Tuesday, June 12, 2007


In 1946 the world’s attention focused on the German city of Nuremberg as the prosecution began its case against twenty-two of the most senior Nazi politicians, military leaders and industrialists in the world’s first international criminal trial (see photo). The principles of the Tribunals were simply stated:

Principle I
Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.

Principle II
The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III
The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV
The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V
Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle Vl
The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under; international law:
Crimes against peace:
Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).
War crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.
Crimes against humanity:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII
Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principles VI is a crime under international law.

Please note Principle V which grants anyone charged with the right to a fair trail.

George Bush decided Principle V meant zip.

Unfortunately, it isn't only Bush who has ignored the whole point of the Nuremberg Tribunals. Lisa Hajjar, an editor of Middle East Report pointed out several years ago:

"...from the close of the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals to the end of the Cold War, international laws pertaining to the rights of human beings functioned not as law but as moral rhetoric framed in legal language. During these decades, more people were killed and harmed by practices that had come to be characterized as international crimes than in any previous period. The politics of sovereignty held sway over any meaningful commitment to legality, evidenced by active refusal to authorize international action to stop or prevent grotesque abuses. It was an age of impunity."

And really and truly while there have been some tentative steps forward following Bosnia and the genocide in Rwanda, not all that much has changed. The US not only has violated everything to do with "law and justice" since September 11th in the name of September 11th, it has refused to even recognize the jurisdiction of international law in general.
When some of the big boys stand in the dock, then maybe I'll believe that international laws pertaining to war crimes and crimes against humanity really mean something.
But until then...

The following is from the Brisbane Times (Australia).

Guantanamo trials unfair: Nuremberg prosecutor

The US war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo have betrayed the principles of fairness that made the Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremberg a judicial landmark, one of the US Nuremberg prosecutors says.

"I think Robert Jackson, who's the architect of Nuremberg, would turn over in his grave if he knew what was going on at Guantanamo," Nuremberg prosecutor Henry King Jr said.

"It violates the Nuremberg principles, what they're doing, as well as the spirit of the Geneva Conventions of 1949."

King, 88, served under Jackson, the US Supreme Court justice who was the chief prosecutor at the trials created by the Allied powers to try Nazi military and political leaders after World War II in Nuremberg, Germany.

"The concept of a fair trial is part of our tradition, our heritage," King said from Ohio, where he lives. "That's what made Nuremberg so immortal - fairness, a presumption of innocence, adequate defence counsel, opportunities to see the documents they're being tried with."

King, who teaches law at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, also questioned whether former Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks deserved to be tried as a war criminal.

After being held at Guantanamo for more than five years, the Australian pleaded guilty in March to a charge of providing material support for terrorism and was sent home to serve the rest of his nine-month sentence.

"He's not an arch-criminal type, just a guy who was disaffected from the system," King said.

Hicks, who admitted training with al-Qaeda and briefly fighting on its side in Afghanistan, is the only person convicted in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals.

King, who interrogated Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, was incredulous that the Guantanamo rules left open the possibility of using evidence obtained through coercion.

"To torture people and then you can bring evidence you obtained into court? Hearsay evidence is allowed? Some evidence is available to the prosecution and not to the defendants? This is a type of 'justice' that Jackson didn't dream of," King said.

He said the Guantanamo prisoners should be tried in the court-martial system or the US federal courts, under fair rules that leave open the possibility of acquittal. Three Nuremberg defendants were acquitted, King noted.

The Bush administration has said it needs to hold the special tribunals at Guantanamo in order to protect national security. Last year the US Supreme Court struck down the first version of the Guantanamo trials as illegal.

The 2006 Military Commissions Act, which set revised rules for trying suspected terrorists at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "sort of turns its back on Nuremberg", King said. "I don't think it's a credit to us to have this thing."

"The United States has always stood for fairness. That's the important thing. We were the ones who started war crimes tribunals and we're the architects. I don't think we should turn our back on that architecture."

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