Cultural Revolutions

Trying Saddam

Robert A. Taft, in a speech delivered at Kenyon College in October 1946, expressed strong opposition to the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials that were just ending.  Taft argued that the defendants, the architects of the Nazi regime who had been found guilty of waging a war of aggression and had been sentenced to death, were clearly being tried under ex post facto laws, which are expressly forbidden in the U.S. Constitution.  Moreover, Taft stressed that the trial of the “vanquished by the victors cannot be impartial no matter how it is hedged about with forms of justice,” and that it was based on the “Russian idea of the purpose of trials, government policy and not justice, having little relation to our Anglo-Saxon heritage.”  He also warned that the trial and its sentences would not “discourage the making of aggressive war, for no one makes aggressive war unless he expects to win.”

Taft’s criticism of the Nuremberg Trials, later echoed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and John F. Kennedy (who devoted a chapter to Taft in his book, Profiles in Courage), sound somewhat mild today against the backdrop of the “farce”—the term former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein used to describe his trial before an Iraqi High Tribunal.  According to press reports, in five months of proceedings, the court has managed only 17 actual court days...

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