October 6, 2009


The Tyrannical History of Military Tribunals for Civilians (Greg Robinson, 10/05/09, HNN)

Army courts were part of the military government that took power in the then Territory of Hawaii following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Commanding General Walter Short (who browbeat the civilian governor into approving unlimited martial law) declared himself military governor, dissolved the elected legislature and suspended the U.S. Constitution. The military regime proceeded over the following weeks to issue decrees regulating all aspects of civilian life. Meanwhile, the army closed down all civilian courts. When the courts reopened one week after Pearl Harbor, they were restricted to considering civil cases, a network of military commissions and provost courts was established to try all criminal cases.

These military tribunals, presided over by armed officers without legal training, were classic examples of drumhead justice, unfettered by rules of evidence, presumption of innocence, or other constitutional safeguards. Juries were forbidden and lawyers discouraged or even barred. The courts were effectively rigged against defendants. Of the 22,480 trials conducted in provost court in Honolulu in 1942-1943, 99 percent ended in convictions—one officer who heard 819 cases issued convictions in all 819! Judges frequently issued severe sentences, including imprisonment and hard labor, for trivial offenses, and no machinery existed for appeals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2009 2:35 PM
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