- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Gen. Tommy Franks, who valiantly led American troops to victory in Baghdad, is now the target of a lynching by a few Iraqis. Iraqi civilians are currently lodging a criminal complaint in a Belgian court against the general and other U.S. officials, accusing them of war crimes. The civilians claim that coalition forces are responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians, the bombing of a marketplace in Baghdad, the shooting of an ambulance and the failure to prevent the mass looting of hospitals. Jan Fermon, the Brussels-based lawyer representing the 10 Iraqis who claim to be the victims or eye witnesses of atrocities committed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is demanding that the court issue an indictment against Gen. Franks on charges of “command responsibility” for the purported crimes. If Brussels is not embarrassed by this complaint, it should be. Its unique 1993 law of “universal jurisdiction” claims that non-citizens can be tried in a Belgian court for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.The Bush administration has reacted angrily to the complaint. It has rightly argued that the absurd charges highlight the dangers that war crimes laws and institutions such as the International Criminal Court can be used to launch politically motivated prosecutions against American officials. Despite recent amendments to Belgian’s law, the universal jurisdiction statute needs to be altered even further to prevent frivolous prosecutions against U.S. officials. The administration should make it clear that if Belgium does not fundamentally revamp its law, then there will be a diplomatic price to pay.The farcical legal filing shows that the administration was justified in having refused to join the ICC last year. The United States should continue to shield itself, and especially our troops, from bogus charges. The complaint is an example of how dangerous it is for the United States to be at the mercy of a foreign court.The administration is also correct in denouncing the principle of “command responsibility,” that is being used as the basis of the complaint against Gen. Franks. Under the logic of the theory of “command responsibility,” any political or military leader can be tried for war crimes because of isolated acts committed by individual soldiers in battle. The Bush administration is justified in its outrage at the complaint against Gen. Franks. This is not a U.S. problem. It is a Belgian problem.

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