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Congress, in the exercise of the power conferred upon it by U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 10 to define and punish offences against the Law of Nations, of which the law of war is a part, had by the Articles of War, 10 U.S.C.S. §§ 1471-1593, recognized the "military commission" appointed by military command, as it had previously existed in United States Army practice, as an appropriate tribunal for the trial and punishment of offenses against the law of war. Article 15 declares that the provisions of these articles conferring jurisdiction upon courts martial shall not be construed as depriving military commissions or other military tribunals of concurrent jurisdiction in respect of offenders or offenses that by statute or by the law of war may be triable by such military commissions or other military tribunals.
Prior to September 3, 1945, petitioner was the Commanding General of the Fourteenth Army Group of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippine Islands. On that day, he surrendered to the United States Army and became a prisoner of war. Respondent was the Commanding General of the United States Army Forces, Western Pacific, whose command embraced the Philippine Islands. Respondent appointed a military commission to try the petitioner on a charge of violation of the law of war. The gist of the charge was that petitioner had failed in his duty as an army commander to control the operations of his troops, "permitting them to commit" specified atrocities against the civilian population and prisoners of war. Petitioner was found guilty and sentenced to death. Petitioner, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, contended that the military commission which tried him was unlawfully created and without jurisdiction.
Was the military commission in question unlawfully created, thereby warranting the grant of habeas corpus in favor of petitioner?
The court disagreed and denied the writ. First, the commission was not only created by a commander competent to appoint it, but his order conformed to the established policy of the government and was in complete conformity with the Articles of War, 10 U.S.C.S. §§ 1471-1593. Second, there was authority to convene the commission, even after hostilities had ended, to try violations of the law of war that were committed before the war's cessation, at least until peace was officially recognized by treaty or proclamation. Third, the charge against petitioner, which alleged that he breached his duty to control the operations of the members of his command by permitting them to commit specified atrocities, adequately alleged a violation of the law of war. And finally, petitioner was not entitled to any of the protections afforded by the Geneva Convention, part 3, Chapter 3, § V, Title III, because that chapter applied only to persons subjected to judicial proceedings for offenses committed while prisoners of war.