US Nuremberg trials prosecutor Henry King Jr. died May 9 from cancer at the age of 89. King, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, was one of the last three surviving Nuremberg prosecutors, and at 29 was the youngest US prosecutor at Nuremberg at the time of the trials. King was later instrumental in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the new international tribunal that now prosecutes suspected war criminals.
Writing on the Jurist website in 2006, King denounced the US military commissions at Guantánamo Bay as a departure from principles of fair adjudication developed at Nuremberg under the guidance of American chief prosecutor (and later Supreme Court justice) Robert Jackson:
The Military Commissions Act…contains questionable provisions that violate our constitutional arrangements of separation of powers and, arguably, violations of the laws and customs of armed conflict. The stepping away of these legal principles and the loss of our moral high ground is the ultimate challenge to the legacy of Nuremberg so carefully laid down by the principled leadership of Justice Jackson.
With this loss of moral leadership the hard work of a decade of modern international jurisprudence is threatened by politics and a questionable unilateral withdrawal of the world’s only superpower from the norms of international law. With the echo of “the rules have changed” ringing in our ears, America enters the 21st Century under a dark and ominous cloud. The law has been twisted to ensure a type of amnesty for past war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Americans in the “war on terror”, as well as ones that might be committed in the future. Additionally, the role of our courts, a co-equal branch of government, has been carved out of most of the process. Regardless of its constitutionality, the appearance of unfairness is there for the whole world to see.
It would sadden Justice Jackson, and others who were at Nuremberg, to see their government pressing so hard for torture, loss of habeas corpus relief, secret and long term unaccounted for detention, and no judicial involvement in a very questionable legal process. Their hard earned legacy was to try those who committed such acts above.
See our last post on the World War II legacy.