International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests

We already have looked at a Spanish court’s recent issuance of 20 criminal arrest warrants regarding the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.[1] Here we examine the provisional facts of the murders themselves and of the surrounding circumstances.[2]

The Murders

In the early hours of November 16, 1989, a group of Salvadoran soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. They made their way to the Pastoral Centre, which was the residence of Jesuit priests Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice-Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; and Amando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno, all teachers at UCA.

The soldiers tried to force their way into the Pastoral Centre. When the priests realized what was happening, they let the soldiers in voluntarily. The soldiers searched the building and ordered the priests to go out into the back garden and lie face down on the ground.

The lieutenant in command gave the order to kill the priests. Fathers Ellacuria, Martín-Baró and Montes were shot and killed by a Private, Fathers López and Moreno by a Deputy Sergeant. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers found Father Joaquín López y López inside the residence and killed him. Another Deputy Sergeant shot Julia Elva Ramos, who was working as a cook in the residence, and her 16-year-old daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos. Another Private shot them again, finishing them off.

The soldiers then took a small suitcase belonging to the priests containing photographs, documents and $5,000. They also fired a machine gun at the façade of the residence and launched rockets and grenades. Before leaving, they wrote on a piece of cardboard: “FMLN executed those who informed on it. Victory or death, FMLN.”

The FMLN’s “Final Offensive” and the Salvadoran Military’s Response

This horrible crime occurred in the midst of what the FMLN guerrillas called “The Final Offensive.” Most of the nine-year old civil war had been fought in the mountains and countryside. On November 11, 1989, however, “The Final Offensive” was launched to bring the war into the capitol city of San Salvador for the first time.

This assault reached alarming proportions that the Salvadoran armed forces had not expected. The guerrillas gained control of various areas in and around the capitol. They attacked the official and private residences of the President of the Republic and the residence of the President of the Legislative Assembly. They also attacked the barracks of the First, Third and Sixth Infantry Brigades and those of the National Police. In addition, guerrillas blew up one of the main gates of UCA and crossed UCA’s campus.

On November 12, the Government declared a state of emergency and imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

The next day, November 13, at a meeting of the Salvadoran Armed Forces’ General Staff, security commands were created to deal with the FMLN offensive. Each command was headed by an officer under the operational control of Colonel René Emilio Ponce, Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff. Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides was designated to head the military complex security command zone. It included the Military College, the Ministry of Defense, the Joint Staff, the National Intelligence Department, two districts where many members of the armed forces lived, the residence of the United States Ambassador and the UCA campus. (It takes less than five minutes to drive from the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense complex (Estado Mayor) to the UCA campus, as I know from visiting them both.)

A national radio channel also was established, the pilot station being Radio Cuscatlán of the armed forces. Telephone calls to the station were broadcast in a “phone-in” in which callers lofted accusations at Father Ellacuria and called for his death.

Salvadoran Military’s Focus on UCA

The Salvadoran military’s response to the FMLN offensive devoted a lot of effort to UCA, which was very close to the Ministry of Defense complex and which was seen by many in the armed forces as a “refuge of subversives.” Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, Vice-Minister for Defense, publicly accused UCA of being the center of operations where FMLN terrorist strategy was planned. Colonel Inocente Montano, Vice-Minister for Public Security, stated publicly that the Jesuits were fully identified with subversive movements. Sectors of the armed forces identified the Jesuit priests with FMLN because of the priests’ special concern for those sectors of Salvadorian society who were poorest and most affected by the war.

On November 12th, a Salvadoran military detachment was stationed to watch who went in and out of UCA. Starting the next day no one was permitted onto the campus.

On November 13th, Colonel Ponce ordered a search of UCA premises. According to Colonel Ponce, he ordered the search because he had been informed that there were over 200 guerrillas inside the UCA campus.

The search was entrusted to a Lieutenant with 100 men from the Atlacatl Battalion. Another Lieutenant  of the National Intelligence Department joined the troops at the entrance to UCA to assist with the search. One of the Lieutenants personally directed the search of the Jesuits residence. They found no signs of any guerrilla presence, war material or propaganda. After completing the search, one of the  Lieutenants reported the results to higher officers.

On November 15th at 6.30 p.m. there was a meeting of the General Staff with military heads and commanders to adopt new measures to deal with the offensive. Colonel Ponce authorized the elimination of ringleaders, trade unionists and known leaders of FMLN, and a decision was taken to step up bombing by the Air Force and to use artillery and armored vehicles to dislodge FMLN from the areas it controlled.

The Minister of Defence, General Larios, asked whether anyone objected. No hand was raised. It was agreed that Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani would be consulted about the measures.

After the meeting, the officers stayed in the room talking in groups. One of these groups included Colonel Ponce, Colonel Zepeda and Colonel Montano. Colonel Ponce called over Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, who was the Director of the Military College. In front of four other officers, Ponce ordered Benavides to eliminate Father Ellacuria and to leave no witnesses. He also ordered him to use the unit from the Atlacatl Battalion which had carried out the search two days earlier.

That same night, November 15th, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., Benavides met with the officers under his command. Colonel Benavides told them that he had just come from a meeting at the General Staff at which special measures had been adopted to combat the FMLN offensive. Colonel Benavides said that the situation was critical and it had been decided that artillery and armored vehicles should be used. He also told them that all known subversive elements must be eliminated.

Colonel Benavides specifically said that he had received orders to eliminate Father Ignacio Ellacuria and to leave no witnesses. Colonel Benavides asked any officers who objected to this order to raise their hands. No one did.

After the meeting, the leader of the Atlacatl Battalion decided that in order to try to blame the deaths on the FMLN, they would use an AK-47 rifle that had been captured from the FMLN, instead of regulation firearms, and that they would leave no witnesses. After the murders, they would simulate an attack and leave a sign mentioning FMLN.

Two pick-up trucks with the soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion left the Military College and joined other soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion. They then proceeded to the Pastorale Center of UCA and committed the murders as previously described.

[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests (May31, 2011).

[2] This post’s factual recitation is extracted from the Commission for the Truth for El Salvador’s Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 45-54 (March 15, 1993),  [“Commission Report”]. See also Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador at 37-71 (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993). Although, as will be discussed in a subsequent post, the Truth Commission adhered to an objective and reasonable methodology in conducting its investigations and writing its report, it must be recognized that there was no cross-examination of witnesses by attorneys for the accused or full opportunity for them to present evidence in their own defense. Thus, the findings of the Truth Commission must be taken as provisional in nature. In other future posts we will talk about the Salvadoran military’s efforts to cover up their participation in this crime; the Salvadoran criminal prosecution of some of the military officers who were involved and the subsequent Salvadoran general amnesty for them and others; the Jesuits case before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights; the Spanish implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction; and more details about the Spanish case regarding this crime.

International Criminal Justice: Mladic Update

On May31st Ratko Mladic arrived at The Hague and immediately was locked up in the Dutch prison used by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[1]

In the five days since his arrest and ordered extradition on May 26th,[2] Mladic appealed the Serbian court’s order of extradition to The Hague. The appeal asserted that he is physically and mentally unfit for trial. On May 31st the appeal was rejected.[3]

The following is a summary of the ICTY charges facing Mladic:

  • Genocide and complicity in genocide: for leading Bosnian Serb forces who massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 and ethnically cleansed towns and villages in Bosnia of non-Serbs throughout the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
  • Crimes against humanity by persecution on the basis of religion: for killing, torturing, raping, deporting and illegally imprisoning Muslims and Croats.
  • War crimes by extermination, murder and cruel treatment: for widespread killing of non-Serb civilians in towns and villages targeted by Bosnian Serb forces and for the deadly campaign of sniping and shelling of civilians during the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
  • War crimes by taking hostages: for taking hostage United Nations military observers and peacekeepers. [4]

Through his son Mladic has denied that he ordered the massacre at Srebrenica.[5]

Now attention is being paid to how Mladic was able for so long to avoid arrest and whether those who aided his evasion of legal process are liable for crimes.[6]

Mladic still has supporters in Serbia, and on May 29th around 10,000 of them rallied in Belgrade to protest the arrest and threatened extradition of Mladic to the ICTY at The Hague. The crowd also demanded the resignation of the Serbian president, Boris Tadic, whom they called a traitor to Serbia for his willingness to hand over alleged war criminals to the tribunal.[7]

The ICTY has jurisdiction over perpetrators of atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, including grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has indicted 161 ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims, the majority of whom are Serbs. The following summarizes the status of these 161 cases:[8]

Concluded cases: Convicted & sentenced   64
Acquitted   13
Referred to national court   13
Withdrawn/deceased   36
Pending Cases: Appeal after trial   16
At trial   14
Pre-trial     4
At large     1
TOTAL   161

[1] Simons, Mladic Arrives in the Hague, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011),

[2] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic To Face Charges at ICTY (May 27, 2011).

[3] Carvajal, Mladic Appeals Extradition on Health Ground, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011),; Carvajal, Mladic Extradition Appeal Rejected, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011),

[4] Associated Press, A Summary of War Crimes Charges Against Mladic, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011),; ICTY, Case Information Sheet: Ratko Mladic

[5] Beaumont & Meikle, Ratko Mladic denies ordering Srebrenica massacre, says his son, Guardian (May 30, 2011),

[6] Carvajal & Erlanger, Serb Fugitve Slowly Starved of Friends and Cash, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2011),

[7] Erlanger, Demonstrators Rally Against Mladic Extradition, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2011),

[8] ICTY, Key Figures,;  Associated Press, An Overview of the Yugoslav War Crimes Court, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011), See also Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (May 28, 2011).

International Criminal Justice: Spanish Court Issues Criminal Arrest Warrants for Salvadoran Murders of Jesuit Priests

A Spanish court yesterday issued arrest warrants for 20 of the top military leaders of El Salvador’s civil war, accusing them of crimes against humanity and state terrorism in meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in November 1989.[1]

Among the men named in the indictment were Rafael Humberto Larios, who was the Salvadoran defense minister at the time; Juan Orlando Zepeda, the vice defense minister; Rene Emilio Ponce, leader of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Inocente Orlando Montano, the vice minister of public safety. Mr. Ponce, who is believed to have given the order for the killings, died this month in El Salvador. Mr. Montano is in custody.

The Jesuit priests were the leader and professors at the Universidad de Centro America (UCA) in San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador. The Rector of the University of Central America, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, had organized an open public forum about the country’s problems. All six were noted professors who had published papers about the country’s problems, and most of them also had served as pastors in communities around the capital city.[2]

At the time of the murders, El Salvador was engaged in a civil war with leftist guerillas, and supporters of the Salvadoran government said that UCA was the “logistical center of Communist subversion.” The Jesuits at UCA were “agents of the Marxist conspiracy at the service of the Kremlin.” Ellacuria, they said, directed “all Marxist-Leninist strategy in Central America.” The Jesuits, according to these government supporters, were “the intellectual authors who have directed the guerillas.” [3]

This important development raises many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts: (a) the work of the priests and UCA in the life of El Salvador; (b) the facts relating to the murders; (c) the criminal prosecution of some of the military officers in El Salvador; (d) the investigation and report about this horrendous crime by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; (d) the subsequent general amnesty adopted by the Salvadoran legislature; (e) the investigation and report about this crime by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; (f) the background of the case before the Spanish court; (g) the important work by international human rights non-governmental organizations like the Center for Justice & Accountability that has been a leader in the case in Spain; and (h) the international law principle of universal jurisdiction and Spain’s implementation of that principle.

As a result of my involvement with El Salvador over the last 26 years, my six visits to the country and to UCA itself and my investigation of the above issues, the latest development in the Spanish case is very important to me legally, spiritually and emotionally. Through all of these activities, I have come to see that there is an ever-evolving interactive global struggle against impunity for violators of human rights and that many courts, other international and domestic governmental and non-governmental institutions and people play different and important roles in this process.  [4]

[1] Malkin, From Spain, Charges Against 20 in the Killing of 6 Priests in El Salvador in 1989, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2011); Center for Justice & Accountability, Spanish Judge Issues Indictments and Arrest Warrants in Jesuits Massacre Case (May 30, 2011),

[2] Martha Doggett, Death Foretold: The Jesuit Murders in El Salvador  (Washington, D.C.; Georgetown Univ. Press 1993) [“Doggett”]; Jon Sobrino, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador (Maryknoll, NY; Orbis Books 1990).

[3] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 49 (March 15, 1993),;  Doggett at 17.

[4] See Post: My First 10 Years of Retirement (April 23, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: The Sanctuary Movement Case (May 22, 2011); Post: Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer (May 24, 2011); Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).

The Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Litigation

On March 1, 1967, the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 307 to 116 refused to seat Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the re-elected African-American Congressman from Harlem, censured him, fined him $25,000, took away his seniority and declared his seat vacant. The grounds were that he had engaged in conduct unbecoming a Congressman: he had refused to pay a libel judgment ordered by a New York state court, had refused to return to his district except on Sunday in order to avoid service of legal process in that case, had misappropriated congressional travel funds and illegally had paid his wife a congressional staff salary for work she had not done.[1]

Soon thereafter Powell along with 13 of his constituents commenced a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to invalidate his exclusion.  The defendants were John McCormack, who was the Speaker of the House, five other House members and three of its staff.  The complaint alleged that the exclusion violated Powell’s constitutional rights: Powell satisfied the constitutional qualifications for membership (age, citizenship and residency) and the exclusion allegedly was based upon his race and color and thereby violated his rights under the Fifth, Thirteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.[2]

Powell’s lawyers were William Kunstler, a famous civil rights lawyer;[3] Arthur Kinoy, another prominent civil rights lawyer and Rutgers Law School Professor;[4] Herbert Reid, another civil rights lawyer and Howard Law School Professor;[5] and others.

The House decided that it did not want the Lyndon Johnson Administration’s Justice Department to defend the House’s leadership because of concern that political considerations would prevent the Department from vigorously asserting what the House believed to be its full constitutional prerogatives. Instead, the House took the recommendation of Emmanuel Celler, the Brooklyn Congressman and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to hire as its attorney, Bruce Bromley, a partner in the New York City law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.[6]

Bromley was a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Harvard Law School. He was a lawyer with the Cravath firm for over 50 years with one interruption. In January 1949, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, who had been the unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate the prior year, appointed Bromley to New York’s highest court (the Court of Appeals), but in November 1949, Bromley lost the election for a full term. Although he served on the bench for less than a year, thereafter he was always referred to as “Judge Bromley.” While at Cravath, he was the lead lawyer in successful representation of IBM, General Motors and other major corporations.[7]

For the Powell case, Bromley assembled a team of Cravath lawyers to work on the case, including yours truly. I do not recall what issues I worked on and now wish I had kept a journal about my involvement in this case to refresh my recollection. I do remember that another Cravath associate attorney and member of the team, Dorsey D. Ellis, Jr., was an amateur legal historian and was the primary draftsman of an appendix to the eventual Supreme Court brief that discussed the legislative common law of the British House of Commons and the early state legislatures regarding exclusion and expulsion of members of legislatures.[8] Another Cravath associate on the team, Jay Gerber, recently told me that he remembers the issues on which he worked.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.[9]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal, but on different grounds. It held that the federal courts had subject-matter jurisdiction, but that case was not justiciable, i.e, it was not appropriate for judicial relief because of the separation of powers.[10] The case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before the Supreme Court argument, the other members of the Cravath team and I went to Washington several days ahead of time to prepare for the argument and to consult with Cravath’s Washington allies and former partners: Lloyd Cutler, who subsequently was White House Counsel for Presidents Carter and Clinton,[11] and John Pickering.[12] Cravath also brought the lawyers’ spouses to Washington on the Sunday before the oral argument in the Supreme Court so that they could watch the proceedings the next day. My wife was on a plane from New York City that Sunday with none other than Congressman Powell.

Although the House’s side had won in the lower federal courts, there were no guarantees that it would prevail in the U.S. Supreme Court. The House was asserting that its power under Article I, Section 5(1) of the Constitution to “be the Judge of the . . . Qualifications of its own members” was an implicit exception from the Article III “judicial Power of the United States [that was] vested in [the Supreme Court]” and the lower federal courts. Thus, the House argued, no federal court had the power to do anything in this case. As a result, it was anticipated that Chief Justice Earl Warren might well ask Judge Bromley in oral argument whether he was claiming that if the House or the Senate hypothetically were to exclude or expel five or six black members-elect in succession that the Supreme Court could do nothing. The answer to this hypothetical question was clearly “yes.”

At the oral argument, as I recall, the Chief Justice in fact asked that question. Bromley’s responded in essence that yes, the Court could do nothing, but that there was no reason to suspect that the House or the Senate might do such a thing and that there was a political remedy by the voters’ re-electing the same people. The Chief Justice and Bromley then got into a colloquy as to which branch of the federal government had the “final” say regarding the Constitution. Bromley said in very limited areas, each house of the Congress had the “final say:” impeachment and removal of federal officials and judging the qualifications of its members. Jay Gerber recalls that the Chief Justice almost fell out of his chair at that answer.

In June 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court, 7 to 1, reversed the dismissal of the lawsuit. The majority opinion by the Chief Justice held that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case and that it was justiciable; that it did not constitute a political question that pitted one branch of government against another. Rather, it required “no more than an interpretation of the Constitution” by the Supreme Court.[13]

The majority opinion stated that while the House of Representatives was the sole judge of its members’ qualifications (U.S. Const., Art. I, § 5, cl. 1), the House did not have the power to develop qualifications other than those specified in the Constitution: election certificate, at least 25 years of age, U.S. citizen for at least seven years and an inhabitant of the state in which he or she was elected at the time of election (Art. I, § 2. Cls, 1, 2).

In addition, the Court’s majority opinion noted that while the Constitution states (Art. I, § 5, Cl. 2),”Each House [of Congress] shall be the Judge of the . . . Qualifications of its own Members,” the Constitution  immediately states that each “House may . . . with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” The Court, therefore, held that the process leading to the expulsion of a Member, duly sworn and enrolled upon the body’s rolls, was the only constitutional method for a House to give effect to its power to determine the qualifications of its members. The House did not follow this procedure with respect to Congressman Powell. Therefore, he was entitled to a declaratory judgment that he had been unlawfully excluded from the Congress.

In the meantime, Powell had won the May 1967 special election to fill his congressional seat, but did not attempt to be seated.  He then won the next regular election in November 1968 and was seated in the House in January 1969 (approximately five months before the Supreme Court decision) subject to the $25,000 fine and loss of seniority. The next year, however, Powell lost the 1970 Democratic primary election to Charles Rangel and failed to qualify to be on the general election ballot.[14]

Powell was a member of a notable Harlem family. His father, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., was Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem (1908-36) before being succeeded by Powell, Jr., his only son (1937-71).[15] Powell. Jr.’s older son, Adam Clayton Powell, III, was a journalist and media executive,[16] and Powell, Jr.’s younger son, Adam Clayton Powell IV, is a New York State legislator who lost the 2010 Democratic primary election for Congress to the incumbent, Charles Rangel.[17]

Powell, Jr. died in 1972 at age 62.

[1]  Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 489-93 (1969); Wikipedia, Powell v. McCormack,

[2]  Powell v. McCormack, 266 F. Supp. 354 (D.C. DC. 1967).

[3]  Wikipedia, William Kunstler,

[4]  Wikipedia, Arthur Kinoy,

[5]  Ravo, Herbert O. Reid, Sr., 75, Lawyer Who Taught Many Black Leaders, N.Y. Times (June 19, 1991).

[6]  Wikipedia, Bruce Bromley,

[7] Wikipedia, Bruce Bromley,

[8]  After Cravath, “Dan” Ellis became a member of the faculty at the University of Iowa School of Law and then Professor, Dean and eventually Dean Emeritus and William R. Orthwein Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Washington in St. Louis School of Law. (Washington University in St. Louis, Dorsey Ellis,

[9]  Powell v. McCormack, 266 F. Supp. 354 (D.C. D.C. 1967).

[10]  Powell v. McCormack, 395 F.2d 577 (D.C. Cir. 1968).

[11]  Wikipedia, Lloyd Cutler,

[12]  Wikipedia, John H. Pickering,

[13]  Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486 (1969).

[14]  Wikipedia, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.,,_Jr.; Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress, “Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr.,”

[15] Wikipedia, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.,,_Sr.; Abyssinian Baptist Church, History,

[16]  Wikipedia, Adam Clayton Powell III,

[17]  Wikipedia, Adam Clayton Powell IV (Politician),

A Liberal Arts Seminar for Lawyers

My sabbatical leave at Grinnell College in 1982 prompted me to think about ways to provide intellectual stimulation and enrichment for practicing lawyers. This reflection resulted in my organizing “Renewing Fealty to the Law: A Liberal Arts Seminar for Lawyers” at the College in June 1984.[1]

My invitation to the Seminar stated, “Have you ever been bored while sitting in a large hotel banquet room listening to a continuing legal education lecturer? Have you ever regretted your inability to find or make time to read some general books about the law? Have you ever wondered about the significance of what we do for a living? Have you ever longed for the opportunity to take time out of the hurly-burly of practice to meet with other lawyers and discuss some of the broader issues of law and the practice?”

If the recipient had ever said “yes” to any of these questions, I urged them to come to the seminar. Twenty-six lawyers did and joined  the five seminar leaders for a weekend at the College.

Frank Coffin

The keynote speaker was the Honorable Frank M. Coffin, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in New England.[2] I had met him in the Fall of 1982 when we were both on the Visiting Committee for the University of Chicago Law School. I had mentioned to him that I had used his book, The Ways of a Judge, in the undergraduate course I had taught at Grinnell earlier that year. The ensuing conversation revealed that we both firmly believed that there was a profound need for lawyers and judges to read, think, and talk about broader issues involving law and the profession.

For the seminar I prepared a collection of Judge Coffin’s unpublished speeches that I entitled “Lawyers and Judges–The Essential Humanists in a Technological Society.” My Introduction to this booklet said that his speeches “recount the observations of a sensitive, profound individual caught in the demands of an increasingly technical, more business-like profession.” The speeches were organized into sections about constitutional law, lawyering and judging. The booklet also contained bibliographies of his judicial opinions, books and articles and reviews of his book, The Ways of a Judge.

Judge Coffin’s speech at the Grinnell seminar, Finding Serenity in the Practice of Law, defined “serenity” as “an inner calm built of three components: (1) regaining a sense of control of work and life style; (2) repositioning the individual at the center of the stage, whether we focus on the lawyer or the client; and (3) restoring a sense of framework, of perspective, of being aware of where we have come from, who we are, how to carry on a noble tradition.”

Such serenity, Coffin said, should give us “a better chance of remaining sane, of avoiding burnout, and of retaining our motivation and momentum.” It also should make us better counselors and advisors or better lawyers in the grand tradition.

To this end, Judge Coffin proposed humanizing the law office. Lawyers share their experiences and insights with others in the firm. Retired lawyers talk about their recollections. Develop “story-telling” about the law for lay people. Organize social activities. Collect oral histories. Provide sabbatical leaves. Conduct retreats and seminars on broader topics. Provide lawyers in residence for law schools. Host academics and judges in residence at law firms.

He also suggested developing other models for delivery of legal services by smaller groups. Finally Judge Coffin reminded us of the importance of being familiar with the great works of civilization that shed light on the human predicament.

This pursuit of serenity, he concluded, should help us “keep the law a humanistic profession worthy of our fealty.”

Judge Coffin, Duane Krohnke, Jim Laue

Other discussion leaders at the seminar were Grinnell’s Parker Professor of History Al Jones on “American Legal History;” James H. Laue, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Metropolitan Studies at the University of Missouri (St. Louis),[3] on “Lawyers and Dispute Resolution;”  Victor G. Rosenblum, Professor of Law and Political Science at Northwestern University, on “Jurisprudence; ” and Gene E. Wilkins, an Indianapolis attorney and Adjunct Professor at Indiana University, on “The Humane Practice of Law.”

One of the participants in the seminar afterwards said the College “has a quite palpable aura” and was “the place where [many of our enduring values] . . . were refined, buttressed or altered in an atmosphere which required the free exchange and testing of ideas.”

[1] Post: A Sabbatical Leave from Lawyering (May 26, 2011).

[2]  Wikipedia, Frank Morey Coffin,; Lewis, Frank Coffin, Chief Judge of a Federal Appeals Court, Dies at 90, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2009). See also Post: Adventures of a History Detective (April 5, 2011) (oral history interview of Judge Coffin in John F. Kennedy Presidential Library).

[3] Jim Laue was a personal friend and the husband of a high school and Grinnell College classmate. In the Johnson Administration he was working on resolving racial conflicts for the federal government’s Community Relations Service and was with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. President Carter in 1979 appointed Laue as co-chair of a commission that recommended the establishment of the U.S. Institute of Peace, which happened in 1984. He was a Vice Chancellor of the Washington University in St. Louis, 1971-74; the Director of the Center for Metropolitan Studies, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1974-87; and the Lynch Professor of Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, 1987 until his death in 1993. (George Mason University Libraries, Guide to the Papers of James H. Laue, 1947-1993,

International Criminal Justice: The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT)

As previously mentioned, the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR) were created by the U.N. Security Council with limited lives for limited purposes.[1]

In December 2010 the Security Council dealt with the problems associated with the limited lives of these two tribunals by creating The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT). The Mechanism will have two branches for the just mentioned two tribunals after their closure. The branch for the ICTR will commence operations on July 1, 2012; the one for the ICTY, July 1, 2013.[2]

The IRMCT’s two branches will prosecute and try those individuals who had been indicted, but not tried, by the ICTR and ICTY. For those “who are among the most senior leaders suspected of being most responsible for the crimes . . . considering the gravity of the crimes charged and the level of responsibility of the accused,” the authority of the IRMCT is unlimited. For lesser officials, it has a similar authority, but only “after it has exhausted all reasonable efforts to refer the case” to an appropriate national court.

The IRMCT also will have an appeals chamber to handle appeals from any trials that it conducts as well as trials conducted by the ICTR and ICTY, but that did have appeals lodged or completed when the two tribunals closed.

It is anticipated that the just-captured Ratko Mladic will be tried by the ICTY.[3]

[1] See Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011); Post: The International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011).

[2] ICTY, Security Council Adopts Resolution on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), (Dec. 29, 2010),; THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL AND ITS ‘RESIDUES’, sensetribunal (Jan. 18, 2011),; Roberts, Security Council Votes to Establish ICTR Residual Mechanism, Human Rights Brief (Feb. 10, 2011),; Van Schaack, Security Council Residual Mechanism, IntLawGrrls (May  2011),

[3]  Post: International Criminal Justice: Mladic To Face Charges at ICTY (May 27, 2011).

International Criminal Justice: Mladic To Face Charges at ICTY

On May 26, Ratko Mladic was arrested in Serbia and will be extradited to The Hague in the Netherlands. He is the former Bosnian Serb general held responsible for the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995. At The Hague he will face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[1]

[1] Reuters,Ratko Mladic to Face Tribunal on Genocide Charges, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2011); Bilefsky & Carvajal, Serbia Says Jailed Mladic Will Face War Crimes Trial, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2011); Rhode & Burns, Executions Were Mladic’s Signature, and Downfall, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2011); ICTY, Statement of the Office of the Prosecutor on the Arrest of Ratko Mladic, (May  26, 2011) (contains link to full text of indictment of Mladic); Editorial, End of the Line, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2011); Carvajal, Serbian Court Backs Transfer of Mladic to Hague, N.Y. Times (May 27, 2011); Carvajal, Left Ill by Fugitive Life, Mladic Hopes to Avoid Hague, N.Y. Times (May 27, 2011).