interview with Benjamin Ferencz,
is a former prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes
September 19, 2001
See other articles, letters and analyses by Benjamin
Ferencz at http://www.benferencz.org
Ferencz: Perhaps some of
the tears have dried and people can begin to think
rationally about the horrors of the past week and what we
can do to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies.
Katy Clark: Ben Ferencz has spent most of his 82 years
doing just that. He was a prosecutor for the United
States during the Nuremberg war crimes trials of Nazi
leaders. Ferencz's response to the Vietnam War was to
withdraw from his private law practice and spend the rest
of his life studying and writing about world peace. He
founded the Pace Peace Center at Pace University, where
he is Adjunct Professor of International Law. Ben Ferencz
lives in New Rochelle, New York. You wrote this letter
because you believe that we have a choice between whether
our country chooses to resolve disputes on the
battlefield or in the courtroom. In other words, law
versus war. Is that correct?
Ferencz: Yes. I prefer
law to war under all circumstances.
Clark: And so how does that apply to this particular
case in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks?
Ferencz: What has
happened here is not war in its traditional sense. This
is clearly a crime against humanity. War crimes are
crimes which happen in war time. There is a confusion
there. This is a crime against humanity because it is
deliberate and intentional killing of large numbers of
civilians for political or other purposes. That is not
tolerable under the international systems. And it should
be prosecuted pursuant to the existing laws.
Clark: So I want to get into that prosecution in just
one moment. But first, do you think that the talk of
retaliation is not a legitimate response to the death of
Ferencz: It is never a
legitimate response to punish people who are not
responsible for the wrong done.
Clark: No one is saying we're going to punish those
who are not responsible.
Ferencz: We must make a
distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing
others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing
Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill
many people who don't believe in what has happened, who
don't approve of what has happened.
Clark: So you are saying that you see no appropriate
role for the military in this.
Ferencz: I wouldn't say
there is no appropriate role, but the role should be
consistent with our ideals. We shouldn't let them kill
our principles at the same time they kill our people. And
our principles are respect for the rule of law. Not
charging in blindly and killing people because we are
blinded by our tears and our rage.
Clark: So how would a legal process possibly work?
Since there is no permanent international criminal court
yet; the U.S. has opposed such a court. Where would
terrorists be tried?
Ferencz: We must first
draw up an indictment of the crime and specify what the
crimes were, listing all the names of the related
organizations. Not merely the direct perpetrators are
responsible but all those who aided and abetted them
before or after the crime. These should be listed and
described. And then a demand made pursuant to existing
United Nations resolutions, calling upon all states to
arrest and detain the persons named in the indictment so
they can be interrogated by U.S. examiners.
Clark: As you know a federal court, a grand jury,
indicted Osama bin Laden almost three years ago in the
two U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. That was 1998 and we
still haven't brought him to trial.
Ferencz: What I'm
suggesting is that the Security Council of the United
Nations can immediately call up -- as they have done in
connection with the crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda,
where over half a million people were butchered -- create
an ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal to try these
criminals on the charges which are applicable under the
existing international laws.
Clark: So you're saying something that would be akin
to an international war crimes court.
Ferencz: It would be an
international criminal court. Don't use the word "war"
crimes because that suggests that there is a war going on
and it's a violation of the rules of war. This is not in
that category. We are getting confused with our
terminology in our determination to put a stop to these
Clark: So what do you say to skeptics who believe the
judicial process is inadequate because it is very slow
and very cumbersome?
Ferencz: I realize that
it is slow and cumbersome but it is not inadequate. I say
to the skeptics, Follow your procedure and you'll find
out what happens. You have seen what happens. We will
have more fanatics and more zealots deciding to come and
kill the evil, the United States. We don't want to do
that. We want to uphold our principles. The United States
was the moving party behind the Nuremberg Trials and
behind insisting upon the rule of law.
Clark: So do you believe that because of the fact that
we're dealing with terrorists, we are re-writing the
rules to a proper response?
Ferencz: We're not
re-writing any rules. We don't have to re-write any
rules. We have to apply the existing rules. To call them
"terrorists" is also a misleading term. There's no
agreement on what terrorism is. One man's terrorism is
another man's heroism. I'm sure that bin Laden considers
himself a saint and so do many of his followers. We try
them for mass murder. That's a crime under every
jurisdiction and that's what's happened here and that is
a crime against humanity.
Clark: So Ben Ferencz you were an enlisted man under
General Patton, you fought in every campaign in Europe,
you've written in your letter in fact about flashbacks
that you've had of Normandy, of seeing corpses at
Buchenwald, the remorseless Nuremberg defendants who
murdered about 100,000 mostly Jewish men, women, and
children at Babi Yar near Kiev; now there you are in New
York, witnessing this. Yet you close this letter by
saying that you have not given up hope. Why not?
Ferencz: Of course I have
not given up hope. You must never give up hope. Because
hope is the engine that drives human endeavor. We have to
change the way people think and that can't be done
quickly. We must teach them compassion and tolerance and
understanding and a willingness to compromise, if
necessary. These are all essential things that take
generations to develop. And until we do that I'm afraid
we'll suffer the consequences. And we see it in what has
happened in New York.
Clark: Ben Ferencz lives in New Rochelle, New York. He
is the author of, among other books, New Legal
Foundations for Global Survival. Nice to speak with
Ferencz: A pleasure.
Ferencz: former prosecutor at the Nuremberg
War Crimes Trial, particularly Chief Prosecutor of
Einsatzgruppen (22 defendants charged with murdering over
a million people, called by the Associated Press the
biggest murder trial in history). A graduate of Harvard
Law School, he served in the Army under General Patton in
every campaign in Europe and helped liberate Buchenwald,
Mauthausen, and Dachau.
Author of numerous books including Defining
International Aggression -- The Search for World Peace
(1975), An International Criminal Court -- A Step Toward
World Peace (1980), Enforcing International Law -- A Way
to World Peace
(1983), A Common Sense Guide to World Peace
(1985), Planethood: The Key to Your Future (1991), New
Legal Foundations for Global Survival: Security Through
the Security Council
Mr. Ferencz is an Adjunct Professor of International
Law at Pace University and founder of the Pace Peace
Center, and a Trustee of The Center For United Nations
The above is found in the
[the] Center page of
For United Nations Reform Education, containing RESEARCH
AND PUBLICATIONS ON IMPROVING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE
UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM . It's Mission Statement reads:
The mission of the Center for UN Reform Education is
to encourage, generate and sustain a serious public
discussion of various specific proposals to reform and
restructure the United Nations System, all with a view
toward improving the effectiveness of that System. The
Center attempts to accomplish its mission through the
sponsorship, publication and distribution of carefully
researched monographs and papers; through its widely
attended public forums, its radio programs and its
university conferences; and now, through this newly
On the Establishment of an International Criminal
Court, July 1998, Rome, Italy Adopted: Rome Statute of
the International Criminal Court, 17 July 1998, see
There can be no global justice unless the
worst of crimes -- crimes against humanity -- are
subject to the law. In this age more than ever we
recognize that the crime of genocide against one
people truly is an assault on us all -- a crime
against humanity. The establishment of an
International Criminal Court will ensure that
humanity's response will be swift and will be just."
Benjamin B. Ferencz
14 Bayberry Lane, New Rochelle, NY 10804-3402
Phone: (914) 632-3717
Fax: (914) 633-0005
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