The similarities are almost surreal. Everyone knows that a terrible crime has been committed. The blood, bodies, photographs, tape recordings, hundreds of investigators and reams of scientific data support the charges.For weeks before the case is presented, it is the topic of discussion for every talking head with a microphone. Everyone has an opinion, and by the time the jury is seated nearly all have made up their minds with most concluding that the accused committed the crime. The evidence is overwhelming. There is no credible alibi. But the bad guy gets off.
That’s how it was in the O.J. trial, and that’s how it was in New York this week when the U.N. Security Council sat down to hear the case against Saddam Hussein.
No prosecutor could have presented the case better than Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said it was an “irrefutable and undeniable” indictment of Saddam Hussein’s regime and it was. The evidence presented against the Iraqi dictator and his accomplices wasn’t just circumstantial. For nearly 90 minutes Mr. Powell offered detailed, specific and convincing proof that violations of international law had occurred and were still taking place in Iraq. But when it was over, it was clear the fix was already in. The United Nations Security Council played the role of the O.J. Jury and decided the accused should slip the noose.
Both cases have proven prohibitively expensive. The O.J. case, the second most expensive in Los Angeles history, cost more than $9 million. The case against Saddam has been even costlier requiring the United States to divulge invaluable intelligence sources and methods. The price of playing tape-recorded telephone and radio communications among Iraqi officials means we have lost forever this method of gathering information about this adversary and perhaps many others as well.
O.J. vowed to “find the real killers.” Saddam promised “full disclosure.” O.J. had Johnny Cochran. Saddam has French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. Mr. Cochran distracted the jury from the facts and accused the Los Angeles Police Department of racial bias and shoddy investigative work. Mr. de Villepin ignores the facts, accuses the United States of bias and demands further investigative work. Johnny Cochran’s “O.J. defense” brought him fame and fortune. Dominique de Villepin’s “Saddam defense” will bring him … ?
Why have a French foreign minister and France become the pre-eminent defenders of the brutal Iraqi regime? French motives for supporting Saddam appear to be far more complex and much more ominous than Johnny Cochran’s blithe comment that “even the guilty deserve a good defense.”
Those with a benign perspective claim the French opposition to forcibly disarming Iraq is nothing more than the consequence of growing European antipathy and resentment toward “American dominance” on the world stage.
Others with a less charitable point of view have said it’s because French officials are on the take. Two weeks ago, senior U.S. officials were briefed on allegations that French President Jacques Chirac may have personally accepted cash from Baghdad. But official venality and bribery are so commonplace in the corrupt French political system that this hardly seems sufficient to explain the most recent French proposal for dealing with Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction.
After presenting the bill of particulars on Iraq’s destructiveness, deceit and duplicity, Mr. Powell asked, “How much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq’s noncompliance before we as a council as the United Nations say ‘enough is enough’?” Mr. de Villepin had a previously prepared answer: “Let us triple the number of inspectors. Let us open more regional offices … set up a specialized body to keep under surveillance the sites that have already been inspected.” In short: Paris wants to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible.
The most sinister interpretation of French delaying tactics is that they have much to hide. Everyone knows the French helped Iraq build its first nuclear reactor the Osarik facility that Israel destroyed in 1981.
But intelligence analysts at the Pentagon say the French want to conceal the magnitude of their involvement in providing Iraq with the means of producing chemical and biological weapons and delivery systems as well. There is widespread suspicion Paris is so concerned about U.S. intelligence officers and FBI agents going through the records in Baghdad after an invasion that French commercial and intelligence officials are actively helping the Iraqis destroy the evidence.
In the military, it’s become a humorless joke: “French duplicity” is now described as a redundancy. After Mr. Powell’s presentation, I asked an officer, “When should I head out to join the unit I’m going to cover for Fox News?” His reply: “You’ll know the shooting is about to start when all the purchase orders, invoices and bills of lading for chemical weapons printed in French have been shredded.”
In the O.J. trial, Johnny Cochran made much of the fact that no murder weapon was ever found and convinced a jury of 12 to let O.J. off the hook. The evidence on Saddam is now before a “jury” of 15 in the U.N. President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair need to act soon, before Dominique de Villepin persuades them that the Scud doesn’t fit and they vote to acquit.