A woman accused of torture and murder in the bloody Bosnian civil war more than 20 years ago has lost another effort to avoid being extradited from Kentucky to stand trial.
Azra Basic did not prove that an earlier decision under which she could be taken to Bosnia violated the law or a treaty, chief U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell ruled Thursday.
Basic's attorney, Patrick F. Nash, said Basic denies committing war crimes against civilians.
Basic will continue fighting to avoid extradition, with the next step being an appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Nash said.
There could be a further request for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case if necessary.
Ultimately, however, the U.S. secretary of state will decide whether Basic should be extradited. That means it could be years before the issue is resolved.
Basic, 56, of Powell County, has been jailed since she was arrested in March 2011. Caldwell turned down her request to be released on bond last year, citing the risk she would flee or be a danger.
Nash said that if Basic is ever extradited, she would be tried in a court in a Serbian-dominated part of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the country is formally known.
International observers have cited significant problems with those courts, including inadequate representation for defendants and interrogation techniques that include torture, Nash said in one court motion.
Nash also cited the historical enmity between Serbs and Muslim Croatians such as Basic.
"The danger of sending a Muslim Croatian into such a heavily Serbian area ... there's obvious concern there," Nash said in an interview. "Is there a fear of unfairness? Sure."
The road to this week's decision involved complex questions of international treaties and law and stretches back to the civil war that broke out when the communist country of Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s.
The war involved ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims in a conflict that lasted three years. Citing a history of the war, Caldwell said in her decision that Serbian forces engaged in ethnic cleansing, terrorizing non-Serb civilians to try to drive them out.
Those who stayed were subject to torture, rape, mutilation and murder by Serb forces, but some victims then adopted the same tactics, Caldwell said.
Nash said that after being subjected to atrocities in a Serbian prison camp, Basic joined Croatian military forces.
One key issue is whether she committed war crimes against civilians or took part in military operations.
Caldwell's decision said Basic allegedly supervised Croat forces that took dozens of ethnic Serbian civilians hostage in 1992.
Witnesses said she took part in horrific conduct, including killing one man by stabbing him in the throat, then forcing other prisoners to drink his blood; torturing a prisoner with pliers; forcing a man to drink gas and then setting his face on fire; and carving symbols into the skin of prisoners.
Nash, however, said Basic contends she took part only in regular military actions against opposing soldiers during the war.
The man she allegedly stabbed, for instance, was a soldier, Nash has said.
Federal prosecutor James E. Arehart has argued the people Basic and her troops attacked were civilians at the time.
Basic came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1994. She eventually settled in Kentucky and became a naturalized citizen in 2007.
She lived at times in Lexington or Jessamine County and worked various jobs, including at nursing homes. She was living in Powell County and working at the Nestle plant in Mount Sterling when federal marshals arrested her in 2011.
Bosnian authorities charged her more than two decades ago, but it took years to fully identify her, according to a court record.
At the request of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the federal government filed an extradition complaint against her in 2011.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier ruled there was probable cause to believe Basic killed one man and tortured two others, and that she could be extradited to Bosnia.
Probable cause is a lower standard than what would be required to convict someone, but was sufficient to justify the request to send Basic back to Bosnia.
Basic challenged the ruling on a number of grounds, including that there is no valid extradition treaty between the U.S. and Bosnia and that the time limit to prosecute her had expired.
However, Caldwell upheld Wier's ruling.
The extradition treaty at issue was signed by the U.S. and the Kingdom of Serbia in 1902, but every successor state to the kingdom, including Bosnia, has accepted it, Caldwell said.
Caldwell also ruled that under the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture, there is no time limit to prosecute acts that result in or create a risk of death or serious injury, which would apply to the torture allegations against Basic.
And Caldwell said that while there is evidence for and against the idea that the people Basic allegedly attacked were in the Serbian military, there was adequate evidence to support Wier's finding that they were civilians.