The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, June 13, 2003

Von Rumsfeld strikes against Belgium: but what about Spain?

Belgium hosted a veritable second Ardennes Offensive from Rummy yesterday. A guy one can rely on to give good transcript quite excels himself in the counter-attack, rivalling the élan of his almost-namesake [1].

His opening sally gets right to the point:
By passing this law, Belgium has turned its legal system into a platform for divisive, politicized lawsuits against her NATO Allies. Now, it's obviously not for outsiders, non-Belgians, to tell the Belgian government what laws it should pass. And what it should not pass. With respect to Belgium's sovereignty, we respect it. Even though Belgium appears not to respect the sovereignty of other countries.

But Belgium needs to realize that there are consequences to its actions. This law calls into serious question whether NATO can continue to hold meetings in Belgium and whether senior U.S. officials, military and civilian, will be able to continue to visit international organizations in Belgium. I would submit that that could be the case for other NATO Allies, as well.

If the civilian and military leaders of member states can not come to Belgium without fear of harassment by Belgian courts entertaining spurious charges by politicized prosecutors, then it calls into question Belgium's attitude about its responsibilities as a host nation for NATO and Allied forces.

And then, just when we think he might be taking things a little seriously:
For our part, we will have to consider whether we can allow senior uniformed and civilian officials to come to Baghdad . . . to Belgium, I mean.

I love it when a Rummygram comes together!

And the payoff:
...until this matter is resolved we will have to oppose any further spending for construction for a new NATO headquarters here in Brussels until we know with certainty that Belgium intends to be a hospitable place for NATO to conduct its business...

Now, the questions start - and things get even better.

First question:
The House of Representatives asked you to make a study about what you just talked about, the opportunity to stay in Belgium for the headquarters of NATO. Is that the answer, or the beginning of that process you are talking about?

To which Rummy replies
No. I was not even aware of that until I just walked into the room that the House had passed that request. What I've said is simply the Administration position.

The odd thing is, the amendment the hack is referring to was passed by the House (I find after all too long a shlep) on May 22 [2]! That's three of our earth weeks ago. Do they have Congressional liaison men at the Pentagon?

(Of course, they do. Just an inside joke with the journos from Rummy, I'm sure.)

Then, after a question or two on Iraq, we get back to Belgium:
It doesn't take a genius to understand that that is a problem. If anyone that comes here who is a senior coalition military or civilian official is going to be subjected to the harassment of spurious lawsuits and be forced to spend large sums of money attempting to defend themselves against this type of thing, then people are not going to want to come here.

And that's really a judgment for . . . Belgium is a sovereign nation.

And it's again Belgium for the grand finale. When asked
Doesn't that prove precisely that the crisis over Iraq is alive and well and that NATO is still caught slap-bang in the middle of it?
Rummy rushes to its defence:
We're not in a crisis. I've been around NATO for decades and I've never seen a time when somebody didn't say, "NATO's history. NATO's about done. NATO is in a crisis. Oh, my, the sky is falling."

This organization is healthy. We've had superb meetings. It's moving forward to transform itself to fit the 21st century.

(No doubt, a deal of over-thesping employed in the passage in quotes!)

And then the big finish; the hack presses
Superb meetings, but possibly somewhere else?
to which Rummy replies
I didn't say that. Thank you.
Cue MGM cartoon end-titles music!

And the Belgians? What looks like a piece of straight reporting [3] from Le Soir (June 13) sets the tone:
C'est une véritable salve d'artillerie lourde que Donald Rumsfeld a tirée sur la Belgique et sa loi de compétence universelle.

Referring to US contributions to the cost of the new NATO HQ [4], the piece concludes that
Mais l'argent n'est que l'arbre qui cache la forêt. Hier, c'est l'avenir de l'Otan à Bruxelles qui a été placé dans la balance par Donald Rumsfeld...

The luckless Belgian Defence Minister, André Flahaut, apparently buttonholed by Rummy on the subject earlier in the day, gives an interview in which he shows defiance -
Je reste serein et souverain -
but also points to past compromises on the war crimes law, and a willingness to talk about it some more with the US:
des discussions bilatérales supplémentaires me paraissent s'imposer.
Having already made key concessions to US sensibilities in amending the war crimes law, the Belgian government (acronym GOB, I suppose) is not best placed to stand firm against the latest volley from USG's Big Bertha.

The wires (Reuters, at least) had GOB wobbling: a earlier piece (June 13 0727 EDT) says
Belgium showed signs of buckling on its controversial war crimes law on Friday...Defense Minister Andre Flahaut said the country's universal jurisdiction law...could perhaps be revised for a second time to end the standoff.

But a later piece (1320 EDT) reported that
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told a news conference there was no problem with the recently amended law and abuse of it for political reasons was now impossible.

A flip-flop reminiscent of USG on the assassination attempt on Hamas man Abdel Aziz Rantisi, perhaps. Except GOB's flip-flop was constituted by the sudden discovery of cojones, USG's by their inexplicably mislaying theirs!

Not to forget the equally tricky position of HMG: there was never any danger that Saint Tony (a saint and a Manichean too!) would fail to sign up to the ICC, and thus expose British troops to the vagaries of international criminal justice. And, at the same time, he finds no need to reconcile this treachery with his eagerness to permit the US to protect their own! Defence Secretary Hapless Geoff Hoon [5] is quoted (the Reuters June 13 1320 EDT piece) as saying
I think that's something we've got to look at, but certainly it is a serious legal issue that has to be addressed.

The biggest mystery (No, wait, it's not...) is that, whereas Belgium faces an all-out diplomatic assault for its extraterritorial war crimes activity, Spain gets away scot-free (as it were).

Spain, that is, the country - my piece of June 11 - which, even as I write, is entertaining the possibility of extraditing US troops for the shelling of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

And, in Spain, there is no special law - just a bunch of investigating magistrates completely out of control (it seems) with
courts entertaining spurious charges by politicized prosecutors

(Oops, no, that's Belgium, of course.)

Why is Spain permitted thus to assault the honour of the Land of the Free and get away with it? Because, I dare say, its government (GOS, I suppose) was a loyal cheerleader back in the bad old Security Council days.

What will happen if the Spanish judge decides to ask for the extradition of Lt Col Philip de Camp and his boys? After all, there's no Spanish lobby to protest against any US retaliation [6].

  1. That's Field Marshal Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, of course.

  2. Amendment to HR 1588 by Rep Porter Goss; amendment at CR H4507 (Roll Call #217).

  3. Here is an op-ed from a surrender monkey (Le Soir June 13), making the point that concessions only bring forth further demands. Hey, wasn't that the lesson of appeasement during the 1930s?

  4. According to the Le Soir piece, the new HQ is at an early stage:
    On en est à la phase de sélection du « project management team ». L'appel d'offres n'est prévu que l'an prochain, pour pose de la première pierre en 2005.
  5. For the reason for the nickname, see my piece of November 20 2002.

  6. And what would that be, exactly? Nothing remotely as effective as the NATO HQ in Brussels, surely?

    And on Rantisi, you have to love Powell's flop to Bush's flip of earlier in the week:

    We are encouraging the Israeli leadership to act with determination to punch through this wave of violence [, to make sure that it does not stop us, so that we can continue moving forward on the roadmap.]
    (Post Dowd, I give the bit in square brackets - I don't think Ariel is probably listening to that part, though! And, as for Powell - at least, this time he wasn't made to do his kow-tow at an AIPAC meeting - my piece April 1 (no kidding).)

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