Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice

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9780307381163: Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice

Book by Dodd Christopher Bloom Lary

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Extrait :

Chapter 1

Nuremberg, Undermined

In early september 2006, a tense crew of Senate Democrats gathered in S-211—the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room—at the U.S. Capitol. In all, there were fifteen of us, senior members of various committees, addressing difficult and timely issues during our monthly lunch meeting. In a few weeks, Americans would go to the polls and our party seemed to have a reasonable chance of regaining Congress for the first time in a dozen years. But no one seemed overconfident, and for good reason.

Room S-211 has a sense of seriousness and timelessness. It features marbleized walls, period window cornices, a chandelier installed during the Grant Administration, and the elaborate ceiling fresco of caryotid figures that it took the Italian artist Constantino Brumidi a decade (from 1857 to 1867) to complete. In that place of serious appointments, many heavy decisions have been made.

It is where LBJ, as Senate majority leader, twisted arms of fellow Democrats until they came around to his viewpoint. It is the venue where in 1959 Johnson promised my father, newly elected to the Senate, a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Forty-seven years later, in that historic room, I would try a little arm twisting of my own.

When Carl Levin’s turn to speak came, we prepared for the inevitable. Carl, one of the most respected members of the Senate and the highest- ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, addressed our political bind. But there were certain facts he didn’t need to review— we knew them too well.

President George W. Bush was looking for a way around his legal roadblock. Before the Supreme Court ruling that summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, he had seized unprecedented war powers, deciding that the Administration alone had the authority to determine how to treat prisoners in the war on terror.

He rejected domestic law and international treaties on methods of interrogation—a policy that led to allegations internationally that Americans endorse torture.

The president has maintained that the United States is in a state of war against terrorism, and therefore he has the authority to hold enemy combatants indefinitely without trial, formal charges, or revealment of evidence against them. For those detainees that he decided to try, he established military commissions. Appeals could not be made through the court system. There was no significant challenge to them until the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld reached the Supreme Court.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a native of Yemen, had been captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and then shipped to Guantánamo Bay, where he was held along with several hundred others. Hamdan was suspected of delivering weapons to Al Qaeda and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. Hamdan brought suit, arguing that the military commission formed to try him was illegal and that, as a defendant, he lacked the protections specified by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva conventions. The argument persuaded the lower court but not the federal court of appeals.

In its ruling, which by a 5–3 vote overturned the appeals court, the Supreme Court said among other things that the president needed the approval of Congress to pursue measures other than those expressly dictated by existing U.S. laws and treaties. The president’s quick response was to propose legislation that would have Congress rubber- stamp his initial practices—reinstating the commissions as originally structured and redefining the Geneva conventions by weakening its protections. He demanded a free hand in interrogations—a free hand, we knew from the examples of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and secret prisons around the globe, that was deeply troubling.

As the fifth anniversary of September 11 approached, the country was once again reminded of the treachery that can come from any direction at any time. Since that dreadful day in 2001, many Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as weak on defense. Any objections to the Iraq policy were portrayed as cowardly or even treasonous.

In a speech to the Republican National Committee in January 2006, Karl Rove offered advice similar to what he delivered four years earlier in advance of the 2002 midterm elections: proclaim the Democrats weak on protecting America. Indeed, when Democrats pointed out, correctly, that National Security Agency warrentless wiretapping was illegal, Rove and his crowd twisted this fact for political advantage. The president was soon saying that Democrats were “opposed to listening in on terrorists.”

Sloganeering against the “cut-and-run” Democrats became a more reliable policy than any actual foreign policy. Starting the war in Iraq, as time proved, was a mistake, but the president stuck by his guns. I had been among those who voted to give him authorization, because at the time I believed the Administration’s characterization of the intelligence that raised the specter that Saddam Hussein already possessed or was actively pursuing a deadly stockpile for imminent use. I hoped that with my vote, the Administration would be able to present a strong case to the UN to aggressively support the UN inspections of Iraq in order to fully determine whether Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The Administration chose not to do so but instead went to war in Iraq. It soon became clear that the intelligence—hence, the primary reason to go to war—was wrong. And as the war became a heavy burden on America— drawing us, as it did, from a more sensible and effective strategy against worldwide terror—I and others worked to find ways to end it.

The president, however, tried to turn the Supreme Court defeat in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld into an offensive maneuver. As he saw it, it was a chance to solidify the Republican stance on terror. Carl Levin and others concluded that the best we as Democrats could do—with the elections so imminent—was to support a new compromise measure. The senatorial trio of John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, all of them experienced in military matters, seemed to favor a reasonable plan for treatment of prisoners and retain elements of habeas corpus— a basic right that our justice system, and the international community of civilized countries, have held dear.

None of us thought the compromise suggested by the three senators was perfect, but the group as a whole seemed content to let the issue rest. This is the nature of politics: You push until you can push no further, and at the close of the Senate day, you are at least satisfied that you have helped steer the body from a ruinous course.

I had not, after all, parachuted into this fray. I had been involved in the fight for human rights ever since, as a freshman senator, I became a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1981. This was a natural extension of my father’s legacy at Nuremberg and of his priorities in the U.S. Senate. It was a result, too, of my Peace Corps service in the 1960s, when, in the Dominican Republic, I saw firsthand the results of oppression and became committed to addressing such issues.

The big human rights debates of the early 1980s centered on Latin America, where I focused much of my work. I developed relationships with key figures in hot-spot countries—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. The U.S. political landscape at the time was charged in a way similar to what would happen years later in relation to Iraq.

President Reagan reduced the many volatile political situations in Central America to what he saw as a worldwide Communist plot, making the region a major focus of his foreign policy. The Soviet Union funneled arms and other resources to certain parties, and in President Reagan’s view, it was necessary to back those who stood against Communism, no matter their own records on human rights.

President Reagan, for example, wanted to send support to the government of El Salvador, led at the time by a civilian/military junta, which was fighting leftist guerillas. The government’s notorious death squads also targeted those who opposed its power. The archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, three American nuns, and a lay worker —all of whom supported economic and political reform—were gunned down. This was in an era of high political crimes throughout the region, from Argentina, where in the “Dirty War” thousands of dissidents disappeared, to Chile and to small villages of Central America.

I had seen all of this from a quite different perspective from President Reagan. To him, Communism was the issue. In American politics, such broad stances continued to play well with a significant segment of the public. Phil Gramm, the senator from Texas, weighed in during the debate on Nicaragua and whether to aid the contras in their rebellion against the leftist Sandinista government. To paraphrase my former colleague, he would often say that Nicaragua is only ten days by tank from Texas.

My own investigations made it clear to me that the excesses of power transcend political labels. The rule of law, on which my father’s stance was always firm, is the ultimate standard. Murder, in short, is still murder. The idea of simply sending unrestricted funding to anyone fighting Communism was, as Senator Edward M. Kennedy said, “giving a blank check to death squads and despotism.”

My view on Communist influence differed from that of my father’s—he had firmly believed in the domino theory, so prevalent in regard to Vietnam. But I recalled that in his later years he understood that there were ominous forces quite apart from anything supported by the Soviets.

In the case of El Salvador in the early 1980s, it was clear to me that the wisest stance for the United States was to send aid to that country’s government only if certain conditions were met. And so, as a freshman senator, I introduced an amendm...

Revue de presse :

“In researching my book on Nuremberg, the trial sprang to life when I encountered the role of prosecutor Thomas Dodd. Fortunately, in hundreds of letters home, Dodd recorded an unvarnished insider view of the tribunal. Today the outcome of Nuremberg may seem foregone. But Dodd’s vivid account reveals how feuds among allies, prosecutors and judges nearly sank the world’s first trial in which the rule of law triumphed over a reign of barbarism.”
—Joseph E. Persico, author of Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial

“Tom Dodd was not only a most competent pretrial interrogator and courtroom prosecutor, but was admired and liked by me and all others who worked with him. LETTERS FROM NUREMBERG shows how much that famous trial still affects us today. Tom Dodd’s letters have the immediacy and emotional power of a novel. This book is a terrific addition to the Nuremberg legacy.”
—Richard W. Sonnenfeldt, Chief Interpreter for the American Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials and author of Witness to Nuremberg

“At times anguished and stimulating, always informative and insightful, Thomas Dodd’s personal letters from the Nuremburg trial to his wife as presented by his son, Senator Christopher Dodd, constitute an important contribution to History. All those interested in the events resulting from the darkest zones of humanity will find this volume of great value.”
—Elie Wiesel

“This book is a tour de force–a gold mine for historians, an intimate love story, and a compelling portrait of key Nazi figures. Splendidly edited, the letters capture as never before the intrigue, the infighting, and the daily drama of one of the most important trials in history.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals

“Thomas Dodd’s letters from Nuremberg illuminate the most important trial of the 20th Century through the moving and insightful reflections of a husband, father and patriot as he made history. Chris Dodd places his father’s letters and the trial in context brilliantly, contrasting America’s deep commitment to the rule of law at Nuremberg with our unfortunate abandonment of that commitment at Guantanamo today. The publication of these letters is especially timely now, as we struggle to regain the respect we so justly earned 60 years ago when we demonstrated to the world the immense power of the rule of law.”
—Senator Edward Kennedy

“LETTERS FROM NUREMBERG is actually two important and absorbing books in one. Thomas Dodd’s letters take us into the emotional heart of that complex trial that established Nazi crimes for all future generations of humankind. Christopher Dodd’s meditations on them show us the compelling importance of his father’s experience at Nuremberg to our own world sixty years later.”
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage

“The content of LETTERS FROM NUREMBERG represents an insightful, very personal perspective into the daily workings of the Nuremberg trials. Chris skillfully extrapolates this historic chapter of European history from the loving correspondence between his father, abroad in a war-torn land, and his mother, coping with the demands of a young family remaining at home. This book, written by my valued friend and colleague, will rightfully take its place on the shelf of history.”
—Senator John Warner

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