Greg Peterson is often given the credit for shepherding the Robert H. Jackson Center into existence.
To hear Peterson tell the story, Whitney R. Harris, who died Thursday at the age of 97, made Peterson's task a whole lot easier.
While the Jamestown attorney pulled together a cadre of like-minded supporters to create a center to honor the memory of Robert H. Jackson and his contributions to international law, it was Harris who helped open doors for the center into the international law community. And it was Harris who helped give the center a respected voice in the emerging field of international criminal law.
Whitney Harris gives the Chautauqua Salute at the end of a 2001 speech at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua Institution.
''Whitney Harris was here from the beginning,'' Peterson said. ''His presence in 2001 at the Nuremberg Prosecutor's Conference gave the Robert H. Jackson Center instant credibility. It was so important for us to get us started. Because of his relationship with Jackson and believing in what Robert Jackson stood for at Nuremberg, he was more than gracious at the age of 86 to get on a plane and spend four days here.''
It was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship that has helped push the Jackson Center to the forefront of the emerging discipline of international criminal justice and taken the center from Sixth Street in Jamestown to the Palace of Justice in Germany.
''The more you think about it, it's amazing that one relationship created so much,'' Peterson said.
Whitney R. Harris
Aug. 12, 1912-April 12, 2010
HE WAS 'LIKE A ROCK STAR'
Long before there was a Robert H. Jackson Center, Whitney Harris was trumpeting the importance of international law.
Harris was the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor who worked with Robert H. Jackson. He was a lead prosecutor in the first Nuremberg war crime trial in 1945 and tried Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the senior surviving leader of the Nazi Security Police. He also helped cross-examine Hermann Goering, Hitler's second-in-command, and helped get a confession from Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hess, head of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
After Nuremberg, Harris became a law professor at Southern Methodist University and served as chairman of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association in 1953-54. He wrote the first book on the Nuremberg trials, ''Tyranny on Trial, the Evidence at Nuremberg,'' established the Whitney R. Harris Collection on the Third Reich of Germany at Washington University in St. Louis and was the namesake of the university's Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute.
By the time Harris appeared at the Nuremberg Prosecutor's Conference at the Robert H. Jackson Center, he lent an authoritative voice to the proceedings.
While the former prosecutor admired Jackson, his speeches were about more than reliving Nuremberg. His 2001 speech, while recalling Nuremberg and Jackson, advocated putting Osama bin Laden on trial before an International Criminal Court for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A 2004 speech that opened the Whitney R. Harris Lecture Series at the Jackson Center made the case for using the Nuremberg War Crimes template in current international law. When Harris appeared at the Jackson Symposium in September 2005, topics included how judges were being trained for the Iraqi Special Tribunal in the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein.
An invitation from Harris for Peterson and Jackson Center officials to attend a symposium in St. Louis put the center in touch with dozens of international criminal court prosecutors and opened the door for a new group of speakers at the Jackson Center - including the recent appearance of Judge Ra'id Juhi al-Saedi, chief investigative judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal, the court that prosecuted Saddam Hussein.
As the Jackson Center grew in prominence, Harris began including the center, and Peterson, in events at the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute. By 2005, Harris, Peterson and Rolland Kidder, former center executive director, traveled to Nuremberg for the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials.
''Through that relationship, to me personally as well as professionally, we jointly were able to go to Nuremberg to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg trial and, most recently in 2008, at the age of 96, went back to Nuremberg where Whitney delivered his valedictory speech at the Palace of Justice in front of a standing room-only crowd,'' Peterson said. ''The really poignant part of that day was the reaction of the crowd - where the significant number of JAG officers in Germany and Europe rushed Whitney for his autograph and picture like he was a rock star.''
A LASTING LEGACY
Harris' death doesn't mean the center's longtime benefactor won't still be giving back to the Jackson Center.
The Whitney R. Harris Lectureship Fund has been established at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation to help the center pay for its speakers. It also started the ball rolling for other such funds at the foundation that help support the center.
''He was the first guy to set up a fund through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation benefitting the Robert H. Jackson Center,'' Peterson said. ''There are a couple of Whitney Harris funds, which in turn has led to other individuals creating such designated funds, to the point that the foundation has more named funds for the Robert H. Jackson Center than any other not-for-profit center.''
And, in a partnership with the center, Harris authored two more books - ''The Tragedy of War'' and ''Murder By The Millions: Rudolf Hoess at Auschwitz'' - that will help preserve Harris' expertise on international law for generations to come. Harris paid for the books while the Jackson Center published them.
If that wasn't enough, Harris' repeated trips to the Jackson Center created an extensive video and oral history that will be available to scholars as the road of international law twists and turns in the future.
''It's amazing that one guy, one relationship has permitted the Robert H. Jackson Center to be catapulted onto the world stage through symposiums, publications, books and videography,'' Peterson said. ''The Robert H. Jackson Center will forever be indebted to Whitney Harris, and our humble hope is to live up to his expectations of what the legacy of Robert H. Jackson could be through the Robert H. Jackson Center. ... The Robert H. Jackson Center was established to advance the legacy of Robert H. Jackson. Nobody has done more in his lifetime to accomplish that than Whitney Harris.''