U.S. Nuremberg Trials Prosecutor Would Have Proudly Prosecuted McCain as a War Criminal

Gen. Telford Taylor, a chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials is reported as having said that he would be proud to lead the prosecution of U.S. pilots captured in Vietnam.

Robert Richter, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, and political director for CBS News from 1965 to 1968 recently wrote in Bomber Pilot McCain: War Heroism or War Crimes? published by Institute for Public Accuracy, October 15, 2008, writes,

I will never forget how stunned I was when Gen. Telford Taylor, a chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials after World War Two, told me that he strongly supported the idea of trying the U.S. pilots captured in North Vietnam as war criminals — and that he would be proud to lead in their prosecution.

Richter notes that

McCain has repeatedly invoked his record in the Vietnam War during the campaign, but that the effect of bomber pilots like McCain and of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign has not been sufficiently scrutinized.

An ardent opponent of the Vietnam conflict, Taylor spoke with me in the fall of 1966 when I was looking into producing a documentary on this controversy for CBS News, where I was their National Political Editor. While he did not mention any pilot’s name, then U.S. Navy Lieut. Commander John McCain, who was captured a year later, would have been among the group Taylor wanted to prosecute. …

Taylor’s argument was that their actions were in violation of the Geneva conventions that specifically forbid indiscriminate bombing that could cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects. Adding to the Geneva code, he noted, was the decision at the Nuremberg trials after World War Two: military personnel cannot defend themselves against such a charge with a claim that they were simply following orders.

The charge that U.S. pilots also had bombed hospitals and other civilian targets, turned out to be correct and was confirmed by the New York Times‘ chief foreign correspondent, Harrison Salisbury.

In late 1966 Salisbury described the widespread devastation of civilian neighborhoods around Hanoi by American bombs: ‘Bomb damage … extends over an area of probably a mile or so on both sides of the highway … small villages and hamlets along the route [were] almost obliterated’. …

In one of his autobiographies McCain wrote that he was going to bomb a power station in ‘a heavily populated part of Hanoi’ when he was shot down. …

Don’t expect the Vietnam government to release any records of how many men, women and children were killed or maimed during the twenty-three bombing sorties of pilot John McCain. The Vietnamese have put the generations of war behind them now and look to the future and the enjoyment of their lives, after suffering under years punishing economic sanctions by a vengeful U.S. government and its allies.

It is up to decent Americans to use their imaginations as to the results of McCain’s bombings, and also to consider that McCain presently runs in an election for the presidency of his nation; his aerial attacks were meant to assure that Ho Chi Minh would never have such an opportunity. Four years before young pilot McCain began what would be his 23 bombing of Hanoi, Eisenhower had confessed in his Mandate for Change that Ho, the hero of his country would have won 80%+ of an all Vietnam election, had Ike not had it blocked.

Media sponsored adulation of McCain, the bomber pilot, makes this lover of the Vietnamese people and their culture want to vomit.

Yours truly, whose near one hundred Vietnamese students in Hanoi all lost family – “killed by the Americans,” they would admit with unaccusing Buddhist equanimity — finds it difficult to stomach conglomerate media’s incessant hailing as presidential candidate John McCain as a hero along with any and every politician who ‘served’ in what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. condemned as a crime against humanity and a most shameful stain on America’s history.

This author currently lives in a neighborhood where people hold champion Muhammad Ali in their hearts for his refusal to dishonor his country. Ali refused compulsory military service during the genocidal war in Asia though he had his title of World Champion taken away from him as punishment.

What to make of the contradiction of public opinion that, on the one hand, respects Ali for his now honored moral uprightness in being against the U.S. war on Vietnam, and on the other hand. is intimidated into going along with the establishment’s need to honor a Senator who was shot down while following orders that constituted a war crime in the eyes of so many of his fellow citizens; citizens who know that “only following orders” does not excuse manslaughter as described in treaty obligations that automatically become an extension of the law of the land and the constitution.

Principle IV of the United Nations adopted Seven Nuremberg Principles reads,

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

P.S. One might suspect that former-pilot John McCain, having the memory of he himself confessing to war criminality, has been feeling some apprehension over the past seven years regarding the almost daily reported killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, then in Somalia and recently in Pakistan by U.S. air-strikes.

With a famed bomber pilot as its candidate, Republicans, especially, have avoided this topic. During their nominating convention, the Afghan government was insisting that 90 of their civilians were killed the week before in a single strike, as many as 60 of them children — the deaths verified by U.N. investigators.

Civilian death is a non-issue for the candidates, though it just goes on and on — yesterday, Associated Press reported eighteen Afghan women and children killed. Neither candidate can afford to be seen as critical of America’s military.

That Senator McCain and the ghost of Nuremberg Trial Chief Prosecutor Gen. Telford Taylor could have been sitting beside this writer as he watched, on the eve of the Republican convention, the August 31st 60 Minutes program “Bombing Afghanistan“:

The president of Afghanistan demands that the U.S. military curtail its use of air strikes against insurgents in his country because they are killing too many civilians.”

“There’s this macabre kind of calculus that the military goes through on every air strike, where they try to figure out how many dead civilians is dead bad guy worth,” says Marc Garlasco, who knows the calculus of civilian casualties as well as anyone.

At the Pentagon, Garlasco was chief of high value targeting at the start of the Iraq war. He told 60 Minutes how many civilians he was allowed to kill around each high-value target.

[Glarlasco speaking on camera in his high-tech studio of control panel screens showing coordinates of targets and air craft in a number of countries:]

“Our number was 30. So, for example … If you’re gonna kill up to 29 people in a strike …, that’s not a problem,” Garlasco explains. “But once you hit that number 30, we actually had to go to either President Bush, or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.”

Garlasco says, before the invasion of Iraq, he recommended 50 air strikes aimed at high-value targets — Iraqi officials.

But he says none of the targets on the list were actually killed. Instead, he says, ‘a couple of hundred civilians at least’ were killed.”

Americans have long become inured to the discomfort of that slightly squeamish feeling that accompanies the frequent and lightly unsettling report of the day’s toll of civilians killed in such an such small country by a U.S. air force strike.

Anyone else confused about the plausible innocence of Marc Garlasco and his team of controllers and pilots as they continue to ‘take out’ their permissible toll of 30 or less men, women and children per air attack within those victims’ own country — all ordered by each officer in the chain of command reaching up to the Vice President and President?

Is it possible that today’s multi tiered slayers of Afghanis, Iraqis, Somalis, and Pakistanis from the air, as well as pilot McCain, yesteryear’s air-born slayer of Vietnamese, are all unaware of Principle IV of the United Nations Seven Nuremberg Principles? Let’s read it again:


The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

To pose the question: “how many dead civilians is dead bad guy [or knocked out power station] worth” is in itself already self-incriminating.

For all the exoneration of the military from sinning against the Fifth Commandment provided by the cooperating clergy of organized religion with devilishly convoluted theories of ‘Just Wars’, those who would intentionally kill civilians just to have a chance at scoring a spectacular hit, still have to contend with those of us who know the common secular laws which apply equally to all, including those of skewered conscience, lacking in mercy and insensitive to “do not do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself.”

We must add, that those who bomb innocent men and who themselves have brothers and fathers, those who bomb women and who themselves have wives and sisters, and those who bomb children and have children of their own, are truly to be pitied.

For be the innocent men, women and children they bombed Vietnamese, Afghani, Iraqi, Somali or Pakistani (To mention other nationalities bombed might disturb the focus of this article), the bombers, who, whether wantonly, dutifully or cavalierly abandoned morality and discounted lives of others as collateral damage, failed their families and their countrymen, and in failing their victims, failed themselves as human beings made in the image of God.

Swallow hard, and pity him most, however, who, though having reached his maturity in age, still pretends to believe himself to have acted as a good soldier who followed orders under extenuating circumstances and therefore was and remains above the law and above criticism and prosecution. He might just be elected President of the United States of America.

By the way, General Telford Taylor, Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi War Criminals passed from our ever more lawless world on May 23, 1998.

Jay Janson, spent eight years as Assistant Conductor of the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi and also toured, including with Dan Tai-son, who practiced in a Hanoi bomb shelter. The orchestra was founded by Ho Chi Minh,and it plays most of its concerts in the Opera House, a diminutive copy of the Paris Opera. In 1945, our ally Ho, from a balcony overlooking the large square and flanked by an American Major and a British Colonel, declared Vietnam independent. Everyone in the orchestra lost family, "killed by the Americans" they would mention simply, with Buddhist un-accusing acceptance. Jay can be reached at: tdmedia2000@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Jay.

4 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. David said on October 20th, 2008 at 9:34am #

    Maestro Janson:

    I think that no good will come of mixing high art and the ugliest part of human nature. Let me suggest that you stick with the gift that you have and avoid the shit of humanity.

    Good luck.

  2. Jay Janson said on October 20th, 2008 at 3:26pm #

    Ah David. would that conscience could have allowed a musician to continue to focus on his art and let the frantic thieves that abound go on with their desperate self-aggrandizement, as he did as a student practicing his scales.

    Unfortunately, or otherwise, one eventually sees that capitalist enslavement of society, whether vicious or benign, whether through trick or treat, whether by outright lies or deceptive arrangements of the facts and diseducation, periodically occasions the more violent insanity of mass homicide, even genocide, that surpasses its norm of quiet economic terrorism.

    Closing one’s eyes to stealing, one can concentrate on a dedication and one’s contribution. It’s not possible to stop up one’s ears and not hear the screams and wailing of the grieving and still appreciate the music in performance.

    The right to disregard one’s family and citizen obligations is not inherent in the practice of ANY profession. As musicians say, “Shit happens!”, and avoiding it is not always possible in good conscience.

    In any case, David, the paragraph identifying the author as a musician was added by a Dissident Voice editor below this republished article about a chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials opinion that McCain and other bomber-pilots should have been prosecuted for war crimes.

  3. Hue Longer said on October 20th, 2008 at 7:30pm #


    Beautiful writing and I’ll click your name to read more—your structure does justice to your morality

  4. Hans Bennett said on October 21st, 2008 at 12:22am #

    Jay, I also really enjoyed your article. US culture’s refusal to acknowledge to the true crime that the Vietnam invasion was is much like our refusal to acknowledge the country’s original sin of black chattel slavery and the genocide of the Indians. Until these crimes, and the many others I don’t mention for the sake of space, are acknowledged for what they are, the same murderous crap will continue, like we have today with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I think Noam Chomsky says it well: “If the Nuremberg Laws were applied, every post-WWII president would be hung.”