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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2005

Unfinished business on the world stage

INTERNATIONAL and national politics are as full of "Whatever happened to's" as books on 1950s rhythm and blues artists.

The difference is that you can find out what happened to Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters; digging out the fate of political issues and notorious personalities is harder because the answer is frequently buried deep in the compost heap of current history.

The latest candidate for such interment is the question of who killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Syrians, with hundreds of intelligence agents in Lebanon, are in a position to find out. That they have not leads to a reasonable conclusion that they did it, or had it done. What is relevant to the contention above is that attention on and in Lebanon has now shifted from who killed Mr. Hariri to other questions: Will the Syrian troops withdraw? Will the Lebanese elections scheduled for May take place or be postponed, consigned in their turn to the Lebanese political junk pile?

Another subject resisting resolution and risking burial, this time in the United States, is who is responsible for the torture of prisoners that has been carried out in the wake of the 9/11 attack? It seems that such torture has been carried out by Americans of the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, or contractors, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and probably at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as well.

Trying to find out who ordered the torture - finding out who did it has proved not to be impossible - has been almost as hard as finding out who ordered the dispatch of Mr. Hariri. The Bush Administration so far has asked us to believe that it was carried out by low-ranking soldiers - rogue acts that no one told them to do. Anyone who is prepared to believe that knows nothing about military chain of command and chain of responsibility.

The question of which senior Bush Administration official or officials revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists is another matter that is starting to grow mold in the back of the vegetable drawer.

The CIA demanded an urgent inquiry in July, 2003. After former Attorney General John Ashcroft was recused from the case for conflict of interest, an allegedly tough, honest prosecutor named Patrick Fitzgerald was given the job of digging out the culprit or culprits. At last glance, Mr. Fitzgerald was busy trying to lock up journalists who wouldn't hand over to him the names of the felonious snitches, rather than finding out which recipient of a green federal government paycheck actually did the dirty deed.

It happens on the international level as well. The government of the former Yugoslavia turned over former president Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2001. His war crimes trial started in 2002. Milosevic managed to get himself allowed to conduct his own defense, and then got sick, which he has stayed, off and on, ever since. If the fortune that has been spent on The Hague circus had been spent rebuilding the Serbia-Montenegro justice system, and Milosevic put on trial there, the matter would be long over. The Serbs would have witnessed the trial, been unable to imagine that the fallen hero that Milosevic portrays himself to be was heroic in the slightest, and Slobo would be locked up somewhere in deepest, darkest Serbia, where he belongs.

And then we have a monster like Haile Mengistu Mariam, the former Ethiopian dictator who once burst into a meeting of his own cabinet and machine-gunned half his ministers. He remains in exile in Zimbabwe, the cave of less openly bloody but equally destructive president Robert Mugabe. Mugabe ignores the Ethiopians' efforts to get Mengistu back to put him on trial. Mugabe - and many of the other African leaders, who consider the affair a big embarrassment - would much prefer that Ethiopian war crimes trials never take place and that Mengistu become yet another "whatever happened to" in African chronicles.

Finally, there is one that American politicians wish we would all forget about, but which, by law, has to be addressed, beginning this month. That is BRAC. No, BRAC does not refer to water unprotected by lax environmental protection measures or a video game burst of ray-gun fire. It stands for Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It is a mechanism by which no longer needed U.S. military facilities and operations are closed to save money. Places where the facilities are located, and the members of Congress who are subject to voters in those places, for the most part hate BRAC.

But, in spite of being unloved, it will rise like the zombies in The Night of the Living Dead to stalk the land. As many as 400 of 1,625 installations may be set for closure. The wrecking ball will swing May 16, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is required to submit a list of military installations for the chopper. The BRAC list goes to President Bush Sept. 8. The whole operation is supposed to be completed by April 15, 2006 - appropriately enough, the day income tax is due, since it is the taxpayers who otherwise will continue to pay for the no longer needed military facilities in question.

The old saw says that some things are best left forgotten. Not this list.

Hariri, American torture, Valerie Plame, Milosevic, Mengistu, and BRAC are still important unfinished business, which must not to be allowed to be swept under the rug with action uncompleted.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.



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