Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How Ignorant of History and Quickly We Forget

In a Feb. 13th editorial "Hold on to your hats," the Intelligencer Journal editors state: "The U. S. government, showing its tenacity in learning nothing, has instructed its officials abroad to defend the trials in part by reference to the Nuremberg Trials, a horrible example of both victors' justice and subjecting military men to retroactive laws and international tribunals - nothing the U. S. has any interest in encouraging at this time."

Concerning the Nuremberg Trials, is no one to be held responsible for conducting aggressive war and for murdering eight million civilians just because of their religion, race, color and sexual proclivity?

Without ex post facto justice, what message would be sent to warring parties concerning their need to conduct themselves by the rules of the Geneva Conventions?

Relatively few persons were condemned to death and not many went to jail. By and large, the Germans neither then nor now harbored animosity over the trials. In contrast, the Soviets (or the Nazis!) would have lined up thousands against the wall and shot them down. And the Soviets would have sent a million more to work camps in Siberia to slowly starve to death or die from exposure, as they did in their solely occupied territories. (Some were repatriated years later.)

And lastly, as deplorable as many of us may believe was our invasion of Iraq, it did have some patina of legitimacy due to resolutions passed by the Security Council of the United Nations. There is a difference between foolishness and genocide.

Below is an excerpt on the Nuremberg Trials from Wikipedia, emphasis from the original:

The trials were conducted under their own rules of evidence; the indictments were created ex post facto and were not based on any nation's law; the tu quoque defense was removed; and some claim the entire spirit of the assembly was "victor's justice." Article 19 of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal Charter reads as follows:

"The Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence. It shall adopt and apply to the greatest possible extent expeditious and nontechnical procedure, and shall admit any evidence which it deems to be of probative value."

However, as described above, the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers was unusual and led directly to the formation of the international tribunals. In most cases those who are not prisoners of war are tried under their own judicial system if they are suspected of committing war crimes; in restricting the international tribunal to trying suspected Axis war crimes, the Allies were acting within normal international law.

US Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a fraud. "[Chief US prosecutor] Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg," he wrote. "I don't mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas."[36]

Associate Supreme Court Justice William Douglas charged that the Allies were guilty of "substituting power for principle" at Nuremberg. "I thought at the time and still think that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled", he wrote. "Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time."[37]

The majority of commentators, however, felt the Nuremberg Trials represented a step forward in extending fairness to the vanquished by requiring that actual criminal misdeeds be proved before punishment could ensue; including some of the defendants and their legal team:

Perhaps the most telling responses to the critics of Jackson and Nuremberg were those of the defendants at trial. Hans Frank, the defendant who had served as the Nazi Governor General of occupied Poland, stated, "I regard this trial as a God-willed court to examine and put an end to the terrible era of suffering under Adolf Hitler." With the same theme, but a different emphasis, defendant Albert Speer, Hitler's war production minister, said, "This trial is necessary. There is a shared responsibility for such horrible crimes even in an authoritarian state." Dr. Theodore Klefish, a member of the German defense team, wrote: "It is obvious that the trial and judgment of such proceedings require of the tribunal the utmost impartiality, loyalty and sense of justice. The Nuremberg tribunal has met all these requirements with consideration and dignity. Nobody dares to doubt that it was guided by the search for truth and justice from the first to the last day of this tremendous trial."[38]