The British home secretary’s announcement that he is “minded” to send Gen. Augusto Pinochet home to Chile led papers around the world Wednesday. The minister, Jack Straw, has not formally decided whether to extradite Pinochet to Spain for trial on torture charges; he has said he will study “any representations he may receive,” but his statement left no doubt that he wants to send the Chilean life senator and former president back home after four doctors ruled unanimously that he isn’t well enough to face trial. The British press headlines were unequivocal: “Pinochet to be sent home” (Daily Telegraph), “Pinochet to be released” (the Times), “Pinochet to be set free” (the Guardian)—and the Chilean daily La Tercera said he was expected back in Chile before the end of January but after this weekend’s Chilean elections.
The British press said opinion in Chile is divided between celebration and despair, and it predicted furious protests by left-wing members of the ruling British Labor Party for whom Pinochet is a traditional hate figure. “They will point out that old age or failing health had not been a barrier to putting several suspected Nazi war criminals on trial in Britain,” the Daily Telegraph said.
But Hugo Young, the leading columnist of the liberal Guardian, called Straw’s decision “the right end to a thoroughly satisfactory episode.” The British authorities had been right to arrest Pinochet in October 1998 when he was in London for a back operation, and “the medical plight of this rotting old tyrant has extracted from Mr Straw a judgment that, while undoubtedly convenient for the British government, is also correct.” Pinochet will “slink away from foreign internment, after the humiliation of all that has happened to him, a broken man,” Young wrote. “Better this than the spectacle of an aged prisoner, feeble in mind and body, being hurried towards death by a Spanish court.” Pinochet had also made an historic contribution to international law by giving the British House of Lords an opportunity to rule that former heads of state can no longer claim immunity from prosecution under international conventions. Young concluded, “[L]et comfort be drawn from the immortal service he most unwillingly did: help, via the judges, make the civilised world better protected against people like himself.”
Another front-page story in many British papers Wednesday was Mike Tyson facing a probable ban from entering Britain because of his rape conviction in the United States. The former world heavyweight boxing champion is due to fly to Britain Sunday to begin training for a Jan. 29 sellout bout against Julius Francis, the British heavyweight champion. But immigration rules refuse entry to anyone who has committed a crime punishable in Britain by a jail term of 12 months or more. “The immigration rules do allow criminals to be allowed into the country on compassionate grounds, but immigration sources said that would not apply to a desire to fight Francis,” the Times of London said plausibly.
The Jerusalem Post said Wednesday in an editorial that the libel action, which began Tuesday in London, by historian David Irving against Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Atlanta’s Emory University and her British publishers, Penguin Books, “may end up being as important for this generation as the trial of Adolf Eichmann was nearly 40 years ago.” Irving is suing Lipstadt for calling him one of the world’s most prominent and dangerous “Holocaust deniers.” Conducting his own case in court, Irving denied being a Holocaust denier, which he said was “like being called a wife-beater or a paedophile.” He said that because of Lipstadt’s accusations against him in her latest book—Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory—he had seen “one fearful publisher after another falling away from me, declining to reprint my works, refusing to accept new commissions and turning their backs on me when I approach.”
Still, Irving reiterated one of his most controversial claims—that the gas chamber shown to tourists at Auschwitz is a fake built by the Poles after the war—and said that the defense’s expert witnesses would confirm this, “though perhaps the admission will have to be bludgeoned out of them.” The Jerusalem Post said, “The British court’s decision will have a major impact in the fight against the Holocaust deniers. For the sake of future generations, it is imperative that control of the past not be granted to those who would rather live in an Orwellian world of totalitarianism and antisemitism, instead of one devoted to the truth.”
The merger of AOL with Time Warner was a major story across the world Wednesday, with Wednesday’s Financial Times of London fronting a $30 billion fall in the combined stock market value of the two companies “as Monday’s euphoria over news of the world’s biggest merger gave way to a notable hang-over.” In its lead story Thursday, the Sydney Morning Herald said that market doubts about the ability of new media companies to merge successfully with old ones were partly attributed to a reported statement by Rupert Murdoch that he wasn’t interested in merging with an Internet player. In Canada, the Toronto Star saw the merger as a cultural threat. “What we can do to protect our culture from this onslaught is still unclear,” it said in an editorial. “What’s worse … we aren’t even thinking about the big American picture converging on us.” A Times of India editorial said, “For countries like India, which value not just their cultural independence but their right to an independent point of view on international political and economic issues, the AOL-Time Warner merger is grim news. The dissemination of information is far too important a business to fall into the hands of foreign monopolies with pockets so deep they could swallow the Bombay Stock Exchange’s combined market capitalisation and still have space for more.”
The Guardian of London continued its campaign Wednesday against the execution of juvenile criminals in the United States, after Chris Thomas, who committed murder at 17, was killed by lethal injection in Virginia Tuesday. Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore rejected a last-minute petition for a stay of execution. The newspaper said that “aside from the US, only four other countries currently allow the execution of juvenile offenders—Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Yemen, the only other nation to have carried out an execution of this type since 1990, has subsequently abolished the practice, as has China.”