A duty to uphold the law, even in war

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stephen G. Rademaker's April 2 op-ed ["Can judges bring an end to war?"] warned against allowing the International Criminal Court to try leaders for the crime of waging aggressive war.

Mr. Rademaker, a former assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration, echoes the opposition of the late senator Jesse Helms, former U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton and other conservatives who would rather rely on force than law. But his arguments are refuted by both the U.N. charter and the statute of the ICC. An upcoming review conference in Kampala, Uganda, with participants from more than 100 nations, including some of our staunchest allies, will decide. No country will be bound without its consent.

The Nuremberg trials held that warmaking in violation of international law was no longer a national right but had become an international crime for which responsible leaders could be held accountable. Law had to apply equally to all. My supreme commander in World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower, warned when he became president: "The world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently reiterated that he "would rather deter a war than fight one." Deterrence is the best way to protect the lives of our service members and the unavoidable loss of countless civilians.

All Americans should have been proud when President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His administration has a chance to again inspire the world, as we did at Nuremberg. If not now, when?

Benjamin B. Ferencz, New Rochelle, N.Y.

The writer was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company