THE word most frequently used of the trial at Nuremberg and of some of its details is "unprecedented." Unprecedented it certainly is, if that word means merely that never before in history, so far as we know, has a court been constituted of professional judges from four allied and victorious nations to try individuals and organizations belonging to a defeated nation. But it is not in the least unprecedented for an international court to be established nor quite unprecedented to find individuals charged with war crimes arraigned before it.
The court at Nuremberg is not a casual or extemporized body. The necessity for its existence was recognized at a conference held at St. James's Palace, London, in January 1942 by the representatives of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Free France, Greece, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Jugoslavia, at which Great Britain, the four self-governing British Dominions, India, China, the Soviet Union and the United States were guests. As a final result of this conference and of the declarations made later at Moscow by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Premier Stalin, the court at Nuremberg was established.
I shall assume the details of its organization to be well known. To deny that this is, "properly speaking," a court is either to beg the question or to indulge in a game of definitions. Any group of persons declared to be a court by competent political authority indubitably is one, and it is hard to see why the authority should become incompetent because several political units act together in exercising it. What is a more difficult matter is a question which is much agitated among lawyers but which is likely to leave laymen quite cold. It is called "jurisdiction."
Has the International Military Tribunal, established by an agreement of four nations at London on August 7, 1945, "jurisdiction" over the 22 men on trial before it? The question of physical power may be disregarded. The term "jurisdiction" as used here involves a moral judgment. May the court without violating
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