In This Review

Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals
Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals
By Gary J. Bass
Princeton University Press, 2000, 368 pp

The best work yet on the politics of justice after war. This historically rich, theoretically informed study explores both celebrated and little-known chapters in history, from St. Helena to The Hague. Bass admits that the story of war-crimes tribunals is often one of power politics and national self-interest. But this story also touches on the moral and legal sensibilities that drive liberal democracies to search for political reconciliation in the face of wartime atrocities. Taking exception to the realist view that tribunals reflect only victor's justice, Bass argues that the motivation for trials also stems from legal principles drawn from domestic politics and universal notions of rights. Only this impulse toward legalism can explain the willingness of liberal postwar leaders to risk the acquittal of brutal killers as they apply rules of law. But Bass' strongest argument is that not all victors' justice is the same. The Soviets had their show trials, and it is easy to imagine how the Nazis would have handled postwar justice. And he reminds the reader that although every international tribunal has rested on the support of liberal states, the thirst for justice often disappears when their own citizens' lives are at risk.