The Uninformed Assault on Interpol Continues

It’s been a little over a week since my last post on the crazed reaction to a mundane executive order issued by President Obama regarding certain diplomatic privileges that will be extended to the International Criminal Police Organization–Interpol. Conspiricy theory spinners still have no idea what they are talking about.  As I explained before, I know Interpol fairly well because I once worked at Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France.  Hordes of  pundits, however, are conjuring tales about Interpol’s nefarious intentions and President Obama’s determination to submit Americans globe-trotting foreign police.  Take, for example, the editorial page editor of the Washington Examiner, Mark Tapscott. 

[P]erhaps Obama sincerely means to subsume U.S. law to what he views as a morally superior international body.

But what if he simply sees it as an innocuous path to the arrest and prosecution of selected political opponents for “crimes against humanity” in, say, Iraq and Afghanistan? The Far Left would get its pound of Bush-Cheney flesh, while leaving minimal blood on Obama’s hands and giving his defense and foreign policy critics reason to think twice before speaking candidly against him in the future […]

So tell us, Mr. President, why do you think Interpol should operate with no accountability and no transparency in our country?

It is clear Tapscott has no idea at all what Interpol is or what Interpol does.   Interpol does not operate in the United States.  It is a forum for cooperation of law enforcement agencies of its member states.  For example, if police in Barbados suspect that a Canadian man wanted for child rape in France is about to enter the United States, Barbados will contact Interpol, which in turn will help facilitate his arrest.  (This happened, by the way.)

But this is important: if the arrest is not conducted by Interpol officers. There is, in fact, no such thing as an Interpol officer.  Rather, the responsibilty to arrest a suspect falls to the law enforcement agencies of that country where the suspect is located.   In this case, the alleged child rapist was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers at the Miami airport.  The suspect was then entered into the American legal system prior to extradition to the country (in this case France) where the suspect is a fugitive. The point is, Interpol is more like a switchboard that facilitates communication between police of different countries. It is not an organization of international cops roaming the world for bad guys.

As misguided as Tapscott is, he does not come close to the duo of Floyd and Mary Beth Brown, who in state authoritatively: “Interpol is the enforcement arm of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”  (If only!)  And “The order guarantees that Interpol officers have immunity from prosecution for crimes they may commit in the United States.”

In fact, as I’ve said, there is no such thing as an “Interpol officer.” You have U.S. Marshalls, and FBI Agents and the like who work with Interpol. But they still work for the U.S. Marshals as Marshals or the FBI as Agents. Here in the United States they don’t have any diplomatic privileges as such.  Also, Interpol isn’t the enforcement arm of anything.  The extent of its cooperation with the ICC is this:  The ICC can ask that Interpol issue notices to its member states about people wanted by the ICC for war crimes. This could potentially facilitate the arrest of war criminals by local authorities. But again, Interpol does not enforce laws itself–it is merely a platform for helping its member states do so.   (And for the record,  the ICC actually has no enforcement arm–which is actually a problem if you believe in justice for war criminals!)  

So why is this kind of international cooperation important? Consider the case of Ahmed Shah Massoud.  He was the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance who was assassinated by al Qaeda operatives on September 9, 2001. Two Tunisian men posed as Belgian journalists of Moroccan descent to gain access to Massoud.  They were able to do so because because they got their hands on two pre-issued Belgian passports that were stolen from the Belgian embassy in the Hague, The Netherlands.   They traveled the world on those fraudulent passports because local law enforcement and immigration officials had no good way of knowing that a stack of Belgian passports bearing specific passport numbers were stolen “blank.”

That was 2001.  Today, Interpol has since developed a pretty sophisticated way in which national law enforcement organizations can share information about stolen passports and other modes of criminal intelligence.  The point is, this kind of basic criminal intelligence sharing is the bread and butter of what Interpol does. The world would be a safer place if international law enforcement cooperation through Interpol became more widespread.   


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