This fall will be the 60th anniversary of the WW II Nuremburg trials. And it couldn’t be more timely. Because while two of the crimes established by the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremburg, `War Crimes’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ have passed into public consciousness and understanding, the most important, considered by the IMT to be the supreme international crime seems largely forgotten.
It is CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: “namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing.”
The four prosecuting nations at the trial were the United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia. The concept of individual responsibility for `Crimes Against Peace’, for the waging of a war of aggression, is not some vague international value. It is a standard of international law that the United States was absolutely fundamental in creating.
At the end of the most devastating war the world had ever known, and with the spectre of nuclear weapons shadowing the future, the fundamental purpose of the IMT was not just to bring to justice those most responsible for WWII and its atrocities, but to establish a code of law that would deter individuals from initiating acts of war. Government leaders were to be held responsible under international law, and `following orders’ was not to be a valid defence for crimes of war. This principle that not just nations, but individuals, could be charged by an international body meant that for the first time individuals could be held responsible for crimes on an international scale.
A law that would deter individuals from initiating acts of war would be pretty handy right now. However:
Sixty years ago, in his historic opening statement of the Nuremburg trial, Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said “The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a great responsibility.”
Fifty years later, the United States has failed in it’s responsibility to ensure justice and nurture peace. It will not help establish the International Criminal Court that could enforce the principals of individual accountability for humanities greatest crimes, that could bring to all nations the Nuremberg Principles that the US first established 50 years ago. The United States government cannot help establish them. Because it is in violation of them. In violation of the worst of them, the supreme international crime. George W. Bush has committed Crimes Against Peace.
If there is to be justice in this century, not just in the last one, then somewhere there is a city and a courthouse with a name that will one day be as well known as Nuremburg. Where when the `War for Freedom’ lies smouldering in its inevitable ruin, when the last of the dead have been buried, when the war-weary living sit down in the courtroom and ask for accountability. And the world once again hears: Principle I. Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment…