Wars or quasi-war situations, like the instances of mass terrorism, lead to many issues. Other than the principal aims of winning the war, subduing the enemy, and minimizing the losses, the military leaders have to think about the issues that might compromise the war outcome. These include the enactment of military commissions to try those who are suspected of crimes against the international law of war. Moreover, because of the nature of war, civilian and military leaders sometimes take decisions that in retrospect seem to be wrong and might not have been made in different circumstances. This essay seeks to analyze the significance of military tribunals and rationalize the finding in Korematsu that all people should be treated fairly under the American criminal justice system.
In the United States, various presidents have established military tribunals as a way of trying those people who were accused of violating the international law of war during military actions. The institution is significant for several reasons. First, it helps to decide on cases of people whose trial in civilian courts might compromise the intelligence gathering and reveal sensitive national security information such as the names of military generals and terrorists (Hasian, 2012). Moreover, the military commission also assists to convict people accused of criminal activities related to the military, which an ordinary jury trial would not convict (Hasian, 2012). For instance, while an ordinary jury trial requires a consensus on the verdict, military commission does not. However, the use of military tribunals also has its negative impact as it infringes the right to a jury trial and the right to due process (Hasian, 2012). Such an approach raised the controversy over their use.
In Korematsu, an order authorizing military authorities to restrict the power of movement and residence of certain people for national security was constitutional. Rather than restricting individuals who were guilty of espionage, posed a threat to the public safety or even ones suspected of such actions, the order limited Japanese people in the US regardless of whether they were the US citizens or not (Korematsu v. United States, 1944). Thus, an entire class of people was constrained by this order. Surely, people should be treated fairly in the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, it seems to be not what happened here.
The only way to rationalize the finding of the court is to assume that the opinion of the court was influenced by the war tensions but still wanted to uphold, at least, theoretically, the rights of everyone to fair trial (Hasian, 2012). The public was immensely against Japanese Americans. Such an attitude might also have had the impact on the court decision (Hasian, 2012). Moreover, the court might have deemed the rights of individuals, a hallmark of the American democracy, as subservient to the safety of the public (Hasian, 2012). Decades later, the US Solicitor General affirmed that what happened during this time was not only wrong but also unjustifiable (Hasian, 2012). In retrospect, the fact that the court opined that the rendered decisions, which upheld the government’s position while still noting that the loyalty of Mr. Korematsu was not in question, are hard to fathom.
This essay sought to explore the significance of military tribunals as well as rationalize the finding in Korematsu. Apparently, military tribunals help in the trial of people whose cases might endanger national security if heard in civilian courts. It might lead to divulging sensitive national security data. Moreover, the tribunals also help convict people who would not be otherwise tried by a jury court. However, they also infringe constitutional rights to a jury trial and due process. The finding in Korematsu seems to have been influenced by the court’s need to have all criminal trials to correlate with the public opinion, the pressure of war, and the rights of individuals.
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