The conspiracy theories about President Obama's executive order on Interpol are getting wilder by the day.
Invoking no less an authority than Glenn Beck, movie tough guy (and political activist) Chuck Norris has taken aim at Obama's Dec. 17 executive order extending certain "privileges, exemptions, and immunities" to Interpol, otherwise known as the International Police Organization, based in Lyon, France.
As we reported last weekend, thanks in part to the comments of Beck and Newt Gingrich (as well as the National Review's Andrew McCarthy) the order has spawned a rash of conspiracy theories in the conservative blogosphere claiming that Obama has given Interpol (or "the global police force," as the critics like to call it) new powers to investigate and even lock up U.S. citizens.
(Never mind, as we pointed out, that contrary to the Man From U.N.C.L.E. fantasies of the blogosphere, Interpol officers actually don't have the authority to arrest anybody on U.S. soil. The group is, instead, an international organization of police agencies whose purpose is to share information: it maintains master databases—of stolen passports, for example—and posts "red notices" of criminal suspects, including terrorists, drug traffickers, and child pornographers, who are wanted by law-enforcement officials in its 188 member countries.)
Now Norris, famed for his expertise in the martial arts, attacks from a different direction. In a new column on World Net Daily, the right-wing Web site, he claims that Obama signed the executive order so that he can slyly, without anyone noticing, create a "secret vault" at Interpol's New York office to conceal important records about the war on terror from the American public.
"Is it merely coincidental that Obama signed this executive Interpol order, and that the feds want to try these 9/11 terrorists in civilian courts rather than military courts?" Norris asks in his bizarre and hard-to-follow rant.
He continues: "Is it merely coincidental that Obama signed this executive Interpol order and that he often goes out of his way to sympathize with and advocate pro-Muslim culture, beliefs and issues?"
"Is it merely coincidental that Obama signed this executive Interpol order, and that the following events are converging at this time in American history: the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the closure of Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility, Obama's indifference and even defense of Islamic extremists like the Fort Hood shooter or Northwest flight 253's attempted bomber?"
Who could possibly believe in such coincidences?
Norris concludes that the real purpose of the executive order was to give Interpol's small office in New York (with all of five employees) an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act so that the Obama administration can stash secret documents there and hide the paper trail that binds all these suspicious developments.
"I have no doubt that Interpol will become Obama's secret vault for terrorists' criminal records and evidence—and whatever else he and his Cabinet want to place in there," Norris concludes. It is, he adds, "just one more example of the way your federal government has got the backs of those who are attacking our country, abandoning our Constitution and dissolving America's sovereignty."
Now for a little reality check: The Interpol office in New York does indeed get an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act under Obama's order. But as Ron Noble, Interpol's secretary-general, told us last week, there is nothing especially sinister about that: the office has files on suspected terrorists provided by the law-enforcement agencies of its member countries—and those agencies would be loath to share them if they thought their internal reports (including the names of informants, the transcripts of wiretaps, and other confidential evidence) might be made public. (If you think that's unusual, try filing a FOIA request for FBI or DEA files on their current criminal suspects.)
What's more important, says Noble, is what Interpol's office in New York actually does. It was set up in 2004 for the express purpose of maintaining and updating a U.N. Security Council watch list of designated Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Interpol officers translate the names on the lists into wanted posters that are distributed to airports and border-control authorities—all for the purpose of catching terrorists when they cross international borders.
As an example of how Interpol's work can make a difference, Noble pointed to the case of Wayne Corliss, a notorious child pornographer who was arrested in New Jersey in May 2008 days after Interpol posted notices seeking to identify a man who engaged in sex with young boys in Thailand. The irrational attacks on Interpol, Noble fears, will make U.S. citizens more reluctant to share information with Interpol or to respond to such requests for help.
It's not just that the conspiracy theories about Obama's executive order are beyond "the realm of reality," as Noble, a former federal prosecutor and top U.S. Treasury enforcement official, told us last week. They are "a shame" because they will make Americans more suspicious of and less willing to cooperate with international law enforcement. "It means more Americans are going to be at greater danger than they were beforehand," he said.
For another reality check, take a look at this posting—just up on the National Rifle Association's site—which dissects the conspiracy claims about Obama's executive order and concludes they are hogwash.
What does it say about the state of political discourse when the NRA is the voice of reason?
NRA: INTERPOL Rumors
Friday, January 08, 2010
Over the past year, we have reported several times on the abundance of rumors being circulated regarding firearm issues. Among other things, we've heard phony tales circulating about such things as guns being banned for the elderly, ammunition with expiration dates, a requirement that guns be listed on tax returns, and a prohibition on gun and ammunition imports. The latest scuttlebutt has to do with a recent Executive Order by President Obama concerning the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).
Some have argued that the order would make INTERPOL and its officials immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution, and that it would therefore allow INTERPOL personnel to seize firearms, kidnap Americans, and otherwise violate U.S. citizens' rights. Our legal staff has reviewed this order and does not believe it poses any of these threats.
President Obama's order amends a 1983 order by President Reagan, in which the U.S. recognized INTERPOL as an international organization that is entitled to certain legal immunities under the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA).
One of those immunities is immunity from civil lawsuits. Under the doctrine of "sovereign immunity," foreign governments generally can't be sued, and the IOIA extended that protection to international organizations. This has been applied to block suits against the United Nations, Organization of American States, and other international bodies.
This means that articles on the recent order are incorrect in claiming that the order made INTERPOL immune from civil suits; INTERPOL was already immune.
Some have also suggested that under the order, INTERPOL agents would receive diplomatic immunity, so they could violate Americans' rights without fear of criminal prosecution. There are several misconceptions here.
First, diplomatic immunity only protects diplomats, and the IOIA specifically says it does not confer diplomatic immunity on international organization employees.
Second, while the IOIA does provide a limited type of immunity for international organization employees, this is only immunity "relating to acts performed by them in their official capacity." U.S. courts have interpreted this narrowly. In one case, a court found that a U.N. employee was not immune to a local speeding ticket even though he was actually driving the Secretary General of the U.N. to an official conference. In other cases, courts have found that employees of international organizations can be prosecuted for espionage, because espionage is not among their official duties.
Law enforcement officers working with INTERPOL are detailed from agencies in various countries, such as the FBI or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They have no power of arrest outside their own countries. Therefore, a seizure of an American (or of an Americans' firearms) would likely not fall within the official duties for which INTERPOL officials would be immune from prosecution.
Now don't take any of this to mean that we underestimate our anti-gun opponents, or that we don't believe they would happily and readily seize the opportunity to adopt and enforce measures that would limit our freedom. We know full well that they would. Rather, our message is this: Rumors abound, so don't believe everything you read. If it's a legitimate concern, rest assured your NRA-ILA will promptly address it and will give you the straight story.