The Tyrannical History of Military Tribunals for Civilians — A Post by Greg Robinson

A Tragedy of DemocracyThe History News Network recently published an essay on U.S. military tribunals during World War II by Greg Robinson, author of A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America.

In the essay Robinson looks at the implementation military rule and justice in Hawaii following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Robinson writes,

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 courts were rigged against defendants and of the 22,480 cases heard from 1942-1943, 99 percent ended in convictions. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the military tribunals. However, this history has now become more pertinent as the United States continues to hold military tribunals in its “war against terrorism.”

The larger history of military rule in Hawaii, has been largely obscured in current discussions of constitutional law. President Obama would do well, however, to consider the injustice meted out by past military tribunals in his native state.

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