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Stay the Hand of Vengeance:
The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals
Gary Jonathan Bass
With a new afterword by the author

Honorable Mention for the 2000 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, Association of American Publishers

Paperback | 2002 | $46.00 | £38.95 | ISBN: 9780691092782
440 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 3 maps
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Chapter 1

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International justice has become a crucial part of the ongoing political debates about the future of shattered societies like Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Chile. Why do our governments sometimes display such striking idealism in the face of war crimes and atrocities abroad, and at other times cynically abandon the pursuit of international justice altogether? Why today does justice seem so slow to come for war crimes victims in the Balkans? In this book, Gary Bass offers an unprecedented look at the politics behind international war crimes tribunals, combining analysis with investigative reporting and a broad historical perspective. The Nuremberg trials powerfully demonstrated how effective war crimes tribunals can be. But there have been many other important tribunals that have not been as successful, and which have been largely left out of today's debates about international justice. This timely book brings them in, using primary documents to examine the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, the Armenian genocide, World War II, and the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Bass explains that bringing war criminals to justice can be a military ordeal, a source of endless legal frustration, as well as a diplomatic nightmare. The book takes readers behind the scenes to see vividly how leaders like David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton have wrestled with these agonizing moral dilemmas. The book asks how law and international politics interact, and how power can be made to serve the cause of justice.

Bass brings new archival research to bear on such events as the prosecution of the Armenian genocide, presenting surprising episodes that add to the historical record. His sections on the former Yugoslavia tell--with important new discoveries--the secret story of the politicking behind the prosecution of war crimes in Bosnia, drawing on interviews with senior White House officials, key diplomats, and chief prosecutors at the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Bass concludes that despite the obstacles, legalistic justice for war criminals is nonetheless worth pursuing. His arguments will interest anyone concerned about human rights and the pursuit of idealism in international politics.


"Why war-crimes tribunals? In this dense and compelling account, which examines trials from St. Helena to The Hague, Bass, a professor at Princeton, makes a realist's case for idealism and a pessimist's case for perseverance."--The New Yorker

"[C]ompelling. . . . [A] timely and exhaustive survey of how political leaders have wrestled with the problem of war criminals since 1815. . . . Bass . . . argues convincingly that trying war criminals is a better option than its alternative: revenge. . . . [An] important reminder . . . that . . . governments, including our own, must keep step by prosecuting war criminals."--Chuck Sudetic, The New York Times Book Review

"One of the most valuable books to appear about doing justice. . ."--Aryeh Neier, New York Review of Books

"[An] impressive scholarly work. . . . Balanced and thorough. . . . "--Publishers Weekly

"[A]n intriguing tale, and one told with flair by Gary Jonathan Bass. . . . Mr Bass's book could not be better timed. . . . Mr Bass's compelling account of earlier attempts to apply law in the aftermath of armed conflicts offers a useful historical setting for the current debates about a permanent court. . . . [I]nternational legalism, after a century of the failures and false starts recounted so well by Mr Bass, may after all be about to come of age."--David Manasian, The Economist

"[A] major new study of the history of these tribunals. . . . [F]ascinating. . . . [A] masterly study of the international politicking surrounding the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. . . . Written with enviable lightness of touch, but fortified with a mass of serious scholarship in the notes, this is a model study of a complex subject. Its . . . argument is dispassionately made, and highly persuasive. A copy of this book should be sent forthwith to Mr Kostunica in Belgrade."--Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph

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Table of Contents:

List of Abbreviations ix
Chapter One: Introduction 3
Chapter Two: St. Helena 37
Chapter Three: Leipzig 58
Chapter Four: Constantinople 106
Chapter Five: Nuremberg 147
Chapter Six: The Hague 206
Chapter Seven: Conclusion 276
Chapter Eight: Epilogue 284
Acknowledgments 311
Notes 313
Index 389


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