lying on the ground and showing signs of life," a combatant testified. "She might have shot more of them, but I cannot remember now."

On Friday, five members of Handanovic's family and at least four friends gathered in the pews of the Portland courthouse, some weeping as the charges were read.

"This was war," said Handanovic's brother-in-law, Senad Talic. "They were just girls. Why didn't they take ... the dangerous ones? Why come to (the U.S.) and take her?"

Handanovic's federal public defender, Lisa Hay, said she had only seen a few of the accounts of the combatants. While the hearing was specific to Handanovic's bail status, her alleged conduct in the war became a focal point because of the potential threat she posed to the public.

Hay noted that Handanovic has a son and parents in the United States and knew that Bosnian prosecutors have been arresting members of her special-forces unit but didn't flee or change her name.

Hay argued that Handanovic suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that would make her incarceration unusually difficult. Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. Atkinson responded that if she were suffering from the disorder, she brought it on herself for the crimes she is alleged to have committed.

Hay took issue with that logic.

"Many people do things in times of war that are horrific and regrettable," Hay said. "We weren't there, we didn't experience that trauma. I don't think we can say she brought that on herself."

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