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A History of Political Trials

Laughland, John

A History of Political Trials

From Charles I to Saddam Hussein

Year of Publication: 2008

Oxford, 2008. 315 pp.
ISBN 978-1-906165-00-0 pb.  (Softcover)
ISBN 978-1-906165-05-5 hb.  (Hardcover)

Weight: 0.510 kg, 1.124 lbs

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Book synopsis

The modern use of international tribunals to try heads of state for genocide and crimes against humanity is often considered a positive development. Many people think that the establishment of special courts to prosecute notorious dictators represents a triumph of law over impunity. In A History of Political Trials, John Laughland takes a very different and controversial view. He shows that trials of heads of state are in fact not new, and that previous trials throughout history have themselves violated the law and due process.
It is the historical account which carries the argument. By examining trials of heads of state and government throughout history – figures as different as Charles I, Louis XVI, Erich Honecker, and Saddam Hussein – Laughland shows that modern trials of heads of state have ugly historical precedents. In their different ways, all the trials he describes were marked by arbitrariness and injustice, and many were gross exercises in hypocrisy. Political trials, he finds, are only the continuation of war by other means.
With short and easy chapters, but the fruit of formidable erudition and wide reading, this book will force the general reader to re-examine prevailing opinions of this subject.


Contents: The Trial of Charles I and the Last Judgement – The Trial of Louis XVI and the Terror – War Guilt after World War I – Defeat in the Dock: the Riom Trial – Justice as Purge: Marshal Petain Faces his Accusers – Treachery on Trial: the Case of Vidkun Quisling – Nuremberg: Making War Illegal – Creating Legitimacy: the Trial of Marshal Antonescu – Ethnic Cleansing and National Cleansing in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1947 – People’s Justice in Liberated Hungary – From Mass Execution to Amnesty and Pardon: Postwar Trials in Bulgaria, Finland, and Greece – Politics as Conspiracy: the Tokyo Trials – The Greek Colonels, Emperor Bokassa, and the Argentine Generals: Transitional Justice, 1975-2007 – Revolution Returns: the Trial of Nicolae Ceauşescu – A State on Trial: Erich Honecker in Moabit – Jean Kambanda, Convicted without Trial – Kosovo and the New World Order: the Trial of Slobodan Milošević – Regime Change and the Trial of Saddam Hussein.

About the author(s)/editor(s)

The Author: John Laughland is an author and journalist who has taught politics and philosophy at universities in Paris and Rome. He has published several books including The Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea (1997) and Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice (2007). He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Spectator, The Guardian, The Mail on Sunday and many other British, European, and American newspapers.


«This is a formidable and well-documented counterblast to a developing modern orthodoxy, expressing a point of view that many readers will not even have suspected existed, let alone read.» (Anthony Daniels, The Spectator)
«A useful and controversial contribution to the debate about victor’s justice, and a valuable warning that international war crimes tribunals need to operate with precision and care.» (Jonathan Steele, The Guardian)


The Past in the Present. Vol. 1
Edited by Francis Robinson