- War crimes trials
War crimes trials are trials of persons charged with criminal violation of the
laws and customsof war and related principles of international law. The practice began after World War I, when some German leaders were tried by a German court in Leipzig for crimes commited during that war. After World War IIthe phrase referred usually to the trials of German and Japanese leaders in courts established by the victorious Allied nations.
The most important of these trials were held in
Nuremberg, Germany, under the authority of two legal instruments. One, the so-called London Agreement, was signed by representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the USSRin Londonon August 8, 1945; the other, Law No. 10, was promulgated by the Allied Control Councilin Berlinon December 20, 1945.
The London Agreement provided for the establishment of the
International Military Tribunal, composed of one judgeand one alternate judge from each of the signatory nations, to try war criminals. Under the London Agreement, the crimescharged against defendantsfell into three categories: crimes against peace, that is, crimes involving the planning, initiating and waging of aggressive war; war crimes, that is, violations of the laws and customs of war as embodied in the Hague Conventionsand generally recognized by the militaryforces of civilized nations; and crimes against humanity, such as the exterminationof racial, ethnic, and religiousgroups and other such atrocities against civilians.
occupied by Germany during the war.
accusedwere the Nationalist Socialistleaders Hermann Göringand Rudolf Hess, the diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop, the munitions maker Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Grand Admiral Erich Raederand 18 other military leadersand civilian officials. Seven organizations that formed part of the basic structure of the Nazi governmentwere also charged as criminal. These organizations included the SS ( Schutzstaffel, "Defense Corps"), the Gestapo( Geheime Staatspolizei, "Secret State Police"), and the SA ( Sturmabteilung, "Storm Troops"), as well as the General Staffand High Commandof the German armed forces.
The trial began on
November 20, 1945. Much of the evidencesubmitted by the prosecutionconsisted of original military, diplomatic, and other government documents that fell into the hands of the Allied forcesafter the collapse of the German government.
The judgment of the International Military Tribunal was handed down on
September 30- October 1, 1946. Among notable features of the decision was the conclusion, in accordance with the London Agreement, that to plan or instigate an aggressive war is a crime under the principles of international law. The tribunal rejected the contention of the defense that such acts had not previously been defined as crimes under international law and that therefore the condemnation of the defendantswould violate the principle of justiceprohibiting ex post facto punishments. It also rejected the contention of a number of the defendants that they were not legally responsible for their acts because they performed the acts under the orders of superior authority, stating that "the true test . . . is not the existence of the order but whether moral choice (in executing it) was in fact possible"."
With respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the tribunal found overwhelming evidence of a systematic rule of
violence, brutality, and terrorismby the German government in the territoriesoccupied by its forces. Millions of persons were destroyed in concentration camps, many of which were equipped with gas chambersfor the extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and members of other ethnic or religious groups. Under the slave-labor policyof the German government, at least 5 million persons had been forcibly deported from their homes to Germany. Many of them died because of inhumantreatment. The tribunal also found that atrocities had been committed on a large scale and as a matter of official policy.
Of the seven indicted organizations, the tribunal declared criminal the
Leadership Corpsof the National Socialist Party, the SS, the SD ( Sicherheitsdienst, "Security Service"), and the Gestapo.
Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse
Breaker Morantand Court martial of Breaker Morant
My Lai Massacre
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