Some crimes are so horrible that they seem to cry out for justice: Ted Bundy's ghastly rampages, the genocide of the Jews.
And in the 1990s, the destruction of Kuwait has shocked the world.In the aftermath of Iraq's stunning defeat, calls are multiplying for war-crimes trials against some of that country's leaders, including Saddam Hussein. Three Utahns who are experts on international war-crime tribunals agree that trials may be appropriate, although they say government leaders will have to make policy decisions.
Among the violations charged against Iraq are the torture, rape and murder of civilians; the gutting of Kuwait's art treasures; launching attacks against two peaceful nations, Israel and Kuwait; and blowing up oil wells and releasing oil slicks, acts that created the world's worst man-made environmental disasters.
William Sorrell, Robert Riggs and Edwin Firmage agree that convening an international war-crimes tribunal is a grave matter. But if trials are held, the consensus is, international law is well-established on what constitutes a crime.
Sorrell, a retired Army major who lives in Bountiful, served on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East when Japanese leaders were tried by in Tokyo after World War II. He was the youngest officer on the panel that tried Adm. Soemu Toyoda.
"They should take some action against those (the perpetrators of the crimes against Kuwait) in some ways," Sorrell said. "But I think it should be up tothe allied nations . . . to make the final decision on that."
The allies should carefully weigh the situation and decide together whether to pursue war-crimes trials, "since they were all involved, and they all had a hand in" fighting Iraq. If trials are held, the highest leaders under allied control should be tried first, and the prosecutions then should work down to the people in the field who committed atrocities, he said.
The tribunal should be organized through the United Nations, he said. "The reason . . . they are the ones who put the sanctions on and they approved all the actions that were taken. They should be the ones to investigate that, or make the recommendations."
At the last big series of war-crimes trials, held in Nuremberg, Germany, and Tokyo, death sentences were imposed on some defendants. Toyoda, however, was found not guilty of the crimes carried out by men under his command in the Philippines.
"We could never find anything where he directly gave instructions to commit any of the atrocities that he was charged with."
Brigham Young University law professor Riggs, a specialist in international law who has both a law degree and a doctorate in political science, noted that America tried U.S. soldiers for a massacre during the Vietnam War. "We are about the only country that's ever tried any of its own people for crimes of that nature, without doing it under pressure," he said.
"In the case of Saddam, we don't know that he personally committed any of those crimes. Mostly they are crimes against civilian populations or prisoners of war who are defenseless.
"But a commander of forces has been held responsible not only for ordering others to commit crimes, but also for not doing what he reasonably could have done to prevent the troops under his command for committing them."
The Nuremberg Tribunal, in which high-ranking Nazis were tried after World War II, was set up by the victorious allies, and it wrote a new chapter in international law. Waging aggressive war was one of the charges for which defendants were executed.
"There is no doubt that if there is such a crime, Saddam Hussein committed it," Riggs said.
Should trials be held? "You have to weigh the political impact of it," he said. "I wouldn't want that to inhibit a settlement" of the gulf war.
"But other things being equal - and I think they probably would be - if the persons who committed some of these atrocities in Kuwait can be identified, I think it would be appropriate for them to be submitted to war crimes trials. The evidence should be good, I think, for them to be convicted."
Firmage, the Samuel Thurman professor of law at the University of Utah, agreed, "There undoubtedly have been horrendous war crimes - brutality against Kuwaitis on a significant scale, aggression in the first instance that was unprovoked and really unambiguous.
"Even putting one's own soldiers in harm's way - in a way that was indefensible" might constitute a war crime, he said. "But the basic activity would probably center around mistreatment of Kuwaiti civilians and soldiers and government officials, and very often even random violence."
The atrocities reported in Kuwait included murder, assassination, the massacre of patients in hospitals, the killing of doctors and nurses who refused to participate in crimes against their patients, the removal of life support systems from infants, he said.
Firmage believes any trials should be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.
Does he believe war crimes trials will be held? "I have no feel for that," Firmage said. "I don't know.