Friday, December 28, 2007

President is doing the right thing by vetoing bill.

It is exceedingly rare that I agree with George W. Bush, and even more so that I agree with him or say he is right about anything pertaining to Iraq, but I will say that he is right in his statement that he will veto the defense spending bill, depsite provisions (which everyone agrees are sorely needed) increasing soldiers' pay and spending more on veterans funding.

At issue is a provision in the bill which would allow survivors or relatives of victims of atrocities committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein to sue the present Iraqi government. The provision would have frozen Iraqi assets as soon as a suit was filed. The Iraqi government had threatened to withdraw $25 billion in assets from American banks.

I have no problem with the concept that victims of Saddam's regime should be able to sue for damages and receive compensation for the horrible things that were done to them. And it is a longstanding international principle that the successor government (in this case the present Iraqi government) is responsible for settling matters attributable to the nation, including those charged to the previous government. Usually this applies to international debts and obligations (banknotes, for example) but it can apply to individual human rights cases (so for example the German government has set up a fund to help pay Holocaust victims.) It is also true that much of the Iraqi assets in question were accrued under Saddam's regime.

However, while I believe that it would be entirely appropriate for the present government of Iraq to set up a system to compensate Saddam's victims or their families and dedicate to that fund money which was accrued by Saddam's government, such settlements have to be set up in a structured and clearly defined manner. The bill the President is vetoing would simply have allowed lawsuits to proceed in a haphazard manner and result in the freezing of all the assets. Another closely related fact of the matter is that there are many thousands, maybe even millions of people who could file suit. However if this were simply pursued in U.S. courts, the likelihood is that those few who got in first would receive the lion's share of the cash (they, and their lawyers) in which case the assets would soon be used up and there would be nothing left for most of the victims.

I hope that the reason for the President's veto is because he understands this and recognizes that there should be a provision in place allowing victims of the former regime to collect damages, just that it has to be set up by the Iraqi government in a formal legal framework, as opposed to simply doing the bidding of the al-Maliki government and having no concern at all for the rights of those who did suffer.

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