VIENNA (Jun. 7)
President Kurt Waldheim is understandably pleased by the “not guilty” verdict reached by a panel of judges in London after his “trial” on cable television Sunday night. And he apparently expects the world to take it seriously.
“I hope everything will die down now,” Waldheim told Austrian reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is on a state visit.
But legal experts and Jewish groups believe the Thames Television-Home Box Office collaboration, “Waldheim: A Commission of Inquiry,” may have been good TV theater, but legally a farce, and dangerous because of the credulity of television audiences.
It was broadcast internationally and touted as a unique television venture: the “trial” of a living person for alleged war crimes not tried by any other court.
HBO claimed that 20 researchers working in 19 countries located more than 10,000 pages of material on the Waldheim case, much of which they said was new and unpublished.
But it apparently did not include documentation of Waldheim’s past possessed by the U.S. Justice Department, which succeeded in placing the Austrian president on a “Watch List” of undesirable aliens not to be admitted to the United States.
Critics further pointed out that unlike a real trial, witnesses participating in the television hearing were not under oath to tell the truth.
Waldheim served as a German army intelligence officer in the Balkans during World War II. His link to the deportation of Greek Jews and to atrocities against partisan fighters and civilians in Yugoslavia has been well documented, though he denies involvement in these events.
He has now apparently seized on absolution by television to further his claim that the charges against him were pure slander. “The (television) judges tried very intensely to find proof, spending a lot of money, but there was none,” the Austrian president said.
He said he hoped the positive verdict will make an impression on Western countries that up to now have isolated Waldheim politically. Asked if he thought the television verdict could lead to lifting the American ban, Waldheim said in an election year that was problematic.
The Austrian president is on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia. It is only his fourth trip abroad since he took office in the summer of 1986. He has previously visited the Vatican, Jordan and Pakistan.