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 Tuesday, June 17, 2003

  Rumsfeld's Blackmail to Belgium: We Don't Like YOUR LAW, Change It or Else

Belgium is given a stark choice: Retain their national law against war crimes, including that alleged against Americans, or the Bush Adminstration, backed by Congress, will threaten to take NATO HQ out of Brussels. US soldiers involved in the Iraq war are being charged in a Belgian lawsuit for war crimes.

No, this time it is not smart bunker bombs and hi-tech missiles to protect American soldiers against a foreign country, but simply US greenbacks as its weapon. Because it is a European nation. The United States pays for one-quarter of all NATO operating costs. Last year, that equaled $169 million.

Belgium had stood with France and Germany in opposing the war in Iraq. It is Bush Administration's time to strike back with its financial blackmail ( leverage is what diplomatic circles called) .

Excerpt from Fox News report:

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States would try to relocate the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization if Belgium doesn’t abolish the law giving rise to war crimes allegations. Rumsfeld made it clear that he expects NATO leaders to lean on the Belgians. "All I am doing is stating the problem, and that solution is really more up to Belgium and up to NATO than up to the United States," Rumsfeld said.

Among the defendants in the Belgian lawsuit is Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been accused of committing war crimes when he was defense secretary during the first Gulf War.

Other defendants include former President George Herbert Walker Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded Operation Desert Storm (search). All of them stand to be tried for killing civilians when U.S. forces bombed a bunker in 1991.Another suit was filed in April against General Tommy Franks, commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom

"Some of the war crimes committed were very clearly the responsibility not of the men on the ground, but of the superior commander of the troops, for example, the use of cluster bombs against civilian targets," said Belgian lawyer Jan Fremont.

The Belgian government's response to the threat?

Excerpt from Craig S. Smith of New York Times' report:
The Belgian government reacted angrily , arguing that the country had already addressed Washington’s concerns.

‘‘I’d like to once again repeat to Mr. Rumsfeld that Belgium has amended the genocide law,’’ Belgium’s foreign minister, Louis Michel, said Friday on the state radio. ‘‘We have changed it precisely to meet the fears of our American friends.’’

Belgian officials suggested that Rumsfeld’s outburst was as much punishment for their position on Iraq.

The ( Belgian) law allows anyone to bring allegations of war crimes in Belgian courts regardless of where the alleged crimes took place. It was recently amended to allow politically motivated cases to be dismissed by transferring them to the defendants’ home country — as was done with a recent lawsuit brought by a group of Iraqis against General Tommy Franks.

But the United States is not satisfied with case-by-case resolutions and wants Belgium to strike the law.

During a meeting of NATO defense ministers here Thursday, Rumsfeld (was) saying the United States would withhold financing for a new NATO headquarters in Belgium as long as the law remained on the books.

He said Belgium had ‘‘turned its legal system into a platform for divisive, politicized lawsuits against officials of its NATO allies,’’ adding that the United States would have to ‘‘seriously consider’’ whether to continue to allow senior U.S. officials to visit Brussels.

Belgian government officials, including Rumsfeld’s Belgian counterpart, Defense Minister Andre Flahaut, suggested that the law might be further altered to satisfy American concerns. But politicians here do not want to be seen taking orders from America.

The issue in this latest non-military confrontation by Rumsfeld with another country is this: Does Belgium have the marbles to stand up to Donald Rumsfeld?

For one thing, President Bush lost his marbles soon after he had criticised Israel's attempted assassinaton of a Hamas leader, that not only resulted in the murder of a woman and small child, which Bush said as only "troubling" him, but one that led to the escalating violence. Bush had said " I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don't believe the attacks helped Israeli security."

Robert Fisk regarded this "troubling" statement by Bush as "cowardly, and gutless".

As expected, US Congressmen and Pro-Israel lobbyists went after Bush for his statements.

Now Bush and Powell are saying, in cahoot with the US media, the problem lies more with Hamas and not Israel, trumpeting the standard verbiage that "Israel has the right to defend itself".

But we don't hear of the right of Palestinians to defend itself against the might of the Israeli army funded in billions of US taxpayer's dollars annually for its military hardware against the weaker Palestinians.

Read HERE Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA)'s "Summary -U.S Financial Aid To Israel:Figures, Facts, and Impact "

Last year, when Bush asked Ariel Sharon to stop without delay the expansion of illegal settlements, Sharon virtually told Bush to go and stuff it. And Bush said nothing.

Unfortunately for Belgium, it does not wield the kind of influence and power in Washington as Israel does.

We will watch where Belgium's priority will be on display : either it withholds its national pride of its own law or willing to lose the prestige of a NATO HQ in its capital?

A case of retaining sovereignty principles versus the US chequebook intimidation. The bookies are putting the chequebook threat to win over the Belgians . What a shame.

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