A Washington Post reporter described the scene in the capital city of Kigali, where 7,000 to 10,000 witnesses saw the three men and a woman put to death on Nyamirambo Stadium‘s red clay football pitch.
dressed in pale pink uniforms, under a sun that had just driven away a covering of gray clouds.
Four masked police officers leaped from a truck and sprinted to within feet of the black-square targets on the criminals’ chests.
As bullets from AK-47s shredded the prisoners, a sudden sharp silence descended on the crowd. Then a fifth marksman shot each prisoner in the head at point-blank range. Twice.
One man sprinted and danced when the shooting stopped. Women ululated.
A man named Andrew, 45, clapped lustily. “God is great!” he cried.
Although Karamira was actually born a Tutsi, he “converted” into a Hutu* and how. He established himself as a leading exponent of “Hutu Power” — the chilling banner under which upwards of a million Rwandans were slaughtered — and had control of two of the radio stations inciting Hutu death squads to their bloody work.
“Our experience in Rwanda has demonstrated that abolishing the death penalty gave new lease on life and this has contributed to the healing of our society,” said long-serving Rwanda President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. “Rwandans have achieved a degree of unity and reconciliation, unimaginable just a decade and a half ago because a culture of forgiveness — not vengeance — has taken root.”
* Rwanda’s ethnic categories are notoriously artificial.
Pushing 70, the Kurd was a longtime pillar of the Iraqi Ba’ath party and had served in a variety of posts since it took power in 1968. For instance, he brought his management expertise to the Ministry of Industry: “I don’t know anything about industry. All I know is that anyone who doesn’t work hard will be executed.”
He was noted for his role in orchestrating Saddam Hussein’s terrifying 1979 internal purge.
While the first operations of America’s 2003 invasion took place on March 19, it was March 20, 2003 local time that the land invasion proper commenced. That made Ramadan’s execution a fourth-anniversary gift to the occupier’s preposterous foreign policy blunder.
Which was all too bad, since Ramadan had also floated a 2002 plan to avert conflict: have Saddam Hussein fight a duel with George W. Bush. Of course, the offer was declined. “An irresponsible statement,” replied the spokesman of a government that was at that moment engaged in a mendacious campaign to justify its coming aggressive war with creative fables about Iraq’s nuclear capacity.
That day, after an appetizer of conventional bombing, Iraqi jets dropped a cocktail of multiple chemical weapons — mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and VX, give or take — killing up to 5,000 people.
“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame,” wrote the ethnically Iranian BBC correspondent Kaveh Golestan,* who arrived on the scene after the bombardment.
“It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”
The Halabja attack was the last of four separate death sentences Chemical Ali racked up after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and it was handed down just a week before he stood on the gallows. The larger Kurdish genocide campaign as a whole was a separate death sentence from Halabja; there were also two others for his brutal suppressions of Shia uprisings in the 1990s.
He met all his tribunals defiantly, refusing to enter a plea and then openly embracing the atrocities imputed him. “I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate villagers,” he once spat in court. “I am not defending myself, I am not apologizing. I did not make a mistake.”
This occupation lifted the virulent anti-semites Baky and Endre into national power, because along with keeping Hungary in the Axis coalition, the Nazis also forcibly overcame its junior partner’s former reticence about Jewish genocide.
Adolf Eichmann arrived into Nazified Hungary and used our day’s two principals (along with another executed collaborator, Andor Jaross, they’re known as the “deportation trio”) as his instruments. Within months, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were being shipped to the gas chambers. This period is one of the waypoints of pernicious Nazi race theory, when the collapsing German regime spent military resources urgently needed at the front to organize the mass slaughter of Jews.*
And they had to work fast, because by that next winter the Red Army was seizing Budapest. These enthusiastic fascist operators did not fare well by the postwar government.
On July 18, 1943, eight Soviet citizens who were among 11 tried for collaboration with the recently expelled German occupiers were hanged before tens of thousands in the main square Krasnodar.
The proceedings from July 14-17 were the first major, open war crimes tribunals of World War II … which, of course, was still ongoing at this point.
But the previous winter, the Soviet Union had turned the tide by winning the Battle of Stalingrad, which victory presaged the liberation of the nearby north Caucasus city where we lay our scene.
The Russians proceeded to put the murderous Nazi occupation on trial, but did so not by trying Germans or their allies — but by trying eleven Soviet citizens for collaboration. Indeed, until the end of the war, thousands of Russians were prosecuted for crimes of collaboration, but only a relative handful of Germans for actually authoring those crimes.
These eleven were mostly* men who had served the Sonderkommando 10a (part of Einsatzgruppe D) in “guarding Gestapo buildings that held arrested Soviet citizens, executing arrests, going on military searches and expeditions against the partisans and peaceful Soviet citizens, [and] exterminating Soviet citizens by hanging, mass shootings, and use of poison gases.”
That “Soviet citizen” stuff, technically accurate, soft-pedaled the Einsatzgruppe‘s predictable primary target: local Jewry.
Sonderkommando 10a arrived in the town of Krasnodar when it fell to the Germans on August 12, 1942. On August 21 and 22, all the Jews were ordered to report for transfer to a certain neighborhood in the city. They were taken to the Pervomaisk woods, where they were shot. Many of the city’s Jews did not obey the order, but they, too, were eventually caught and shot. According to a Soviet committee of inquiry report, the number of civilians — women, old people, and children — murdered in Krasnodar was in excess of 13,000. Almost all were Jews. (Source)
This in a city that was occupied for only six months.
Under any description of the victims, these depredations were plenty to condemn collaborators with even the vaguest of associations. Only a few of the men had specific acts charged against them; evidence establishing frightful Nazi atrocities in the region (not hard to find) plus confessions to having worked for the Nazis (not hard to wring out) forged a sufficient evidentiary chain without getting lost in the weeds of such minutiae as: was the collaboration really voluntary? did these collaborators themselves actually carry out war crimes? was that confession actually reliable? (good luck with that one.)
In this military tribunal, the public prosecutor had a free hand for grandstanding, the defense had almost no scope of action, and (the USSR being an old hand at the show trial game) the accused knew their own part to play with craven self-denunciations and pleas for the “mercy” of being sent to the most dangerous part of the front. This made great headlines in Pravda and Izvestia (and update memos straight to the Kremlin) about Nazi bestiality,** and great copy with inquisitorial slam dunks like,
Today Soviet law will mete out justice to the traitors, fascist hirelings, and boot-lickers now in the prisoners’ dock. Tomorrow the court of history, the court of freedom-loving nations of the world, will pronounce its inexorable verdict on the bloodthirsty rulers of Hitlerite Germany and all its associates — on the enemies of mankind who have plunged the world into the welter of the present war. Not one of them will escape stern retribution! Blood for blood, death for death!
All were convicted; three drew long prison sentences and eight hanging, and since the tribunal permitted no appeal, those sentences were executed the day after the court finished its business.
The period quotes, and much of the information about this otherwise somewhat inaccessible trial, comes from Ilya Bourtman’s 2008 article for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, “‘Blood for Blood, Death for Death’: The Soviet Military Tribunal in Krasnodar, 1943.”
It may have been a first, but one need hardly add that it was hardly the last such prosecution.
Several others war crimes show trials took place in other Soviet cities over the next few months, and these would obviously continueafter the war.
* The one exception was a 60-year-old former kulak who had illicitly escaped the deportation prescribed for this class in the 1930s. His “collaboration” consisted of having been a doorman whom a German soldier asked a question of.
** e.g., “Death to Hitler’s Butchers and Their Vile Accomplices”
On this date in 1948, seven SS men were hanged at Germany’s Landsberg Prison, condemned for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the so-called Doctors Trial.
Four of the hanged were doctors; three were non-physicians who assisted them. Their trial (which included 16 others, variously acquitted or sentenced to prison terms) by an American military tribunal was a conscious attempt to establish criminal responsibility among the medical profession.
To kill, to maim, and to torture is criminal under all modern systems of law. These defendants did not kill in hot blood, nor for personal enrichment. Some of them may be sadists who killed and tortured for sport, but they are not all perverts. They are not ignorant men. Most of them are trained physicians and some of them are distinguished scientists. Yet these defendants, all of whom were fully able to comprehend the nature of their acts, and most of whom were exceptionally qualified to form a moral and professional judgment in this respect, are responsible for wholesale murder and unspeakably cruel tortures.
It is our deep obligation to all peoples of the world to show why and how these things happened. It is incumbent upon us to set forth with conspicuous clarity the ideas and motives which moved these defendants to treat their fellow men as less than beasts.
Some of this was combat-related. How long can a downed pilot survive in the North Sea? Throw a POW into freezing water and find out.
Some was more conventional medical advancement, shorn of any ethical sense. How can we treat malaria? Inject some untermenschen and start testing.
And some of it was straight from the Nazis’ racial purification theology: euthanizing the disabled, castrating and murdering Jews and Gypsies, that sort of thing. It’s all a rich tapestry.
The doctors hanged this date included
Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician and the co-director of the Aktion T4 euthanasia program**
SS hygienist Joachim Mrugowsky, for experiments with concentration camp prisoners
SS surgeon and German Red Cross head Karl Gebhart, who enjoyed experimenting with operations on unanaesthetized prisoners
Waldemar Hoven, chief doctor at Buchenwald
They kept company with three others who didn’t see the “patients” but pushed around the paper for those who did.
* In 1970, Telford wrote Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, arguing that American officials had committed war crimes in Vietnam because “we failed ourselves to learn the lessons we undertook to teach at Nuremberg.”
** Karl Brandt was actually condemned to death by a Nazi court in the closing days of the war and only narrowly avoided execution. His crime? Moving his family out of Berlin so that they could surrender to the Americans instead of the Russians.
Ninety-one years ago today,* the tottering Ottoman Empire hanged one of its officials in Istanbul for his role in the mass slaughter of its Armenian minority during the First World War.
Kemal Bey’s hanging in Bayezid Square occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. Here, on its last legs, the remains of a sultanate splintered apart in the war instituted tribunals for wartime offenses by the Young Turks who had run the government during the war — a sop to the British occupying forces making worrying noises about international trials for much bigger fish.
Much testimony at the trial pointed to the governor’s fervor for massacres; an Armenian priest who survived the slaughter later wrote that a Turkish officer had told him that Kemal “made a vow on the honor of the Prophet: I shall not leave a single Armenian alive in the sanjak of Yozgat.”
A response to the New York Times‘ report of the hanging noted that “his part was that of an executioner. The originators of the plan to exterminate the Armenians were primarily Enver, Tallat, and Djemal.”
These “Three Pashas” who had driven Ottoman policy during the war had fled abroad. They would be condemned to death in absentia, and though none would hang, neither would they outlive Mehmed Kemal by as much as four years.
They were among the many unpunished perpetrators of the slaughter hunted down by Armenian assassins. The latter two were avenged by Operation Nemesis; Enver Pasha died in battle in Tajikistan during the Russian Civil War.
Though overshadowed in historical import by those three, our day’s principal is distinguished as the first person executed for “crimes against humanity.”
This novelty, combined with the trial’s victor’s-justice character, were immediately controversial, and remain so in the fraught politicking around the genocide. (This genocide-denialist paper describes, on page 13, the rowdy funeral scene that erupted the next day, also attested** by annoyed British officials.)
Events would soon outstrip these tribunals and lay waste to all parties’ plans for the Ottoman carcass, incidentally leaving the Armenian issue permanently unresolved.
Apart from trailblazing international law, the trial was notable for the gut-punching film of German atrocities; this relatively novel piece of evidence is available for perusal thanks to the magic of the Internet. Caution: Strong stuff. An hour’s worth of Nazi atrocities.
The climactic hangings in the predawn hours this day in Nuremberg were conducted by an American hangman who used the American standard drop rather than the British table calibrated for efficacious neck-snapping. As a result, at least some hangings were botched strangulation jobs, a circumstance which has occasionally attracted charges of intentional barbarism.
At that instant the trap opened with a loud bang. He went down kicking. When the rope snapped taut with the body swinging wildly, groans could be heard from within the concealed interior of the scaffold. Finally, the hangman, who had descended from the gallows platform, lifted the black canvas curtain and went inside. Something happened that put a stop to the groans and brought the rope to a standstill. After it was over I was not in the mood to ask what he did, but I assume that he grabbed the swinging body of and pulled down on it. We were all of the opinion that Streicher had strangled.
There were in all 12 condemned to death at Nuremberg; all hanged this day except Martin Bormann (condemned in absentia; it was only years later that his death during the Nazi regime’s 1945 Gotterdammerung was established) and Hermann Goering (who cheated the executioner with a cyanide capsule two hours before hanging). The ten to die this day were:
He quickly created a one-party state and increasingly nutty cult of personality, answering to such horror-comic nicknames as “Unique Miracle”.
Nguema’s Unique Miracle for Equatorial Guinea was a Pol Pot-style catastrophe, killing or driving out most of the population (including Nguema’s own wife), eviscerating the economy, and getting into military brinksmanship with neighboring Nigeria.*
His nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, overthrew him a few weeks before this date. Despite the speedy resolution of the case, international observers on the scene considered it a fair enough trial and the dictator’s guilt duly established; procedurally, the execution happened immediately because he was tried by the highest court in the land and there was nowhere to appeal.
Francisco Macias Nguema during his trial.
Still, the shooting itself was handled by hired Moroccan troops, rather than citizens of Equatorial Guinea: Nguema had convinced quite a lot of people that he had magic powers, and the locals weren’t eager to be the ones to test the proposition.
* Francisco Macias Nguema’s daughter, “Empress Bella Syttam Macias”, lives in Utah and defends her dad. She seems to have been too young to have been personally involved in anything unsavory in the 70′s.
On this date in 1962, the architect of the Final Solution received such justice as could be meted to him on earth at Israel’s Ramla Prison.
Adolf Eichmann, the vacuum cleaner salesman turned SS Obersturnbannfuhrer, remains the only person judicially executed in the history of modern Israel, whose intelligence services kidnapped him from Argentina where he had settled after the war.
Other Nazis had used the “only following orders” defense with little success in the Nuremberg Trials shortly after World War II. On trial years later (and at the hands a Jewish state) Eichmann — a bookish, unmenacing man who invoked Kant — posed the questions of individual responsibility and human psychology in starker terms.
To be sure, he was no anonymous functionary. Neither, however, had he dirtied his nails at the stomach-churning business end of the Holocaust: rather, he had engineered the stupendous logistical project of deporting Eastern Europe’s Jews for extermination, an (impressive) accomplishment worth exponentially more lives than any Einsatzgruppe could ever account for, yet simultaneously abstract from the upshot.
Eichmann said he did it without ill-will towards its subjects — simply to obey and to achieve.
The Banality of Evil
[I]f it was of small legal relevance, it was of great political interest to know how long it takes for an average person to overcome his innate repugnance of crime, and what exactly happens to him once he has reached that point. To this question, the case of Adolf Eichmann supplied an answer that could not have been clearer or more precise.
Hannah Arendt took him at his word* and saw in Eichmann the abyss gazing back into us, into his judges — not a monster but a man unsettling in his normalcy, whose job was not TPS reports or quarterly sales results but turning humans into ash.
The company man. The career man. Every man, standing in for countless thousands more who pushed the papers that drove the trains to Auschwitz.
What for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.
Not everyone accepts her conclusions, but Arendt’s characterization of “the banality of evil” has become the man’s epigraph. And Eichmann disturbs us precisely because we seem to be able to meet him on his terms, even sympathize with him when the horror of his crimes begs for a monster like Streicher or Goebbels we could safely consign to the Other.
Arendt’s turn of phrase has a certain breezy (hackneyed, even) life in the public discourse, but her analysis of Eichmann’s careerism remains a challenging and deeply relevant one for we heirs of the world that hanged him.
The complete transcript of Eichmann’s trial is available online here. Video of his trial has been posted online here (in English) and here (original languages).
* Albeit with some reservations; others have argued that Eichmann was considerably more personally invested in his mass-murder project than his demeanor at trial admitted. Certainly he had an interest in showing the mellower Eichmann when he was on trial for his life.