Friday, January 8, 1999

Smokescreen charge
against inspectors

REPORTS that United Nations weapons inspectors helped Washington eavesdrop on Iraqi military communications should be treated with suspicion. They could well be part of Iraq's efforts to discredit the inspection program and justify its refusal to readmit the inspectors in the wake of the recent U.S. and British raids.

The program's director, Richard Butler, has been a frequent target of Iraqi criticism. Saddam Hussein would like Butler replaced with someone who could be manipulated by the Baghdad regime. Butler strongly denied the anonymous allegations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he had no evidence to support the allegations -- contradicting reports in several U.S. newspapers. But an unidentified adviser to Annan was quoted as saying, "The United Nations cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most fundamental way, that is what's wrong with the UNSCOM operation."

The Boston Globe said U.S. agents eavesdropped on secret communications between elite military units responsible for Saddam Hussein's security.

The idea that Iraq's rights have been somehow violated is incongruous. This is an outlaw regime that oppresses its own people and has committed aggression against a neighbor.

The United States has conducted military operations against Iraq to enforce Security Council resolutions demanding that Iraq submit to full inspection of its weapons and arms-manufacturing, resolutions that Iraq has flagrantly violated. Saddam Hussein is a criminal who should be brought to justice. He deserves to be overthrown. The United Nations, through the Security Council resolutions, has condemned his actions.

The accusations against the weapons inspectors appear to be nothing more than a smokescreen designed to conceal the real issue -- the menace Iraq constitutes to its Persian Gulf neighbors.


Traffic fatalities

HAWAII's alcohol-related traffic death toll last year was the lowest since figures were first kept in 1982, and stiffer penalties for driving while intoxicated undoubtedly played a role. Adopting similar penalties for driving under the influence of other mind-altering substances could produce a further decline in traffic deaths.

The precise effectiveness of Hawaii's increased penalties for drunken driving in recent years and last year's lowering of the legal threshold for intoxication -- from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content -- is unclear.

Hawaii was among 15 states last year that lowered the threshold, responding in part to federal threats to withhold federal highway money from states that refused to do so. Research cited in support of the federal legislation indicated clear drops in drunken driving fatalities in states that previously had lowered the legal threshold.

Although the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped from 54 to 41 statewide and from 27 to 22 on Oahu, so did the total number of traffic deaths, from 134 to 122 in the state and from 75 to 63 on Oahu. Other factors that could have led to the overall reduction include more cars equipped with air bags and more drivers buckling their seat belts.

Hawaii laws provide for the immediate revocation of drivers' licenses for motorists caught driving drunk, but not if the intoxicant was drugs instead of alcohol. State transportation officials have prepared a bill that would consolidate all driving-under-the-influence statutes. Among other things it would extend the license-revocation sanction to those caught driving under the influence of drugs, both legal and illegal.

Last year's reduction in alcohol-related traffic deaths and traffic fatalities generally indicates the state has taken the right direction in recent years in toughening laws against drunken driving. The Legislature should continue in that direction.


Malaysian police chief

MALAYSIA'S national police chief has resigned to take responsibility for the police beating of a former deputy prime minister who had been arrested on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct. The decision by the inspector-general of police, Abdul Rahim Noor, further discredits the case against Anwar Ibrahim, a scandalous abuse of the judicial system.

Anwar appeared in court nine days after his arrest last September with a black eye and bruises on his neck and arms. He said police punched and kicked him until he lost consciousness. Anwar had incurred the wrath of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad by disagreeing with him on the policies the government should follow in dealing with the Asian economic crisis. Mahathir fired Anwar and instigated the phony charges against him.

At the time, Mahathir suggested that Anwar may have inflicted some of the injuries on himself to win sympathy for his burgeoning reform movement. Attorney-General Mohtar Abdullah insisted that Anwar had exaggerated his beating. He declared that a government investigation was still under way and that police found guilty of hitting Anwar would be punished.

Abdul Rahim's resignation did not satisfy opposition leaders. Chandra Muzaffar, leader of a group called the International Movement for a Just World, said, "This is a very clever, crafty, cunning way of avoiding personal responsibility, by saying 'I take responsibility on behalf of the police.' We need an independent panel to investigate this."

The affair has damaged Malaysia's image as a democracy and energized the opposition to Mahathir. The police chief may be intended as a scapegoat to divert criticism from the prime minister. If so, the tactic isn't likely to succeed.

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