The abuses by American soldiers in Iraq, questions of responsibility and calls for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation bring to mind the case of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita at the end of World War II.Cf. Yamashita v. Styer 317 U.S. 1, 66 S.Ct. 340, 90 L. Ed. 499 (1946), including Justice Frank Murphy's dissent: www.law.uchicago.edu/tribunals/docs/yamvsty.pdf.
When Mr. Yamashita was tried for war crimes, he was held completely responsible for the behavior of his subordinates. He was tried by a military tribunal, found guilty and after the Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 to 2, denied habeas corpus, he was hanged.
The trial has been severely criticized for so many procedural and jurisdictional violations that it amounted to little more than a revenge killing.
In one of the dissenting opinions, Justice Frank Murphy wrote: "No one in a position of command in an army, from sergeant to general, can escape those future implications. Indeed, the fate of some future President of the United States and his chiefs of staff and military advisers may well have been sealed by this decision."
It would be both ironic and poetic justice if President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld, having run roughshod over established constitutional and international standards, were held to the same high standard that the Supreme Court applied to Mr. Yamashita.
Bethesda (May 12, 2004, p. A22)
Friday, May 14, 2004
Yamashita v. Styer: A Precedent
Mike Mage's letter to the Washington Post, courtesy of John Mage: