Letter: Acts of tyranny

Sir: With regard to the case of General Pinochet, it is interesting to note the judgement in US v Noriega, June 1990.

Counsel for General Noriega, the former Panamanian leader, argued that Noriega was immune from prosecution as a head of state and diplomat, and that his alleged narcotics offences constituted acts of state not properly reviewable by the court.

Judge Hoeveler, United States District Judge, commented that "the doctrine of head of state immunity provides that a head of state is not subject to the jurisdiction of foreign courts, at least as to official acts taken during the ruler's term of office.... Criminal activities such as the narcotics trafficking with which defendant is charged can hardly be considered official acts or governmental duties which promote a sovereign state's interests."

He concluded that, "Noriega was the de facto head of Panama's government. But simply because Noriega may have in fact run the country of Panama does not mean he is entitled to head of state immunity, since the grant of immunity is a privilege which the United States may withhold from any claimant.... His claim to a `right' of immunity against the express wishes of the government is wholly without merit."

It could likewise be argued that torture and conspiracy to torture do not constitute official acts or governmental duties.

PAUL TANNER

London SE15

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