Glenn Greenwald writes:
Benjamin Ferencz is a 92-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, American combat soldier during World War II, and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he prosecuted numerous Nazi war criminals, including some responsible for the deaths of upward of 100,000 innocent people. He gave a fascinating (and shockingly articulate) 13-minute interview yesterday to the CBC in Canada about the bin Laden killing, the Nuremberg principles, and the U.S. role in the world. Without endorsing everything he said, I hope as many people as possible will listen to it.
All of Ferencz’s answers are thought-provoking — including his discussion of how the Nuremberg Principles apply to bin Laden — but there’s one answer he gave which I particularly want to highlight; it was in response to this question: “so what should we have learned from Nuremberg that we still haven’t learned”? His answer:
I’m afraid most of the lessons of Nuremberg have passed, unfortunately. The world has accepted them, but the U.S. seems reluctant to do so. The principal lesson we learned from Nuremberg is that a war of aggression — that means, a war in violation of international law, in violation of the UN charter, and not in self-defense — is the supreme international crime, because all the other crimes happen in war. And every leader who is responsible for planning and perpetrating that crime should be held to account in a court of law, and the law applies equally to everyone.
These lessons were hailed throughout the world — I hailed them, I was involved in them — and it saddens me to no end when Americans are asked: why don’t you support the Nuremberg principles on aggression? And the response is: Nuremberg? That was then, this is now. Forget it.
To be candid, I’ve been tempted several times to simply stop writing about the bin Laden killing, because passions are so intense and viewpoints so entrenched, more so than any other issue I’ve written about. There’s a strong desire to believe that the U.S. — for the first time in a long time — did something unquestionably noble and just, and anything which even calls that narrative into question provokes little more than hostility and resentment. Nonetheless, the bin Laden killing is going to shape how many people view many issues for quite some time, and there are still some issues very worth examining.
One bothersome aspect about the reaction to this event is the notion that bin Laden is some sort of singular evil, someone so beyond the pale of what is acceptable that no decent person would question what happened here: he killed civilians on American soil and the normal debates just don’t apply to him. Thus, anyone who even questions whether this was the right thing to do, as President Obama put it, “needs to have their head examined” (presumably that includes Benjamin Ferencz). In other words, so uniquely evil is bin Laden that unquestioningly affirming the rightness of this action is not just a matter of politics and morality but mental health. Thus, despite the lingering questions about what happened, it’s time, announced John Kerry, to “shut up and move on.” I know Kerry is speaking for a lot of people: let’s all agree this was Good and stop examining it. Tempting as that might be — and it is absolutely far easier to adhere to that demand than defy it — there is real harm from leaving some of these questions unexamined.