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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 17:50 GMT

UK Politics

Straw faces no-win decision

Jack Straw faces a conundrum with vast implications

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

The Law Lords ruling on General Pinochet has landed Home Secretary Jack Straw with one of the most difficult decisions he will ever have to take.

And, while his decision is on the face of it a purely legal one, politics will play a huge and probably decisive part in the proceedings.

The pinochet File
If he allows the extradition request from Spain he will be accused of the equivalent of handing Pinochet over to a lynch mob. Relations with Chile could be damaged.

And the last thing he wants is a trial, with all its accompanying circus, in this country.

[ image: General Pinochet: Could yet be extradited and charged with genocide]
General Pinochet: Could yet be extradited and charged with genocide
But if he sends Pinochet back to Chile, he will still stand accused of letting him off the hook. Relations with Spain will undoubtedly suffer.

The Chileans are battling to heal the wounds left from Pinochet's reign and rebuild their country.

They have managed to forge a fragile accommodation with the past and Jack Straw has it in his hands to undermine that.

He's in a no-win situation and his decision is not expected for some time.

But the views of those who are defending General Pinochet at this point require further examination.

Few doubt that Pinochet ran one of the most vile regimes of the late 20th century, with tens of thousands of people allegedly butchered, tortured and "disappeared".

[ image: The Law Lords threw the problem into the home secretary's lap with a 3-2 majority verdict]
The Law Lords threw the problem into the home secretary's lap with a 3-2 majority verdict
Their families say the suggestion he should be offered some sort of special treatment on compassionate grounds are an insult to the victims' memories.

Wasn't it Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who insisted that Saddam Hussein should face a war crimes trial in the wake of the Gulf War and for his butchery of the Kurds.

Presumably, if Saddam was in ill health, that policy - doomed to failure thought it always was - would have been abandoned on compassionate grounds.

[ image: Margaret Thatcher: Prominent Pinochet defender]
Margaret Thatcher: Prominent Pinochet defender
And Lady Thatcher's argument that Pinochet saved many British lives during the Falklands war smacks of the flawed notion that "my enemy's enemy must be my friend".

It also suggests that you can somehow balance the books of human evil.

Another argument, put with the usual force by Tory backbencher Teresa Gorman, runs that: "There are huge financial implications involved in this. Chile is a good friend of Britain and jobs and contracts could be put in jeopardy." It's an unattractive, but powerful argument.

And as ever, in the cold world of international politics, things are never black and white and the notion of national interest will rear its ugly head.

Meanwhile, the General himself remains safe in a British hospital.

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