On Wednesday, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awasat quoted unnamed ‘Libyan and Western sources’ to support claims that Gaddafi is seriously ill – a rumor quickly picked up by other media sources. True or not, such news may come in handy for someone issued with an arrest warrant by the ICC for crimes against humanity. Time and again, major international suspects have somehow succumbed to illness in a way that seems just a little too conveniently timed. A few recent examples:
- Portraying himself as being strong and healthy while in office, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak suffered an unspecified ‘heart crisis’ while undergoing questioning in April. His doctors later suggested that he is too ill – and too depressed(!) – to stand trial, though court proceedings began on 3 August. His trial was however temporarily adjourned and Mubarak transferred to a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo. Last Monday, the Egyptian judge hearing the case decided – much to the dismay of some – that the trial would no longer be televised.
- A month after being deposed by the popular uprising that started the ‘Arab Spring’, Tunisia’s former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was reported to be seriously ill in a Saudi hospital. Neverthless, in June, a Tunisian court tried him and his wife in absentia and sentenced them to 35 years in jail for embezzlement and the misuse of public funds.
- The interrogation of war criminal Ratko Mladic in Belgrade was temporarily suspended for medical reasons. He has since been deemed fit for extradition and his trial in The Hague began on 3 June. In a very positive development, it was revealed just this week that Mladic’s case would be split, to ensure swift justice in the light of the suspect’s deteriorating health.
The perhaps most famous exploitation of the ‘too sick to stand trial’ phrase was by Chile’s former military ruler Augusto Pinochet. In 2002, after Chile’s courts removed Pinochet’s self-imposed immunity from prosecution, the Supreme Court suspended the case against the General on grounds of mental incapacity. Many believed that the medical examinations were flawed. In 2004, the Chilean Supreme Court overturned its previous decision – but the General died two years later without having been convicted of any of the many charges leveled against him.
In Pinochet’s own words:
|I don’t remember, but it’s not true. And if it were true, I don’t remember.|