Repeat Permdel No. 52.
At yesterday's regular State Department meeting on Korea Alexis Johnson said that, on General Clark's recommendation, the UNC had been authorized to bring to trial prisoners of war who committed serious individual offenses (as distinct from mass riot acts). Following paragraphs of this message give the substance of the lengthy statement which Johnson made on this matter. Your attention is drawn to paras. 6 and 7 below.
2. Chapter III of the Geneva Conventions (1949) provides that the detaining power may take disciplinary action against prisoners of war; this includes the right of trying and punishing prisoners for crimes committed after capture. Up to the present the UNC has not conducted legal proceedings against prisoners and the only measure taken against wrong-doers has been segregation. During the past few weeks there has become evident a disturbing pattern of criminal behaviour by individual prisoners, including attacks on United Nations guards (for example, one United States guard was recently assaulted when on a routine hut inspection and beaten to death; on another occasion a United States medical orderly was attacked and critically injured).
3. General Clark has pointed out that incidents such as this create a considerable danger different from that of the large-scale riots. He considers it imperative that he take appropriate judicial action in flagrant cases of this character, in order both to preserve discipline in the prison camps and to maintain the morale of the United Nations guards. Following his strong recommendations General Clark has been authorized to institute courts in such cases in strict accordance with Chapter III of the Geneva Conventions.
4. It is realized that technical and legal complications will arise. It is considered that the trials will be acts of the United Nations Command. It is therefore proposed that the laws and proceedings applying shall substantially accord mutatis mutandis with those of United States Court Martial. This seems the simplest method. United States Court Martial procedure was radically revised at the conclusion of World War II and now provides standards in matters such as the provision of Counsel, etc., closely approximating those of the Civil Courts. In accordance with Article 99 of the Geneva Conventions legal proceedings will be taken only in cases of acts which would be regarded as criminal under the domestic laws of the detaining powers and by international practice (e.g., murder, aggravated assault, etc).
5. General Clark will be authorized to promulgate specific rules of procedure regarding trials of prisoners of war. These rules of procedure will approximate those promulgated by his command on October 12, 1951, which were not implemented as regards prisoners of war. To allow for appeal procedure, the rules will provide that the records of all POW trials conducted by General Military Commissions will be sent to Commander-in-Chief UNC, who will convene Boards of Review to scrutinize the records. The decisions of the Boards of Review will be final except in cases involving the death penalty. In all cases where the death penalty is imposed the decision of the Boards of Review must have the confirmation of the Commander-in-Chief, UNC Personnel serving on the Boards of Review must be legally qualified by either civilian or military standards. Defence Council will be made available for all accused both at initial trials and at appeal hearings but particular care will be taken not to impair prisoners' rights under Article 105 of the Geneva Conventions.
6. General Clark has already discussed his proposals for trials of prisoners of war with the Commanders of National Continents in Korea and has requested them to co-operate in making available, where possible, suitable personnel for service on both the General Military Commissions and the Boards of Review. It is believed that General Clark has received favourable responses subject to reservations that qualified personnel may not be at hand.
7. The State Department strongly support General Clark's request for co-operation from National Commanders and hope that, the Commander-in-Chief, UNC, may be enabled to convene the courts on as wide a national basis as possible.
8. The International Committee of the Red Cross will be duly notified of pending trials of POW's prior to their commencement, as called for by the Geneva Conventions and in such a manner as to comply fully with the ICRC's position as a "protecting power".
9. Every effort will be made to treat the trials as simple and routine legal proceedings under the Geneva Conventions. The press will be admitted to the trials, so that there will be no question of secret trials, but no undue publicity will be given to the proceedings by UNC spokesmen.
10. General Clark will make a public statement regarding the convening of the Trial Commissions in the near future, possibly within two weeks. The matter will be kept confidential until General Clark's announcement.