Monday, June 05, 2006

Nuremberg Redux

"The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together." -- Hannah Arendt, EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM, 1963.
I posted on this way back in Jan, 2005 (The Nuremberg Precedent). I am sorry to report that things have deteriorated dramatically since then. While there have been trials of individual soldiers in Iraq for "war crimes," these have been very much, in my estimation, show trials, gestures to a concerned public opinion. The last soldier to be convicted (for assualting prisoners with dogs) will be allowed to remain in the Army and will only have to do "hard labor" for six months. Today we learned that the Army is refusing to be bound by one of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment." There have been no officers indicted and certainly none of the principal players the equivalent of those that appear in the above photo have even been officially accused of crimes.

Ten years ago, with the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, Court TV had a documentary on this seminal event. It is the source of much of the information in this post.

Recall that, until 1946, no victorious nation had ever treated the principal adversaries in the way the Nazi leaders were treated. In many cases, the victors simply massacred the defeated leaders and, usually, many civilians. This behavior runs from ancient history (Alexander the Great after his victory at Massaga) to Wounded Knee. Nuremberg and the Marshall plan were different. The principals were fairly dealt with and the civilians, many who had participated in Nazi atrocities, were treated leinently (though Israel has continued to pursue Nazi's until the current time.) The responsibility for great evil was taken all the way to the top. The worst offenders were executed.

In many ways American exceptionalism stems from these trials. This added a moral dimension to the victory in WWII that a country had never experienced before. That feeling of moral superiority (and I am certainly not defending it) continued until late in the 20th Century. I would make an argument that it was present behind the scenes in the anti War movement (much maligned) during the late sixties. However, by the time of our interventions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, the first Gulf War (where we massacred the retreating Iraqi Army - the "Turkey Shoot"), and then with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition and now Haditha the assertion of moral superiority has become weak indeed.

The hope of Nuremberg was that there would be an International Tribunal for War Crimes. There now is. The United States does not participate.
The United States has not ratified the treaty creating the court, and has stated it does not intend to do so. The country's main objections are the interference with their national sovereignty and a fear of politically motivated prosecutions.
In fact, the United States has forced many of the countries in the world to agree to exempting the American Military from the rule of this Court.
The U.S. has also made a number of Bilateral Immunity Agreements, or so-called "Article 98" agreements, with a number of countries, prohibiting the surrender to the ICC of a broad scope of persons including current or former government officials, military personnel, and U.S. employees (including non-national contractors) and nationals. The United States has cut aid and development funding for many countries in retaliation for cooperating with the ICC. Countries who have lost aid include Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, South Africa, and several other Latin American and African countries.

What was important about Nuremberg was that the rule of law was brought to the international level in the moral frame (there have been internationl courts for some time). From the opening statements by Judge Robert Jackson:
"The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a great responsibility," Jackson told the International Military Tribunal. "The four great nations flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law.

"The crimes which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated," he said.
Now I would never make the argument that the current horror that we are perpetrating in the World is the equivalent of that of the the men tried at Nuremberg, but I would argue the it certainly is on the road to that horror. And if, God forbid, George W. Bush unilaterally decides to bomb Iran (causing untold numbers of civilian deaths, the obnoxious "collateral damage") we will have arrived.

There will be no difference.


Melissa said...

Well, it's certainly easy to understand why the US won't participate in the International Criminal Court, since a good percentage of the current administration is guilty of war crimes! This isn't new though, it goes at least back to Central America in the 70's. I seem to recall that some international legal body found the US guilty in the matter of the mining of the Managua harbour, and required them to pay reparation. They refused to do so, and have since felt free to gallivant around the world trying to impose their will on other nations and never ever EVER paying for what they destroy. I'm sure that pattern will hold true in Iraq. So much for Colin Powell's 'Pottery Barn rule'!

Dr. C said...

I'm sure you saw the item on Agent Orange in Vietnam. The United States refuses to pay for those injured in Vietnam (who were children at the time) but recognizes injury, since it has compensated our own veterans. We are not a nice country.

Melissa said...

Perhaps it is less a matter of recognizing the injury or the cause, than the humanity of those injured.The Vietnamese, being non-white, are considered something less than human. I'm sure those impacted by DU in Iraq will fall into the same category.

Having said that, I expect the vets will have the same kind of battle getting compensation for DU as they did for Agent Orange.

Dr. C said...

Melissa, You need to comment on MarkFromIreland's blog (see my tiny blogroll). He is really right up your alley.