War Crimes Trials - Righteous or Bogus Victors' Justice?

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War Crimes Trials - Righteous or Bogus Victors' Justice?

Post by David Thompson » 20 Jan 2003 17:56

This subject comes up so frequently I thought I'd give it a separate thread of its own. That way it won't appear as a distraction or "red herring" on other threads.

I'll start it off with a question for Scott Smith:

Scott -- Country A invades Country B, and occupies part of it. Country A permits mass executions of civilians, but Country B does not.

Officials of Country A administer the occupied portion of Country B, and carry out mass executions of Country B's civilians. Country B captures the officials from Country A who ordered the mass executions in the occupied area.

Country B puts the occupation officials of Country A on trial, charging the officials with violating the laws of Country B by conducting mass executions of civilians within its territory.

Righteous prosecution, or bogus "victor's justice?"

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Post by Dan » 20 Jan 2003 18:01

If I may ask a quetion, if country A were the Soviet Union and country B Poland, should counry B be allowed to try the citizens of the Soviet Union by the international community? If in 1950 Poland was unable, because of the Soviet Unions military might, should there be a moral responsiblity of the international community to help Poland?

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Post by David Thompson » 20 Jan 2003 18:22

Dan -- An excellent question, which neatly delineates the boundary between theory and practice! (My personal opinion on the matter is (1) Yes. and (2) Yes).

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Post by David Thompson » 20 Jan 2003 18:33

Here's another one (hypo #2):

Country A is ruled by a dictator between 1933 and 1945. Country A's dictator resorts to measures which are illegal under the formal legal structure of country A. After the dictatorship is overthrown, the new rulers of Country A put the former officials of the dictatorship on trial for violation of the laws of Country A.

Righteous prosecution or bogus "victor's justice?"

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Post by Dan » 20 Jan 2003 18:39

If the new leaders came into power my means of existing law, and not under outside pressure, and the laws by which the previous leaders was tried was preexisting, then clearly yes.

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Post by David Thompson » 20 Jan 2003 19:48

Hypo #3: Country A, a dictatorship, annexes independent country B in 1940 and subjects Country B to the laws of Country A. The officials of Country A don't obey their own laws, or those of the former Country B, and commit various actions which are illegal under both the laws of Country A and the laws of former Country B. In 1990 Country B becomes independent again.

Country B wants to prosecute the former officials from Country A for violations of the laws of Country A during the period Country B was annexed.

Righteous prosecution or bogus victor's justice?

Hypo #4: Same facts as hypo 3 (Country A, a dictatorship, annexes independent country B in 1940 and subjects Country B to the laws of Country A. The officials of Country A don't obey their own laws, or those of the former Country B, and commit various actions which are illegal under both the laws of Country A and the laws of former Country B. In 1990 Country B becomes independent again.)

Country B wants to prosecute the former officials from Country A for violations of international law in effect during 1940-1990.

Righteous prosecution or bogus victor's justice?

Hypo #5: Same facts as hypo 3 (Country A, a dictatorship, annexes independent country B in 1940 and subjects Country B to the laws of Country A. The officials of Country A don't obey their own laws, or those of the former Country B, and commit various actions which are illegal under both the laws of Country A and the laws of former Country B. In 1990 Country B becomes independent again.)

Country B does not recognize its 1940-1990 annexation as legitimate. Country B wants to prosecute the former officials from Country A for violations of the laws of Country B which were in effect at the time Country B was annexed in 1940.

Righteous prosecution or bogus victor's justice?

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Post by Peter » 20 Jan 2003 20:05

HEAVY, HEAVY stuff
I think its far easier to come right out and say that murder is murder no matter who is making the laws which might attempt to justify it.

Nuremburg - since that is the only real example we have - got it right 90% of the time. How can there be criticism of the trials of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen, or the staff of Belsen, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, etc ?? They got proper justice in my eyes.

I do believe however that we got it wrong with Doenitz and also with some of the smaller fish such as Bernhard Siebken, possibly Fritz Knoechlein and a Feldwebel of the Heer (damn, I cant find his name but I will) who was hung at Landsberg for shooting an airman who had baled out (he was posthumously pardoned and his widow granted a pension) - the Allies got the wrong man, he apparentlyhad the same name as the murderer.

I think that the term Victor's Justice covers the convictions of Sepp Dietrich, Paul Hausser, Siebken, Koechlein, Peiper, Diefenthal, Knittel and a number of others.

I reckon that they suffered collectively for the crimes of Wilhelm Mohnke. Mohnke was certainly a brave and efficient battle commander but I think that he was behind the Wormhoudt massacre and definitely behind the tit-for-tat killings in Normandy 1944.

DIFFICULT stuff which I'll leave for the grown up's (to use a British expression).

Just my 2 cents worth
Pete

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Post by Peter » 20 Jan 2003 20:07

Found it - Joseph Johann Schmitz (born 21 Jul 1894, hung 15 Oct 1948)

Hung 1948 by the US for the murder of 5 US airmen soon after they were captured on Borkum in 1944. On Feb 20 1964 his widow gained a Military Widow’s pension in Muenster after it was proven that the wrong man had been hung and the actual murderer had been identified. (the killer had lost his own family in a US bombing raid).

It is a tragedy that he was an innocent man who was hung, and also that he was buried alongside men like Niedermeyer, Trumm and Spatzenegger of Mauthausen, Martin Weiss of Dachau Neuengamme and Majdanek, Hermann Pister of Buchenwald and Erich Naumann of the Einsatzgruppen.

Pete

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Post by David Thompson » 20 Jan 2003 20:28

Schmitz, Joseph (?-1948) [Sergeant] – {arrested by American authorities 1945; put on trial by an American military tribunal on charges of shooting and killing 5 captured American airmen on the island of Borkum in 1944; convicted and sentenced to death by hanging; executed 1948; widow awarded pension 20 Feb 1964 by a West German social court at Muenster on grounds that the actual killer was a German corporal who had lost his family in an air raid (NYT 21 Feb 1964:2:1).}

As I understandstand it, Schmitz didn't do the shooting but was in charge of the prisoner escort. There is a pretty good description of the case (in German) at:

"Die amerikanischen Dachauer-Prozesse von 1945 bis 1948," http://die-kommenden.net/dk/artikel/dac ... ozesse.htm

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Post by Peter » 20 Jan 2003 21:00

Nice one !

thanks David - I shall go look

Pete

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Post by Dan » 20 Jan 2003 21:45

Hypo #3: Country A, a dictatorship, annexes independent country B in 1940 and subjects Country B to the laws of Country A. The officials of Country A don't obey their own laws, or those of the former Country B, and commit various actions which are illegal under both the laws of Country A and the laws of former Country B. In 1990 Country B becomes independent again.

Country B wants to prosecute the former officials from Country A for violations of the laws of Country A during the period Country B was annexed.


Well, if we can change 1940 to 1939 and 1940, I would say that was right. The Baltics and Poland have for years been trying to get people extradicted from Israel. But nobody seems to care about 1939. The hypothetical situation seems to go through a massive metamorphasis within the period of about 8 months or so. David, why do you think this is the case? And do you support changing 1940 to both 1939 and 1940?

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Post by Dan » 20 Jan 2003 21:48

Hypo #4: Same facts as hypo 3 (Country A, a dictatorship, annexes independent country B in 1940 and subjects Country B to the laws of Country A. The officials of Country A don't obey their own laws, or those of the former Country B, and commit various actions which are illegal under both the laws of Country A and the laws of former Country B. In 1990 Country B becomes independent again.)

Country B wants to prosecute the former officials from Country A for violations of international law in effect during 1940-1990.

Righteous prosecution or bogus victor's justice?



Well, if you will be willing to include 1939 as well as 1940, it would be the same situation as number 3.

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Post by Dan » 20 Jan 2003 21:50

Hypo #5: Same facts as hypo 3 (Country A, a dictatorship, annexes independent country B in 1940 and subjects Country B to the laws of Country A. The officials of Country A don't obey their own laws, or those of the former Country B, and commit various actions which are illegal under both the laws of Country A and the laws of former Country B. In 1990 Country B becomes independent again.)

Country B does not recognize its 1940-1990 annexation as legitimate. Country B wants to prosecute the former officials from Country A for violations of the laws of Country B which were in effect at the time Country B was annexed in 1940.

Righteous prosecution or bogus victor's justice?


Again, adding another year, there's no difference between 3, 4 and 5.

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Post by David Thompson » 20 Jan 2003 22:01

Dan -- An interesting point. I based hypos 3-5 on the Baltic republics because they are a "cleaner" example than the Polish situation, which has many complications to it (such as the pre-war annexation of parts of Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, annexation of part of the Poland by the Soviet Union which later turned those parts over to the independent states of Ukraine and Belorussia, while retaining parts of former East Prussia; Poland's annexation of parts of eastern Germany, etc.).

I'm assuming that your addition of 1939 to the hypos is for purposes of bringing Poland into the picture, but I may have misunderstood. Was there something that happened in the Baltics republics in 1939 that I've overlooked?

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First Scenario

Post by Scott Smith » 20 Jan 2003 22:11

David Thompson wrote:Country A invades Country B, and occupies part of it. Country A permits mass executions of civilians, but Country B does not.

Officials of Country A administer the occupied portion of Country B, and carry out mass executions of Country B's civilians. Country B captures the officials from Country A who ordered the mass executions in the occupied area.

Country B puts the occupation officials of Country A on trial, charging the officials with violating the laws of Country B by conducting mass executions of civilians within its territory.

Righteous prosecution, or bogus "victor's justice?"

If Country B captured the officials of country A it could simply try them under the existing laws for the murder of their people in their own country. It's a no-brainer.

If the officials were not captured and country A or any other country would not surrender them to face trial in Country B, then nothing could be done short of kidnapping, a' la Eichmann. Next case.
:)

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