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No Trial Needed

Deborah Lipstadt’s May 13 article “Eichmann’s Lessons for Bin Laden is interesting and informative, but her key analogy between Eichmann and bin Laden is weak. The circumstances which led to the ultimate fate of each are sufficiently different that her regret that bin Laden was never “shown the wonders of a democratic system of justice” is an expression of misplaced idealism.

In the first instance, the Nazi Third Reich was militarily defeated. Its leaders and collaborators were either dead or on the run, seeking to conceal their past complicity in persecution and genocide. Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and its sympathizers are neither defeated nor on the run; indeed, it is likely that its various jihadist offshoots in the Arabian peninsula or Africa and elsewhere are hell bent on wreaking revenge when they are able to do so. Second, a civilian trial for Gitmo detainee and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammed has proven highly impractical because no city or state wishes to encounter the security and cost nightmare that a trial will entail; for bin Laden, it would have been exponentially worse. A closed military trial would hardly serve to exemplify our democratic rule of law. And finally, the young, Jewish State of Israel in the 1960’s when Eichmann was caught and placed on trial, was determined to use the trial to reveal publicly the true dimensions of the Nazi state’s genocidal machinery at work. On the other hand, with Al Qaeda, its public record is well established through its continuing deeds of terror.


Professor of Philosophy

Cleveland State University

Cleveland, Ohio


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