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Posted at 2:01 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Channeling Jesse Helms at The Post

By Marc Thiessen

In my last column, I advised conservative insurgents taking their seats in Congress that if they follow the model of Jesse Helms and stand for principle even when it is unpopular, the world will eventually come their way.

If they want proof, they need look no further than last week's excellent Post editorial chastising the International Criminal Court (which Helms vigorously opposed during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee).

In its editorial, "ICC trial may harm Kenya's reform," The Post reviewed the court's bleak record, including its indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and declared:

[I]t's not clear that the court's actions have done more good than harm. The indictment of Mr. Bashir on genocide charges, though undoubtedly merited, has complicated efforts to broker peace in Darfur and hindered an upcoming secession referendum in southern Sudan.

And, the editorial noted, the ICC's unaccountable prosecutor has charged ahead with still other problematic indictments.

Rather than pull in his horns, the court's prosecutor, Argentine Luis Moreno Ocampo, has grown more ambitious. Earlier this year he used, for the first time, the court's authority to initiate an investigation, rather than acting on a referral from member states or the U.N. Security Council.

This decision may now put at risk Kenya's democratic reforms and plunge the country into violence:

For the past three years Kenya has been slowly seeking to recover from the violence and the ethnic tensions it unleashed, with mixed results.... Mr. Ocampo has now inserted the ICC into this delicate situation.... The danger is that, instead of consolidating the fragile new political order, the prosecution of senior political figures will drag Kenya back toward civil war. Justice for human rights crimes is important; but Kenya's continued peace and democratic progress is of greater value than another endless prosecution in The Hague.

All these arguments against ICC interference bear a striking resemblance to those Helms made in The Post twelve years ago. In a 1998 op-ed, Helms warned that the decision of a rogue Spanish judge to indict former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was a harbinger of the damage a rogue ICC prosecutor could one day wreak. Wrote Helms:

In July, during the Rome Conference to establish an International Criminal Court, I warned that such a court would be arbitrary and contemptuous of national judicial processes and would trample the sovereignty of democratic nations. The delegates and "human rights" activists in Rome scoffed at my concerns. The new system of international justice, they promised, would never allow a rogue prosecutor, answerable to no government or institution, to interfere with the national reconciliation process of a stable democracy with a functioning legal system. Only dictatorships would be affected.

Well, follow their deeds, not their words. The treatment of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet has confirmed my every warning. Today a rogue Spanish judge is using "international law" to trample Chilean sovereignty and overrule Chile's functioning judiciary, its democratically elected government and the decision of its people to choose national reconciliation over revenge. And the advocates of the International Criminal Court are cheering him along.

Helms pointed out that Pinochet had voluntarily submitted his rule to a national plebiscite and then respected the results of that popular vote by stepping down. And, he continued:

The Chilean people took stock of Pinochet's legacy -- both the successes and excesses of his regime -- and made a conscious decision to move on. Some may disagree with this, but it was a decision for the Chilean people alone to make. Now comes Baltasar Garzon, who has arbitrarily decided he will overrule their decision. Okay, if overruling Chile's national reconciliation is acceptable, how about South Africa? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission just declared that the African National Congress committed gross violations of human rights, including torture, assassination and summary execution of hundreds of political opponents. ANC leaders all received amnesty. Should some foreign judge now have the power to overrule that decision and force them to stand trial? ... [H]ow about Mikhail Gorbachev? Under his leadership, the Soviet Union committed genocidal acts, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, and sent KGB death squads into Latvia and Lithuania. Should Gorbachev be arrested on his next speaking tour? Jiang Zemin travels freely between the capitals of Europe. Why not arrest him and prosecute him for the thousands he murdered in Tiananmen Square?

The bottom line, Helms warned, is that indictments by unaccountable international prosecutors will undermine peace, national reconciliation, and transitions to democracy:

Garzon and his allies counter that they are putting dictators on notice that justice now reaches across borders. Dictators will be put on notice, all right. And the lesson will be: Never step down -- you'd be a fool to give up power, as Pinochet did. Fight until the last man.... If dictators cannot be offered amnesty or safety in exile, they will never hand power to democratic movements. The incentive will be for greater repression, not less. This is the world crusaders for an International Criminal Court are unwittingly creating. The United States must actively oppose it.

The ICC's actions in Sudan and Kenya have vindicated Helms. And while Helms's arguments are perhaps more colorfully put than The Post's editorial last week, the underlying message is essentially the same. As The Post put it, "Justice for human rights crimes is important; but... continued peace and democratic progress is of greater value than another endless prosecution in The Hague."

Jesse Helms could not have said it better himself.

By Marc Thiessen  | January 4, 2011; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Thiessen  | Tags:  Marc Thiessen  
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the real question though is this: why give power to these fools? what enforcement power does the ICC have? Just like our government in America the power is supposed to reside with the people. If we reject the court, how will it enforce its foolish edicts? To quote stalin: How many divisions does he have?

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 4, 2011 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Only a dang fool would suggest that someone "channel Jesse Helms" as some kind of wise, thoughtful concerned arbiter of civil justice. I guess we know in which camp Thiessen sits.

Jesse Helms may have been against the ICC, but he was no friend of civil rights or justice or fairness. He was an out and out racist who assumed positions only when they were convenient to advance his political aspirations.

Standing on your principles -- when you are as wrong as Helms was on most everything -- is not how to become a statesman. Being inconsistent in championing the fair application rule of law -- even when it is applied in a foreign court, and especially when as in the case of many of the persons (former government leaders, tyrants, despots, dictators) who come before the ICC -- is not behavior to emulate.

Nice try Thiessen, but Jesse Helms as a role model? You've got to be flacking kidding me.

Posted by: jade_7243 | January 4, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Marc Thiessen has a soft spot for Mr. Helms. See this eulogy from 2008.

Notice at the bottom it says, "The writer, the chief White House speechwriter, was Foreign Relations Committee spokesman for Sen. Jesse Helms from 1995 to 2001."

Jesse had a great sense of humor. True.

But to balance Thiessen's totally unbalanced portrait here is an equally unbalanced Mother Jones one. Interesting read too.

Posted by: LHO39 | January 4, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Mr. Thiessen gets one small thing right but totally misses the big picture. Yes, the Post Editorial Board, led by neocon Fred Hiatt, all too frequently channels Jesse Helms. But that development should be deplored, not saluted.

Thankfully, most WP writers continue to report and analyze facts, not ideological tracts. Too bad Mr. Thiessen isn't capable or willing to follow suit, but persists in churning out stuff like this.

Posted by: DCSteve1 | January 4, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Of course Helms hated to see Pinochet indicted. But not for any love of democracy. Helms was one of the prime movers behind the military coupe that ousted the democratically elected government of Allende and installed the dictatorship of Pinochet. Now Theissen (without mentioning that he was a paid mouthpiece for Helms) wants to equate Helms' opposition to the International Court-- because it might indict a military dictator that he supported-- with care that an indictment might undermine efforts to stop genocide in Sudan. Mr. Theissen's dissembling is an embarrassment to the Post. But what did Mr. Hiatt expect when he hired not one but two of George Bush's professional liars?

Posted by: turningfool | January 4, 2011 8:24 PM | Report abuse

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