Political Animal


May 03, 2013 12:39 PM Following the Law of War

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t want to make too big a deal about Ari Fleischer’s lamentable use of a Nazi analogy to justify how we run Gitmo. But having just re-read Timothy Snyder’s essential and deeply distressing book, Bloodlands, about German-Soviet atrocities before and during World War II, and also having just read about the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, I think it kind of important to address the underlying issue.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is from ThinkProgressaccount of Fleischer debating Jeffrey Toobin (man, what a mismatch!) on CNN about Gitmo:

“This country fought Adolf Hitler. And I don’t really believe that Osama bin Laden and his group are worse or more dangerous than Adolf Hitler,” CNN legal expert Jeffery Toobin countered Fleischer, adding, “We managed to defeat Adolf Hitler by following the rule of law.”
Backed in a corner, Fleischer then went a bit off the rail:
FLEISCHER: They [the Germans] followed the law of war. They wore uniforms and they fought us on battlefields. These people are fundamentally, totally by design different. And they need to be treated in a different extrajudicial system.

So, the Germans followed the “law of war,” eh?

The more we know about World War II, the more it’s clear the Wehrmacht was an integral part of the Final Solution (along with the Order Police, basically middle-class police officers from Germany deployed behind the lines of the Russian Front to “keep order” by shooting Jews). Indeed, Snyder argues that after the initial invasion of the Soviet Union failed, the extermination of the Jews became the only significant German war objective. As for following other “laws of war,” there’s this little matter of the German military authorities deliberately starving millions of Soviet POWs, not to mention the slaughter of vast numbers of civilians in the guise of “anti-partisan” operations.

Again, I don’t expect Ari Fleischer to think through of all that in the midst of a rapid-fire exchange on CNN. But he is rich and famous and presumably influential, and what he said does matter not just in terms of keeping the historical record straight, but because this conservative fantasy of the wretched prisoners at Gitmo representing an unheard-of, unprecedented existential threat to the United States and the very existence of law betrays an extraordinary incapacity for moral reasoning.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • mb on May 03, 2013 12:57 PM:

    If your last name is "Fleischer" and you aren't convinced that the Nazis operated somewhat beyond the pale, you might be a moron.

  • Marc on May 03, 2013 1:02 PM:

    Wasn't Fleischer part of an administration that believed that whatever the government does is lawful, because it says it is.

    The Nazis passed laws saying what they were doing were lawful, therefore they did, according to this logic, follow their rules.

  • ex-curm on May 03, 2013 1:04 PM:

    Did either of them mention how the US treated Japanese-Americans during the war? Weren't the laws of war indirectly used to justify that policy

  • Anonymous on May 03, 2013 1:05 PM:

    Gitmo is closer to Japanese interment camp in that they put people into prisons by association with our enemies without trials. surely it's not the same scale and quiet a few prisoners in Gitmo are actually guilty (but not proven so by due process).

    i'm afraid that just like Japanese prisoners had to wait until a year after the war ended, gitmo prisoners will be forced to wait until "war on terror" ends. hopefully after afghanistan war ends, they get proceed out. people will forget about them, so no opposition from congress this time.

    just like Japanese camps, it was ultimately popular sentiment that kept the prison up because people had irrational fear against those who look like terrorists, even though bush secretly opened it initially. MaCain, Bush, Rumsfield, and Obama all wanted it to close by 2008. who stopped? congress. Why? because of passionate opposition and muted response against the opposition by people.

  • boatboy_srq on May 03, 2013 1:10 PM:

    Given how disinterested the Reichwing is in following the laws of nations (see: United Nations, GOP uninclusion thereof. See also: Coalition of the Willing, START Treaty, Kyoto Protocol, etc etc), and how disinterested they are in enforcing US federal law and/or laws of each state (at least laws that don't involve who's sleeping with whom in the privacy of one's home, or who's deciding whether or not to keep the baby that "abstinence only" education didn't teach her about possibly conceiving, or who's actually hiring all those Other people climbing over the fence from Mexico or sneaking out of containers from China), the "law of war" is probably all they have left. NEWSFLASH: the First Law of War is "young people die" - and only the Reichwing seems to see nothing wrong with that first law.

  • c u n d gulag on May 03, 2013 1:50 PM:

    Well, Ari might at least know some of what he speaks about the Nazi's.

    After all, in W's administration, Ari Fleischer played the role of Goebbels.

    And Ari's jobe, like Goebbels, was not only to "catapult the propagnda," but to keep reassuring the Homeland Volk that everything was going swimmingly.

    See any difference THERE, Ari?
    I don't!

  • Brian on May 03, 2013 2:19 PM:

    Pedant much?

  • paul on May 03, 2013 2:31 PM:

    Anyone who isn't an ahistorical ass knows that the Nazis and the Wehrmacht did not go by the laws of war. They bombed civilian populations (thus opening up the moral justification for everyone since), they murdered civilians, they massacred prisoners, and yes, during disorganized battles some of them ditched their uniforms and pretended to be noncombatants or allies.

    Oh, and although gitmo may be slightly analagous to internment camps, the conditions are way worse. Small cells with everything open to view, near-complete isolation, and at this point the knowledge that detainment is effectively for life.

  • boatboy_srq on May 03, 2013 4:11 PM:

    @paul - anyone suggesting Germany obeyed any moral constraints 1938-1945, merits a one-word response: Guernica.

  • Ron Hyatt on May 03, 2013 6:08 PM:

    And if you're an Obamabot, Stalin comparisons also apply to you.

  • labman57 on May 03, 2013 8:54 PM:

    It's all relative.
    When reflecting on the human rights violations of the Bush/Cheney regime, Ari apparently feels that the policies of the Nazis weren't so extreme after all.

  • John on May 04, 2013 11:37 AM:

    Ah, but the Germans did, for the most part, follow the laws of war in the west, in its war against the British Commonwealth and the United States. Only in the east did the barbarism come out. Certainly in the west they weren't especially more barbaric than the Allies. And for someone like Fleischer, Hitler's war in the East doesn't count.

    @paul - anyone suggesting Germany obeyed any moral constraints 1938-1945, merits a one-word response: Guernica.

    I have a several word response for anyone suggesting that "bombing civilians" was some uniquely German crime: Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, really the entire allied strategic bombing campaign.

    In most wars, everyone is a barbarian.

  • John on May 04, 2013 11:39 AM:

    The Nazis passed laws saying what they were doing were lawful, therefore they did, according to this logic, follow their rules.

    On the other hand, this is nonsense. One of the hallmarks of Nazi atrocities is that they generally ignored and subverted even their own laws. The Third Reich was a criminal enterprise, and certainly in terms of the Holocaust, the mistreatment of Soviet prisoners, the treatment of eastern Europe in general, there was no legal sanction, whether in international or in German law.

  • clarence swinney on May 05, 2013 12:09 PM:

    He financed the election of 50 Tea Party members.
    Two goals—Cut Government—Cut Taxes (for rich)
    His uninformed followers responsible for Sequestering:
    Cancer clinics—Planned Parenthood—Air Traffic Controllers—EPA Clean Air/ Clean Water-
    50 year old sewer systems (one break took weeks to repair 100 years of pipe near my home)-
    Head Start (keep em dumb they may vote Republican)--Wages are falling—20 million jobless--
    The percent of working age with jobs lowest since 1979—child care---on and on on by each budget item.
    No one questions cut waste and fraud but 80% of our budget is in 5 Groups—Defense-Social Security(pays its way)--Medicare-M edicaid-Interest.
    Go Top down not 20% that cost 80% of our budget.
    Many nations have tried the across the board butcher knife to their regret.
    Prioritize Gentlemen. Top Down. Stop the butchering needed programs
    Retiring Transportation Head said we will be calling it Pot Hole America due to cuts in already tight budgets.

  • James Wimberley on May 05, 2013 3:46 PM:

    The SS also committed a lesser number of very clear-cut war crimes on the Western Front, at Malmédy and Oradour for instance. The Commando Order and the executions under it by Wehrmacht military tribunals ware also criminal and became part of the Nuremberg indictments and convictions.