Fearing Prosecution,
Powell Slams Belgian Law

Powell lamented "this kind of legislation.makes it hard for us to go to places, it puts you at such easy risk."

WASHINGTON, March 18 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) - Fearing prosecution in over perpetrating war crimes during the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Belgium that its status as an international hub may be jeopardized.

Seven Iraqi families filed a lawsuit Tuesday, March 18, in Belgium against former U.S. president George Bush, incumbent Vice President Dick Cheney, Powell and retired U.S. General Norman Schwarzkop for the bombing of a civilian shelter in Baghdad that killed 403 people on the night of February 12-13, 1991.

"It's a serious problem," said Powell, adding Washington had deep concerns about Belgium's "universal competence" law, which allows legal proceedings against people accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide regardless of their nationality or location.

"The Belgian legislature continues to pass laws and modify them over time which permit these kinds of suits," he said in an interview with reporters from international news agencies at the State Department.

"We have cautioned our Belgian colleagues that they need to be very careful about this kind of effort, this kind of legislation, because it makes it hard for us to go to places, it puts you at such easy risk," Powell said.

"It affects the ability of people to travel in Belgium without being subject to this kind of threat," he said.

"For a place that is an international centre they should be a little bit concerned about this."

Heads of state, prime ministers and foreign ministers are immune from the Belgian law while in office, but some 30 current of former political leaders are facing legal action under the legislation, including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Powell claimed that officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels had problems with the law but stopped short of suggesting that the North Atlantic alliance might move its operations elsewhere because of the concerns.

"I know its a matter of concern at NATO headquarters now, an international headquarters sitting there in Belgium where not just U.S. officials but officials from anywhere in the world such as Sharon can be subject to this kind of litigation," he said.

Sharon could face legal action for war crimes by 23 Palestinians who survived a massacre by an Israeli-allied militia at two refugee camps in Beirut in 1982.

"If you show up, the next thing you know you're being ... who knows?," Powell said, slapping his hand on a table in a motion that appeared to indicate either being served with a lawsuit or being arrested.

Cheney was U.S. defense secretary at the time of the first Gulf War, while Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Schwarzkopf commander of the Operation Desert Storm.

The families who brought the action are either victims or relatives of victims who died in the attack, according to socialist lawmaker Patrick Moriau, who accompanied the Iraqi plaintiffs when they filed their lawsuit.

Powell said he understood that plans were being made now for another lawsuit to be filed under the same law against President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even before the start of a new invasion of Iraq.

"They are getting ready to accuse current President Bush and Don Rumsfeld ... for whatever might happen," he said.

Belgium is fiercely opposed to the looming U.S. war on Iraq, and was among three countries, along with Germany and France, which caused a crisis at NATO in February by refusing to back a U.S. request to boost Turkey's defences.

Brussels also this month refused to expel an Iraqi diplomat as requested by the United States.

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