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Editorials
Thursday, December 9, 1999

Saddam Hussein defies
efforts to remove him

Bullet The issue: A year has passed since the withdrawal of United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq.

Bullet Our view: Saddam Hussein may well survive Bill Clinton in office as he did George Bush.

IN a Republican candidates debate last week in Manchester, N.H., Gov. George W. Bush appeared to suggest that he would "take out" Saddam Hussein, perhaps finishing the job his father began when the military coalition he organized drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.

"If I found in any way, shape or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I'd take 'em out. I'm surprised he's still there," Bush said. But asked to elaborate on what he would "take out," Bush said, "weapons of mass destruction."

Either way, Bush's remarks struck some critics as reckless, adding to skepticism about his qualifications to conduct the nation's foreign policy.

The fact remains that Saddam has successfully defied all efforts by the United States and its allies to remove him. He is probably rebuilding his weapons program.

Almost a year has passed since Operation Desert Fox, four days of air strikes against Iraqi targets, and more than a year since U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq. The prolonged absence of inspection is disturbing and frustrating.

The U.N. Security Council is struggling now to forge a policy that would allow the inspectors to return, but its members are divided. The council has agreed to a series of short extensions of the oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to sell oil to buy food and humanitarian goods. But that is hardly adequate as a containment policy.

Defense Secretary William Cohen said this week he thinks the Iraqis "are determined to rebuild their military." Cohen told reporters it's possible that Saddam has been acquiring weapons-grade nuclear materials. Without thorough, frequent inspections, the world can't be sure.

Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., told a meeting of the Iraqi National Congress, the leading opposition group, that the United States is spending $2 billion a year to contain Iraq but "it simply isn't working." Kerrey was a sponsor of the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act, which earmarked $97 million in assistance to groups seeking to overthrow Saddam. Thus far only a small fraction of that amount has been spent by the Clinton administration.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to pressure the administration to do more. The government operations spending bill Clinton signed last month contained another $10 million to "support efforts to bring about political transition in Iraq." Of this, $2 million was designated for efforts to prosecute Saddam and his lieutenants for war crimes.

Saddam may well outlast Clinton in office, just as he did the elder Bush. If elected, George W. will probably get a crack at disposing of the Iraqi dictator.


British secrecy

Bullet The issue: A British journalist has been charged with violation of the Official Secrets Act.

Bullet Our view: The United States is far ahead of Britain in terms of government openness.

AMERICANS think of Britain as the main source of their democratic system, but in one respect Americans have more freedom than the British. Britain's Official Secrets Act is far more repressive than U.S. law.

As columnist Anthony Lewis reports in the New York Times, the author of a book on the Irish conflict was arrested and charged with a serious crime for briefly describing how the government uses surveillance systems to track suspected enemies of the state.

Tony Geraghty, a respected British journalist, was charged with violation of the Official Secrets Act by publishing material given to him without authorization by an official. He could be sentenced to as much as two years in prison.

Lewis writes that the Blair government apparently objects to a few pages in the book that say the government has computer systems that work with cameras and microphones to keep track of suspected IRA terrorists.

Shortly after its 1997 election victory, the Labor Party released a policy paper on freedom of information, but a draft bill was submitted to Parliament only last May after much internal wrangling. As debate began this week, opposition Conservatives charged that the legislation offers a license for secrecy rather than openness. Critics say Labor's commitment to openness while in the opposition has been eroded in the measure through numerous exemptions.

When the Official Secrets Act was revised in 1989, the Labor Party proposed an amendment to include a public interest in openness in government. It was defeated. Because the statute does not balance such a public interest against damage to national security, the prosecution need only prove minor damage to security.

Since coming to power, Prime Minister Tony Blair seems to have become something of an authoritarian. He said recently he was sick of "libertarian nonsense masquerading as freedom."

The Supreme Court's upholding of the press' right to publish the Pentagon Papers made a clear demarcation between American openness in government and British secrecy. The Geraghty case shows that the need to reform British law remains.






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Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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