War Crimes and Henry T. King, Jr.

Henry T. King, Jr. who died on May 9 was one of the three American prosecutors at Nuremburg still alive.  His obituary appeared in the New York Times.

Mr. King, along with Whitney Harris and Benjamin Ferencz, both of whom survive, were the last three of about 200 American prosecutors who helped bring dozens of Nazi leaders to trial from 1945 to 1949.

Half a century later, the three joined forces to help shape the creation of the International Criminal Court. When delegates from 131 nations met in Rome to establish the criminal court in 1998, their original draft placed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide under the court’s jurisdiction. The delegates did not include wars of aggression as war crimes, as opposed to those fought in self-defense or authorized by the United Nations. The three prosecutors traveled to Rome and lobbied to reshape the draft.

“They used their moral authority; they were persistent, and ultimately the delegates included a reference to the crime of war of aggression in the court’s statute,” said Michael Scharf, the director of the International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The I.C.C. is the first permanent international criminal court in history. (The United States has not ratified the I.C.C. treaty.)

Mr. King was 26 when he stepped off a train in war-ravaged Nuremberg. All about him were the rubble of bombed-out buildings and people begging for food.

“As I walked to the courthouse for the first time, I said I’m going to dedicate my life to the prevention of this,” he said at a conference on genocide held last August by the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y.

In 1945 and 1946, the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union had joined in the prosecution of 21 Nazi officials. Among them were Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, and Albert Speer, who as minister of war production was in charge of all German industry. Eighteen of the 21 were convicted; on Oct. 16, 1946, 10 were hanged. Speer, the only one to express remorse, spent 20 years in prison; he died in 1981.


One of the most interesting aspects of his life what his on-going relationship with Albert Speer.  (Pictured with Mr. King in the photograph.  Mr. King is on the right.)

To gather evidence for the Milch case, Mr. King interviewed some of those already convicted, including Speer. It was the start of a long relationship, one in which Mr. King could never quite comprehend the contradictions in the seemingly contrite Speer.

For more than 30 years, Mr. King corresponded with Speer and visited him. He kept a photograph of Speer by his bedside. Still, he said, he was not taken in by the war criminal.

“Speer closed his eyes to the world of humanity, and thus, a concern for human ethics never intruded on his relentless drive as armaments minister,” Mr. King wrote in a 1997 memoir, “The Two Worlds of Albert Speer.” “In a technological world, the magic concoction for evil consists of blind technocrats such as Speer led by an evil and aggressive leader such as Hitler.”

The United States should agree to participate in the International Criminal Court.  We know the reason the George W. Bush administration refused:  They had a fear of prosecution.  With the growing tide of relevations, their fears were probably justified.  We did fight a war of aggression in Iraq. 

But fear that former leaders will be prosecuted should not stop the United States from doing the right thing.  I believe that courts in Europe will indict many of them in any case.

2 thoughts on “War Crimes and Henry T. King, Jr.

  1. Thank you for posting this. My father would have been proud of the many accolades that greeted his passing, but to the end of his life he remained deeply distressed by our country’s refusal to participate in the ICC.
    Dave King

    • You are welcome and I’m very happy to recognize your father in my small way. I have hopes that as the Obama Administration works through all the issues put on their plate that the ICC will be adopted.

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