In light of this pressing Department of Justice investigation on the torture tape destruction, it would seem that November will become an important month for the history of human rights and the rule of law. The reality is November became an important month regarding the need to uphold human rights and rule of law history 65 years ago, with the trial of the major WWII war criminals during the Nuremberg Trial.
Beginning on November 5th:
The Allies conducted a dress rehearsal for the trial on November 5 at the Palace of Justice, the purpose of which was to test the operation of the translation system.
It was during this period of November that the prosecution had to determine the status of defendant Rudolf Hess. Hess claimed to suffer from amnesia, and seemed to exhibit genuine symptoms of mental deterioration. The prosecution was skeptical of his claims, deciding to put his memory to the test on November 8. They showed Hess film reels of himself and Hitler at Nuremberg in 1934, which seemed to have an effect on him, but in questioning afterwards, he refused to admit that he remembered being there.
Later, during the month of November 1945:
During this time, the debate between General Donovan and Justice Jackson came to a climax. Jackson wanted the trial to be based on documents, while Donovan believed enemy witnesses were necessary for a successful trial. Donovan, who was one of Jackson’s chief staff members, would not relent, leaving Nuremberg by the end of the month, only a few days into the trial.
Despite these setbacks, the trial would begin at 10:00AM Tuesday, November 20.
On November 20, at 10am exactly, Justice Geoffrey Lawrence convened the International Military Tribunal with a rap from his gavel, given to his as a gift from Justice Francis Biddle. The prosecutors took turns reading the indictment against the Nazis.
The court heard the pleas from the defendants on the next day, November 21. Each one of them pled not guilty. After the pleas, Jackson stepped up to the lectern to deliver his opening statement. The speech, which lasted for the better part of a day, began:
“May it please your honors, the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility.
“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.
“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.”
Jackson’s Opening Address at Nuremberg.
If only the DOJ could remember the life’s work of Justice Robert H.Jackson today and carry out justice. I would be thankful and hopeful for the preservation of the rule of law and to hear today, November 8th, 2010:
“May it please your honors, the privilege of opening a US trial addressing government crimes against the rule of law and the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility.”
November has been a month of many positive actions developing the importance of human rights including:
- November 4, 1950: European Convention of Human Rights (Council of Europe).
- November 26, 1968: Convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes against humanity.
Let’s hope November 8th, 2010 may be added to the timeline of human rights actions for upholding the rule of law.