Justice is on Trial in Western Nations said Nuremburg/Tokyo Court Officer in 1949

Iowa had a Supreme Court Jurist who was a hero for the defense of true justice. He was Charles F. Wennerstrum, a Presbyterian from Chariton, Iowa. He served on the panel of Judges in Nuremburg, Germany to oversee the trials of senior German Nazi officers. When he came home he publicly denounced the entire judicial process he experienced and said if he knew 6 months prior what he knew after presiding over their trials he would never have taken the position. Here was one Chicago Daily Tribune article that went world-wide.

Drake University Law Library is now the repository of so much of Judge Wennerstrum’s work. You can enter it here.

But the perversion of justice didn’t just happen in Nuremburg, but Tokyo, too. Wennerstrum’s archives include a fascinating account of a speech given to the Iowa Press Association in 1949 by a defense attorney, Owen Cunningham, who worked in both Nuremburg and Tokyo. Here is an excerpt from his opening remarks.

Our system of Justice is on trial today and has been for the past three years. At Nuremberg in 1945 four nations – Russia, France, Britain and the United States joined hands to prosecute the German leaders under a principle of law which was nonexistent except for their own sayso. The defendants should have been charged with violations of rules of land warfare only, offenses loss grandiose and high sounding, perhaps, but well defined, and recognized by all civilized nations. No one would have comp1ined had an orderly trial, conducted under established procedure universally recognized, been held for the prosecution of individuals for crimes which they individually committed or personally ordered.

It was the creation of new crimes, such as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to wage wars of aggression, which was wrong, especially coining and defining these crimes after they were alleged to have been committed. However vehemently Justice Jackson and later the Tribunal tried to deny it, it was legislation after the event and ex-post-facto, and contrary to the highest principles of justice. These Major War Crimes cases were based on a false premise and were destined to establish a bad precedent.

“Our people are beginning to realize this more every day. The recent trial of the Cardinal end Clergymen in Europe, rand the threatened trial of Madame and Kiang Kai-Shek have brought this subject closer to our door.

To read Cunningham’s entire speech including history few have ever heard see here.