21 Sep Never Too Late for Justice
Two interesting trials involving very old defendants began last week. The first, in Poland, involves General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who orchestrated the Polish government’s brutal repression of Solidarity in 1981:
The 85-year-old man, who was once the very symbol of communist repression, faces a possible ten-year jail sentence for “directing a criminal organisation” – a reference to the Military Council that imposed and ran the martial law crackdown of the early 1980s. It is a strange legal device – “the generals are being treated like gangsters”, said the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza– that seemed to be the only way of nailing down the general and seven other top Communist officials, all in their eighties.
For Poland it is a final reckoning with one of the most divisive and emotionally charged events of the Cold War. At its heart is a question that can be only partly answered in a courtroom: was Jaruzelski a Polish patriot or a Soviet puppet?
The second trial, which may well be the last prosecution of its kind, involves a 90-year-old former Nazi officer who is accused of killing 14 civilians during WW II in reprisal for partisan activity in Italy:
Prosecutors will accuse Josef Scheungraber of ordering the killings of 14 civilians in Falzano, near Cortona in Italy.
Mr Scheungraber denies the charges, but he will have to face testimony from a survivor of the massacre, a 79-year-old former Carabinieri officer, who was a 15 year-old boy on June 27 1944.
That was the date that German soldiers from Mountain Infantry Battalion 818 set out on a reprisal operation after two of their number had been killed by partisans.
When the trial opens in Munich on Monday prosecutors charge that, led by Scheungraber, the German soldiers began their revenge attacks by shooting three farmhands and a local woman, Maria Bistarelli Casucci, aged 74, who crossed their path after the Partisan attack.
But they hope to prove that the attack did not stop there. Instead, the unit rounded up 12 local men, aged from 15 to 74. One of the men, a German speaker, was released, but the others were lined up against a wall of a local farmhouse.
During the case, German prosecutors will have to prove that the killings were not carried out in the course of prosecuting the war, but were particularly brutal. That would allow them to press charges of murder, which has no statute of limitations, as opposed to homicide, charges for which expire 10 years after the alleged crime.
Justice delayed, to be sure. But, I hope, not justice denied.