Obama elevated Interpol over U.S. law

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In a recent article in the now openly leftwing Newsweek, reporter Michael Isikoff accused one of us, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, of being part of the “wacky conspiracy wars” ignited by the Obama presidency. And what was our “wacky” conspiracy theory? Suggesting that elevating an international police force above the American Constitution and laws may be damaging to American civil liberty.

In a snarky piece that equates questioning the granting of full diplomatic immunity to a transnationalist police force with fever-swamp Internet allegations that President Obama is the anti-Christ, Isikoff glibly dismisses concerns that the Obama administration has now done what no previous administration would do–indeed, what the Reagan administration purposefully avoided doing: freeing Interpol, the international police force, from legal constraints that protect the liberty and privacy of Americans.

In the dead of the night on Dec. 16, as Washington wound down for the Christmas holiday, President Obama signed an executive order giving Interpol and its agents in the United States for the first time full diplomatic immunity.  In effect, his action–taken without any explanation–freed Interpol from the constraints that currently bind U.S. law enforcement.  Interpol’s assets and property are now immune from search and seizure and its archived documents permanently out of reach of American citizens, courts or the Congress.

Mr. Isikoff dismisses the executive order as “routine” and quotes Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble reassuring Americans that it merely gives Interpol the same immunities from certain taxes, fees (read: parking tickets) and public disclosure requirements enjoyed by other international organizations in the U.S. “The executive order gives Interpol no law-enforcement or investigative powers to engage in activities on U.S. soil . . . [including] searches, seizures or arrests in the U.S.” Noble has been quoted saying.

All of which is true–and completely beside the point.  The difference between Interpol and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which also enjoys immunity from U.S. laws, is that Interpol is a law enforcement organization.  The overwhelming majority of police and prosecutors are honorable men and women, but like all human beings, law enforcement officials are not, as a class, angels. What prevents the men and women of law enforcement from abusing their power are the constraints of law.  In the United States, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure while FOIA and other laws protect American liberty and privacy from being violated by rogue cops or corrupt prosecutors.

Secretary-General Noble and others who defend President Obama’s grant of immunity to Interpol claim that the order gives the agency no new power.  But the point is not that the order grants Interpol new powers, the point is that it immunizes Interpol from the laws that can be invoked if and when it abuses its authority–the same laws that hold the FBI, a local policy department or any domestic law enforcement agency accountable for abuses.  Since the President’s executive order, if Interpol were to act in violation of U.S. law, there is no law we can invoke to hold them accountable.  And to add insult to injury, if an American citizen or official wants to find out what Interpol is up to, they can no longer do so. The Obama administration order makes Interpol’s files unreachable by search warrant, subpoena or FOIA request.

All of which is why, in 1983, the Reagan administration declined to give full diplomatic immunity to Interpol.  Reagan administration officials decided that the agency merited limited protection but, because it was a police force, it should not receive unqualified protection from U.S. laws.  President Reagan determined (and Congress did not dissent) that Interpol’s property and assets would remain subject to search and seizure and its records remain accessible to public scrutiny.  It was a decision that served the American people (and Interpol, judging by its lack of complaint) well for over a quarter century.

Why, then, elevate Interpol above U.S. law now?  Perhaps the biggest problem that critics of the move have with the Obama Administration is that the change came without any explanation.  An administration and a president who are notoriously indifferent to American sovereignty suddenly decided to free an international police force operating on our soil from the constraints of our law and our Constitution and they have refused to explain why.  After all, Interpol officials have not been publicly petitioning for immunity, nor have they raised any suggestion that U.S. laws are somehow interfering with their operations.

When the Bush Administration proposed, and the Congress passed, the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, critics complained that the additional powers granted law enforcement in the law couldn’t simply be dismissed with a pledge of “trust us” by the Bush administration.  U.S. officials spent years in court and in the court of public opinion justifying the necessary law enforcement authorities the act granted to keep Americans safe.

Now, the Obama Administration is essentially saying “trust us” as it grants an international police force immunity from American law.  It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist, wacky or otherwise, to legitimately ask, “Why?”

Newt Gingrich is Chairman of American Solutions and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008)