Declaring the SS a criminal organization (& its members criminals): essentially a bill of attainder?

At the Nuremberg trials, the International Military Tribunal (IMT) declared the SS a criminal organization, thereby making its members criminals.

Was that not effectively a bill of attainder* and thus unconstitutional according to US law (and, possibly, contrary to the law of other IMT member nations as well)?

If so, other than the fact that it was totally understandable, if not forgivable, why was it allowed at the time? How was it rationalized?

*I use the term ‘bill of attainder’ rather than ex post facto law since the IMT, as a body of authority, caused the SS and its members to become criminals by its own promulgation and not through a proper trial.

Bills of attainder are legal in the UK, as parliament can pretty much do whatever it wants to. The Soviet Union’s legal system considered whatever Stalin desired to be legal, of course. I’m not sure if it is permitted in French law. As for the US case, it’s hard to see how the constitution would apply to a trial held by an international court, with foreign defendants, in a foreign country.

Not a lawyer, so I could be very wrong.

Indeed. I guess my point is that there was a good degree of ‘double think’ going on when jurists from a country where bills of attainder are constitutionally prohibited, enact such statutes (even if part of an international tribunal).

Or in other words - whether it was a bill of attainder or not really doesn’t matter!

Churchill, incidentally, wanted to have the leading Nazis declared as outlaws and lose their legal protections. Having seen what has come of international law since I think he may have been right.

Were any subsequent criminal sentences against SS members in fact based in mere membership? All trials that I heard of were for specific acts, either by the defendant or under his command responsibility.

I.e.: Did the declaration of the military court have actual consequences?

Former members of the SS aside from those conscripted from 1943 on were denied veterans pensions until the late 50s or early 60s when an organization of former members, the HIAG (Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Angehörigen der ehemaligen Waffen-SS) was able to change that.

Nuremburg was a step forward from previous generations, when the instigators from the other side were just rounded up and executed under military orders. Apparently in one of the conferences, Stalin started the discussion by saying they should just execute the top 50,000 Germans. Roosevelt thought he was joking, and suggested 49,000 was enough. Eventually, though the three agreed to make it look a bit more legal.

I assume the “criminal organization” law gave the occupiers sufficient grounds to hold the ones they wanted to question further without having to apply any arbitrary criteria or arrest all the German Army. Just arrest all the SS, then decide afterwards if the person was innocent enough to let go.

I don’t think you’re correct here. Take a look at the beginning of the Tribunal’s opinion. It found that the Charter gave it the authority to declare a criminal organization (i) in connection with with the trial of an individual member thereof, (ii) upon separate indictment of the organization by the prosecution, (iii) with the discretion to hear a defense from any member of the organization. This was a judicial determination made after contested hearings, and so I think a bill-of-attainder argument would be difficult under US law.

Not really, in my view, because the finding that the SS was a criminal organization was carefully phrased:

Thus, any subsequent trial of an individual would still have to prove that individual’s personal knowledge of or implication in the criminal acts of the organization.

Re: the Soviet Union - this is too simplistic IME. It is not the case that Soviet law (or more generally law in countries in the Soviet Bloc) was a constant blueprint that continuously reflected a dictator’s desires. Many communist crimes violated not only international norms, but also unequivocally broke communist law. Today, prosecutors across the former communist world use this fact to their advantage by invoking extended statutes of limitation and prosecuting pre-1989 crimes as violations of pre-1989 law (in addition to post-1989 law). To be sure, under communism, the law was not much of a constraint on the regime, clearly, but this, too, is easily underestimated. Reading about communist ‘crimes’, I am always surprised at the extent to which authorities apparently have felt the need to shoehorn what they do into legality. But the behavior of dissidents, too, indicates that the law (if not the legal system) was seen as a strategic source to be used against the system. Czechoslovakia’s Charta '77 explicitly invoked the Helsinki Human rights treaties, which the Czechoslovak government had signed, to push for improved civic and political rights; and A Question of Madness, by the Medvedev brothers, details how they insistently, and successfully, invoke the laws and regulations, along with informal political pressure, when one of them is being wrongfully held to be treated for some psychiatric disorder.

Small Hijack. My apologies:eek:

Why is the Federal Bureau of Investigation Called the FBI.

The Central Intelligence Agency is called the CIA.

I can go on…

The Secret Service is never referred to as the SS.

Fair enough. I was speaking about the Soviet legal system under Stalin, however. I never claimed that laws always reflected the desires of the dictator du jour. In the mid 1940s, Soviet law was effectively whatever Stalin wanted it to be. Any prosecutor who disregarded orders from above would have had to be either incredibly stupid or insane. That this changed in the decades following Stalin’s death isn’t really relevant to my point.

This mainly has to do with the length of the names, and the need for them to be shortened, especially in newspaper headlines. And the use of the abbreviations in newspapers leads them to become common. “Secret Service” is much shorter than the other examples. And also doesn’t appear in newspaper headlines nearly as often.

This applies to Presidents, too: Kennedy was abbreviated JFK, but Nixon was just printed as Nixon. Only saved a couple of letters, but that can be important in a headline.

But I’ve no doubt that the abbreviation “SS” is deliberately avoided. It’s so associated with the Nazi organization that using it to refer to something else would be confusing to most people.

This is true, but the fact remains that Nuremburg was mostly just a show trial with preordained outcomes. Only a handful of the most dubious charges resulted in acquittal.

Consider this: If North Korea held a tribunal for captured Westerners that was patterned exactly after the nuremburg Tribunals, would we accept it as legit? No way.

Under that standard, most of the criminal trials in the US & UK could be called “show trials” – the vast majority of the people tried are found guilty. Some District/County Attorneys even boast of their high conviction rate (90-100%) in reelection campaigns.

But the explanation is simple: they don’t bring cases to trial unless they are pretty sure they have the evidence for a conviction. Others they dispose of, often by plea bargaining to a lesser charge without a trial. The Nuremburg prosecutors presumably did much the same – only brought to trial the cases they were pretty sure of winning.

The common abbreviation is USSS.

The Nuremberg trials were not governed by US law. They were violations of the laws of war. There’s no prohibition on bills of attainder at common law, or in international law. It would have been no different if a jurist had imposed the death penalty despite it being barred in the law of his own country.