- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

'Incredible' theories

The U.S. ambassador to Egypt is criticizing several "senior" Egyptian columnists for spreading "incredible conspiracy theories" about the culprits behind last year's terrorist attacks on the United States.

Ambassador David Welch, in remarks on the U.S. Embassy's Web site in Cairo, said those commentators were ignoring claims by Osama bin Laden, himself, that his al Qaeda network planned the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, 40 "Egyptian leftist intellectuals and writers" denounced Mr. Welch in a petition that appeared in several Egyptian newspapers, the Associated Press reported yesterday. They called on the United States to remove Mr. Welch for criticizing the Egyptian press.

Mr. Welch, in his Web site statement titled "Time to get the facts right," noted that many Egyptian writers "offered Americans renewed condolences" on the anniversary of the attacks this month.

"Unfortunately, the anniversary has also brought forth yet more voices in the media questioning who planned and committed the attacks and positing incredible conspiracy theories without the slightest bit of evidence to back them up," he wrote.

He said many leading newspapers and magazines had carried articles by "senior columnists who suggested governments or groups other than al Qaeda were responsible." One Egyptian sociology professor, in a lecture on the anniversary, "went so far as to implicate the American government by asserting that America benefited from the attacks."

Mr. Welch noted that the Arab television station Al Jazeera had interviewed al Qaeda members who claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"It is difficult to fathom how commentators can simply disregard these confessions, coming on top of all the other publicly available evidence," he wrote.

"Sadly such disregard for the facts in such a serious matter can tarnish the reputation of the Egyptian media in the eyes of the world," he said.

Ahmed Taha el-Nuqr, a columnist for the Al-Akhbar newspaper, told the AP he was "shocked" by Mr. Welch's comments.

The petition said Mr. Welch "tarnished democracy and stabbed his country's constitution in the heart."

European pressure

The European Union is damaging relations with the United States by opposing U.S. efforts to exempt American troops from the International Criminal Court, members of Congress said in an angry letter to the EU.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, and Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, complained that the EU is "placing gags" on countries that want to join the EU by opposing U.S. attempts to reach bilateral agreements for exemptions from the court.

The EU was upset when Romania recently signed an agreement with the United States and warned other EU candidates to wait for the organization to develop a position on the issue.

Mr. Armey and Mr. Miller, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recruited 22 other House members to sign the letter to Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission in Brussels. They believe U.S. troops could be subject to political prosecutions from a court that does not provide U.S. constitutional rights.

"Placing gags on countries aspiring to become democratic, self-governing nations runs counter to the principles Western nations promote," the congressional letter said.

"Pressuring EU candidate nations to fall into line behind the position of unelected [EU] bureaucrats is not only detrimental to the transatlantic relationship, it also calls into question the respect Brussels has for the sovereignty of its member states and democratic principles in general."

Gunter Burghardt, the EU's ambassador to the United States, has responded to the letter by explaining that members of the European Commission are appointed by the leaders of EU governments and confirmed by the European Parliament, which is directly elected.

"The European Union believes the International Criminal Court is a historic milestone on the way to ending impunity for the most serious crime of concern to the international community," Mr. Burghardt wrote. "While we deeply regret that the United States does not agree with us, we hope to be able to adopt policies that address U.S. concerns whilst preserving the integrity of the court."

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