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Letter to Francis Biddle in Response to His Report on the Nurnberg Tribunal.

November 12, 1946

Dear Judge Biddle:

I am profoundly impressed by your report, which I have studied with careful attention.

When the Nurnberg Tribunal was set up, all thoughtful persons realized that we were taking a step that marked a departure from the past. That departure is emphasized in the verdict and the execution of the Nazi war criminals and in your recommendations for the guidance of nations in dealing with like problems in the future. An undisputed gain coming out of Nurnberg is the formal recognition that there are crimes against humanity.

Your report is an historic document. It is encouraging to know that the dissent of the USSR was not on the fundamental principle of international law but over the inferences which should be drawn from conflicting evidence.

I am impressed by the change in point of view of the defendants and their lawyers from indifference and skepticism at the outset to a determination to fight for their lives. The fact that you and your colleagues could bring about this change in attitude is in itself a tribute to the judicial spirit and objectivity of the Tribunal.

I am satisfied that the defendants received a fair trial. I hope we have established for all time the proposition that aggressive war is criminal and will be so treated. I believe with you that the judgment of Nurnberg adds another factor tending toward peace.

That tendency will be fostered if the nations can establish a code of international criminal law to deal with all who wage aggressive war. The setting up of such a code as that which you recommend is indeed an enormous undertaking, but it deserves to be studied and weighed by the best legal minds the world over. It is a fitting task to be undertaken by the governments of the United Nations. I hope that the United Nations, in line with your proposal, will reaffirm the principles of the Nurnberg Charter in the context of a general codification of offenses against the peace and security of mankind. All of these recommendations bring into special prominence the importance of the decisions which lie in the future.

Since your work is completed I accept as of today your resignation as United States Member of the International Military Tribunal. You have been part of a judicial proceeding which has blazed a new trail in international jurisprudence and may change the course of history.

To your work you brought experience, great learning, a judicial temperament and a prodigious capacity for work. You have earned my thanks and the thanks of the Nation for this great service.

Very sincerely yours,


[Honorable Francis Biddle, United States Member, The International Military Tribunal, Washington, D.C.]

Note: Mr. Biddle's report, in the form of an 8-page letter dated November 9, was released with the President's reply. The report is published in the Department of State Bulletin (vol. 15, p. 954).

Harry S Truman, Letter to Francis Biddle in Response to His Report on the Nurnberg Tribunal. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232259

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