A Belgian lawyer representing 10 Iraqis is preparing to ask a Brussels court to indict U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks for war crimes. Among the alleged crimes are the killing of Iraqi civilians by an errant missile and permitting the looting of hospitals.
If the Belgian government isn't embarrassed by this, it should be.
In 1993, Belgium gave its courts the power to try anyone, Belgian or not, for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. The law has been largely symbolic, but even so complaints are pending against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and a clutch of African leaders.
If the complaint proceeds against Franks, he could theoretically be tried and imprisoned, assuming Belgian authorities could lay hands on him.
However, this case is unlikely to go anywhere. Washington has strongly protested, and Belgian authorities have quietly been warned that NATO might have to be relocated from Brussels if this kind of nonsense continues.
But the complaint against Franks can't be brushed off as a combination of loopy idealism and judicial overreaching. The Bush administration and much of Congress have been skeptical, even hostile, to the new International Criminal Court that came into being last year. The United States has refused to sign the treaty on the grounds that American officials would be subject to politically motivated prosecutions. The Belgian experience shows that those weren't groundless fears.