Credit: Jonathan Silvers
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Syria. Iraq. Rwanda. Congo. The Balkans. Sri Lanka. Guatemala. Vietnam. Massive war crimes have ravaged our world in the seven decades since World War II. How can—and should—the international community act to bring those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity to justice? Ending war seems beyond humankind’s abilities, but significant advances have been made in investigating and prosecuting these international crimes.
A new three-hour PBS series, “Dead Reckoning,” follows war crimes investigators and prosecutors as they pursue some of the world’s most notorious war criminals—notably Adolf Eichmann, Saddam Hussein, Radovan Karadzic, Charles Taylor, and Efraín Ríos Montt. The principles, legal doctrines and tactics that emerged from those pursuits now inform the effort to expose, prosecute, and punish present day human rights violators whose depredations have left millions dead and displaced. It is a tale of daring escapades, political obstruction, broken promises, and triumphs and failures.
Credit: Robert Caccamise.
“Dead Reckoning” reveals that international war crimes tribunals and national courts can provide acknowledgement to survivors of mass atrocities and place future offenders on notice that they, too, can be held accountable. Also resonating throughout the film is the concept that the enforcement of international humanitarian law and international criminal law is dependent on the political will of states.
The General’s Ghost (Hour 1)
The film begins with vengeance: U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s 1945 military trial of Japan’s General Tomoyuki Yamashita for horrific atrocities in the Philippines. Despite the lack of any evidence that Yamashita ordered or even knew about the atrocities, he was condemned to death, raising the question: Are commanders responsible for crimes their troops commit?
The Blind Eye (Hour 2)
The second hour looks at how the United States and the Soviet Union shoved international justice into the deep freeze of the Cold War, and how atrocities in conflicts with high numbers of civilian deaths—such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Guatemala—are covered up or ignored.
In Our Time (Hour 3)
In the third and final hour, we see both the revitalization of postwar justice over two decades and its limitations in confronting the exponential rise in civilian atrocities—sexual violence and genocide—occurring in the Balkans, Rwanda, Congo, Syria, Sri Lanka, and other countries.