Paul Greenberg

Barack Obama now has cited the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War as a model of the way Osama bin Laden should be tried in the (unlikely) event he’s ever taken alive. He recommends Nuremberg as an example to follow because, he says, those trials embodied universal legal principles.

The Nuremberg trials a model of international law? Those stone-faced judges in Red Army uniforms peering down from the bench at Nuremberg, shoulder boards in place and guilty verdicts at the ready, must have been there as representatives of Comrade Stalin’s well-known devotion to universally accepted legal principles.

This is not to say that the judges at Nuremberg couldn’t demonstrate exquisite tact. For example, not a one noted the Soviets’ responsibility for the Katyn Massacre, a war crime none dared accuse them of at the time.

In 1946, the Soviets were still Our Fighting Russian Allies. And so the mass execution of the Polish army’s officer corps in the Katyn forest was pinned on the Nazis, who were conveniently at hand. What would one more war crime matter in a record already so monstrous?

Nor did any of the judges at Nuremberg make much of the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact that precipitated the whole, bloody cataclysm that was the Second World War. That alliance between fellow dictators was simply tossed down the memory hole. It became a non-event.

At Nuremberg, the Soviet Union was invited to sit in judgment of its old partner in aggression — on a charge of waging aggressive war. To wit, the war of aggression that the Soviet Union joined with Nazi Germany to ignite in September of 1939. Barack Obama would have been on sounder ground if he had cited the proceedings at Nuremberg not as an example of justice but irony.

You have to wonder if anybody remembers any history any more. Barack Obama doesn’t seem to. The unthinking simply assume, as Sen. Obama does, that Nuremberg was some kind of model of justice. Hey, the Nazi leaders were hanged, weren’t they?

In the long tradition of politicized law, Nuremberg was as clear an example of victor’s justice as any other show trial. Sen. Obama, however, seems to think it a dandy precedent. Mainly because of its propaganda value: He argues that a Nuremberg-style trial of Osama bin Laden would demonstrate the evil nature of our enemy to the whole world. The proceedings at Nuremberg did indeed preserve the outward forms of justice — while sacrificing its essence. The universal principle that Nuremberg represented was propaganda.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.