From Nuremberg to Attotabad

Updated: May 10

I was gripped yesterday morning listening to Benjamin B Ferencz interviewed on Radio 4. Ferencz was a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials and he spoke of his unease at the manner in which Osama Bin Laden was killed. It was not just what he said, it was the way he said it – lucid and well argued with no weaselling, and this from a man aged 91 years old. The fact that they don’t make people like this any more really does reveal the pitiful quality of politicians and what passes for political debate these days.


Ferencz described graphically what he saw when entering the concentration camps at the end of the Second World War and of how he personally confronted a senior SS officer with a gun. He said his experience made him understand the temptation of instant justice but said he felt “very uncomfortable” about the circumstances of Bin Laden’s death. Asked if he believed in “summary justice” he replied that he did not think it was accurate to use the word “justice”. The interview was prompted by a letter he wrote to the New York Times in which he argues: “The Nuremberg trials earned worldwide respect by giving Hitler’s worst henchmen a fair trial so that truth would be revealed and justice under law would prevail. Secret non-judicial decisions based on political or military considerations undermine democracy.”


Whether or not you agree with Ferencz, and I do, the interview, broadcast at about 9.3oam on Sunday on Radio 4, is worth a listen. We dismiss the experiences and opinions of men such as Ferencz at our peril.


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