The big news Thursday is that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (search) is going to visit Munich, Germany on the European swing he's on at the moment.
This was in doubt not because Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want to visit Germany, but because a German prosecutor in the local jurisdiction in Saxony (search) — something like a local DA in Ohio — was threatening to have Rumsfeld charged and put on trial for war crimes.
How is this possible? Well, in the national fit of conscience that the Germans have gone through since being presented with the idea of a war in Iraq, Germany has been overcome by a bit of the disease that struck Belgium a few years ago.
It's called the universal jurisdiction law, or as I might call it: the "we can put anybody we want on trial" disease.
Under this law a local German court is declared competent to hold a trial for anybody indicted as a war criminal, even a foreign head of state.
This obviously impedes travel by foreign heads of state and Rummy's people were saying, he's not going to Germany if you guys think you're going to put him on trial in some lederhosen kangaroo court.
The Belgians went through this a few years ago. They were going to put Tommy Franks on trial and Rummy and Paul Wolfowitz and President Bush himself, if he were dumb enough to wander into Belgium.
Rumsfeld put an end to that law by threatening to pull the U.S. contribution to a new NATO headquarters — which amounted to a $100 million — and the Belgians, as it turned out, wanted the money more than putting Tommy Franks on trial. The law was rescinded.
It's the same in this case. Rumsfeld said I'm not going to Germany" and the Germans said, "Oh please, please!" They got their lawyers to work and got an agreement that binds the local prosecutors to not invoke the universal jurisdiction law when American officials are in Germany.
My question to the Belgians and the Germans: If you're going to fold so fast, under the smallest amount of pressure, isn't it less embarrassing to never enact these laws in the first place?
That's My Word.
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