Let’s make no bones about it. Adolf Hitler, who served as chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, could easily be the inspiration for those here in the United States now calling for the creation of a special national security court for trying terrorists. After all, it was Hitler who first established a national security court, and he did it for the same reason that U.S. proponents are now calling for such a court: the concern that regular courts would fail to convict people that government officials knew were terrorists.
Hitler’s national security court, which he established in 1934, was called the People’s Court. It consisted of a tribunal of judges, both civilian and military. There was no trial by jury consisting of regular citizens. The most famous of the lead judges of the People’s Court was a man named Roland Freisler, who presided over the now-famous trials of Hans and Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose.
Hitler established the People’s Court after the terrorist bombing of the German parliament building, the Reichstag. After a trial in a regularly constituted German court, many of the people charged with that terrorist act were acquitted, which, needless to say, outraged Hitler as much as it would have outraged current U.S. proponents of a national security court. After all, Hitler argued, those people who were acquitted were terrorists — otherwise they wouldn’t have been charged and prosecuted — and, therefore, they deserved to be convicted and punished, not acquitted and released.
To ensure that terrorists and other criminals were never again acquitted, Hitler established the People’s Court. Like the national security court that some Americans are now advocating for the United States, the purpose of the court was to create the appearance of justice while ensuring that terrorists and other criminals were convicted and punished.
Proceedings before the People’s Court would easily serve as a model for U.S. advocates of a national security. The trial of Hans and Sophie Scholl was over in less than an hour. Criminal defense lawyers were expected to remain silent during the proceedings, and did so. Defendants were presumed guilty and treated as such. Hearsay was permitted, as was evidence acquired by torture. There was no due process of law. Confessions could be coerced out of defendants. The judges on the tribunal would berate, humiliate, convict, and then swiftly issue sentences, including the death penalty.
Yes, I know what the American proponents of a national security court would say in response: Just because Hitler was the first to establish such a court doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a bad thing. They would point out that Hitler’s People’s Court had an extremely high conviction rate, and they would claim that it kept the German people safe. Why, perhaps they might even recommend that a bust of Hitler be placed in America’s national security court, much as the U.S. Social Security Administration has posted a bust of Otto von Bismarck, who was known as the Iron Chancellor of Germany, on its Social Security website.
Proponents of a U.S. national security court would also undoubtedly point out that Hitler’s National Socialist regime also embraced such much-vaunted American socialist programs as public (i.e., government) schooling, social security, national health care, government-business partnerships, and a military-industrial complex. And they would remind us that Hitler’s socialist autobahn system served as the inspiration for America’s giant boondoggle of a public-works project known as the Interstate Highway System.
But shouldn’t the fact that it was Adolf Hitler who first came up with the idea of a national security court to make sure that terrorists and other criminals were duly convicted and punished at least be enough to raise eyebrows among the American people?