(1882-1946) Commander-in-Chief of the German armed forces supreme command (OKW) from February 4, 1938, until dismissed on May 13, 1945. Promoted to the rank of field marshal-general in 1940. Said to be devoted to Hitler, he was sentenced to death at Nuremberg and executed on October 15, 1946, for signing orders (including the Commissar Order) to execute hostages.
Posts Tagged ‘Nuremberg’
(1891-1980) Grand Admiral and Commander in Chief of the German Navy after January 1943. Doenitz served in U-boats during World War I and remained in the German Navy, although the Versailles Treaty had stripped Germany of all its submarines. When Germany began to rearm, Doenitz was chosen to organize the new submarine service, and became Chief of U-boat Forces. When war broke out, in 1939, he was promoted to Rear Admiral, but had far fewer submarines than were required by the war plans (which did not anticipate a war before 1942). In spite of this, Doenitz’ U-boats were highly successful, scoring one coup after another, while the warships of the German surface navy, like the Bismark or Graf Spee, seemed to make headlines only by being hunted down and sunk! Hitler was highly impressed with Doenitz’ character and ability, and in his last political testament, named Doenitz to succeed him as Fuehrer, though he held the position for only eight days. After the surrender, Doenitz was tried for war crimes at Nuremburg, but was able to convince the tribunal that he had been kept ignorant of the murder of millions in the death camps of “the final solution.” He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for “Planning Agressive War.”
(Note: Doenitz said there had been an organized program of deception designed to convince anyone who could not simply be silenced that the concentration camps were just big prisons and any rumors one heard about mass murder were only “Allied lies.” Doenitz’ claimed to have been taken in by this operation.)
The publication of what is said to be a suicide note written “a few minutes before my death” by Hitler’s former deputy appears to add weight to claims that it had actually been penned nearly 20 years before when he was seriously ill.
Photographs of the “summer house” in the ground of Spandau Prison where the 93-year-old died – and the electrical cord he was said to have used to take his own life – seem to deepen the mystery even further.
Conspiracy theories have long suggested that he was murdered and the evidence covered up amid fears he was on the brink of being released – and might disclose embarrassing secrets about his time in British captivity.
His son Wolf Hess has claimed that the UK, US and France – who had long said they were prepared to consent to his release were it not for a Soviet veto – feared a new mood of openness in Gorbachev’s Kremlin would call their bluff.
He also claimed that the contents of the “suicide” note actually refer to a period in 1969 when he had a perforated ulcer in the duodenum and feared he could die.
Sceptics claim clues in the note suggest it refers to events 20 years earlier.
At that time Hess was concerned to express his regrets over his behaviour towards his one-time private secretary “Freiberg”, during the Nuremberg trials when he said: “I had to act as though I didn’t know her.”
The note was also said by his son to have used a sign-off “Euer Grohser”, or “your eldest”, that he had not used for about 20 years.
Peter Padfield, an historian who persuaded the Ministry of Defence to release the documents under Freedom of Information law, said: “The ‘suicide note’ in German appended to the report is surely bogus from the content.
“For instance, passing his regrets to Freiberg – he had done this some twenty years before when his wife and son visited him for the first time in Spandau.
“And by contrast there is no mention in the note of his grandchildren.”
The report also states that Hess killed himself using an electrical extension cable fastened to a rear window handle just 1.4m from the floor.
His son noted in 1992: “Hess was a frail 93-year-old man with no strength left in his hands, who could just barely drag himself from his cell into the garden.
“How was he supposed to have killed himself in this way? Did he hang himself with the cord from a hook or a window latch? Or did he throttle himself?”
The report states that no marks or “material of evidential value to suggest criminal involvement” was found at the scene.
But it adds: “Because of free access to the summer house by all concerned with the prisoner, the lifting of latent finger impressions was not considered practical.”
Hess was jailed for life in 1946 after being convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg.
The circumstances of his detainment at Allied hands are perhaps even more mysterious than those of his death.
Formerly Hitler’s loyal deputy, he took it upon himself to fly a plane to Scotland in 1941, apparently in an attempt to secure peace – parachuting from his Messerschmitt and being arrested by a farmer with a pitchfork.
One theory mooted last year suggested that he had been the victim of an elaborate MI6 sting, when he was persuaded that members of the Royal Family were willing to broker a peace deal with the Nazis.
He died in Berlin’s Spandau Prison on Aug 17, 1987. The report on his death was originally filed between August 25, 1987 and January 1988.
On the campaign trail in June 2008, Barack Obama commented on the Supreme Court’s extension of the constitutional right of habeas corpus to detainees held at the naval facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. “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,” Obama said. “Now the Supreme Court upheld that principle yesterday,” he added. Obama’s statement linked Nuremberg to an idea central to his presidential campaign: The Bush administration in the fight against Islamist terrorists had compromised American values and undermined America’s wartime rule-of-law legacy. The Supreme Court had begun the task of restoring those values, Obama suggested, and he promised to finish the job as president.
The British journalist William Shawcross — whose father, Hartley, was the chief British prosecutor at Nuremberg — also sees America’s attempts to bring justice to the 9/11 perpetrators through the lens of the Nazi trials. But he draws different lessons in “Justice and the Enemy.”
For Shawcross, “Nuremberg shows how difficult it always is to treat properly those who commit hideous and unprecedented crimes.” Some in the Allied coalition wanted to dispense with trials for the Nazis altogether, and even those who supported a semblance of due process made ad hoc compromises. The form of trial — international military tribunal — was chosen in part to avoid what Roosevelt’s senior cabinet officials described as the “technical contentions and legalistic arguments” available in civilian courts. The Nazis had not obviously committed any crimes under international law as it stood before World War II, so the Allies fudged a new law and applied it ex post facto. The defendants received real adversarial hearings but relatively skimpy procedural protections compared with domestic trials.
Shawcross maintains that the Bush administration faced similarly difficult choices and trade-offs in deciding how to bring justice to the perpetrators of 9/11, and he provides a deeply sympathetic account of how it resolved them. (Shawcross draws a bit on my book “The Terror Presidency.”) He acknowledges that the administration “made a significant mistake in not consulting adequately either Congress or its allies.” But otherwise, he thinks Bush administration officials grappled in good faith with old precedents and made reasonable decisions.
Shawcross’s main focus is on Bush’s ill-fated military commissions, which he compares to the Nuremberg court, “not because it was a military tribunal but because it was a special court designed for a particular moment in history.” He notes that commissions have always served an important supplemental role to civilian courts in prosecuting war crimes, and that the ones of the Bush era were more solicitous of defendants’ rights than the Nuremberg proceedings or Franklin Roosevelt’s own military commissions.
Shawcross’s tale will not convince those who doubt the good faith of the Bush administration or who think the battles with Al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates haven’t warranted the exercise of wartime military powers. But it does provide a reminder that critical contemporary judgments about wartime justice do not always persist.
Many critics at the time of Nuremberg shared Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone’s opinion that the Nazi trials were a “lynching party,” and for decades Nuremberg’s promise of a new dawn for international legal constraints during war went unfulfilled. But with post-cold-war concerns about human rights, Nuremberg’s significance changed. The compromises of 1945 came to be seen as imperfect but essential progress toward international rule of law and the foundation for modern international criminal tribunals.
As improbable as it seems, a similar fate may befall the post-9/11 military commissions. Shawcross briskly traces their history during the last decade. The Supreme Court invalidated Bush’s original plan but invited Congress to place it on a firmer footing. Congress did this, and Bush tried to use the new commissions to prosecute the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators. Obama sought to suspend the commissions on his first day in office, but he came to appreciate the legal support for them and the functional reasons they had always been used to try war criminals. He reinstated them after securing additional tweaks from Congress, and appointed an able new prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins. After a failed attempt to try Mohammed in a civilian court, the Obama administration is now, like its predecessor, set to prosecute him in a commission. Martins has promised open trials based on rules that now provide nearly every procedural safeguard of civilian courts.
Shawcross often expresses frustration with the extraordinary legal and judicial scrutiny of American counterterrorism policies during the last decade. But as the evolution of military commissions illustrates, this scrutiny, and the legitimating alterations by the other branches of government that it brought, led us to a place where President Obama, seized of the responsibilities of the presidency, has been able to embrace these policies and confer on them a legitimacy that his predecessor never could have.
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, is the author of the forthcoming “Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11.”