Prosecute, even now, to deter new villains

Brandon Ferdig — in his June 18 commentary “What is justice, exactly?” — claims that the reasons we seek to make an alleged Nazi responsible for his atrocities are either protection, justice or revenge. I believe there is a fourth reason: as a deterrent. If someone commits a capital crime and can “hide” from justice until he is too old to be a threat (“Ukranian war criminal uncovered in north Minneapolis,” June 15), then, once discovered, is left alone, what does this tell others who might consider committing similar crimes?

Genocide did not end with the atrocities of World War II. If those in command and their leaders see others successfully evading responsibility, will they not be, albeit arguably minimally, validated in their own minds to commit such crimes? Yes, Michael Karkoc is 94, and it is true he is not in a position to commit further atrocities. But this does not excuse him from due process of the law. If he is found guilty, he should be held to the same standard of law as those found guilty at Nuremberg.


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Thank you to Ferdig for shining light on a not-so-pretty secret we collectively keep behind the screen: that justice and revenge are often indistinguishable in our minds and our courts. We fear that there can be no limit to wrongful behavior without revenge, but that is not true.

PAUL ROZYCKI, Minneapolis

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A June 18 letter writer, in suggesting that war crimes are defined only by whoever wins, seems to imply that we are all morally evil, and the Allies’ destructive bombing of Nazi Germany in order to end the war would somehow equate to the criminality of the Nazi regime’s systematic extermination of people based on their religion and ethnicity.

There is a distinction between right and wrong! God help us if we don’t know the difference.

JON COHN, Rosemount

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The news coverage of allegations against Karkoc has missed a critical point. A military commander does not simply follow orders — he issues them, and his men face discipline if they disobey. For such men, the rules that govern war crimes trials are different.

Andrij Karkoc insists that his father “was never a Nazi” and that there is no evidence of his father taking “a direct hand in war crimes.” Both points are irrelevant. Under the well-established principal of “command responsibility,” if a military commander knows — or should have known — that his men were committing atrocities, he is guilty of war crimes unless he takes all feasible steps to stop them. According to press reports, Karkoc’s memoir admits he was a company commander in the Nazi-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion. If this is true, and if men under his command murdered Polish civilians in his presence, then Karkoc is almost certainly guilty.

In northeastern Poland, a weathered stone marks the grave of a man who may be distantly related to me. The stone reads: “Murdered by the Hitlerites. Honor his memory.” Some have said that a 94-year-old man should not be prosecuted for crimes committed 70 years ago. But as long as any perpetrator of Nazi atrocities is still alive, it is not too late to honor the victims or work for a measure of justice. If the allegations against Karkoc are true, the Polish government should swiftly request his extradition and prosecute him for war crimes.



The writer has served as a senior trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he litigated denaturalization and deportation cases against men who assisted in Nazi persecution.

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Seeing parallels to previous wars

The situation in Syria is beginning to look like the Spanish Civil War, in which outside interests piggy­backed on the internal conflict. The royal “legitimate” government was a cause célèbre for not only Liberal types but communists and later Russia. Franco’s right-wing rebels were helped by German and Italian fascist “volunteers,” and their tanks and air power, while the League of Nations sat ineffectively by.

When legitimate help is not forthcoming, each side becomes more vulnerable to radicals, who will use the conflict to further their own ends. So, in Syria, brutal Alawite sect president Bashar Assad gets help not only from old pal Russia, which wants to retain its interests in the region, but from Alawite sympathizers Shiite Iran. The Arab Spring-inspired, democratically inclined rebels, a mixed group that got little outside help, in despair have let Al-Qaida and other Sunni radicals assist. Now even Egypt is calling for a no-fly zone and a war on the Alawite Assad!

The West, which could have intervened decisively earlier (as it did in Libya), thereby gaining the gratitude of the people, only now is beginning to offer real help. A little too late, perhaps?


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President Obama cites “conclusive and irrefutable evidence” that Assad used chemical weapons. Similar “conclusive and irrefutable evidence” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were cited by the previous administration — and it proved to be wrong. Are we sliding down the slippery slope once again? What does “high certainty” mean? Why hasn’t the president documented, published and presented this “conclusive” evidence to the American people and the world before committing the United States to another regional conflict?