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The Nuremberg Principles Today

by NANCY ODEN

At the Nuremberg, Germany trials of Nazis following World War II, the world listened with revulsion as Nazi troops reported committing atrocities because, they said, they were “just following orders.”

As a result of the Nuremberg Trials, a group of nations, including the United States, crafted and ratified the Nuremberg Principles in 1950, agreeing to abide by these Principles in perpetuity. (See: http://www.nuclearfiles.org/)

Today in Iraq our young people are being ordered to commit terrible acts. Torture and killing of women, children, injured people, doctors, nurses, and bombing of places of worship and hospitals are all illegal under the Nuremberg Principles. Repulsive atrocities are being carried out in our names.

With Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, we can, unless we make ourselves heard in large numbers, expect more of the same. Gonzales advised President Bush that torture was all right, and that the Geneva Accords were irrelevant.

No one has yet dared to say the Nuremberg Principles are irrelevant. That would be like saying the Nazis were right, that they should not have been punished.

I’m certain World War II veterans will not much longer stand for the U.S.A. ignoring the Nuremberg Principles, which is part of what they fought for, and what America is believed to stand for.

Some members of our military are already refusing orders to torture prisoners and civilians. Let us hope more of our troops do as American Army troops after World War II when our government tried to get them to invade China. Our troops felt this was wrong, that they’d had enough of war, and demanded to be brought home.

We Americans can work at solving differences with other countries without bloodshed, setting an example for the world. We can do what’s right, since at this point in history we’re the strongest power on Earth.

We could solve international disagreements more easily if stealing others’ resources (oil, in Iraq’s case) were not the goal.

Observe the wonderful outpouring of help to victims of the Asian tsunami; we see that people want to help, want to do the right thing. Let’s bring our troops home from around the world (155 countries at last count), so we will have the resources to help solve the world’s problems peacefully.

We have the Will and the Way to make our country a beacon of hope and help to the world once again. Let’s abide by these Principles so we can regain our self-respect, as well as set an example for the rest of the world.

The Nuremberg Principles

Principle I. Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.

Principle II. The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III. The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV. The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V. Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle VI. The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:

(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

(b) War Crimes:

Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation of slave-labour or for any other purpose of the civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

(c) Crimes against humanity:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII. Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

NANCY ODEN lives in Jonesboro, Maine and can be reached at cleanearth@acadia.net.

 

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