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August 2, 2015 / 17 Av, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘genocide’

Holocaust Scholars Criticize Obama

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Eighty-five prominent Holocaust scholars last week criticized President Obama for failing to respond to Libya’s hosting of a Darfur war criminal.

The new Libyan regime hosted a visit by Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his leading role in the Darfur genocide. The Obama administration did not comment on the visit.

“Especially in view of the role the United States played in bringing about the overthrow of the Gadaffi regime,” the Holocaust and genocide scholars wrote, “the U.S. has a right, and a moral obligation, to demand that the new Libya join us in treating perpetrators of genocide as pariahs.”

The petition was organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C.

The scholars’ petition urged President Obama to “speak out publicly against Libya’s embrace of Bashir and to make it clear to the international community that the U.S. regards the hosting of visits by Bashir as unacceptable.” They also called for “a firmer policy by the U.S. toward perpetrators of genocide and those who coddle them.”

The signatories included Prof. David S. Wyman, author of The Abandonment of the Jews; Prof. Yehuda Bauer, of Yad Vashem; and Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, best known for her courtroom battles with Holocaust denier David Irving.

(Jewish Press staff)

Legacies Of Nuremburg, Eichmann Trials Shape Our World

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Sixty-five years ago at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, 22 defendants stood in the dock. They represented a cross-section of Nazi diplomatic, economic, political and military leadership, and became the first people in history to be indicted for crimes against humanity.

A tribunal of judges from the victorious Allied countries – the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union – did not convict all of the defendants. While 12 were sentenced to death, three to life terms and four to prison terms of up to 20 years, three were acquitted.

Additional trials were held in the following years. Collectively, all of the proceedings are now commonly referred to as the Nuremberg Trials.

Well before the war ended, the Allies had decided to prosecute Germans who were responsible for crimes against civilian populations. They believed the trials would hold an important place in history. They also hoped that establishing a new legal precedent would extinguish the possibility of the world ever facing these crimes again.

Among its legacies, the military tribunal at Nuremberg codified a new law – crimes against humanity – to protect civilians, and it prosecuted Nazi war criminals for atrocities they committed not only against their own citizens but those of other nations.

It rejected the longstanding doctrine of sovereign immunity, which exempted heads of state from prosecution for actions taken while in office, and the doctrine of superior orders, which protected subordinates from being prosecuted for crimes they committed under orders.

The legacy of Nuremberg in preventing future atrocities has been uneven. The United Nations unanimously adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on Dec. 9, 1948. However, the United States did not become a party to the UN Convention until 1988, and not until the 1990s were the first international criminal tribunals since Nuremberg established in the wake of the massive failure to prevent genocide in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.

More recently, some encouraging signs that genocide prevention efforts are taking hold have emerged. In 2002, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court established the first permanent judicial body dedicated to trying those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Three years later the World Summit, a gathering of leaders from UN member countries, adopted language maintaining that member nations have a “responsibility to protect” civilians anywhere when their own government cannot or will not protect them from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing.

Whether these trends continue will depend on the will of policymakers and the commitment of their constituents to making prevention and punishment a priority.

In addition to its legal legacy, Nuremberg had an enormous impact on our collective understanding of this pivotal era in history. The U.S. chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, made a crucial decision to base the prosecution on the voluminous documentary evidence produced by the perpetrators of genocide themselves rather than eyewitness testimony, in part because he feared the testimony of survivors and other witnesses to Nazi crimes could be dismissed as unreliable or biased.

Jackson’s decision to rely on documentary evidence presented a fuller picture of Nazi atrocities than anyone had previously imagined, and the trial stands as an eternal testament to the magnitude of the Holocaust. Never before or since have the perpetrators of genocide so thoroughly documented their own evil.

Some 3,000 tons of documents, photographs, film footage and artifacts were presented at the first Nuremberg Trial alone, and the prosecutors’ meticulous work provided the foundation for initial scholarship on the Holocaust and much of what we know about that event today. Jackson’s concept of proving “incredible events with credible evidence” probably ended up having as much of an impact educationally as legally.

Interestingly, 15 years after Nuremberg, a new approach to the evidence would be used but with equally powerful public impact.

One of the primary implementers of the Nazi genocide who escaped trial right after the war was Adolf Eichmann. Captured by the Israelis in Argentina, he was brought to trial in 1961. This time, however, the trial would not take place in occupied Germany but in Israel, home to many Holocaust survivors. This would not be victors’ justice but victims’ justice.

Whatever Happened To Our First Black President?

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

            If Toni Morrison, the Nobel-prize winning African-American novelist, could refer to Bill Clinton, a white man, as America’s first black president, then surely we can take a reverse tack: Is it possible that Barack Obama is not the first real black president after all?
It’s a contentious statement, so let me explain.
            Whiteness and blackness are ultimately immaterial concepts that refer to naught but skin pigmentation but were elevated to earth-shattering proportions by racists and those who wished to suppress blacks for their own advantage. But the principal positive consequence of the barbaric oppression of blacks due to the color of their skin is that in modern America “blackness” has come to represent, more than anything else, a people’s capacity to endure suffering and humiliation yet agitate for their freedom and human rights.
            That agitation reached its apogee in the person of Martin Luther King, Jr., who restored America to its founding principles. Prior to Dr. King, America was a great but deeply contradictory nation whose brave soldiers liberated Jews from Hitler while back home cowardly lynchings continued, and whose troops bravely fought the Communist menace in Vietnam while black children were denied the right to drink from water fountains on hot summer days in Selma, Alabama.
Dr. King ended all that. His reward was a bullet to the neck. But ever since then his memory and the black marchers who followed him and desegregated America has become synonymous with the willingness of a people to bear immense burdens to promote justice and freedom.
It was because of that extraordinary legacy that many of us looked forward to the elevation of the first black man, or woman, as president of the United States and leader of the free world. Surely that person would usher in a new era, utilizing American influence to promote freedom and the rights of man worldwide. And whoever it would be would have a tough act follow after the actions taken by President Bush to promote democracy and human rights in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
Indeed, America has an almost shameful record when it comes to stopping genocide, as Samantha Power chronicled so adeptly in her 2002 Pulitzer-prize winning book A Problem from Hell. The United States responded very inadequately to the genocide of the Armenians in World War I and the Cambodians in 1975-1978. President Roosevelt famously refused repeated entreaties to bomb the railroad tracks to Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
Morrison may have felt Clinton was the first black president but Clinton did not so much as even meet with his senior advisers to discuss Rwanda during the three months of the genocide there in 1994 when 800,000 died through the low-tech slaughter of being mangled by machete. Clinton likewise did little to stop the killings in Bosnia and Srebrenica, waking up only, and finally, to intervene in Kosovo.
   Fast forward to President Obama, whose actions with regard to dictators and wholesale human slaughter taking place on his watch – the Libyan massacres in particular – have been utterly baffling. I have already written of my grave disappointment in Obama’s warmly greeting dictators like Hugo Chavez or rolling out the red carpet, literally, for President Hu of China while Obama’s fellow Nobel Peace recipient, Lu Xiaobo, rots in jail and his wife is held hostage though she has never even been accused of a crime. There is the further issue of Obama’s gross disrespect of the Dalai Lama – sending him out of the back entrance of the White House last year past huge piles of garbage in order not to offend the bullies in China.
   But Obama’s abrogation of leadership and failure to champion human rights in Libya defies all comprehension and shows just how much the president has strayed from the legacy of Dr. King. First there was Obama’s utter silence for days as Khaddafi opened fire on his own people with jets, helicopter gunships, large caliber weapons and RPG’s. Then, almost a week into the killing, Obama issued his famous denunciation of Khaddafi’s mass murder as “outrageous and unacceptable,” words perhaps more relevant to the threat of a baseball strike than mass human slaughter.
   The president further threatened Khaddafi with the possibility of economic sanctions, a subject, one would think, not exactly on the mind of a brutal dictator fighting for his very life. Finally, on February 26, Obama, in a telephone call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Khaddafi had “lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”
   Come again? Was our president suggesting that a dictator who had slaughtered and tortured his political opponents for four decades, funded international terrorism, and blew up discotheques and airliners somehow had legitimacy in the first place? And what is the meaning of the statement being made in private to the German chancellor? Is Obama too timid to call a press conference and announce in bold, unequivocal terms that Khaddafi is a tyrant who, if he survives, will be tried for crimes against humanity?

   And so we continue to wait for America’s first black president – someone who will step into Martin Luther King’s shoes and use the most powerful office on earth to make freedom ring, not just from Stone Mountain, Georgia and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, but from Tripoli to Riyadh and Damascus to Beirut.




   Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the best-selling author of 25 books and has recently published “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.

After The American Elections Israel, “Peace,” And International Law (Part III)

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
            President Obama has hitherto accepted the language of a “moderate” Palestinian Authority. The PA and its associates are distinctly obligated to refrain from incitement against Israel. Going back even to the legal antecedents of the current peace process, the Interim Agreement (Oslo 2) stated, at Article XXII, that Israel and the PA  “shall seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance and shall accordingly abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other….” In the Note for the Record, which accompanied the Hebron Protocol of January 15,1997, the PA reaffirmed its commitment regarding “Preventing Incitement and Hostile Propaganda, as specified in Article XXII of the Interim Agreement.”  Substantially familiar if more general reaffirmations can readily be found in the Road Map.


            What has not yet been broadly acknowledged is that the Genocide Convention criminalizes not only the various acts of genocide, but also (Article III) conspiracy to commit genocide, and direct and public incitement to commit genocide.  Articles II, III and IV of the Genocide Convention are fully applicable in all cases of direct and public incitement to commit genocide.  For the Convention to be invoked, it is sufficient that any one of the State parties call for a meeting, through the United Nations, of all the State parties (Article VIII).


             Although this has never been done, the United States, especially following the recent election, should now consider very seriously taking this particular step while there is still time.  Israel, too, should be an obvious co-participant in this call, but it is unlikely that any government in Jerusalem, historically aware of always-expanding global indifference to Jewish life, will seek formal redress under any multilateral conventions. An alternative remedy/strategy could involve the issuance of specific criminal indictments for crimes against humanity by Israel’s Justice Ministry to the key Palestinian broadcasters and journalists now engaged in daily anti-Semitic harangues. In the words of Israeli attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, back in February 2004: “Those who operate Palestinian television and radio stations and the printing presses engaged in hate speech should be arrested along with the other suspected killers.”


            Undeniably, any public trial before an Israeli tribunal could have grave geopolitical risks. For one, as no Arab or Iranian authority could ever be expected to extradite alleged wrongdoers to Israel for trial, it would inevitably be up to Israeli military and police authorities to acquire physical custody over defendants. This is the case although such expected Arab/Iranian disregard for Israeli extradition requests would be a manifestly serious violation of peremptory international criminal law.


             Even if an Israeli trial could afford opportunity for a direct evidentiary connection between Palestinian media incitement and Palestinian terrorism, much of the world would be focused instead on the extraordinary means by which Israel took custody of the inciters. After all, when Israel captured major Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann in 1960, more states chose to condemn the abduction than to recall the prisoner’s role as murderer of 1,000.000 Jewish children.


            The Genocide Convention, the London Charter, and the December 2003 ICTR decision on Rwanda are not the only authoritative codifications that should now be invoked against relentless media and leadership calls for the mass killing of Jews.  The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination should also be brought productively into play.  This treaty condemns “all propaganda and all organizations which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form,” obliging, at Article 4(a) State parties to declare as “an offense punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons.”  Article 4(b) affirms that State parties “Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offense punishable by law.”  Further authority for curtailing and punishing Palestinian calls for genocidal destruction of Jews can be found at Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:  “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”


            The overriding point of the judgments at Nuremberg was to ensure that all future crimes against humanity be identified, prosecuted and punished. Fully aware of these judgments, the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda ruled, in December 2003, that “mere words” can contain substantial criminal liability and may warrant very severe punishments. Understood in terms of ongoing homicidal and genocidal Arab and Iranian calls for violence against Israel, it is essential that every state in the United Nations now be reminded of its binding obligation not to encourage another Holocaust. This is a fully legal obligation, and certainly must not be taken lightly.


            Now, especially after the recent U.S. elections, there may be new opportunities in Washington to finally make things right regarding Israel’s fundamental security needs. It is imperative that any such opportunities be identified and taken quickly, while there is still time, and before a Palestinian state is declared unilaterally.


Louis Rene Beres  was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with genocide, terrorism, war and international law.  Strategic and Military Affairs analyst for The Jewish Press, he is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue.

After The American Elections Israel, “Peace,” And International Law (Part II)

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
            But what has all this to do with present-day Israel, the recent American elections, and the Obama Road Map?  For a very long time, certainly for the past dozen years, specifically anti-Jewish and anti-Israel diatribes have been standard fare on Palestinian Authority, Syrian, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and Hezbollah television. As for the Arab print-media, even in “moderate” Jordan, the general and unrelenting theme remains that Jewish “infidels” are distinctly less than human, basically degenerate and suitable only for sacrificial (terrorist) killing.


             As these media now routinely remind their readers, the murder of Jews, children and infants included, is always a religiously meritorious act. Currently, there is precious little to distinguish the literally blood-curdling anti-Semitic cries of Arab/Iranian television and newspapers from the Nazi propaganda of Der Stuermer or from recorded Rwandan media exhortations during the frenzied 1994 genocide in that African country.


            Genocide has always been prohibited by international law.  In the words of the Genocide Convention, a binding multilateral treaty that codified post-Nuremberg norms, and which entered into force in 1951, the sorts of murderous acts long advocated by Arab/Iranian leaders and Jihadist terror groups qualify very precisely as criminal.  The “moderate” Fatah organization’s June 2009 congress even called openly for the eradication of Israel.  This call echoed still earlier genocidal codifications in the resolutely unchanged Palestinian National Charter, in Fatah’s ongoing calls for Inqirad mujtama  (the extinction of Israeli society), and in the Charter of Hamas (“There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad….I swear by that who holds in His Hands the Soul of Muhammad!  I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah!  I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”)


             Let us never forget: War and genocide need not be mutually exclusive.  Arab/Iranian preparations for a Final Solution for “The Jews” are not only for an “unavoidable” war, but also for the extermination of an entire people.  Regarding ties with PLO, which still “lives” in a variety of other institutional incarnations, the Hamas Charter says the following:  “The PLO is among the closest to the Hamas, for it constitutes a father, a brother, a relative a friend.”  On the primacy of hatred toward Judaism, not Israel, the Charter states:  “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish, and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.”


            Under international law, all Arab/Iranian calls for the killing of Jews, whether indirectly in Jihad or directly through mass murder, constitute calls for genocide.  Ironically, the national and terror group authorities who issue such calls are now widely recognized by the “international community” as official emissaries of “peace.”  It is time now for this international community to acknowledge that the same individuals who call for commission of the world’s most egregious crime cannot possibly be a proper source of partnership and reconciliation with Israel. At the same time, it is unlikely that such an acknowledgment will arise anywhere in Europe, where the view is now widespread that Israel, a state less than half the size of Lake Michigan, is the world’s second most dangerous country. In this view, the most dangerous, of course, remains the United States.


            As ruled explicitly by the ICTR, media and government calls for genocide are an egregious offense and fully punishable under international law. Arab/Iranian media and pertinent leadership elites do not have protected speech in their calling for the mass murder of Jews. In the precise language of the ICTR‘s 350-page decision, governments and authorities have a distinct obligation to restrict speech that advocates “national, racial or religious hatred, that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” This language is derivative from already-existing codifications of international criminal law, especially the Genocide Convention, the earlier London Charter of August 1945, which defined and criminalized acts against humanity, and a number of other authoritative sources. 


            Some years ago, following one of the devastating suicide bombings in which several small Jewish children were blown to bits, prominent Palestinian columnist Fahd al-Rimawi, then writing with obvious approval of Nobel Peace laureate Yassir Arafat in Amman al-Majd, gleefully celebrated the monstrous act of terror:  Let us rejoice and applaud the operation with the sweetest of songs and ululations (sic).  We greet that act of ingeniousness with the sweetest of chants and we bid farewell to our bold martyrs who have lit the night of Jerusalem…and given luster and meaning to Arab valor…. We will not apologize for the Jewish blood that will be spilt nor denounce the heroic actions of the Mujahideen who represent the soul of this nation and echo the pulse of the masses and the Palestinian people’s conscience….” 


            While most of the world still chooses to ignore such calls for international crime (a few years ago, the UN’s International Court of Justice at The Hague chose not to rule on the manifest illegality of Palestinian terrorism or Palestinian calls for genocide, preferring instead to consider the legality of Israel’s “fence” that is designed to prevent anti-Israel terror and genocide), international law has an unswerving obligation to act. Expressed by leaders of the major states in world politics, the relevant norms and principles of international law should be invoked in time  – before calls for genocide against Israel’s Jews are allowed to become the materialized foreign policy of certain Islamic states and/or terror groups armed with chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons. Lest anyone be overly optimistic, the fusion of genocidal intent with genocidal capacity is now almost within reach of several states anxious to excise the “Jewish cancer” from the Dar al Islam, the world of Islam, in the Middle East. There remains a special and continuing urgency regarding Iran, which is making steady and final progress toward nuclear weapons capacity in spite of sanctions from the United States, and from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with genocide, terrorism, war and international law.  Strategic and Military Affairs analyst for The Jewish Press, he is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue.

After The American Elections: Israel, Peace And International Law (Part I)

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
             After the recent U.S. election, President Barack Obama unhappily conceded that he had suffered a “shellacking.” For the most part, the president was referring to an obviously firm and far-reaching rejection of his domestic policies. Nonetheless, his personal influence has now been weakened generally, including in many areas of U.S. foreign policy. It is fair to ask, therefore, whether his oft-stated preferences for a “Road Map to Peace in the Middle East” (that is, creation of a Palestinian state out of the still-living body of Israel), and also for “a world free of nuclear weapons (that is, a world in which Israel would no longer be able to deter existential attacks) are still a matter of reasonable concern.


            Until now, the Obama plan for a road map to peace in the Middle East revealed that in matters concerning Israeli rights under international law, there was essentially nothing new under the sun. Once again, fundamental Israeli rights, including even the right of Jews to live and construct homes anywhere in the land of Israel, were being subordinated to the presumed rights of all others. This included the annihilatory claims of a wrongly and an imprudently legitimized Palestinian “Authority.”


             To be fair, President Obama is certainly not the originator of our misconceived U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Oddly enough, already back in the 1990s, Palestinian terrorist militias were being trained by the CIA in “counter terror tactics.” A core component of the Obama administration’s Palestinian policy has been to train the “moderate” Fatah-led Palestinian army. U.S. Lt. General Keith Dayton has been supervising this self-defeating training in Jordan.  Under presidential direction, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been pushed to accept an expanded deployment of Palestinian counter terrorist forces in areas throughout the West Bank (Judea/Samaria).


            If ever there was an irrefutable oxymoron, this is it. “Palestinian counterterrorist forces.” The president, embracing a so-called “Arab Peace Plan” (previously, the “Saudi Plan”) still expects Israel to retreat to indefensible 1949 armistice lines and to simultaneously expel hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea/Samaria, Jerusalem and possibly also the Golan Heights.


            The Arab Plan that has been favored by Mr. Obama also effectively demands that Israel cease being a Jewish state, by allowing literally millions of foreign Arabs to become Israeli citizens within the country’s soon-to-be shrunken borders.


            There is yet another distressing layer of irony and illegality here. Each and every day, the Arab and Iranian media is thoroughly filled with graphic calls for violence against all Jews, not “just” against Israelis. These explicit entreaties to aggression and genocide are not simply indecent or impermissible on moral grounds. They also stand in unassailably stark violation of codified and customary norms of international law. Indeed, as these particular norms are peremptory, that is, norms permitting absolutely no derogation, the relevant legal violations are of utmost seriousness.


            Now that the American elections have changed, somewhat, the balance of power in Washington, we should inquire: Where are the indispensable demands of Washington and/or the entire international community for Arab/Iranian cessation of these invitations to murder?


             The answer, surprisingly, has much less to do with Washington than with Jerusalem. There will never be any such indispensable demands until Israel first begins to speak up for itself. In this connection, it is time for Israel’s representatives in all international organizations and forums to remind the world much more plainly and consistently of Israel’s own incontestable rights to self-defense. This can never be accomplished when Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees to any idea of a Palestinian state, even one that will purportedly be “demilitarized.”


             Israel is under no obligation to disappear in order to satisfy undisguised cravings of genocidal Jew-hatred in various portions of the Islamic world. For its part, the United States, finally, should cease prodding Israel toward complicity in its own disappearance. We can easily recall, earlier, Jimmy Carter’s genuinely insidious motives in the Middle East, and although Barack Obama may be substantially better-intentioned toward Israel, he is still plainly quite naïve about the inherently-perilous synergies of Middle Eastern religion, culture and politics. Perhaps the consequences of this naiveté will be somewhat mitigated after the recent American elections.


             In December 2003, after the latest genocide had already been “completed,” the world legal order dealt with a glaring case of organized hatred involving Rwanda. In that case, the particular venue was the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda (ICTR). More precisely, three African media executives were then found guilty by ICTR of genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.


             These guilty verdicts were based upon provocative reports and editorials that had been published in the early 1990s before and during the orchestrated mass murder of the Tutsi Rwandan minority by Hutus. This was a genocide that managed to murder, mostly by machete, 800,000 people in ninety days. Significantly, these defendants, who serate of killing was much faster than during the Holocaust, were not convicted of any specific acts of authentic violence, but only of a heinous abuse of words.


(To Be Continued)


LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with genocide, terrorism, war and international law.  Strategic and Military Affairs analyst for The Jewish Press, he is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue.

How Not to Prevent a Holocaust: The Limits of Empathy

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

I was almost inexpressibly saddened to read the comments made week before last by President Obama at a Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. In a mostly lyrical and affecting speech, I very nearly missed the significance of the following key passage:

Today, and every day, we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to confront these scourges – to fight the impulse to turn the channel when we see images that disturb us, or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others’ sufferings are not our own. Instead we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take . [emphasis added]

The sadness here comes not from there being anything wrong with urging people to empathy, to recognize ourselves in each other, and to commit ourselves to resisting injustice, intolerance, and indifference. Rather, the melancholy derives from the focus on these habits of mind as the bulwarks against genocide.

The only genocide in history that was ever stopped in its tracks was the Holocaust of the Jews – and that was done by armed force, applied for the purpose of defeating Germany when it was waging war on Europe and the United States. The original “genocide” – that of Armenians by the erstwhile Ottoman Empire – was not stopped by intervention or anything other than the death or flight of the victims.

The same can be said of the starvation and slaughter of some 60-80 million peasants and ethnic minorities in the Communist revolutions in Russia and China, as well as the murderous career of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda, and the slaughter of non-Muslims in Darfur by the Bashir government of Sudan (the latter, indeed, has yet to end).

Contrary to the premise posed by Obama’s speech, “silence” did not reign during the course of those genocides; indeed, in each case there was deep concern for, and tremendous empathy with, the victims. The horrific acts were very much in the news in Western nations at the time of their occurrence and were denounced by politicians and pundits in the free countries of the world.

Obama spoke of how General Eisenhower required local Germans to tour Buchenwald after it was liberated – and how Eisenhower required his own soldiers to tour it and invited reporters and politicians to come and observe what had been going on there. These were wise and necessary measures, and Eisenhower is to be commended for taking them as a means of ensuring that the reality of Hitler’s Final Solution might never be forgotten or dismissed.

But it was not Eisenhower’s “speaking out” campaign on the ghastly death camps that ended the genocide – it was the military defeat of Germany after years of aerial bombardment in which the Allies took towering losses; years of a bloody and terrible defense and counterattack by Soviet forces from the East; years of a grueling, two-pronged frontal land assault by the Allies from the West.

Empathy and resistance inspired individuals to sneak thousands of European Jews to safety, outside the reach of the Reich; but millions of Jews were slain before force of arms finally brought the genocide to an end by decapitating its source.

No such outside force intervened in the slaughter of Ukrainian kulaks by the revolutionary Soviets in the 1920s. Yet there was much empathy, and the West was well aware it was happening. Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongols, and millions of rural peasants in China had empathizers and political champions during the Communist slaughters that characterized many of the Mao years – but no armed intervention to deliver them.

The eyes of the world focused quite accurately on the homicidal brutality of the Khmer Rouge in the killing fields of Cambodia, and I remember in the late 1970s the same Western demonstrations on behalf of Cambodian victims that we have seen for the Tutsis in Rwanda and the people of Darfur; the same courageous efforts of private charities, of missionaries and doctors, to get help to them; the same denunciations and demands for intervention and for an accounting by Western politicians and pundits.

But the only thing that has actually worked to stop an act or a policy of genocide before its perpetrators simply wore themselves out – or all the victims were dead and gone – has been armed force. We would do well to remember that. It is an unpopular reality, perhaps, but incontrovertible.

Obama made a brief acknowledgment of the World War II veterans who were present at the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony. But too few people today, including the president himself, really understand that an idea of summary, effective armed force – one that many now regard as increasingly outmoded – executed by these old soldiers as a civic duty rather than an act of empathy or resistance, saved more Jewish lives from Hitler’s death machine than all the charity, empathy and resistance mounted against all the world’s genocides combined.

Obama is right to praise the ordinary citizens of Europe who risked their lives to hide Jews and help them flee – but, superb as their example is and admirable as they are, they only managed to get individual Jews away from the Holocaust. They did not stop the Holocaust itself – it was, it bears repeating, armed force that did. We seem to be living in a world in which our leaders don’t even think of acknowledging this fact, which should give us pause and cause us to wonder if we could do it again – if we would even understand how to go about it.

* * * * *

Obama’s speech also formed a poignant juxtaposition with his administration’s release of legal memos written for George W. Bush on enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) used on terrorist detainees. Obama appeared at the CIA to assure employees there that he did not intend to seek prosecution of anyone for actions taken in accordance with that legal guidance. But he reversed himself the next day, telling the media he would keep the door open on the possibility of prosecutions, if not of CIA interrogators then of more senior Bush administration officials. Attorney General Eric Holder also affirmed before Congress that prosecutions would not be ruled out.

The salient point in all this is that there is not, in fact, a prosecutable offense being either alleged or demonstrated. Whether we agree or disagree with the use of EITs, and whether we call some or all of them torture or not, the central fact is that if anything Bush or his officials did was punishable under law, they would already be indicted. Nothing they did is defined as a crime in the United States Code; and there is, therefore, no basis on which to prefer charges, place evidence, indict them, or bring them to trial.

Supposing that this is acknowledged by the critics of the Bush administration’s interrogation practices, and assuming they do want to prohibit such actions in the future, the “rule of law” way forward is obvious: change the law. If they are serious about accountably prohibiting something, the honest method is to define it in law and make it a crime.

Of course, our Constitution does not permit ex post facto use of the law to punish people for things that were not crimes when they did them. So this accountable method of putting their money where their mouths are is not a means for his critics of punishing George W. Bush or members of his administration.

Instead of seeking to change the law, or acknowledging that there is no basis for prosecution, Holder and Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and other senior Democrats have spoken in vague but threatening terms of “investigations” and “truth commissions” – the purpose of which cannot be anything other than to parade before the public revelations that are useful for demagoguery and mob incitement, but that cannot, by the rule of law, result in prosecutions for actual crimes.

If, like the independent counsel investigation of the Valerie Plame affair, they were to produce years of backbreaking legal fees for Bush administration officials, and perhaps an indictment – even a conviction or two – for “perjury,” manufactured from conflicting memories of events by different witnesses, that might well satisfy the urge of Bush’s political enemies to harass, embarrass, impoverish, and inconvenience his associates.

But a polity that tolerates inflicting this kind of damage to the lives and livelihoods of citizens, when they are not guilty of any crimes that are defined in law, is precisely the kind of polity that fosters actionable anti-Semitism, that sits still for fellow citizens being demonized for anything from a stereotypical idea of their facial characteristics to mythological theories about their penchant for conspiracies against the public weal.

A polity in which the national leader is prepared to harass his political opponents for things that were not, and are still not, actual crimes, is a polity that is already prepared to post signs on park benches telling Jews to keep off, and to force Jews to wear Stars of David on their clothing. Indeed, a polity that is ready to confiscate the lawfully-contracted compensation of employees because they work in finance, on Wall Street, is a polity that has no further mental adjustments to make, to approve pillaging the businesses and bank accounts of fellow citizens because they are Jews.

How many Americans remember the major themes Hitler employed in his bid for political power for the Nazi Party? Two of the key concepts he harped on were that a cabal of Jews had “stabbed Germany in the back” to inflict an unfair and needless humiliation on it at the end of World War I and that Jews worked through the Socialist or Communist International – whichever one was currently seen by the public as most culpable in keeping Germany disorderly, disunited, and weak.

The face of blunt reality changes hardly at all over time: these demonizing, unprovable, non-crime “criminal” allegations were no more absurd, in the context of public knowledge and common sense in Germany in 1932, than similar wild and overheated allegations against the Bush administration are in America in 2009. Hitler sought political power by exploiting exactly the same kind of exaggerated, groundless fear of conspiracy, and of vices darkly imputed to whole segments of the population, that characterizes so much of Bush’s left-wing opposition.

* * * * *

Like respect for the efficacy of armed force, insistence on the rule of law and rejection of the torch-and-pitchfork mob mentality behind political lynchings and “truth commissions” are old-fashioned virtues of Western political rationalism. A complacent society, unmolested – at least from without – for decades, can come to take the rule of law lightly and imagine that it can be infringed and subverted without putting all our civil liberties in peril. But this is a fool’s hallucination – the experimental supposition of the youthful zealot. It also, however, seems to occupy a place in the political thinking of our current president.

The rule of law was conspicuously non-functional in Hitler’s long campaign to use the force of the state to attack Jews. No citizen should be subject to any sanction of the state on the basis of allegations about him that do not even relate to defined and prosecutable crimes – but the Jews of Hitler’s Germany were.

This vicious pattern did not differ in principle from the idea behind subjecting George W. Bush or Dick Cheney to theatrical mob fury with “truth commissions” – it differed only in intensity and detail. In both cases, it is a matter of using the force and resources of the state against citizens who cannot, by empirical evidence or the substance of the law, be honestly and accountably indicted for any crime.

President Obama’s moral ground is shaky when he urges us not to demonize each other in order to avert future genocides. The process of political demonization to which his recent actions have opened the door is the same one by which Hitler incited Germans against the Jews, and by which other socialist revolutionaries of the last century incited populations against classes, minorities, and even simply individuals.

Obama urged us in this speech to cultivate a habit of empathy. But empathy has not nearly the power to protect minorities that the rule of law does, when we all have the same respect for it. My God instructs me to do more than have empathy for Jews – or Muslims, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, Baha’is, agnostics or atheists: His command is that I love them as I love myself. But it is not the state’s job to inquire into that. The state’s job is to protect them, and me, equally, no matter how we feel about each other.

We may or may not ever have a world in which everyone has empathy for his fellows. But we can affirm, through our law and our observance of it, that regardless of any condition of empathy or lack thereof, no one should be subjected to the consequences of criminal prosecution – including loss of property, loss of life, incarceration, the costs of defending against agents of the government, and identification to the public as a miscreant – unless he is actually, by due and constitutional process of law, determined to be a criminal.

Failure to enforce this very basic concept of the rule of law was a key enabler of the appalling, tacit approval of the Holocaust by the polity of the Third Reich. If Barack Obama would ensure against another one, he should start by insisting, carefully and accountably, and by deeds even more than words, on the rule of law under his own administration.

The door to using the state’s power to harass citizens instead of protecting them is very easy to open, and very hard to close. Obama’s shoulder has so far seemed to be pushing it from the wrong side – and there is no more important time than when Holocaust remembrance is in the news to point that out.

Commander Jennifer E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer living in Southern California, where she is researching a book on strategy in the Cold War. She maintains a blog at www.theoptimisticconservative.wordpress.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page//2009/05/06/

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