As a technical matter, there is a lot that is agreeable about arresting a criminal wherever he runs out of cover and making him answer for his crimes. It was widely thought pointless to proceed with the investigations by the World Court given the unlikeliness that the defendants would ever appear before a tribunal, let alone stand by a gibbet. Peter Galbraith, formerly U.S. ambassador to Croatia, remarked a year ago that Slobodan Milosevic is distinctly aware of the impediments attached to his situation. He can't leave the country; and even within his own country he needs to take special care because bounty hunters, whether moved by money or blood passion, might swoop down on him, as happened to Adolf Eichmann, and whisk him off to The Hague.
But the General Pinochet business really burns us conservatives up. The reason being that it is, above all things, an act of ideological malice. Ask the most relevant questions:
-- Was this an obvious application of acknowledged international responsibility? No. If it were so, why wasn't Pinochet arrested on one of his other trips to the United Kingdom, which he has frequently visited? What makes it the right thing for the Blair government to do if the Major government did not do it? If it was obvious that Pinochet should have been detained, why was not Major criticized for failing to do so?
-- If Pinochet's diplomatic passport was invalid, on the grounds that he was engaged, in England, on private business (his health), then why was he admitted into England under that passport? Does this not get to sound like an ambush?
-- Is it really the case that countries that support the World Court are going to start interning passers-by against whom a claim is filed that they were in positions of power when one or more civilians were imprisoned or executed?
That is a mouthful of an idea. Which will be the first country to nab Gorbachev? He was in power for six years during which how many Afghans were killed, to say nothing of Russians and others who got in the way of the KGB?
Fidel Castro presumably has a diplomatic passport, but what about the sundry ex-Castro officials who served in positions of power and seem to wander about the globe without any problem? Che Guevara was one of those. Has anyone begun to count the East Germans, who enforced the rule of Moscow with such accoutrements as a Berlin Wall buttressed by machine guns, razor wire, gas, grenades and wild dogs -- where are all those people? Is it sheer luck that they haven't had to go to London for treatment for their backs?
And then, respecting Pinochet himself, there are the qualifiers.
-- Pinochet took power in September 1973, against a president who was defiling the Chilean constitution and waving proudly the banner of his friend and idol, Fidel Castro. Across the Andes there was civil rage as revolutionaries and leftist activists sought power and engaged in terrorism. Pinochet fought back. It is charged that 3,000 people lost their lives. It is worth reflecting on the great cost of civil wars. Our own resulted in 365,000 deaths. In order to avoid civil war, extreme actions are taken.
Did Pinochet give off the flavor of a sadist? A thoughtless, indifferent executioner? Are we quite certain that the job that needed doing could have been done by a few MIT technicians, with less bloodshed?
-- Does it matter to the British government that Pinochet put Chile to the use of the British in the Falklands War? This act, considered fratricidal by many Latin Americans, was critically helpful to the British. Is this in any way relevant?
-- Pinochet gradually diminished his own power, gave over the government to voters chastened after their experience with Salvador Allende. He served as chief of the army for as long as he thought a watchful eye was needed, and inasmuch as he gave up that office for a permanent senatorial seat, isn't it reasonable to conclude that his judgment was relatively free of vainglory?
-- And, finally: Since we are engaged in slowly putting into place the machinery to exact justice for crimes against humanity, does it really make sense, as a human matter, to start in on a retired 82-year-old general in London to see his doctor? Yes, and to send him to Spain to be tried. Every Spaniard with a sense of history should be giving thanks every day for having had an Augusto Pinochet in their past.
Write to William Buckley at Universal Press Syndicate: 520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111.