- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2000

It cannot help British tourism that the most famous tourist to visit contemporary London has suffered such ghastly physical decline that he is about to be sent home for reasons of infirmity. At least he did not die while an honored guest of Her Majesty, but Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, did suffer.
Since his arrival in the fall of 1998 the retired president, now 84, suffered a series of minor strokes, a viral infection, loss of sensation in his hands and feet, heart disease and diabetes. He had come to London on a diplomatic passport and underwent back surgery. He was hardly out from under the scalpel when Her Majesty's cops clapped the manacles on him and put him under arrest. Baltasar Garzon, a leftist judge in Spain, was seeking to have Gen. Pinochet extradited to Madrid for his government's alleged treatment of Spanish nationals during Chile's campaign against leftist terrorists in the 1970s. Despite complaints from his government back in Santiago, Gen. Pinochet has been under house arrest ever since and his health continues to decline.
Meanwhile, in former Iron Curtain countries ex-communist apparatchiks parlay their connections for wealth and continued power. They travel the world unimpeded by international human rights adepts. In Russia the heirs to Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev sell off state properties and otherwise act the role of good capitalist and worthy democratic reformer. Letting bygones be bygones, Western governments do business with them all. From some of the cruelest regimes in Africa, brutal politicians with dreadful civil rights records journey to Western resort communities to purchase their retirement estates. Fidel Castro, most of his prisons now emptied, travels freely even to Judge Garzon's Spain, where no doubt he speaks out on behalf of good government, improved health facilities, and world peace.
Is this hypocrisy? Is it a bit weird? Thousands of ex-communist thugs and perhaps thousands more Third World brutes live happily unhampered by liberal human rights advocates, and one right-wing general who thwarted communism in his country is locked up and threatened with trials in foreign lands during the last years of his long life. The country that put him to this misery had been befriended by him during the Falklands War. Lady Thatcher testifies that his alliance with Britain against Argentina saved British servicemen's lives. Gen. Pinochet's last years in power were spent preparing to transform Chile into a model democracy and a vibrant capitalist economy. Then he visits London and is locked up while beginning convalescence from back surgery.
Liberalism began its long slide from high-mindedness to corruption some time in the 1960s. Once it was a set of values intent on raising human dignity, freedom and prosperity. Today it is mere rhetoric meant to disarm critics and maintain power over the gullible. But those who intone the rhetoric want to feel morally good about themselves so liberalism has become something more than windy rhetoric. It is a free-floating moralism that, unguided by any standards or norms, comes screaming out of the blue to assail some choice target. The more defenseless the better. A feeble old general, responsible for observable wrongs and easily-forgotten good, is perfect.
This modern corruption of liberalism has drained practically every historic liberal value of meaning. In its reckless moralizing, it has reversed itself on every liberal principle save one, the principle that has since the corruption of liberalism been at the heart of this phony political impulse, disturbing the peace. Disturbing the peace, whether in the world of art or in the classroom or simply out in the neighborhoods, is what liberals can be counted on to do. Disturbing the peace, of course, is a misdemeanor in every civilized criminal code.
Naturally, when the British medical team rendered its judgement that Gen. Pinochet was physically unfit to participate in his own defense, liberals were outraged. That the principle of a defendant's fitness for trial is a time-honored liberal principle calmed their rage not at all. "It's unbelievable that a criminal should escape justice because perhaps he is ill," declaimed Carlos Reyes, a former journalist who once spent time in Gen. Pinochet's prisons but now enjoys a freedom that many of communism's victims never knew. At least Mr. Reyes can take solace from a new liberal principle that was established during the proceedings against Gen. Pinochet, "universal jurisdiction."
Universal jurisdiction is the principle that anyone charged with human rights violations can be tried in any country that nabs the accused. Now there is a blow struck for human progress. But what if Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford find themselves arrested abroad and turned into pawns in some faraway power struggle for human rights violations allegedly committed during their presidencies? What if retired President Clinton gets the Pinochet treatment owing to the complaints of some aggrieved ethnic group while he golfs in Uzbekistan or judges a beauty contest in Mongolia?
Perhaps back in Washington a liberal president will act prudently and wait for Mr. Clinton's health to break. Or possibly the new president will fill the skies with B-1 bombers. As mentioned above, the liberal's free-floating moralism is unpredictable.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator.

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