Jessica Stern

Jessica Stern’s Study of Radovan Karadzic Raises the Question of Whether One Should Attempt to Study Terrorists Face-to-Face

By Dr. Howard Gardner

Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education
May 2020

Jessica Stern’s study of Radovan Karadzic raises the question of whether one should attempt to study terrorists face-to-face and, if so, in what way, and to what effect. In the aftermath of World War II, Nazi criminals were administered standardized psychological tests and were interrogated both inside and outside the courtroom. As one who has risked her life interviewing terrorists face-to-face, Stern has sought, in my judgment successfully, both to establish a bond of trust with the terrorists and to provide insights into how they think about themselves over time and in various public and private contexts—without in any way becoming an apologist for what she calls, in Karadzic’ case, an “architect of genocide.” And in this most recent book, she reveals, as never before, the personal costs of establishing the requisite empathy, while maintaining distance and objectivity during multiple interviews carried out over two years. Though this book will undoubtedly cause pain for those who suffered on account of Karadzic’ monstrous deeds, future generations will value Stern’s case study—and may wish that we had similar insights about Hitler, Goerring, and others involved in a horrendous genocide just a few decades before.

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