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A History of Political Trials

From Charles I to Saddam Hussein


John Laughland

The modern use of international tribunals to try heads of state for genocide and crimes against humanity is often considered a positive development. Many people think that the establishment of special courts to prosecute notorious dictators represents a triumph of law over impunity. In A History of Political Trials, John Laughland takes a very different and controversial view. He shows that trials of heads of state are in fact not new, and that previous trials throughout history have themselves violated the law and due process.
It is the historical account which carries the argument. By examining trials of heads of state and government throughout history – figures as different as Charles I, Louis XVI, Erich Honecker, and Saddam Hussein – Laughland shows that modern trials of heads of state have ugly historical precedents. In their different ways, all the trials he describes were marked by arbitrariness and injustice, and many were gross exercises in hypocrisy. Political trials, he finds, are only the continuation of war by other means.
With short and easy chapters, but the fruit of formidable erudition and wide reading, this book will force the general reader to re-examine prevailing opinions of this subject.


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Acknowledgements 11 Introduction 13 1 The Trial of Charles I and the Last Judgement 21 2 The Trial of Louis XVI and the Terror 35 3 War Guilt after World War I 51 4 Defeat in the Dock: the Riom Trial 63 5 Justice as Purge: Marshal Pétain Faces his Accusers 77 6 Treachery on Trial: the Case of Vidkun Quisling 91 7 Nuremberg: Making War Illegal 103 8 Creating Legitimacy: the Trial of Marshal Antonescu 119 9 Ethnic Cleansing and National Cleansing in Czechoslovakia, 1945–1947 129 10 People’s Justice in Liberated Hungary 143 11 From Mass Execution to Amnesty and Pardon: Postwar Trials in Bulgaria, Finland, and Greece 153 12 Politics as Conspiracy: the Tokyo Trials 163 13 The Greek Colonels, Emperor Bokassa, and the Argentine Generals: Transitional Justice, 1975–2007 175 14 Revolution Returns: the Trial of Nicolae Ceauşescu 185 15 A State on Trial: Erich Honecker in Moabit 195 16 Jean Kambanda, Convicted without Trial 207 17 Kosovo and the New World Order: the Trial of Slobodan Milošević 221 18 Regime Change and the Trial of Saddam Hussein 237 Conclusion 251 Notes 259 Bibliography and Further Reading 285 Index 295

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