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Nuremberg Prosecutor Makes The Case For Trying Assad

Benjamin Ferencz speaks at the inauguration of the "Memorial Nuremberg Trials" information and documentation center in Nuremberg, Germany, on Nov. 21, 2010. After World War II, Ferencz served as a chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.
Benjamin Ferencz speaks at the inauguration of the "Memorial Nuremberg Trials" information and documentation center in Nuremberg, Germany, on Nov. 21, 2010. After World War II, Ferencz served as a chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.
You cannot kill an idea with a gun, you can only stop them if you have a better idea. And we have a better idea ... You must teach people that law is always better than war.

Each week,Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

When he was just 27 years old, Benjamin Ferencz helped prosecute Nazi leaders in the Nuremburg war crimes trial after World War II. In the years since, the Harvard-educated lawyer has continued to focus on issues of international criminal justice.

As he considers the possibility the U.S. might launch strikes on Syria, Ferencz raises the idea of using the International Criminal Court to try Syrian President Bashar Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

But, he tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "the United States has been opposed, unfortunately ... to using that court because we value our sovereignty and we want to decide for ourselves when we go to war and when we don't. A very, very dangerous practice, as we're now discovering."

Using the ICC to bring someone to justice can take years, something Ferencz admits he's not comfortable with. "I wish we could go into court and have a trial over in three days as I did in Nuremberg," he says.

"But the fact we are not comfortable is not the test. The test is whether it's just or not. Is it just for an individual in any country to conclude that some individual in another country is guilty of supreme crimes and therefore he should be punished, without a trial of any kind? Is that just?"

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