Irish Independent | 03Dec2009 | Kevin Myers

If John Demjanjuk had butchered people for the Soviet's Red Army, he would be a free man

THE Ukrainian concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk is currently being tried in Munich for his part in the murder of thousands of prisoners in the Sobibor camp in 1943. How different his plight would have been if he had been a Ukrainian concentration camp guard called John Demjanjuk whose crimes were committed under the Soviet Union. Because there have been no trials of the criminals who murdered millions under Stalin.

John Demjanjuk, Ukrainian and Soviet murderer, today would be a free man. John Demjanjuk, Ukrainian and Nazi murderer, faces the rest of his life in jail. The fiasco is made more piquant by the fact that a John Demjanjuk has already been tried for these same offences, but in an Israeli court, and was found not to be John Demjanjuk at all.

There is an elegant symmetry to Demjanjuk's trial: it began just 64 years (almost to the day) after the opening of the Nuremberg trials, which set precedents in both international law and international humbug. It is almost grimly entertaining that the Soviet Union was given the task of prosecuting the Nazis for "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity", matters in which Stalin as co-conspirator with the Third Reich against Poland and the Baltic countries was well-versed. Stalin's legions of Demjanjuks murdered quite as many people as Hitler's Demjanjuks: only a victor's peace, and a victor's "justice", could have drawn a line between the two; and given to the former medals, pensions, and honour; and to the latter disgrace, imprisonment, and public trial.

But another jurisprudential event at the moment draws our attention back to the Nuremberg trials of December 1945: the Chilcot Inquiry into the start of the Iraq War. The two prime categories of war crime that the British and the Americans were prosecuting Nazi defendants for were 1) a secret conspiracy to levy war, and 2) crimes against peace. Many people are now saying that former British prime minister Tony Blair could, on the Nuremberg principles alone, be tried on the first ground, though perhaps not on the second since conditions under Saddam did not merit the term "peace".

I supported the US-led invasion of Iraq because I believed the allied claim that Saddam still had weapons of mass-destruction. The claim was known by Blair to have been a lie. I also thought that to do nothing about Saddam's repeated violations of endless UN resolutions was no longer an option. I still think so.

He was, after all, the only state leader who had used ballistic missiles on three of his neighbours, who had started wars that had cost over a million lives, and who had poison-gassed thousands of his citizens. Another reason for my support of the invasion -- and this was, intellectually, truly deplorable -- was the appearance in the ranks of the anti-war lobby of the standard anti-American, anti-Israeli usual suspects (though I accept that most of the anti-invasion demonstrators were not the usual suspects). However, it is a poor argument that is based on the identity of its opponents.

We know now that the issue of weapons of mass destruction was irrelevant. The decision to go to war, for the purposes of regime change, had been secretly taken at George W Bush's ranch at Crawford in April 2002. This had echoes, not merely of the Hitler-Stalin accord of 1939, but also of another secret pact which led to war: that between the British, the French, and the Israelis to invade Egypt in 1956.

And the prime mover for that -- urged on behind the scenes by Winston Churchill -- was the British prime minister Anthony Eden. Eden, as British foreign secretary in 1943, had been present at the Moscow conference where it was decided to put the Nazis on trial for war crimes, including the secret conspiracy to levy war. If the attack on Poland in 1939 was a war crime, then the invasion of Suez -- in which the British were the prime movers -- was one also.

And had there subsequently been even a pretence of a trial of Eden, might that not have stood as a deterrent to Blair in his conspiracy to invade Iraq, come what may, in 2003? But that hypothesis is fanciful. Who was going to lead the campaign for a war trial of Eden? The USSR? But Soviet tanks were rolling into Budapest to crush Hungary's doomed bid for freedom even as British paratroopers were landing in Port Said.

John Demjanjuk is probably a war criminal and, even as an old man, deserves little of our pity. But his trial is not part of a broad programme of justice, for he has no political connections -- unlike the Soviet butchers of the Ukraine who twice-over tortured his country, before and after the war. More Ukrainians were killed in Stalin's artificial famines of 1932-33 than were Jews exterminated in the Final Solution. Soviet secret police murdered as many Ukrainians in 1941 as Jews were killed in Sobibor in 1943, the period for which Demjanjuk faces trial. No one has ever faced trial for these atrocities, and no one ever will. For history is never about justice; it is usually about power, as Tony Blair's contented old age will one day testify.

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- Kevin Myers
Irish Independent