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Why bother?

Lately, I've been reconsidering what many consider one of the high points of the 20th century: the Nuremberg trials.

It was a stunning achievement. For the first time, the leaders of a nation were held accountable in a court of law for their actions. The notion of sovereign immunity was set aside in favor of human rights, and high-ranking Nazis found themselves having to answer to an authority they never envisioned. In the end, justice prevailed; many found themselves facing death, life imprisonment, or decades of incarceration for their crimes against humanity.

Unfortunately, the legacy of Nuremberg has been perverted into something hideous. The Nuremberg trials were not civil courts, but military tribunals. The war's victors chose the judges, and the defendants had no appeals. In fact, in many ways the Nuremberg trials violated many basic tenets of civil and criminal justice. Regardless, 12 Nazis were given death sentences, three sentenced to life, and four more sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.

Since then, many have worked behind the scenes to reshape the legacy of Nuremberg. The notion of military tribunals has been lost, and now the model of criminal courts, with regular judges, regular rules of evidence, and all the trappings has come into vogue. And it's being found woefully lacking.

Witness the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. That trial stretched on for over four years, with tons of legal wrangling and theatrics. Milosevic turned the trial into a circus, keeping himself entertained and continuing to antagonize and taunt the world for years until he got the final laugh on us all -- by dying before the trial could conclude. He cheated the hangman, as they old saying goes, and turned the whole circus into a colossal waste of time, money, and effort.

Witness the trial of Saddam Hussein. He appears to be trying the same tactic, tossing up as much confusion, chaos, and anarchy as he can. And I can't blame him -- if I were in his position, I'd most likely be trying everything I could to postpone the inevitable execution, and to cause as much mischief and headaches to my persecutors.

Witness the potential trial of Charles Taylor. The former Liberian dictator is clearly guilty of numerous crimes against humanity, but there are arguments of whether he will even be arrested, let alone tried. And if he is put on the dock, I feel pretty comfortable predicting his trial will be as absurd as Milosevic's and Hussein's.

I know this will make me sound barbaric, but I think we need to seriously consider whether we want to put former dictators and tyrants on trial.

I don't quite have a solution worked out, but I think that in cases like Hussein, where he was deposed by an outside power, that power (in this case, the United States) should decide beforehand his fate. For some, exile should suffice. They should be transported to a third nation and informed that if they set foot in their former homeland, or the United States, or in certain other countries, they will be summarily executed. Likewise if they try to influence events in their homeland. The US intervention in Haiti would be a good example of this, I think.

In cases as heinous as Hussein's, exile simply won't be an option. They will be summarily executed as soon as they are found. Their crimes against humanity are so flagrant, there can be no legal defense. For their past crimes, as a warning to others who might choose to emulate them, and to prevent their becoming a rallying point for their supporters, just kill them, make their deaths widely known, then dispose of the body in a way that there is no grave to become a shrine.

Yeah, it's a touch barbaric. But sometimes being too civilized can be suicidal.

If nothing else, it'll make asshats like Ramsey Clark have to look for honest work, and that's a good thing.

Comments (16)

They will be summarily e... (Below threshold)

They will be summarily executed as soon as they are found.

I believe that was Churchill's proposal for the Nazi highest officials (Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels).......

Hmmmm.Frankly I su... (Below threshold)


Frankly I support simply hanging the bastards from the nearest tree for many reasons. Chief among them is that anyone who gets that treatment largely deserved it for being a brutal dictator.

Now Robert Mugabe, that's a special case. I'd hang him from a tree by his ankles and let the people of Zimbabwe use him like a pinata.

You guys are too nice - the... (Below threshold)

You guys are too nice - they should die in the same fashion they killed innocent people. In Sadam's case by mustard gas. If and when we find Zarquawi, we should saw his head off on live TV (al Jazeera,) and Osama - just drop him from a plane after you light him on fire. I'm all for - what goes around - comes around. They don't deserve anything less.

I wish the soldiers who fou... (Below threshold)
Charles Bannerman:

I wish the soldiers who found Saddam in that filthy hole had shot him as soon as they saw him but since they didn't, he should be executed the way he killed so many.
Slooooowy feed him into a meat grinder, catch the grindings and force feed them to him. All of this captured on tape and aired all over the world.

Don't forget about the Toky... (Below threshold)

Don't forget about the Tokyo War Crimes trials. Just as important as Nuremberg, the Tokyo trials held the Japanese military responsible for their killing spree across Asia and the Pacific. One major omission was the absence of Dr. Ishii, the Japanese biological warfare specialist, as a defendant in Tokyo. I'm sure there were others on the German side as well who avoided the noose, such as Dr. Mengele.

You guys are so right , it ... (Below threshold)

You guys are so right , it is so frustrating to see these bastards and all their scumbags drag out these so called trials year after year.. they need instant justice when found...
_ hang em high
burn em low !

Doing so would only make th... (Below threshold)

Doing so would only make the executed a martyr for their cause. Any visceral satisfaction we would see from such an action would be outweighed by the repurcussions. Civilization can certainly be a burden, but it beats the alternative.

Are Uday and Qusay now mart... (Below threshold)

Are Uday and Qusay now martyrs for their cause?

We have to stop using the c... (Below threshold)

We have to stop using the creating martyrs excuse for failure to deal with despots and terrorists.

How many dead "martyrs" are driving the current war in Iraq?

A dead martyr is better than a living "victim" that could serve as a rallying point or cause celebre.

I believe the desire for martyrdom would decrease upon the certainty of obtaining that status.

Who will rally around the "martyr" status of Hussein, Mugabe, Taylor, Milosevich etc?

The martyr argument is a go... (Below threshold)
Mrs. Davis:

The martyr argument is a good one when people can identify with the departed. Missouai may be in that category.

We want to encourage these people to quit what they are doing and give themselves up. Execution, whether immediate or after a show trial will not encourage this behaviour.

Failure to take prisoners leads to Pacific type combat. That makes ending the war difficult and expensive as Okinawa demonstrated.

Major leaders should be be given extra-judicial imprisonment for life as Napoleon. This could be an alternative for unused portions of Diego Garcia. Minor leaders can be left to their countrymen. Somehow I suspect the Shia would deal effectively with such in Iraq if we gave them more leeway.

But sometimes being too ... (Below threshold)

But sometimes being too civilized can be suicidal.

Not half as suicidal as being a lock-step, dumbed-down, talking-point, Bush-GOP loyalist.

Would this apply to all... (Below threshold)
robert kulp:

Would this apply to all tyrants and scoundrels, or only "enemies" of the US? Henry Kissinger comes immediately to mind. The best way to prevent these monsters is to stop supporting them. Look at Kiramov in Uzbekistan. We'll be sending our sons and daughters there in five or ten years. Anybody care to bet? Lets face it, in our foreign policy, short term profits (some of george's cronies have big bucks in a pipeline deal there) will trump human rights 99 times out of a 100. As they say: "An ounce of prevention...

Not half as suicidal as ... (Below threshold)

Not half as suicidal as being a lock-step, dumbed-down, talking-point, Bush-GOP loyalist.

Closed mouthes collect no feet. Remember that well.

While my emotional response... (Below threshold)

While my emotional response is to just shoot them... that can lead to complications (martyrdom etc.).

I am a bigger fan of the Napolean treatment. Find an island in the middle of nowhere and have it as a prison/retirement community for deposed despots and dictators.

No TV, No outside communications, No visitors. Just lots of fresh air and a place for them to play cards with each other and argue about who was the bigger Despot. If we are really lucky they will just all end up killing each other.

Matt in response to... (Below threshold)

in response to your statement : who will rally around the "martyr" status of Hussein, mugabe ,Milosevic , howard dean etc..easy
Ramsey Clark and all the other dems !

Romanian dictator Nicolae C... (Below threshold)

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed by firing squad along with his wife after 22 years of brutal repression of his people. There were the usual suspects crying for the lost dictator and inhumanity of it all. Interestingly these were the same suspects who defended communists all over the world despite what everyone knew they were doing to their own people. The real pouint is that today nobody even remembers Ceausescu. Do it right away, listen to the whiners for a few weeks and move on with democracy.






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