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Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2001 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Burden of proof

Iraq is not entitled to a presumption of moral equality with the United States --
IT is often said that we can take the war against global terrorism to Iraq only if we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks.

That is the wrong standard.

We require proof beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction of a crime because of the presumption of moral equality in civil society. Every citizen is presumed morally equal unless there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he has done something criminally wrong. Not every decent society requires such strong proof before applying the sanctions of criminal law. Yet it is the standard this country insists on.

But in international relations there should be no presumption of the moral equality of nation-states. Nation-states have histories, and they are not morally equal. The United States has a history of promoting freedom and equality throughout the world. It has sacrificed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and put at risk the lives of hundreds of millions, to do so.

Other nations have different histories. Germans today understand that the deeds of the Nazi regime in 1933-45 impose serious obligations on their nation. They prohibit the publication of Nazi propaganda and Nazi symbols-something the United States, with its First Amendment, could never do. They limit the application of German military power. They recognize that, while Germany today is a decent and humane nation, its history imposes special obligations.

Other nations have different histories. Take Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq has a history of making aggressive war, sponsoring terrorism, developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Iraq is not entitled to a presumption of moral equality with the United States.

Which leads us to the question: What is the standard of proof the United States should apply before going to war with Iraq?

According to Rick Jervis and Marcus Walker of the Wall Street Journal, writing on Monday, October 22, Mohamed Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers, met with one or more Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague on June 2, 2000 and was observed by Czech counterintelligence officials. Atta had attempted to enter the Czech Republic on May 30, and had been denied entry because he lacked legally required documents. He traveled from Berlin to Bonn and obtained such documents before June 2. On June 3 he flew to the United States.

According to the same article, Atta returned to Prague in April 2001 and met with an Iraqi diplomat who was expelled from the Czech Republic later that month for "engaging in activities beyond his diplomatic duties."

Those who argue that we cannot make war on Iraq absent proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it was involved in the September 11 attacks argue that such meetings are not enough, by themselves, to justify targeting Iraq. We do not know what was said at those meetings. They may have been talking about something else altogether. Evidently they would require a transcript of those conversations before deciding that Iraq was part of the planning for Al Qaeda's terror. But of course a transcript is unlikely to be forthcoming. Atta is dead, and, so, cannot provide information. The Iraqi intelligence agent or agents he met with are not going to give testimony.

But the absence of such evidence should not prevent us from drawing the logical inferences about the meetings. For these meetings were extraordinary. All that we know about Atta suggests that he was careful not to meet with conspirators beyond his cell. He must have known that in meeting with an Iraqi intelligence official he might be observed by counterintelligence. He went to some trouble to attend these meetings. It is possible that Atta and the Iraqis talked about nothing more than setting up an interfaith, multinational office Christmas party. But not likely.

If we evaluate these meetings in light of Iraq's history as an aggressive, terrorist state, they must be taken as evidence of Iraq's involvement in the September 11 attacks. To fail to move against Iraq is to fail to move against a terrorist state that is certainly capable of and has an inclination to be involved in the terrorist war against America. It may be prudent for the moment for our leaders not to highlight the evidence of Iraqi involvement and to wait until the moment to strike. But we already have evidence that meets the appropriate burden of proof.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone