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Price tag justice


Convicted of serious crimes by a jury, Oliver North owes his freedom today to an appellate court's rigorously applying what conservatives used to call "technicalities" to free criminals. That's fine, but North's defenders should be aware that this case has significantly extended the protections of the Fifth Amendment -- the right against self-incrimination -- not just for North but for any similarly situated defendants in the future.

One of the oddest aspects of the whole Iran-contra investigation and prosecution has been the incessant yammering of the Wall Street Journal about the high cost of prosecuting North and his fellow conspirators in their plot to subvert the United States government. As predictably as the rise of the sun yesterday, the Journal moaned that the investigation by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh has now surpassed $100 million.

Odder still, toward the end of its editorial, the Journal notes that -- the Walsh prosecutions cost "probably a hundred times the costs of prosecuting a Manuel Noriega . . ."

Now, that's an astonishing statement indeed. Is it possible that the Wall Street Journal has forgotten the United States actually went to war, deploying thousands of troops, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and creating a hemispheric economic basket case in order to bring Noriega to trial? And they tell us that cost a hundred times less than the North prosecution? Really now, that can't be dismissed as just a mistake; it's an outright lie.

And what have we got now that we've brought Noriega to trial? Well, at the start of the trial yesterday, the top U.S. prosecutor called Noriega "just another crooked cop" -- not even the top dog in the drug smuggling enterprise he's involved in. The big bananas are still living in luxury in Colombia.

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