For the first time, I saw the 1961 movie called “Judgment at Nuremberg”. Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Haywood who presided over the 3 Judge Tribunal who were given the task of hearing the cases of 4 German Judges charged with war crimes while under Hitler’s rule.
The defense of 3 of the 4 judges on trial was that they had no idea that Hitler had gone to such lengths with Concentrations Camps and that everything they did in their roles as judges was for the their country, their precious, righteous Germany. The fourth judge on trial, Ernst Janning, admitted that there was no way that he, nor the others on trial, could not have known about the mass killing of millions in their own back yard. He admitted to sentencing Jews to go to the concentration camps, admitted to false allegations, sterilization of Jews, torture, murder, you name it, these judges were involved in it. Janning went on further to say that a man can not hide behind his patriotism to commit such atrocities. Janning was most ashamed of himself because he was one of the most respected judges in the country, a man who had written several books on the rule of law and justice itself.
Some of the actors in this movie were quite astonishing. A young Maximilian Schell played the part of the defense lawyer with incredible passion and credibility. His character spoke to tribunal judge Haywood in Haywood’s chambers arguing that Germans were so eager to forget the past and so eager to live in denial of what had really happened under Hitler, that whatever judgement Haywood passed down would be overturned on appeal so that the Germans never had to admit to it in their own minds.
In the end each judge on trial received a life sentence. BUT, within 10 years each judge that was on trial (and many others not depicted in the movie) were out of jail, free, and in many cases living in other countries. As for the Germans, they then had to deal with communism and the bisection of their country, all the while still hating America for attempting to make them see the truth of the Third Reich.
This brings me to the war crimes of the Bush Administration. Were they any better, were they any different than the judges on trial at Nuremberg? The Bush Administration condoned and actively participated in torture and rendition. They did it all in the name of their country, their patriotism and loyalty to the United States. Is Guantanamo Bay really that much different from a concentration camp? I don’t want to belittle what happened at a concentration camp. The murder of 6 million people can not be compared directly to holding suspected insurgents against their will for 7 years. But does it matter how bad a war crime is on a scale of one to ten? A crime is a crime.
Barack Obama said he wants to look forward. On the 1/11/09 edition of “This Week” on ABC, Obama said that the new Attorney General is the “lawyer for the people” of the United States. So I can see that he doesn’t want to be directly involved in prosecuting George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the many minions, because the country is hurting. There are so many things on which he needs to concentrate and act quickly. But if you read between the lines he is saying that if the Attorney General, this “lawyer of the people”, is directed by those people to take action against Americans who committed war crimes then so be it. And I say, let the criminals pay.
Some will say it is simply not true; no war crime were committed. They will call us crazy. They will call us “liberals”. They will call us call kinds of things. But many Americans, and in fact many people from around the world, do believe that the Bush Administration committed crimes of torture. For the sake of our sanity, for the sake of our reputation around the world, and for the sake of justice itself, we need to investigate and prosecute anybody, regardless of their position, who committed war crimes; crimes against the Geneva Conventions. And what better way to show the world that we are ready to take our place as a beacon of hope and change, and all that is right in the world, than to show George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney being escorted to their prison cell for the rest of his life.
We can not allow ourselves to be like Germany after World War II. We can not stick our heads in the sand. We can not live in denial. Would it be easier to just look forward, never look back, and pretend that none of it happened? Yes it would. But since when do we as Americans take the easy way out. If we wanted to do that we would have left Europe to its own devices during World War I and World War II. We would have let Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait. And we would never answer the call from anywhere in the world that truly needed our help due to natural disaster or evil invader.
America is an experiment. We are a young country, comparatively, only a few hundred years old. When compared to most of the other super powers of the world whose history goes back centuries, we are in our infancy. America is an experiment in democracy. Our ideals and our freedoms are the reason why so many have come here, and why another so many hate us. But we can not stop being the shining city on the hill, even if we have to expose our raw nerves, expose the underbelly of our society, the ones that commit war crimes, and we need to punish them to the fullest extent of American and International Law.
When will it be our turn for “Judgment in Washington”?