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Letter: Some lessons from Nuremberg

The Nuremberg trials following World War II represented a transformation in legal concepts. It was in June 1945 that the four victorious powers sat down to draw up the London Agreement and the charter to serve as the legal foundation for the Nuremberg trials -- 12 years after the "Crimes Against Peace" had begun.

Although it had been stated many times during the war that the war criminals would be brought to justice, these warnings could be discounted as propaganda. The truth was that there was neither a world court nor an international law, for the prosecution of policy makers and heads of government was such a delicate problem that it had been avoided by diplomats and international lawyers.

Nuremberg, the site of many Nazi rallies and the Nuremberg laws which had stripped Jews of their rights, still had an intact courthouse despite being 91 percent destroyed.

The charter included four counts. Count One was conspiracy to wage aggressive war for crimes committed before the war. Count Two was waging aggressive war in violation of international treaties. Count Three was war crimes including killing or maltreatment of POWs. Count Four was crimes against humanity -- crimes against Jews, ethnic minorities and physically or mentally handicapped.

Although most attention has been on the "big" trial of the top leaders, there were three more groups tried. The 23 doctors who were tried were accused of having performed human experimentation on prisoners.

The judges' trials consisted of judges and lawyers. Some had been members of the Reich Ministry of Justice while others had been prosecutors implementing and furthering the Nazi laws.

The Einsatzgruppen trials were for members of the death squads which operated in occupied territory murdering Jews, ethnic minorities, gays, disabled people and gypsies.

There were questionable aspects in these trials of the vanquished by the victors such as ex post facto and a true lack of impartiality, but by verbalizing such concepts as aggressive war and individual responsibility in spite of superiors' orders, Nuremberg has become a symbol to many. It was a step toward moving moral crimes into prosecutable crimes.