The Military Courts and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus
The administration of justice was a source of major contention between the civil authorities and the military. The Military Governor closed the civil courts, whose functions were replaced with military commissions for serious crimes and provost courts for more minor crimes and violations of the General Orders, including absenteeism. Although the civil courts were allowed to reopen in January 1942 “as agents of the Military Governor,” their jurisdiction was limited to civil matters; habeas corpus remained suspended, and there were no jury trials. Only eight cases were tried by military commissions. Two were especially significant: that of Otto Kuehn, who became the only individual convicted of spying; and that of Saffery Brown, a part-Hawaiian laborer whose conviction for murder did much to mobilize civil libertarians against army justice. Of far greater impact on the civilian population were the more than 55,000 trials in the provost courts, with a single officer presiding (often without legal training), no regard for due process, no juries, no distinctions between juveniles and adults, and a conviction rate of close to 100 percent. Trials lasted only a few minutes each and sentences were harsh. These trials were among the most egregious features of martial law.
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