Letter to the Editor: Trials for Enemies Re: Wedgwood Op-Ed

To the Editor:

Professor Ruth Wedgwood's understandable revulsion against terrorist attacks concludes that Al Qaeda members should not receive the extraordinary protections that we provide in domestic trials. (Op-Ed Dec. 21, 2001) Our long-range interests might better be served by other alternatives that expand rather than curb the rule of law.

After World War II, Britain proposed that Nazi leaders be summarily executed. The United States rejected that idea as repugnant to American ideals. Instead, an International Military Tribunal was established at Nuremberg to try 22 leading suspects in open court authorized to punish aggression, crimes against humanity and major war crimes. A handful of Japanese offenders faced a similar trial. Courts set up by victorious powers in their occupied zones tried another tier of a few hundred German suspects. "Small fry" were left to be "denazified" by the Germans themselves. The varied approach proved effective. American insistence that Nuremberg principles, approved by the United Nations, applied equally to everyone ushered in an era of greater respect for human rights of people everywhere.

Bin Laden and cohorts should be brought to justice before a new international criminal court that could be quickly established by the United Nations Security Council, as was done for atrocities in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The charges should include "Crimes Against Humanity": the deliberate mass murder of large numbers of innocent civilians. No national secrets need be revealed to prove those allegations. There are ample international precedents. The pending permanent international criminal court now being established, despite misguided opposition from some of our conservative congressmen, offers a good model that has been accepted by most nations including our staunchest allies.

Our goal in the long run is to prevent the recurrence of terroristic acts. America cannot possibly conduct thousands of military trials against offenders from many nations. Other countries should participate. The verdict of an impartial international tribunal condemning planners and leading perpetrators is more likely to be an acceptable deterrent than secret American military proceedings. We make no friends abroad by insisting that more-fair trials are "reserved for Americans only."

Benjamin B. Ferencz
The writer was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials