|The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and
the Origins of International Criminal Law
A Book Proposal by
Kevin Jon Heller
Oxford University Press
In his final report on the 12 trials held in the American zone of occupation between 1946 and 1949, collectively known as the Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT), General Telford Taylor, the NMT’s Chief of Counsel, opined that “there will be no lack of books and articles in the years to come” on “the actual outcome of the trials, the legal reasoning of the judgments, the historical revelations of the documents and testimony, or the immediate and long-term significance of the trials in world affairs.”
Nearly six decades later, it is safe to say that Taylor was a far better prosecutor than prognosticator. No book on the NMT trials has ever been written, and although many important legal theorists published articles on the NMT in the immediate post-war era – Hans Kelsen, Herbert Wechsler, Karl Loewenstein, Otto Kirchheimer – the number of articles that have been published in the last three decades on the trials can be counted on two hands. Indeed, the NMT is probably best known today through Stanley Kramer’s 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg, a heavily fictionalized account of the Justice trial that won two Academy Awards.
This lack of scholarly attention to the NMT is both perplexing and unfortunate, because the Tribunals’ judgments have played a critical role in the development of international criminal law. Most often, their jurisprudence was very progressive: holding that aggressive war does not require actual armed conflict (Ministries); insisting that international humanitarian law limits military necessity “even if it results in the loss of a battle or even a war” (Hostages); delinking crimes against humanity from war crimes and crimes against peace (Einsatzgruppen) and recognizing genocide as a crime against humanity (Justice); developing the concept of “systemic” joint criminal enterprise (Pohl); and expanding the reach of command responsibility (High Command) while curtailing the defense of superior orders (Einsatzgruppen). Other times, however, the Tribunals set international criminal law on the wrong path, such as when Einsatzgruppen held that international law permitted morale bombings of civilians, even with atomic weapons; when Ministries insisted that knowingly financing crimes against humanity did not make bankers complicit in those crimes; and when Hostages concluded that under certain conditions innocent civilians could be executed in reprisal.
The NMT is also of tremendous historical importance, because the 12 trials painted a far more comprehensive picture of Nazi atrocities than the International Military Tribunal ever did. The IMT focused exclusively on the “major war criminals” – the Goerings, the Hesses, the Speers. The NMT, by contrast, prosecuted a much wider range of defendants: doctors, lawyers, judges, industrialists, bankers, extermination-squad leaders – the private citizens and lower-level functionaries whose willingness to take part in the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocents manifested what Hannah Arendt famously called “the banality of evil.” Indeed, although the Nazis’ crimes against the Jews played little more than an ancillary role at the IMT, the Holocaust was front and center at the NMT, which explored – inter alia – the preparation and implementation of the Nuremberg Laws (Ministries), the deportation of Jews from Western Europe (RuSHA) and the extermination of Jews in the Soviet Union (Einsatzgruppen), the administration of concentration camps (Pohl), and the use of Jewish slave labor by German industry (Krupp).
There is, in short, a serious need in the legal and historical scholarship for a book on the NMT. This book would address that need.
The Nature of the Proposed Work
The proposed book will provide a comprehensive analysis of the 12 NMT trials. The analysis will be primarily legal, exploring the NMT’s fundamental contributions to international criminal law and situating its jurisprudence relative to the work of the IMT, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and the British and French zonal trials. But it will also provide the reader with a solid historical understanding of the NMT trials, because many of the Tribunals’ most important decisions – particularly the troubling ones – cannot be understood in isolation from the social and political context in which they were made.
The book itself will be divided into four general sections. The first section, Chapters 1 and 2, will trace the history of the NMT. Chapter 1 will focus on the evolution of the Allied war crimes program, from the St. James Declaration to the Allies’ decision to forego a second IMT in favor of zonal trials. Chapter 2 will examine how Taylor selected the defendants for trial and summarize the individual NMT trials themselves.
The second section of the book, Chapters 3 and 4, will discuss the law and procedure applied by the NMT. Chapter 3 will focus on the legal status of the Tribunals and the important differences between Law No. 10 and the Nuremberg Charter, while Chapter 4 will ask whether the rules of procedure and evidence applied by the NMT adequately protected the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
The third section, the heart of the book, will provide a systematic analysis of the NMT’s jurisprudence. Chapters 5-7 will examine how the Tribunals interpreted Law No. 10’s core crimes: crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Chapter 8 will discuss the NMT’s hostility to conspiracy and the relationship between that crime and the crime of membership in a criminal organization. Chapter 9 will examine the general principles of liability that the Tribunals applied, focusing on their landmark contributions to the doctrines of joint criminal enterprise and command responsibility. Finally, chapter 10 will look at the defenses that the Tribunals recognized – and refused to recognize.
The fourth and final section of the book, Chapters 11-13, will deal with the aftermath of the trials and the NMT’s historical legacy. Chapter 11 will discuss the Tribunals’ sentencing decisions, asking whether they were consistent between Tribunals and over time. Chapter 12 will trace the collapse of the post-NMT war crimes program under the ever-increasing pressures of the Cold War. And Chapter 13 will use a comprehensive examination of citations to the NMT by international tribunals and domestic courts to assess the NMT’s influence – positive and negative – on the development of international criminal law.
The book will be based in large part on primary materials, particularly the 15 volume Trials of the German War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council No. 10, published in 1949. The volumes, collectively known as the “Green Set,” contain all of the NMT judgments, as well as the trials’ key motions, orders, rules of procedure, testimony, and evidence reports. The book will also rely heavily on the Nuremberg Trials Collection at Harvard University, which contains the complete trial transcripts of the 12 NMT trials (more than 120,000 pages); the Telford Taylor Papers at Columbia University; the Drexel Sprecher Papers at John F. Kennedy Library; the Benjamin Ferencz Papers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and the Papers of the Subsequent Nuremberg Military Tribunals at the University of Southampton. To the best of my knowledge, the material in those collections has never been explored in its entirety.
Because of the large number of trials and the amount of primary materials, I estimate that the book will be 150,000 words in length and will take until the end of 2009 to complete. The Green Set is available in the University of Auckland Library, and I intend to begin archival research in January 2008 – I have received a $10,000 grant from the University of Auckland to travel to New York, D.C., and Boston. I am also using this book proposal to apply for a Humboldt Fellowship under the sponsorship of Claus Kress at the University of Cologne. If awarded the fellowship, I would obviously use my time in Germany to work full-time on the book.
The Place of the Work in the Literature
As noted in the introduction, no book-length scholarly treatment of the NMT has ever been written. The closest approximation to such a study is Telford Taylor’s short book Nuremberg Trials: War Crimes and International Law, which was published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1949. Taylor’s book is essential reading, but it largely ignores the NMT’s jurisprudence in favor of brief summaries of the 12 trials and a lengthy examination of the IMT.
Other than Taylor’s book, scholarship on the NMT is limited to books on individual trials and chapters in books on particular aspects of the Tribunals. Four books have been published on the Medical case, three of them quite recently: Paul Julian Weindling’s Nazi Medicine and the Nuremberg Trials: From Medical War Crimes to Informed Consent (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Ulf Schmidt’s Justice at Nuremberg: Leo Alexander and the Nazi Doctors' Trial (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Horst H. Freyhofer’s The Nuremberg Medical Trial: The Holocaust and the Origin of the Nuremberg Medical Code (Peter Lang, 2004); and George J. Annas & Michael A. Grodin’s The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation (Oxford UP, 1992). Weindling and Annas & Grodin both provide detailed accounts of the trial proceedings, whereas Schmidt and Freyhofer focus more on the medical experiments. Weindling, Annas & Grodin, and Freyhofer also do a good job discussing the basic legal issues raised by the experiments, although none of them discuss at any length the non-medical legal issues in the Medical case.
Two books have been published on the Farben case: Joseph Borkin’s The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben (Pocket Books, 1979); and Josiah DuBois’ The Devil’s Chemists: 24 Conspirators of the International Farben Cartel Who Manufacture Wars (Beacon Press, 1952). Both are obviously quite dated, and neither presents a comprehensive legal analysis of the trial, focusing instead on I.G. Farben’s crimes during WW II.
There are also four books that contain chapters on the NMT. The first and most useful is Peter Maguire’s Law and War: An American Story (Columbia UP, 2002), which dedicates one chapter to a detailed account of Ministries – though focused less on the law than on the trial’s political context – and two others to an examination of the political considerations that led the U.S. to release nearly all of the convicted German defendants by the mid-1950s. The second is Donald Bloxham’s elegant Genocide on Trial: War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory (Oxford UP, 2003), which provides a useful but largely non-legal account of the Allied decision not to hold a second IMT trial, the U.S.’s subsequent creation of the Subsequent Proceedings Division (SPD) under Taylor, and the SPD’s selection of defendants for trial. The third is Tom Bower’s Blind Eye to Murder: Britain, America and the Purging of Nazi Germany (William Collins, 1981), an impassioned account of Allied disinterest in the war crimes program that contains two excellent chapters on the behind-the-scenes negotiations that ultimately led to the Flick, Krupp, and Farben trials. And the fourth is John Alan Appleman’s Military Tribunals and International Crimes (Greenwood Press, 1954), which provides capsule summaries of the 12 trials (in the vein of Taylor’s book), along with a wealth of information regarding the dramatis personae of the trials (the defendants, the judges, the prosecutors) and the sentences the Tribunals imposed. Unfortunately, the book focuses primarily on the law and procedure of the IMT, almost completely ignoring the legal issues involved in the NMT trials.
Finally, by way of comparison, four books have been published on the war crimes trials held in Nazi concentration camps. Two deal with the Auschwitz trials: Devin O. Pendas’ The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963-1965: Genocide, History, and the Limits of Law (Cambridge UP, 2005), and Rebecca Wittmann’s Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial (Harvard UP, 2005). Two others, more popular than scholarly, address the trials at Dachau: Joshua Greene’s Justice at Dachau: The Trials of an American Prosecutor (Broadway, 2003), and James Weingartner’s Crossroads of Death: The Story of the Malmedy Massacre and Trial (California Press, 1979). And a book that deals with the Buchenwald trials is forthcoming later this year: David A. Hackett’s Elusive Justice: War Crimes and the Buchenwald Trials (Westview Press, 2007).
The proposed work should appeal to a number of different audiences. Most obviously, it should be of interest to scholars and practitioners of international criminal law. As explained in more detail in the Chapter Plan, many of international criminal law’s central concepts either originated with or were most searchingly developed by the NMT. Nevertheless, although books on the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals continue to appear with regularity, the NMT trials remain unexplored territory. A book that focuses on the legal aspects of the NMT should thus prove to be essential reading for anyone who wants or needs to understand the basic doctrines of international criminal law.
The book should also appeal to historians – legal and otherwise – interested in World War II. As noted above, although historians have examined nearly every imaginable aspect of the war – Nazism, the Holocaust, the IMT, denazification, the rise of the Cold War, etc. – they have almost completely ignored the NMT. Historians should thus welcome a book that discusses both the general and legal history of the trials, especially one that is based on a great deal of previously unused primary material.
Finally, the book should be of significant interest to transitional justice scholars. The creation of the International Criminal Court has given new urgency to the “peace versus justice” debate, and the NMT (along with the IMT) was the first sustained Western attempt to promote social reconciliation through criminal trials. That attempt failed: the German people categorically rejected the NMT trials and did everything they could to undermine them. All transitional justice scholars should be interested in learning why.
Chapter 1 will provide the relevant background to the creation of the NMT. The first section will trace the evolution of the Allied war crimes program: the nine-power St. James Declaration in January 1942; the Moscow Declaration and subsequent formation of the United Nations War Crimes Commission in October 1943; Justice Jackson’s influential interim report in June 1945 on the possible structure of the IMT; and the eventual signing of the London Agreement in August 1945. The second section will provide a brief overview of the IMT, focusing on the aspects of its judgment that were most relevant to the work of the NMT. The third section will discuss the creation of the NMT itself, examining in detail the debates among the Allies concerning the desirability of holding a second IMT trial and their eventual decision – led by the U.S. and the U.K. – to hold zonal trials instead.
As noted earlier, the book will be organized thematically, not chronologically by trial. Chapter 2 will thus present brief summaries of each trial: who the defendants were; what crimes they were accused of committing; the conduct of the trial; the resulting convictions and acquittals. Those summaries will be woven into the larger story of how Taylor and his staff selected the defendants and allocated them to individual trials, a process that was affected by budgetary limitations, manpower problems, and the gradual erosion of support in the U.S. for war crimes prosecutions – three factors that played an important role, for example, in Taylor’s ill-fated decision to begin the Farben and Krupp cases before his staff was ready for trial. The chapter will also focus on how the trials were influenced, directly and indirectly, by the social and political context in which they took place, such as the fact that the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia while the High Command Tribunal was struggling to determine whether crimes against peace required actual conflict.
Jurisdiction and Law of the Tribunals
Chapter 3 will examine the NMT’s jurisdiction and substantive law. The first section will examine a critical legal question that loomed over all of the trials: whether the Allied Control Council, as the supreme authority in Germany, was subject to the rules of belligerent occupation set forth in the 1907 Hague Convention IV. An affirmative answer would have crippled the Tribunals, given that Article 43 of the Convention’s Annex requires belligerent occupants “to respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” Most legal scholars, including Hans Kelsen, believed that the rules of belligerent occupation did not apply because the disintegration of the German government and its unconditional surrender to the Allies meant that, as a matter of international law, the German state had ceased to exist. The majority in the Justice Case agreed – but not without a blistering dissent by the presiding judge.
The second section of Chapter 3 will analyze the substantive provisions of Law No. 10, issued by the Allied Control Council in December 1945, which authorized each Ally to try war criminals arrested in its occupational zone “before an appropriate tribunal.” The analysis will emphasize the differences between Law No. 10 and the Nuremberg Charter, focusing in particular on Law No. 10’s recognition of “invasions” as crimes against peace (in addition to “wars of aggression”), its intentional inclusion of conspiracy as a mode of participation in a crime, and its elimination of the Charter’s requirement that crimes against humanity be committed “in execution of or in connection with” war crimes or crimes against peace. As discussed in later chapters, all three differences would figure heavily in the judgments of individual Tribunals.
The third and final section of Chapter 3 will explore the much debated legal authority of the NMT. The defendants and a number of legal scholars insisted that the Tribunals were U.S. courts bound by the Constitution and by domestic U.S. criminal law. The Tribunals rejected that view in Flick and other cases, insisting that they were international tribunals applying international law. This section will ask which position was correct.
Evidence and Procedure
Chapter 4 will examine the evidence and procedure applied by the NMT, asking whether, given the state of international law at the time, the defendants received a fair trial. The chapter will begin by discussing the awkward fact that Military Ordinance No. 7, which established the NMT’s evidentiary and procedural rules, was largely written by Taylor and his staff, a clear conflict of interest. It will then explore some of the procedural innovations of individual Tribunals, such as the use of commissioners to hear testimony in complicated cases like Farben and Ministries. Finally, the chapter will consider some of the most problematic procedural aspects of the trials, in particular the absence of any formal oversight of Taylor’s indictment decisions; the defense’s inability to obtain witnesses residing outside of the American zone, even though the prosecution had no such problem; and the complete lack of any kind of appellate review of convictions – a weakness that dramatically undermined American support for the trials.
Crimes Against Peace
Chapter 5 will discuss the NMT’s jurisprudence concerning crimes against peace. The first section will explore how the Tribunals defined “invasions” and “wars of aggression,” paying particular attention to Ministries, the only case in which defendants were convicted of crimes against peace. The Tribunal made a significant contribution to international law when it held (over a bitter dissent by Judge Powers) that the German conquests of Austria and Czechoslovakia qualified as crimes against peace even though neither county resisted their occupation – a question that the IMT had left unanswered. Other aspects of the Tribunal’s judgment, however, were deeply problematic, such as its refusal to consider Germany’s annexation of the Sudentenland a crime against peace because England and France had agreed to the annexation.
The second section of Chapter 5 will examine the NMT’s jurisprudence regarding individual criminal responsibility for crimes against peace, an area it dealt with at great length – particularly in comparison to the IMT. The discussion will focus on six basic issues: (1) whether the defendant must have known of the aggressive nature of the war (yes – Farben, Krupp, High Command); (2) what kind of role the defendant must have played in the aggressive war (more than a de minimis one – Ministries); (3) whether a defendant must have held a leadership role in the aggressive state (yes – High Command); (4) how “leadership” was defined for crimes against peace (as the ability to “shape or influence” the aggressive plans – High Command, Ministries); (5) whether waging aggressive war, by itself, was sufficient for criminal responsibility (yes for government officials and military officers that qualified as leaders – High Command); and (6) whether private individuals could be held criminally responsible for aggressive war (yes, although “waging” required pre-war involvement – Farben, Krupp).
Chapter 6 will explore the NMT's war crimes jurisprudence. The Tribunals dealt extensively and progressively with a number of important legal issues, holding that a country cannot annex territory as long as its control is still being contested by armed forces (RuSHA) and is thus still subject to the rules of belligerent occupation (Hostages); extending belligerent status – and protection – to partisans who abide by the laws of war (Hostages); interpreting spoliation and plunder expansively, extending the latter to include “legal” transfers of Jewish holdings (Ministries); rejecting the Nazi doctrine of Kriegsraison, “Total War,” on the ground international humanitarian law applies “even if it results in the loss of a battle or even a war” (Hostages); etc.
Not all of the Tribunals’ decisions, however, were progressive. Einsatzgruppen, for example, interpreted the doctrine of military necessity very expansively – well beyond the consensus among jurists and diplomats at the time – to permit abhorrent acts like the deliberate morale bombing of civilians with conventional or atomic weapons. Similarly, High Command held that military necessity permitted the intentional razing of towns and villages to deprive the enemy of necessary food and shelter. Even worse, both Hostages and High Command adopted a strictly subjective test for military necessity, holding that an honest belief that an action was necessary required acquittal even if the commander’s tactical assessment of the situation was not only wrong but grossly negligent.
Crimes Against Humanity
Chapter 7 will examine the NMT’s jurisprudence regarding crimes against humanity – crimes that were, as mentioned above, at the heart of all 12 trials. The first section will focus on Law No. 10’s delinkage of crimes against humanity from war crimes and crimes against peace. Taylor insisted that the Control Council removed the “in connection with” requirement in order to permit the NMT to prosecute Nazi atrocities committed against German nationals before the war (1933-1939). The Tribunals, however, split on the question: although Justice and Einsatzgruppen agreed (in dicta) with Taylor, Flick and Ministries held that Law No. 10 retained the “in connection with” requirement because Article 1 provided that the IMT Charter was an “integral” part of the Law.
The second section of Chapter 7 will examine the NMT’s interpretation of specific crimes against humanity, paying particular attention to Justice’s remarkable decision to convict two defendants of “the crime against humanity of genocide,” despite the fact that Law No. 10 did not mention genocide and the Genocide Convention would not be ratified until the following year. The section will also discuss, inter alia, the inclusion of rape as a crime against humanity in Law No. 10 – the first such mention of the crime in international criminal law – the lengthy discussion of deportation as a crime against humanity in Milch, and the Medical case’s unequivocal condemnation of medical experiments on subjects without their informed consent – the first principle of the Nuremberg Code that the Tribunal created.
Conspiracy and Criminal Membership
Chapter 8, a shorter chapter, will examine why the NMT refused to convict defendants of conspiracy even though Law No. 10 – unlike the IMT Charter – specifically imposed individual responsibility for a crime against peace, crime against humanity, or war crime on any person who “was connected with plans… involving its commission.” The conspiracy question led the judges in the Medical, Pohl, and Justice cases to hear argument in a special en banc session, after which all three Tribunals simultaneously dismissed the conspiracy counts – an interesting procedural innovation, given that Ordinance No 7 only permitted en banc hearings to address inconsistent rulings that had already been issued.
After dealing with conspiracy, Chapter 8 will examine the role that membership in a criminal organization played at the NMT. Although no defendant was ever charged with membership alone, many were convicted of criminal membership (usually in the SS) in connection with other charges. As the section will explain, the IMT’s restrictive interpretation of the Charter’s criminal membership provisions meant that, ironically, the NMT’s membership charges effectively replaced the dismissed conspiracy counts with an even broader version of conspiracy: whereas a conspiracy conviction required the defendant to have knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy with the specific intent to commit a criminal act, a conviction for criminal membership required only that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined the criminal organization.
General Principles of Liability
Chapter 9 will identify the general principles of liability applied by the NMT. That is no small task: although Law No. 10 cast a wide net – distinguishing between command responsibility, aiding and abetting, “taking a consenting part in,” and being connected to criminal “plans or enterprises” – the Tribunals themselves often either conflated different modes of participation or elided the differences between them. The primary goal of the chapter, therefore, will be to systematically analyze each mode of participation. Two modes will receive particular attention, because of their importance to contemporary international criminal law: joint criminal enterprise and command responsibility. A number of Tribunals, particularly Pohl and Ministries, extensively discussed what is now called JCE II (“systemic” JCE), emphasizing that anyone who played a “significant” role in the enterprise was liable for all of the enterprise’s criminal acts (Pohl), including those who were far removed from crimes themselves, such as officials in private corporations (Flick, Farben), government ministers (Ministries), and even lawyers and judges (Justice).
The High Command and Hostages cases also made pioneering contributions to the doctrine of command responsibility. High Command, for example, established that command responsibility includes an obligation to punish crimes committed by subordinates even if those crimes were committed before the commander assumed control; that a staff officer who drafts an illegal order or who takes personal action to see that an illegal order is distributed is liable for the resulting crimes; and that a field commander is criminally liable not only for issuing a criminal order, but even for transmitting an order that was "criminal upon its face.” Similarly, Hostages established that a commanding officer is responsible for the actions of all the forces within his territorial jurisdiction, even if they are not under his direct command, and that a commander is charged with constructive knowledge of all the information available to him, even if he is not personally aware of it.
Chapter 10 will examine the NMT’s jurisprudence concerning the criminal defenses – those that it accepted, such as self-defense (Krupp) and mistake of fact (Hostages), as well as those it rejected, such as ex post facto (Einsatzgruppen) and judicial immunity (Justice). The chapter will focus on four defenses in particular: superior orders, necessity, reprisal, and the so-called “good motive” defense. The superior orders defense figured prominently in Einsatzgruppen and Hostages: Einsatzgruppen established that the defense is only available to orders that are not “manifestly illegal” – still the standard today – while Hostages made clear that whether an order was manifestly illegal must be determined relative to the defendant’s rank and military experience. The defense of necessity played a central role in the industrialist cases, in which the civilian defendants argued that the Nazis coerced them into using slave labor. The defense was categorically rejected in Krupp, but was accepted – very unpersuasively – in both Flick and Farben. Hostages dealt extensively with reprisals, holding that under certain conditions (not satisfied in the case) international law permitted the execution of innocent civilians – the single most controversial decision by a Tribunal, and one that led directly to such reprisals being prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Finally, Ministries addressed the “good motive” defense, holding that a defendant who did everything he could in private to prevent criminal acts from being committed was entitled to acquittal even if he publicly supported those acts.
Mark Drumbl has criticized the IMT for failing to develop a coherent sentencing heuristic. Chapter 11 will use a careful empirical examination of the sentences imposed by the Tribunals to ask whether the same was true of the NMT. Four questions will be particularly important. First, were certain crimes considered more serious than others, both between categories (e.g., war crimes vs. crimes against humanity) and within them (e.g., the crime against humanity of deportation vs. the crime against humanity of enslavement)? Einsatzgruppen, Pohl, and the Medical case seem to imply that war crimes were punished more severely than crimes against humanity not because they were more serious, but because they were more firmly established in international law. Second, what aggravating factors did the Tribunals apply? Being a member of the SS was clearly an aggravating factor (all seven defendants sentenced to death in the Medical case, for example, were members), as was holding a leadership position (RuSHA) and – most interesting of all – being from an educated and cultured background (Einsatzgruppen). Third, were the sentences retributively appropriate, or were they too lenient? A strong case can be made for the latter, given that only 44 of the 142 convicted defendants received sentences of death or life imprisonment. Fourth, and finally, were the sentences consistent between Tribunals and over time? The answer is an unequivocal “no” – as Taylor himself noted in his Final Report, “on the whole, it was apparent to anyone connected with the entire series of trials under Law No. 10 that the sentences became progressively lighter as time went on.”
Chapter 12 will bookend the introduction by providing a concise account of what happened to convicted German defendants after the NMT completed its work. General Clay, the Military Governor, confirmed all of the sentences but one, reducing a death sentence in Pohl to life imprisonment. But that was the beginning of the process, not the end: despite the fact that the Tribunals ostensibly applied international law, their American origins ultimately meant that German defendants were able to take advantage of U.S. parole and clemency programs. That fact doomed the war crimes program: although between 1949 and 1950 EUCOM's War Crimes Branch and the Theater Judge Advocate Division were genuinely concerned with ensuring that justice had been done in the trials, from 1950 on they were almost exclusively concerned with freeing prisoners as quickly as possible in order to encourage German rearmament – a desire that reached its apex in late 1951, when High Commissioner John C. McCloy issued his infamous general amnesty.
Chapter 13, the final chapter, will assess the historical legacy of the NMT. The first section will ask whether the NMT was able to deliver on its promise to “re-educate and democratize” the German people by dramatizing Nazi atrocities through fair and public trials. On both counts, unfortunately, the NMT was largely a failure: not only did average Germans reject the legitimacy of the trials, a broad coalition of Germany’s church leaders, politicians, veterans, and refugee organizations mounted a multi-year propaganda campaign against the NMT, skillfully using Cold War fears of the Soviets to blackmail the U.S. into releasing convicted Nazi defendants long before they completed their sentences. The NMT’s failure nevertheless holds valuable lessons for the transitional justice project. First, and most obviously, it calls into question the connection between international trials and social reconciliation, suggesting that trials will only have expressive effect insofar as they are not viewed as victor’s justice. And second, it suggests that relative political stability in the region affected by mass atrocity is a necessary condition of effective international trials – that, in other words, peace is the condition of such trials, not their object. Is it any wonder, for example, that Farben proved to be one of the most lenient NMT judgments, given that Judge Morris told one of the prosecutors on the first day of trial that “[w]e have to worry about the Russians now; it wouldn't surprise me if they overran the courtroom before we get through”?
The NMT was far more successful, by contrast, in promoting the development of international criminal law – the subject of Chapter 13’s second section, which will systematically examine how the NMT judgments have been used by international tribunals and by domestic courts applying international law. Much of the NMT’s influence has been very positive: Einsatzgruppen’s conclusion that the mens rea of aiding-and-abetting is knowledge, not intent, was the basis of the ICTY’s holding to that effect in Furundzija; Krupp, Farben, and Flick’s willingness to convict corporate officials of crimes against humanity was the first step toward establishing that corporations themselves can commit international crimes; and – perhaps most important of all – the dicta in Justice and Einsatzgruppen that crimes against humanity could be committed in peacetime led to that principle becoming an integral part of international criminal law. Other aspects of the NMT’s jurisprudence, however, has had a negative influence, such as High Command’s subjective test for military necessity, which lives on in Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute, and Hostages’ approval of executing civilians in reprisal. That said, even the NMT’s errors have often proven useful: the world community’s outraged response to the Hostages judgment, for example, ensured that civilian reprisals would be categorically prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
Kevin Jon Heller is a Senior Lecturer (effective 1 January 2008) at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law. He was previously an assistant professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. He holds a BA and an MA in sociology from the New School for Social Research, both with highest honors; an MA in literature from Duke University, with honors; and a JD from Stanford Law School, with distinction. His scholarship on international criminal law has appeared or is forthcoming in the European Journal of International Law, the Michigan Law Review, the Journal of International Criminal Justice, the American Journal of International Law, and Criminal Law Forum, and he is currently co-editing (with Markus Dubber) the Stanford Handbook of Comparative Criminal Law for Stanford University Press. His essay in the European Journal of International Law, which examines the NMT’s jurisprudence concerning the leadership requirement in the crime of aggression, was initially written as a position paper for the ICC’s Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression. He served as Human Rights Watch’s external legal consultant on the trial of Saddam Hussein – whose lawyers cited his scholarship in their appeals – and is currently researching the NMT for a multi-year research workshop on the history of the prosecutor in international criminal law, the results of which will be published by Oxford University Press.