International criminal law has been in the news of late. The International Criminal Court recently issued an arrest warrant for Muammar Khadafy; it remains to be seen if he will ever be brought to justice. In addition, Ratko Mladic,
commander of the Bosnian Serb army, was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, and went on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on June 3. This is the fiftieth anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Nazi policy of forced deportation of European Jews, who was responsible for the deaths of millions. The conjunction of current events and the anniversary of the Eichmann trial inspired a thoughtful piece in The Boston Globe, written by Illana Bet-El, a writer and historian.
She believes that the Eichmann trial should be a model for modern war crimes trials. Eichmann's trial lasted only eight months. It featured an opening speech by the chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, that "was, and possibly remains, a high point of legal oratory: simple, direct, and powerful." Equally important was "the visual impact of the trial ... with Eichmann, the bespectacled middle-age man in a suit, his face often framed by heavy headphones ... encased in a glass booth." Bet-El asserts that the
[T]rial remains iconic ... [it] gripped an audience, explained the event, and imprinted its meaning: justice was seen and understood to be done in a clear and steady manner - relevant both to the victims and many millions of onlookers.
In contrast, modern war crimes trials are interminable, sometimes lasting for years. They do not engage the world community with their "constant if minor drip of developments." There is no sweeping oratory. Eichmann was isolated in his glass booth, while in the modern trials, all of the proceedings take place behind glass, and the participants interact only with their computers and earphones. "To the outside world, justice is neither seen nor heard to be done." There is still time "to retool the machinery," to try Mladic (and perhaps Khadafy too, one day) in such a way that the trial will work for "the victims and the greater good." Bet-El offers some specific suggestions: "[H]is trial must start and end in a timely manner; it must be clear and succinct; and it must encapsulate the horrors of the events."