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editorial: the horror

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    EDITORIAL: The horror

    In 1989, Marc Dutroux, a 32-year-old electrician from the Belgian city of Charleroi, was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison for the rape and torture of five young girls. In 1992, and against the wishes of his family, Dutroux was paroled as part of a general early release for sex offenders arranged by then-justice minister Melchior Wathelet. Dutroux received a $2,700 per month government stipend on grounds he had suffered psychological damage in prison. Part of this money went to the purchase by Dutroux of six homes and several cars.

    In 1993, young girls began disappearing from areas where Dutroux lived. That same year, an informant told police that Dutroux had offered him between $3,000 and $5,000 to kidnap young girls. The tip was ignored. Neighbors of Dutroux complained to police of strange noises coming from his houses; police replied that Dutroux could do what he liked in his homes. Police were also informed that Dutroux was building dungeons in his cellar; two searches of his house failed to uncover them.

    In early 1995, Dutroux's mother wrote prosecutors that her son had been keeping young girls in his homes. Her letter went ignored. That July, Dutroux was interviewed by police in his home. Asked about the construction in his basement, Dutroux claimed it was for a new drainage system. They believed him. In August, police again searched Dutroux's basement, but failed to find anything suspicious, despite the fact that two young girls were imprisoned there at the time. In December, Dutroux's house was searched for a fourth time. Noises were heard from below; Dutroux explained they were the voices of his children.

    In August 1996, investigative magistrate Jean Marc Connerotte led a raid on Dutroux's home, where he found alive Laetitia Delhez, 12, and Sabine Dardenne, 14. Arrested alongside Dutroux were his wife, a grade school teacher, and three other accomplices. A fourth accomplice, Bernard Weinstein, was found dead in one of Dutroux's gardens. Dutroux confessed to sedating Weinstein with barbiturates, then burying him alive. Police later uncovered the bodies of eight-year-olds Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, who had died of starvation after nine months of captivity, and of teenagers An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks, whom Dutroux had repeatedly raped.

    In September, Connerotte attended a fund-raiser in Delhez and Dardenne's honor, sponsored by an advocacy group for parents of missing children. The following month, the Belgian High Court found that his presence there constituted a conflict of interest and dismissed him from the case. A new magistrate, Jean-Claude Van Espen was appointed to the case.

    In December, La Derniere Heure reported that a Detroux accomplice named Michel Nihoul had organized orgies at a Belgian chateau. At the orgy, it reported, were senior Belgian judges, lawyers, and politicians, as well as a commissioner of the European Union. It later emerged that Nihoul and Van Espen had a prior relationship, forcing the magistrate to resign.

    In 1997, a Belgian parliamentary enquiry found that "it was difficult not to conclude" that Dutroux "may have been protected" by police. In 1998, Dutroux escaped prison by snatching a gun from a courthouse but was rearrested a few hours later. In 1999, Hubert Massa, the chief prosecutor of Liege, with overall responsibility for the Dutroux case, committed suicide. No note was found: Massa was known by colleagues for being "as solid as a rock." In 2001, Dutroux filed a legal complaint alleging violations of his human rights: the light in his cell, he claimed, was switched on every night at seven and a half minute intervals.

    In the seven years since Dutroux's arrest, he has not been brought to trial, in plain violation of the writ of habeus corpus. Belgium has announced he will be tried this year, or possibly next.

    Little headway was ever made in uncovering the ring of child pornographers to which he was connected.

    This, then, is the country that now intends to move ahead with the trial of Ariel Sharon. It does so through a Belgian law that gives it the right to try anyone for crimes against humanity, whatever nationality the defendant may be, wherever those crimes took place and wherever the defendant may reside. Our advice to Belgium: Deal with your own monsters first. There's obviously no shortage of them.

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