War Crimes? Nope. We’re The Law

January 8th, 2008 by Andy in Judicial System & The Courts

War Crimes? Nope. We’re The Law
By Tom Blackburn
Cox News Service
November 20, 2007

At 10 a.m. in central Europe on Tuesday, it will be 62 years since the United States boldly put warmongering on trial.

The U.S. had the full support of Great Britain, the confused acquiescence of France and the cynical participation of the Soviet Union. All four countries provided judges and prosecutors.

The Soviet Union all but had the neck sizes of the accused on file for the nooses that it considered inevitable. Defeated Germany had its own view of war crimes trials: Victors’ justice. Whenever did losers get a fair shake?

A fair trial for the worst of the Nazis is precisely what the Anglo-American legal eagles had in mind. It would not be easy. The victors were going to be open to the charge that they tried people for crimes that had not been on anybody’s books before the war. They knew it, and mustered all the treaties and treatises on the laws of war they could find.

After much back and forth, they settled on four charges. The first 24 defendants, the so-called “top Nazis,” each were accused of some or all of them. The charges were “Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of crimes against peace; war crimes; crimes against humanity; and planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace.”

Jaded wire service reporters, unable to find the names of crimes among the generalities, began writing that the Nazis were accused of “war criminality” and let it go at that. The skeptics were wrong. The court’s rulings and sentences were not preprinted. Three of the original 24 beat the rap.

They included Franz Von Papen, the conservative politician who did as much as anyone to get Adolf Hitler past the last obstacles to power. He believed that he and his aristocratic pals could control Hitler because they knew wines and horses and the Austrian didn’t. The court decided that toxic superficiality was not a war crime.

Another problem for the tribunal was the Soviet Union. It had a judge on the bench but had done many things that Germans were in the dock for. The other victors had blots on their own records. Warriors can’t help it.

“War,” as Gen. William Sherman said, “is hell.” But there is a difference between the heat of combat and policies of states. The Nuremberg precedent was that if crimes were committed on the authority and orders of the state, leaders who held the authority and gave the orders would be at least as accountable as those who actually carried out the orders.

The post-World War II trials were intended to be only the start. The initiative to criminalize aggressive war and its brutalities was typical of the American idealism that had won a war and was determined to make a lasting peace.

It was of a piece with the United Nations, the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift - all engineered by the United States in the name of peace and freedom for a world in which unimagined destructive power was making war too dangerous for humanity.

A handful of treaties are based on the Nuremberg precedent. The United States was a party at first. Then we stopped signing them. The Senate didn’t want to ratify warm-and-fuzzy treaties and international laws anymore. Americans turned into cold-and-hard testosterone tigers.

Neoconservatives say we don’t need international law because the end of the Cold War means that we are The Law. And the neocons are not the only ones.

Alas, the idea isn’t exactly working. It got us into a lot of trouble. Dealing with other World War II offenders, the United States sentenced a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, to 15 years of hard labor for waterboarding a civilian. Now we have an attorney general who couldn’t know if waterboarding is torture until he read the secret documents in which his predecessor said it isn’t torture if the president wants it.

The tigers of America - alerted by whoever puts out these talking points - say, “Yeah, but Asano did other things besides waterboarding.”

Do you doubt that if we had access to the secret records we’d find that “other things besides water boarding” have been done in our name? We don’t prosecute high-level torture anymore. Instead, we condemn Iran.

Tom Blackburn writes for The Palm Beach Post

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