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FBI Training Focuses On Holocaust

Trainee FBI agents in America are, for the first time, focusing on the role played by Hitler's police during the Holocaust as part of their training. John Howard reports.

FBI director, Louis Freeh, said that three FBI classes have already undertaken a training segment at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. After the visit the agents participate in discussion groups and write an essay on what they saw.

"We do this early on in their training for a very simple purpose; to remind them of the horror and evil which can result from law enforcement abandoning its mission to protect people and becoming the engine of oppression," Mr Freeh said.

"We want to show what can happen if a national police force doesn't protect civil rights," he said.

Museum director, Sara Bloomfield said, " Much of the Holocaust was perpetrated or supported by trained professionals who were just 'doing their job.' The museum's program with the FBI challenges law enforcement agents to examine the moral dimensions of their professions."

The program was the brainchild of the FBI's Freeh, who then approached Holocaust staff and Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Foxman said the training gives nascent agents, "an understanding for what they are protecting - how precious the rule of law is, how fragile civility is, and how a system can be perverted and compromised."

Jeffrey Higginbotham, FBI assistant director of training, said trainees are exposed to two types of police officers in Nazi Germany; those who followed the dictates of the state and were, at least initially, rewarded and those who followed the dictates of conscience and were often dismissed and ostracised.

The training is not explicitly put into context of recent controversial FBI operations, such as the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. But Foxman and Higginbotham said the segment could lead to agents questioning whether such an operation - ordered by top government officials - was moral.

"The FBI today is a thinking organisation. There is a respect for private dissent. But after that, there is a public duty to support decisions of superiors, as long as they are not violating the law," Higginbotham said.

But Foxman said, "There is always that delicate balance between obeying one's own morality, and being a disciplined law enforcement official. Where is that line? The important thing is to raise the questions and discuss them."

Mike Heller is a 31 year-old FBI trainee from Pittsburgh who recently took the Holocaust training segment.

"It has made us more conscious of the vast amount of responsibility we have. A lot of people pay lip service to the issue of stepping on the rights of individuals. This training shows how far things can go when you don't care about people's civil rights," Heller said.

State police organisations are now looking at including their recruits in the Holocaust program.

In 1958, Lon Fuller writing in the Harvard Law Review said, " The German lawyer was peculiarily prepared to accept as "law" anything that called itself by that name and was printed at government expense."

"Hitler did not come to power by a violent revolution. He was Chancellor before he became the leader. The exploitation of legal forms started cautiously and became bolder as power was consolidated. The first attacks on the established order were on the ramparts which, if they were manned by anyone, were manned by lawyers and judges. These ramparts fell almost without a struggle," Fuller wrote.

In New Zealand, with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty upheld in the Courts, justice is not synonymous with law - it is possible for a law to be called unjust.

Writing in 1974 Law Lord Scarman said " So long as English law is unable in any circumstances to challenge a statute, it is, in dangerous and difficult times, at the mercy of the oppressive and discriminatory statute.

Some academics are now saying that while Parliament has sovereignty to make law, it does not have absolute sovereignty such that once elected it can do what it wants, or that it could legislate in an oppressive or dicriminatory way.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a stark reminder.

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