How to get away with murder

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ired? Stressed? Bit of back trouble? What could be more agreeable than a stay in a private foreign hospital with attentive, uncomplaining staff? Somewhere like Vienna, perhaps, where Izzat Ibrahim Al Douri has just spent a week in the plush Doeblinger clinic. Al Douri was so exhausted by his demanding job as Saddam Hussein's No 2 (it was he who commanded the Iraqi forces that bombed and gassed thousands of Kurds in 1988) that he arrived in Austria on a month's visa, intending to make the most of his spell of R & R.

Then, on Wednesday evening, he suddenly altered his plans and left the country, apparently on a flight to Amman. The reason for his change of heart was that he had come to the attention of a Vienna Green Party MP, Peter Pilz, who uncharitably asked the Ministry of Justice to arrest him on charges of genocide and torture.

Al Douri is the latest victim of the Pinochet effect, the shiver that has gone through mass murderers the world over since the Beast of Santiago found himself banged up in Surrey, fighting extradition to Spain on charges of kidnapping, torture, murder and genocide. Al Douri was luckier than the former Chilean president. His accuser, Pilz, was furious that Saddam's right-hand man had been allowed to slip back to Baghdad, declaring: "I am ashamed of the Austrian government. The country is becoming a paradise for mass murderers."

But it is clear that Pinochet's arrest in London is causing consternation among current and former heads of state, most of whom never imagined they would be called to account for crimes which had been regarded largely with indifference by other world leaders. Only last week Indonesia's former president, the extremely nasty Suharto, decided against travelling abroad for medical treatment because he feared arrest on charges relating to massacres in East Timor, where an estimated 200,000 people have been murdered by the Indonesian army or have died from famine. Like other members of the ex-dictators club, he has discovered that even neutral states may be obliged to act on requests for extradition - in his case to Portugal, where a representative of the International Commission of Jurists is preparing a case against him which alleges crimes against humanity.

So what is an ailing mass-murderer to do when he fancies a little holiday abroad or some state-of-the-art medical treatment? There is clearly an opportunity here for an enterprising travel company to offer packages to remote destinations in which the old brutes could swap stories of murder and torture. Dictator Tours - "our clients appear on beaches, not in docks" - would appeal to a select clientele, easily able to afford the extra security and insurance necessitated by their CVs: Suharto's family is believed to have amassed a billion-dollar fortune, while Saddam, in another triumph for Anglo-American foreign policy, is now one of the richest men in the world. They could pass their days reading catalogues of torture equipment, observing mock executions and closing down local newspapers, just like any other retired gents who like to keep in touch with innovations in their field. Otherwise, they will have to stay at home and take the risk that they may eventually be called to account by their fellow citizens.

There is something uniquely satisfying about the spectacle of these nasty specimens recognising that the past is catching up with them, that their special status no longer applies in a world becoming serious about the idea of universal human rights. For those of us who were shaken to the core in 1973 by the violent overthrow of the Allende government, and the Nazi methods used to suppress democracy in Chile, there is a delicious sense of justice in the fact that Pinochet is the first casualty of this development. Age is on his side but there are plenty of others - Izzat Ibrahim Al Douri, for instance - whose prospects of accumulating air miles in the next few years have just been dramatically curtailed.

THE HOME SECRETARY, Jack Straw, is usually one of the most loyal members of the Cabinet, so many people were astonished by remarks attributed to him last week. Fulminating against "travellers", he complained in a local radio interview that they "seem to think that it's perfectly OK for them to cause mayhem in an area". That is grotesquely unfair to Tony, Cherie and the children, who no doubt had their reasons for allowing miles of beaches to be closed near their holiday home in Tuscany and making only a token payment towards the cost of their trip. It's bad enough that they have had to put up with some frankly racist remarks from the Italians, without having to tolerate similar nonsense here.