There is an incorrigible breed of activist European lawyers who will not rest until they find some way of getting American political and military leaders into the dock of international courts on war crimes charges.
Belgium adopted a legal doctrine of universal jurisdiction whereby serious crimes could be tried in Brussels regardless of where the alleged crimes occurred. Other European countries adopted similar sweeping assertions of jurisdiction.
One notorious case was former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who in 1998 was arrested while in Great Britain on the say-so of a Spanish magistrate who planned to try him for war crimes. After 15 months of legal bickering, Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile, where he was eventually tried in the place he should have been, his own country.
After the start of Gulf War I, Belgian activists tried to get warrants for the arrest of top U.S. military leaders and former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (then vice president).
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is a regular target of these warrants. The European peace movement has never forgiven him for Vietnam.
Almost immediately after the second invasion of Iraq, the activist lawyers sought to have Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrested and detained. The U.S. quickly put a stop to these frivolous charges, and convinced Belgium to change its law, by suggesting that if senior U.S. military and political officials could not travel freely and without fear of arrest, then maybe the headquarters of NATO and other international organizations should be removed from Brussels.
Now the attorneys are trying a different tack. French and Belgian lawyers have filed suit against NATO in a Brussels civil court on behalf of a retired Libyan general and member of Gadhafi’s Revolutionary Council seeking “moral and material reparations” for the deaths of his wife and three children in a NATO bombing attack.
The lawyers are also asking the International Criminal Court to take up the case as an “evident war crime.”
Another plaintiff in Paris and Brussels alleging war crimes is Aisha al-Gadhafi, Moammar’s daughter.
NATO is acting under the legal authority of the U.N. Security Council, and while the inevitable civilian casualties are to be regretted, NATO has worked to hold them to a minimum and are in any case acting to prevent a greater evil, Moammar Gadhafi’s threat to kill every man, woman and child in the rebel held city of Benghazi.
Britain and France have taken the lead in the Libyan operations with the U.S. in a largely supporting role but no one believes that if these activist lawyers get their way the American military would not be caught up in their legal dragnet.
This time of harassing, grandstanding litigation is one of the reasons, and a very good reason, that the United States is not a party to the International Criminal Court. Three presidents have thought submitting the treaty to the Senate would be futile.
Issues of reparations, damages and criminality are traditionally settled in the peace treaties that end wars. Gadhafi should sue for peace and sign one now.
— By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service