NYT's OPCW "He Said, She Said" Reporting Misses Major Judgement

15 October 2013 — Moon of Alabama

In 2002 José Bustani, the then head of the now Nobel prized Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was fired because his insistence on bringing Iraq into the Chemical Weapon Treaty conflicted with the war plans of the Bush administration.

The New York Times recently picked up on the story:

Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state and later the American ambassador to the United Nations, told Mr. Bustani that the Bush administration was unhappy with his management style.

But Mr. Bustani, 68, who had been re-elected unanimously just 11 months earlier, refused, and weeks later, on April 22, 2002, he was ousted in a special session of the 145-nation chemical weapons watchdog.

The story behind his ouster has been the subject of interpretation and speculation for years, and Mr. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat, has kept a low profile since then.

That bold sentence is wrong. The NYT presents the story as a mere “he said, she said” that misses any unambiguous judgement even as the case has been decided decisively in favor of Mr. Bustani:

Mr. Bolton insists that Mr. Bustani was ousted for incompetence. In a telephone interview on Friday, he confirmed that he had confronted Mr. Bustani. “I told him if he left voluntarily we would give him a gracious and dignified exit,” he said.

As Mr. Bustani tells the story, the campaign against him began in late 2001, after Iraq and Libya had indicated that they wanted to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty that the watchdog agency oversees. 
[…]
“We had a lot of discussions because we knew it would be difficult,” Mr. Bustani, who is now Brazil’s ambassador to France, said Friday in his embassy office in Paris. The plans, which he had conveyed to a number of countries, “caused an uproar in Washington,” he said. Soon, he was receiving warnings from American and other diplomats.

“By the end of December 2001, it became evident that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me,” he said. “People were telling me, ‘They want your head.’ ”

The “interpretation and speculation” the Times insists on in giving this account has long been ended. After being fired on the U.S.’s insistence Mr. Bustani went to court and the International Labor Organization, which has jurisdiction over international organizations, was unambiguous in its judgement 2232:

1. THE DECISION TAKEN BY THE CONFERENCE OF THE STATES PARTIES OF THE OPCW ON 22 APRIL 2002 IS SET ASIDE.
2. THE OPCW SHALL PAY THE COMPLAINANT MATERIAL DAMAGES CALCULATED AS PER CONSIDERATION 17 OF THE PRESENT JUDGMENT.
3. THE ORGANISATION SHALL ALSO PAY HIM 50,000 EUROS IN MORAL DAMAGES.
4. IT SHALL PAY HIM 5,000 EUROS IN COSTS.

The court found that undue political influence by the United States led to Mr. Bustani’s dismissal and that allowing such dismissal for purely political reasons was contrary to the principle neutral position of international organizations like the OPCW. The OPCW was ordered to pay Mr. Bustani not only for moral damage and legal costs but also his full salary up to 2005 when his term would have regularly ended.

But in the NYT’s account that ILO judgement never happened. It is not once mentioned in the story. For the Times the issue is still one of “interpretation and speculation” even as a court has judged fully in support of Mr. Bustani’s version of the story. By that it defends the neo-conservatives of the Bush administration who would not for a moment care about law but only about their megalomaniac project of global hegemony.

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