People’s Tribunal:

War Crimes and Crimes Against Communities


Hedy Epstein was one of the conveners, along with 100 citizens and several organizations, of the April 4, 1993 People’s Tribunal held in St. Louis, Missouri on the campus of St. Louis University. The Tribunal was an outgrowth of the conviction of her friend and local peace activist, Bill Ramsey, for distributing information on federal spending in an IRS waiting room and refusing to leave when asked. Hedy and Patrick Coy published Putting the Government on Probation: Where Citizen Responsibility and Government Accountability Meet.

Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Princeton University, represented the people. Invited government respondents declined to appear. Hedy was asked to welcome observers and to introduce the international panel of judges. Her opening remarks follow:

It is my privilege to welcome you to this People’s Tribunal, where we will examine War Crimes and Crimes Against Our Communities, committed by our government. But before we do that, I want to take a moment to tell you about another Tribunal.

It was a historical moment almost 48 years ago when representatives of the 4 Allied Powers (France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States) signed an agreement which established the International Military Tribunal, often referred to as the Nuremberg Trials, before which the major criminals of World War II would be tried.

This Tribunal was the first of its kind in the history of the world. In a comprehensive and forceful speech Justice Robert H. Jackson opened the United States case on November 20, 1945 against the Nazi leaders with these words:

….the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace imposes a grave responsibility ….The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated….

Was the trial a success? How does Telford Taylor answer this question? Who is Telford Taylor? Let me answer the second question first. Telford Taylor was Chief of Counsel of what were called the Subsequent Proceedings, i.e. the trials conducted. by the United States government at the conclusion of the International Tribunal. One of these trials was the trial of the Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates. I was one of several research analysts who searched for the documentary evidence used in the trial of these doctors.

Now, to answer the first question – was the trial a success? Telford Taylor, in his recently published book The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials, states:

“….the primary legal achievement was the judicial pronouncement that the waging of aggressive war is a crime for which heads of State may be held personally responsible….” He goes on “….On December 11, 1946 the General Assembly of the United Nations affirmed the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgement of the Tribunal, i.e. that international law forbids aggressive wars and that such gross and dangerous violations cannot be tolerated….”

While Taylor does not challenge the unavoidable limitations of the Tribunal, he rejects the view that “only the vanquished and not the victors, should be held accountable for the commission of crimes in war.” Taylor concludes: “…the laws of war do not apply only to the suspected criminals of vanquished nations. There is no moral or legal basis for immunizing victorious nations from scrutiny….”

The American writer/philosopher Santayana said: “Those who ignore the lessons of the past, are condemned to repeat its errors.” And so we are embarked today on yet another historical tribunal, The People’s Tribunal, during which we will examine whether or not the United States Government committed violations of international law and violated the human rights of its own citizens. You, as responsible citizens, need not, indeed I believe, do not believe all the untruths we have been told. Therefore, you as the jurors in this case, will be asked to determine if the United States Government is guilty or not guilty of two counts:

Count I

The United States Government failed to provide its own citizens with adequate health care, housing, education and nutrition, while diverting billions of tax dollars to the Pentagon.

Count II

The United States government’s military attacks on Nicaragua, Libya, Grenada, Panama and Iraq were crimes against peace.

You, as jurors will decide if the United States government should be placed on probation, supervised by the citizens.

I believe that an examination of these questions must include an examination of the nature of power. Our regime provides pekoe with the illusion that the system is in harmony because it is a captive of its own lies, which falsifies almost everything. It falsifies the past, the present, and the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no-one. It pretends to fear nothing. Let us see if that is true!