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A History of Political Trials

From Charles I to Charles Taylor

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, Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor – 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 on this subject.
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In writing this book, I have contacted many people out of the blue, asking them for help. I have been immensely touched by the generosity with which they have responded, spent time on my requests, and imparted their knowledge. I am in debt to the following for their kindness:

Chris Black, David Brewer, Richard Crampton, István Deák, Vesselin Dimitrov, Penelope Evans, James Felak, Aaron Fichtelberg, Ivaylo Gatev, Milan Grba, David Jacobs, László Karsai, Lasse Lehtinen, Radomír Malý, Takis Nitis, Hannu Rautkallio, Filip Reyntjens, Urmi Shah, Phil Taylor, Kjetil Tronvoll, Ilya Vlassov, James Ward.

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