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           - and then they showed that awful film,
                                             and it just spoiled everything.

                                  - Hermann Goering
                                    at Nuremberg

So, Dick Cheney doesn't want the latest batch of detainee-abuse photos released.

Huh - I wonder why?

Nuremberg, Germany, November 1945: The Nuremberg trials were underway. In a legal proceeding unprecedented in human history, the victorious Allied powers were prosecuting 21 Nazi defendants for their respective parts in the horrors inflicted on the world by Adolf Hitler's Germany over the previous 12 years. Fittingly, given the unprecedented scope of the atrocities, the prosecution was seeking to prove the Nazis guilty of a new crime in international law: the waging of aggressive war,  a war perpetrated against people and nations that posed no threat to Germany. Never before in history had such an ambitious prosecution been attempted, nor had such a daunting task been faced by those seeking justice.

Realizing the unique nature of the challenge facing it, the prosecution team elected to take advantage of the Nazis' own meticulous record-keeping to make their case for them.  Headed by former U.S. Attorney General and then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the Allies intended to bury the Nazis under a mountain of their own documentation. The sheer literal weight of the evidence amassed against the defendants - including 250 tons of paper in all - insured that the tribunal, rather than looking like an episode of "Perry Mason," with a dramatic denouement presented to a gasping gallery of awestruck observers, more likely would be about as exciting as a reading of the New York City phone book.

The proceedings, in other words, were intended to be dry, thorough and painstaking.  As Jackson said,

The case, therefore, against the defendants rests in large measure on documents of their own making, the authenticity of which has not been challenged . . .

A week into the trial, the defendants - including Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, Hitler's chief deputy Rudolf Hess and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop - had come to realize that the prosecution was having a hard time. The unprecedented nature of the charges and of the hearings themselves, among other things, seemed to have hampered the Allies' ability to hammer home their case. Their deliberate, thorough, documentation-driven approach proved - as expected - to be unavoidably tedious (one chronicler has called the Nuremberg courtroom "a citadel of boredom"), and the prosecution, much to the defendants' delight, often appeared plodding and overwhelmed. A smirking condescension was sometimes evident in the defendants' dock.

The afternoon session on November 29, 1945, the eighth day of the trial, began well for the defendants:

Goering, Ribbentrop and Hess had a great laugh over the reading of Goering’s telephone conversation with Ribbentrop on the day of Hitler’s triumphant entry into Vienna, describing the whole thing as a lark . . .

But then, all of that changed. The Allies' Associate Counsel told the court,

"At this point it is planned by our staff to show a motion picture, and it will take some few minutes to make the physical arrangements in the courtroom, so that if the Court should feel like recessing, those arrangements could be made."

When everything was ready, the lights in the courtroom were dimmed; perhaps for security reasons, perhaps to gauge their reactions, the defendants were illuminated by small lights installed in their box. The clacking noise of the projector starting up was to prove the crack of doom for Hitler's amoral co-conspirators.

The film, "Nazi Concentration Camps," was a distillation of footage shot by Allied cameramen as their armies had liberated the death camps one by one in the final months of the war. The documentary was directed by Lt. Col. George C. Stevens, a noted Hollywood director in his own right (before enlisting, Stevens directed Woman of the Year; after the war, some of his most notable films included Shane, The Diary of Anne Frank, Giant and A Place in the Sun, the last two of which earned him Best Director Oscars).

The scenes, many of them familiar to us now, were absolutely shocking in their day: Bulldozers shoving tumbling corpses into open pits.  Bodies stacked like cordwood. Walking skeletons looking dazedly into the camera, uncomprehending. And then, just when the viewer's mind started to go numb, the camera would focus in on a single dead face among a literal pile of dead faces, eyes staring vacantly, glazed over, transforming the millions of deaths which (to paraphrase Stalin) up to that point were just a statistic, into the unspeakable tragedy of single death upon single death upon single death, repeated to horror.

The film lasted just under an hour. The effect on the mood in the courtroom can hardly be overstated. Some people could not bear to watch; one woman fainted. And as the images from the projector continued to flicker across the screen that fateful afternoon, the veneer of arrogance and invincibility that had been a hallmark of the Nazi true believers for 12 long years finally cracked. A psychologist assigned to monitor the defendants at the trial described what he observed among those sitting in the box while "Nazi Concentration Camps" was shown:

Funk covers his eyes . . . Sauckel mops brow . . . Frank swallows hard, blinks eyes, trying to stifle tears . . . Frank mutters, "Horrible!" . . . . Rosenberg fidgets, peeks at screen, bows head, looks to see how others are reacting . . . Seyss-Inquart stoic throughout . . . Speer looks very sad, swallows hard . . . Defense attorneys are now muttering, "for God’s sake – terrible." . . .  Fritzsche, pale, biting lips, really seems in agony . . . Doenitz has head buried in his hands . . . Keitel now hanging head."

Another witness wrote,

By the time the projectors high up on the courtroom balcony cranked out the sixth and last terrible reel, Field Marshal [Wilhelm] Keitel was defeated as few generals have been defeated on a field of battle. He sat there, bent over and broken, mopping his lined face with a soggy ball of handkerchief.

The effect of showing the film was devastating (emphasis added):

This use of film in a juridical setting was unprecedented . . . Although motion pictures had been submitted as trial evidence as early as 1915, prior to Nuremberg one can find no records of any court using graphic film of atrocities as proof of criminal wrongdoing. As the prosecution readied the army’s documentary for screening, James Donovan, an assistant trial counsel, expressed succinctly the logic behind the turn to the filmic witness. "These motion pictures," he announced, "speak for themselves in evidencing life and death in Nazi concentration camps." As a visual artifact, the film could offer undeniable proof of a reality that might seem invented or exaggerated if recounted through written or spoken testimony. (PDF file)

Indeed, as Nuremberg chief prosecutor Robert Jackson said in his opening statement, the film's ability to silence disbelief was precisely the reason it was used:

We will show you these concentration camps in motion pictures, just as the Allied armies found them when they arrived . . . . Our proof will be disgusting and you will say I have robbed you of your sleep . . . . I am one who received during this war most atrocity tales with suspicion and skepticism.  But the proof here will be so overwhelming that I venture to predict not one word I have spoken will be denied.

Or, to put it another way (PDF file),

By presenting the tribunal with images of organized atrocity, the film confronted the court with the chief challenge of the trial: to submit unprecedented horror to principled legal judgments.

Reichsmarchall Goering was not happy about the screening:

"It was such a good afternoon, too, until they showed that film. They were reading my telephone conversations on the Austrian affair ["the Austrian affair" was the way Goering referred to the Anschluss, Germany's invasion and occupation of Austria] and everyone was laughing with me - and then they showed that awful film, and it just spoiled everything."

Of course, after that came the feigned indignation and outrage that someone would assemble such "propaganda" to be used against them; never mind that the "propaganda" was merely an unflinching documentation of the fruits of their years of deliberate work – a display, actually, of how successful they had been in having their plans carried out just as they had intended.

Here is a sampling of "Nazi Concentration Camp" (I haven't found a link yet for a decent, complete version) [see Update below] courtesy of the Robert H. Jackson Center's YouTube channel:

Note that around the 3:23 mark in this video excerpt of the film, U.S. Navy Lt. Jack Taylor, held as a POW at the Mauthausen concentration camp, describes the half-dozen ways that prisoners there were killed:

"by gas, by shooting, by beating, that is beating with clubs, by exposure, that is standing out in the snow naked for 48 hours and having cold water thrown on them in the middle of winter, starvation, dogs, and pushing over a hundred-foot cliff"

Dousing with cold water.  Starvation.  Beatings. We might as well be reciting from the Bradbury memo.

As the Nuremberg trials demonstrated - and even Goering recognized at the time - the power of film to condemn is unequaled.

Dick Cheney also knows this.

That's why no videotapes exist anymore of U.S. personnel torturing detainees – and why Cheney is fighting tooth and nail to prevent any more photos from being released. Given what we now know to be the reason for much of the torture inflicted on certain detainees, the offenses such photos would bear witness to could go far beyond inhuman and inexcusable treatment of prisoners - the photos might well be an important piece of evidence proving the crime of aggressive war.

The overriding charge against the Nazis at Nuremberg was waging aggressive war. The tribunal was breaking new and controversial ground in pursuing such charges, and was opposed by many respected jurists. Judge Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr., Judge of the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1946,

There is no convention or treaty which places obligations explicitly upon an individual not to aid in waging an aggressive war. Thus, from the point of view of the individual, the charge of a "crime against peace" appears in one aspect like a retroactive law.

But by the time the proceedings had come to a close, Wyzanski had changed his views -

Before the Nuremberg trial began, those who, like myself, originally opposed a judicial proceeding stressed [certain] points . . . [C]ommentators fear[ed] that the trial instead of persuading the Germans of today or tomorrow that our side was just, would persuade them that we were hypocrites disguising vengeance under the facade of legality . . .

Now that the trial has been held, many of these forebodings are shown to have been wide of the mark. Judged as a court trial, the Nuremberg proceedings were a model of forensic fairness.

- and in fact was prepared to clarify the notion of "aggressive war":

[T]he definition of "aggressive," like other legal terms, will acquire content by exemplification; and the full meaning will become clear only after sufficient cases have been brought before and adjudicated by competent tribunals. It may be difficult at some future time to determine whether a particular war is an aggressive war, but there was no difficulty in deciding that the Nazi war was an aggressive war, since it would be generally conceded that the term "aggressive war" at its least includes a war like the Nazi war, which is begun by an attack by those who do not themselves believe that they are in danger of immediate attack by others. And although it may be difficult to say how far down the line of command responsibility goes, responsibility certainly extends at least to those who, knowing there is no danger, both plan and direct the unwarranted attack.

A clear pattern of premeditiation, mendacity and unwarranted aggression made it clear that Germany's warmaking, far from being a defensive response, was intended as an empire-building pursuit, in order to obtain for the German people "living space" (Lebensraum) and the natural resources associated with it. Written into the Nazis' plans right from the start was the displacement of several million former residents of the conquered territories - the disposition of whom was left to the readers' imaginations.

In 1923 - fifteen years before the invasion of Austria - Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf wrote of the necessity of conquering Czechoslovakia and Austria. That view was reiterated once Hitler came to power, in the 1937 Hossbach document.

The Germans put their long-formulated plans into effect in 1938, first with the "annexations" of Austria and the Czech Sudetenland. Those were accomplished with virtually no bloodshed and the appearance of political due process in the eyes of much of the rest of the world. Poland would be a tougher nut to crack. The Nazis laid their plans accordingly.

On the night of August 31, 1939, thugs from the German SS, dressed in Polish army uniforms, overran an isolated German radio station in the lonely outpost of Gleiwitz, on the border with Poland. The SS attackers then broadcast anti-German propaganda over the station's airwaves. Finally, using political prisoners they had grabbed from the Gestapo's dungeons and the Dachau concentration camp, the Germans clothed them, too, in Polish uniforms, gave them lethal injections, and then riddled their bodies with bullets. To the unsuspecting members of the German and international press who were allowed to view the scene the next day, it appeared obvious that the Polish army had staged an unprovoked attack on German soil. The German government feigned outrage at the "attack," and in "response," declared war on Poland, invading that country with overwhelming force.

The "Gleiwitz incident" was one of 21 separate events staged by the Germans on the night of August 31; collectively, the deceptions were designed to provide Germany with a pretext for its illegal invasion of Poland. A key part of the Nuremberg proceedings was testimony of Alfred Naujocks, who described in detail the Gleiwitz incident, which involved the murder of political prisoners and had one goal: to make it look as though Germany had been acting in self-defense against Polish aggression.

In his closing statement at Nuremberg, Jackson said (emphasis added),

The dominant fact which stands out from all the thousands of pages of the record of this Trial is that the central crime of the whole group of Nazi crimes - the attack on the peace of the world - was clearly and deliberately planned. The beginning of these wars of aggression was not an unprepared and spontaneous springing to arms by a population excited by some current indignation. A week before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

"I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war - never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory."

The propagandist incident was duly provided by dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms, in order to create the appearance of a Polish attack on a German frontier radio station. The plan to occupy Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg first appeared as early as August 1938 in connection with the plan for attack on Czechoslovakia. The intention to attack became a program in May 1939, when Hitler told his commanders that "the Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed forces. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored."

Naujock's testimony revealing the cold-blooded calculations of the Gleiwitz incident was a key component of the proof that in fact Germany was the aggressor, and that, far from feeling threatened by Poland, the Germans had been planning for some time to invade. And that salient fact was the essence of the charge of aggressive war.

In his closing statement, Jackson said (emphasis added),

The charges in the Indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world.

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

The first acts of aggression referred to in the Indictment are the seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia; and the first war of aggression charged in the Indictment is the war against Poland begun on 1 September 1939.

Before examining that charge it is necessary to look more closely at some of the events which preceded these acts of aggression. The war against Poland did not come suddenly out of an otherwise clear sky; the evidence has made it plain that this war of aggression, as well as the seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia, was premeditated and carefully prepared, and was not undertaken until the moment was thought opportune for it to be carried through as a definite part of the preordained scheme and plan.

For the aggressive designs of the Nazi Government were not accidents arising out of the immediate political situation in Europe and the world; they were a deliberate and essential part of Nazi foreign policy.

The key members of the BushCheney administration had planned for years prior to March 2003 to invade Iraq.

  • George Bush fantasized about being a "war president" - specifically, about invading Iraq - as far back as the 1990s; his cabinet choices and all of his public utterances on the issue all pointed toward that inevitable outcome

  • The Project for the New American Century, from which most of the key members of the BushCheney foreign policy and defense teams were drawn, as its first public policy statement called in 1998 for the United States to make as its pre-eminent foreign policy focus the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq

  • Immediately after taking office in January 2001, Dick Cheney convened his energy task force, which drew up (a) a map of Iraq which divided the country’s western desert into oilfield parcels, and (b) a list of "Foreign Suitors for for Iraqi Oil Contracts"

  • On February 3, 2001, a top-secret National Security Council memo was circulated which "directed the N.S.C. staff to coöperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the ‘melding’ of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: ‘the review of operational policies towards rogue states," such as Iraq, and "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.’"

  • The day after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush ordered his national security "czar," Richard Clarke, to look for links between the terrorists and Saddam Hussein, in spite of Clarke’s insistence that no such links exist

  • In March 2002 – a full year before the invasion of Iraq - President George W. Bush told a group of U.S. Senators, "F@#k Saddam - we’re taking him out."

  • The BushCheney administration tortured people in order to get them to confess to a non-existent link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks

  • The BushCheney administration lied to Congress and to the American people about Saddam Hussein’s ostensible seeking of uranium – lies that were based on documents that the administration knew were forgeries

  • The BushCheney administration actively proposed fabricating an international incident by staging the shootdown of a surveillance aircraft painted in United Nations colors and blaming the shootdown on the government of Iraq

All of the above are documented facts.  The case for the crime of aggressive war - the same offense for which Nazis at Nuremberg were tried and convicted - against the BushCheney administration is, on its face, already a strong one.

As the Nuremberg tribunal wound down, a dejected Goering - once the proudest, most arrogant peacock in the Nazi flock - shuffled to his cell after one day's proceedings and reflected upon the ease with which aggressive war could be brought to pass:

   Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?

   Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship . . .

   [T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

What the Nuremberg tribunal succeeded in doing was in introducing for the first time in human history legal accountability for the waging of aggressive war. As Justice Jackson wrote in his report to President Harry Truman upon the completion of the trial, Nuremberg (emphasis added)

for the first time made explicit and unambiguous what was theretofore, as the Tribunal has declared, implicit in International Law, namely, that to prepare, incite, or wage a war of aggression, or to conspire with others to do so, is a crime against international society . . . and that for the commission of such crimes individuals are responsible . . . It is a basic charter in the International Law of the future

- or at least, it should be.

Update [2009-5-19 10:27:22 by occams hatchet]: H/t to justme and platypus in the comments, who provided links to full versions of "Nazi Concentration Camps." I think this is the best-quality full-length video I've seen; what I still can't figure out is why the excerpt I included in the diary (as well as the rest of the excerpts), available at the Robert Jackson Center's YouTube channel, is so much sharper. (The Jackson Center, by the way, has an amazing collection of archival footage of the Nuremberg tribunal.)

Originally posted to Important if True on Mon May 18, 2009 at 07:33 PM PDT.

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