Otto Ohlendorf stood tall in the courtroom in Nuremburg. His demeaner was as cold and unflinching as always during his trial for crimes against humanity. He easily recounted every detail of the murder of nearly a million people under his watch. After all, his conscience was relatively clear. “Befehl ist Befehl,” he told the court, “Orders are orders.”
More roundly translated, this has come to us as the famous “I was just following orders” defense. It didn’t work for Ohlendorf. He was convicted and hung for his crimes.
Workers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today may feel that they are simply doing their job, that they are simply following orders. However, in the process of doing so they are violating the terms of the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, which as a signed treaty is also a violation of US law.