One might expect a Constitutional law expert to understand the historical record of the Nuremberg trials, especially if using them as an example in his speeches. Unfortunately, Barack Obama showed his lack of preparation yet again in Pennsylvania as he praised the Boumediene decision by the Supreme Court last week. Obama claimed that it represented a return to American values as represented by the Nuremberg trials — which actually didn’t allow habeas corpus through American civil courts at all:
Obama, a former senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, cited “that principle of habeas corpus, that a state can’t just hold you for any reason without charging you and without giving you any kind of due process — that’s the essence of who we are. I mean, you remember during the Nuremberg trials, part of what made us different was even after these Nazis had performed atrocities that no one had ever seen before, we still gave them a day in court and that taught the entire world about who we are but also the basic principles of rule of law. Now the Supreme Court upheld that principle yesterday.”
(Though Obama was clearly referring to the principle of giving criminals a day in court, it’s worth pointing out the distinction here, that the Nuremberg trials did not give Nazi war criminals access to U.S. courts, but to a special international military tribunal created by the U.S., USSR, France and the U.K. Though Nuremberg currently is considered a model for international law, it’s not as if Rudolph Hess had access to challenge his detention in U.S. federal court.)
It’s not as if the military tribunals offered by Congress and the Bush administration fell below Nuremberg standards, either. They allowed for even more rights for the defendants than Nuremberg, or would have if the Supreme Court hadn’t twice stopped them before determining whether they worked. In fact, the tribunals as conceived in the last iteration closely match what American soldiers receive for their own trials under the UCMJ.
Also, Nuremberg wasn’t a solely American effort. The British and the Soviets participated in the design and operation of the Nuremberg tribunals, and the latter hardly upheld American values through that system or the rule of law.
Rudolph Hess didn’t get habeas corpus in American courts for a good reason: he was captured by the British, not the Americans. However, those Nazi civilians and military personnel captured by the Americans didn’t get access to American civil courts either, not even as oversight over the due process of Nuremberg as Congress allowed in its tribunal system. They got tried by a tribunal system that worked hard (with the Soviet exception) to establish its credibility through its work, but not in self-flagellation over the imposition of the tribunals on Nazi sensitivities.
If Obama really understood the Nuremberg example, he would be criticizing the Boumediene decision, not praising it. The fact that he uses Nuremberg as an example shows how little he comprehends either, and the war on terror. (via The American Thinker)
Update: Nuremberg tried more than just military officers and enlisted. Joachim von Ribbentrop and Albert Speer, among many others, were civilians. Fritz von Papen didn’t even really do much for the Nazis and was acquitted at Nuremberg, for another example.