Evading justice? (I)
Cheating pursuers who believed they were days away from capturing him for trial, toppled Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot apparently died in his sleep-evading worldly prosecution in the deaths of as many as 2 million countrymen. He was 73. Wire-service reports said Cambodians wept in disappointment after hearing that Pol Pot had died of heart failure last week in a jungle hut on the Thai border, even as the last diehard members of his vanquished movement were moving toward surrendering him to an international tribunal. A Cambodian defense minister told Agence France Presse, "We could not prevent his death. It is unfortunate and we are sad because we wanted him to be tried." Sydney Schanberg, the New York Times reporter who wrote The Death and Life of Dith Pran, the book on the Khmer Rouge that became the basis for Killing Fields, was initially skeptical of the death story. He raised the possibility on CNN that Pol Pot may have been slipped into China. But Mr. Schanberg said even if Pol Pot really is dead, that shouldn't end the pursuit of justice. Many of Pol Pot's associates are alive and well and have plenty of blood on their hands. "This is like saying, well, Hitler is dead, but Himmler and Goebbels have reformed themselves. They shouldn't be brought to trial. They should go free." Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, killing everyone who stood in the way of remaking the country into a Marxist agrarian regime. One person in five died of starvation, illness, or execution. Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, whom the Khmer Rouge deposed, recently described Pol Pot as "one of the most powerful monsters ever created by humanity."
Evading justice? (II)
After enjoying a stunning dismissal in the Paula Jones case, President Clinton and his spinners will have to buckle down again, now that Mrs. Jones has decided to appeal. The fundamental question 'Is exposing one's self and crudely soliciting sex "outrageous" behavior under the law?'will be up to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide. Regardless of the outcome, the presidential evasion remains: Mr. Clinton likely won't face trial in office.
World Court sovereignty?
When Paraguayan Angel Francisco Breard was sentenced to death for a 1992 murder and attempted rape, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the World Court pleaded that he be spared. Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore refused and, backed by the Justice Department, state officials executed Mr. Breard, 32, by injection. His last words: "Glory be to God." In the days leading up to the execution, the 15-member United Nations Tribunal ruled that the execution be blocked. Why? Virginia authorities failed to notify Paraguay of Mr. Breard's arrest as required by the Vienna Convention. Gov. Gilmore, formerly the state's attorney general, said that obeying the World Court "would have the practical effect of transferring responsibility from the courts of the commonwealth and the United States to the International Court." That court wanted the execution delayed while its global panel of judges decided whether Mr. Breard deserved a new trial. Rulings by the World Court are not binding. Ms. Albright said she feared the case would jeopardize the safety of Americans arrested in other countries. Mr. Gilmore said he shared her concern about the safety of Americans abroad, but that he was also concerned about the safety of Virginians from murderers: "People are entitled to know they will be safe in their homes." Earlier in the day of the execution the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, also refused to block it. Mr. Breard forfeited his right to complain about his embassy's not being contacted because he failed to assert his claim in state court. What he did claim in state court was that the devil made him do it. A memo addressed to Mr. Breard from his incredulous lawyers outlined the slim defense evidence: "We have advised you that the only defense will consist of your testimony that you are not responsible for [the murder] because you were the victim of a satanic curse which forced you to commit this act." The jury didn't buy Mr. Breard's attempt to evade individual responsibility. He was convicted of stabbing Ruth Dickie, a 39-year-old neighbor, five times on Feb. 17, 1992. He told police he intended to rape her, but ran away when he heard someone knock on the door. Mr. Breard immigrated in 1986. Paraguay and Mr. Breard's defense team contend that if he had been allowed to contact the consulate, he would have been advised to accept a plea agreement that would have spared his life. U.S. authorities deny such an offer was made. Prosecutors say Mr. Breard had plenty of legal help and that he did not raise any concerns during his highly publicized trial. In January, a U.S. federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit Paraguay had filed against Virginia, saying the Constitution prohibits foreign governments from suing states.
Is it anti-religious bias or merely bureaucracy run amok? Whatever the case, the battle over home Bible studies in Greenville, S.C., appears far from over (see WORLD, April 4). On April 7, Gov. David Beasley signed a new law prohibiting local governments from banning church-related activities in private homes. But the zoning board has refused to retreat from its threat of $1,000-a-day fines if Orie Wenger continues holding weekly prayer groups in his house. The controversy is "absolutely not" about religion, according to Avery Wood, a former chairman of the Greenville zoning board. "It's about the zoning ordinance," he insists, adding that board members are being more than fair by extending the deadline for Mr. Wenger to appeal the decision. "We thought it was courteous, proper, and civil to do what we did. The board acted with reasonableness and concern and they pushed the clock back 30 days.... [The board has] got to go by the book." Gary Karr, a spokesman for Gov. Beasley, says the governor is concerned about what appears to be a gross violation of legal and constitutional rights. "If I have people over more than once to watch a stock car race, I'll be in trouble, apparently," Mr. Karr says. "It's not only a faith issue but a civil government issue." The zoning board may continue to play by the book, but it finds itself without a book to throw at Mr. Wenger, should he defy the order. That's because the county council and local administrators have refused to enforce the board+s decision, leading to an intra-governmental stalemate that has everyone wondering who's in charge. "The governor is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect Pastor Wenger's rights," Mr. Karr says. "He's certainly hoping that the zoning board sees the error of its ways."
The Lennon case
The vast right-wing conspiracy strikes again. This time, it's responsible for the 1980 murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon. Or so says his 22-year-old son, Sean. Young Mr. Lennon, out promoting a new album, outlined the theory in an interview last week with the New Yorker. The powers-that-be wanted John Lennon dead because he was a "countercultural" figure. Never mind that by 1980, the mainstream culture had completely embraced the John Lennon philosophy. He was dangerous to the government," Sean Lennon claimed. "If he had said, 'Bomb the White House tomorrow,' there would have been 10,000 people who would have done it. ... Pacifist revolutionaries are historically killed by the government." Leslie Doolittle of The Orlando Sentinel poked a gaping hole in the conspiracy theory: "Pacifists also historically don+t tell people to bomb stuff."
Specks and logs
From the moment he appeared last week on television, Democratic National Committee member Bob Mulholland-who'd told a newspaper reporter he planned to dig up dirt on Republican accusers of the president-was on the defensive. Today host Matt Lauer challenged Mr. Mulholland to explain the difference between his threat and "blackmail." Mr. Mulholland said he simply wanted to focus attention on the "personal lives" of some congressional Republicans who might stand in judgment of the president whenever the independent counsel's report is completed. "After all, it's the Republicans led by Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, or California Governor Pete Wilson who all dumped their first wives for younger women," he said on Today. "Then they go on TV and attack Democrats and the president. I just think it's outrageous. And I think if Bob Barr [congressman from Georgia and a leading proponent of the view that the president should be impeached] and some of these other Republicans have had two, three, or four families, then let the American people know it." Point taken. But not by top Democrats, White House officials, or Republicans-who all wanted the campaign stopped. It's fallacious, of course, to suggest that because accusers have moral failings, it excuses the behavior of the accused. But there+s a biblical principle in play also: Republicans who want to look for specks in the eyes of the president had better also be on guard against logs in their own.
America's dream of the Internet as a haven from big government is being rudely interrupted. Al Gore held a big ceremony last week announcing that three high-tech firms donated $500 million in services to support a big online public works project called Internet2. This experiment aims to improve online connections, but it won't be open to the public. It will exist as a testbed for corporations, academics, and government agencies to try new technologies. Internet2's promoters expect big business to take the federally funded R&D gleaned from this project and improve the real Internet. Critics say the whole thing is corporate welfare and that high-tech firms can afford to improve their systems without the government holding their hands. Meanwhile, the government inches closer to taxing the Internet. Another wing of the executive branch is considering regulating a growing part of the online world: routing telephone calls over the Internet to bypass the red tape and fees involved in normal long distance service. Right now, experimental Internet phone services are charging prices as low as a nickel a minute. Flat-rate phone calls could be available from coast to coast in 10 years. FCC Chairman Bill Kennard could change all that. His agency is pondering proposals that Internet phone companies be forced to pay fees. The FCC reported to Congress that it is not ready to conclude that the Internet long distance should be taxed as a telecommunications service, but left the door open to future action. Another tax could come from state governments that fear online shopping. The millions who surf the net and buy everything from airline tickets to books to cars are a threat to their tax revenue from local strip malls and gallerias. Last month, the National Governors+ Association and local officials endorsed legislation by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) to impose a three-year moratorium on new Internet taxes. This buys the government time to figure out how to create Internet sales taxes. President Clinton also supports the bill.
There+s no easy fix
Bill Gates is gearing for a fight with the 2000 bug. Microsoft just launched a new Web site (www.microsoft.com/year2000/) detailing problems in some of its popular programs, including Windows 95. Millions of users must make "minor" upgrades to keep their systems running at full speed. Most programs need a simple fix to survive 1999. Others, like Word 5 for DOS, must be scrapped entirely. In announcing the site, Microsoft Year 2000 strategy manager Jason Matusow said that most problems are minor, even though many users do not expect programs written in the 1990s to have problems reading dates. Still, Microsoft has mobilized an army of hundreds of techies to battle the bug. If their fixes fail, they could face massive legal bills. Mr. Matusow said users, particularly small businessmen, should check their systems for problems and prepare for repairs. "There is no silver bullet for the 2000 problem," he said. "There's no easy fix." He said most PC problems come from custom-made business applications and hardware with bad internal clocks. The Microsoft executive said that PCs rolled off the assembly lines as late as 1997 that will think the year 2000 is 1900 or 1980 or not know that that year is a leap year. Meanwhile, with the U.S. Senate scheduled to reconvene on April 20, it is expected to set up a special committee about the 2000 problem. This group of four Republicans and three Democrats will hold hearings on the millennium bug and possibly recommend new laws on how to handle the problem. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) is expected to become chairman. Last November, Mr. Bennett urged President Clinton to appoint a 2000 Bug Czar "to ensure that our country averts potential public or private sector failures and maintains a sound economy at the turn of the century." That office was created two months ago and filled with John A. Koskinen, a former deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget. Today, this appointee visits various federal agencies trying to get them motivated about upgrading their systems while trying to give a positive White House spin to a bad situation.