Justice Breyer Recalls Legal Lessons of the Holocaust
By Jess Bravin | Wall Street Journal | May 17, 2011
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Tuesday, May 17, capped the National Days of Remembrance, the congressionally mandated commemoration of the Holocaust, by focusing on a legal legacy stretching from the Nuremberg Tribunal to present-day efforts to hold war criminals accountable, such as the International Criminal Court.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer attends a reception hosted by President Barack Obama in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month at the White House, Tuesday.
“I come here as a judge and a Jew,” Justice Breyer said at a Capitol ceremony sponsored by the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in part to remember “that the Holocaust story ended with a fair trial.”
Justice Breyer recalled that the late Justice Robert Jackson called his service as chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, which tried 24 surviving Nazi leaders for crimes against humanity, “infinitely more important than my work on the Supreme Court.” Justice Jackson had opened his case by telling the world that “the wrongs we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.”
While Justice Jackson aimed to defuse Holocaust deniers by building a “drab case” on the Nazis’ own records of their crimes, Israeli Attorney General Gideon Hausner “sought out survivors of the Holocaust to bear witness” in the 1961 trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann. With the trial televised internationally, “for the first time many people heard the Holocaust survivors tell their stories with their own voices.”
“Both trials had a role to play,” Justice Breyer said. “The documented record prevents history from doubting what was done; the compelling personal stories help prevent the future from forgetting the victims themselves, their stories and their humanity.”
Justice Breyer linked those trials to more recent efforts to establish accountability for genocide and war crimes. He mentioned the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor this week said he would seek to try Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for crimes against humanity. (Justice Breyer makes no mention of Israeli massacres in Gaza, or of Israeli war crimes in Lebanon, in Beirut in August, 1982; at the El Khiam concentration camp, or in Qana against a United Nations refugee camp (twice). There has been no accountability for any of these atrocities perpetrated by “the Jewish state” — they are unpunished by international courts. Elie Hobeika, a former Lebanese ally of Ariel Sharon, was mysteriously rubbed out gangland style shortly before he was to testify against Sharon in a proposed European war crime trial that collapsed in the wake of Hobeika’s murder. - Hoffman).
Such institutions are “imperfect,” the justice said. “We need only look around today’s world to see that the rights, rules, and obligations that the law sets forth are no more powerful than the human will to enforce them.
“The Talmud teaches us ‘it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,’” Justice Breyer said. “’But neither are you free to evade it.”
A webcast of the event, "Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?" is here. Justice Breyer’s address begins at 55:35.
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