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The rights of prisoners of war depends on which country holds them. In this lesson, we will learn how the Supreme Court’s decision in ”Johnson v. Eisentrager”. [Source: U.S. Supreme Court JOHNSON v. EISENTRAGER, U.S. (); June 5, ; available on ]. Johnson, Secretary of Defense et al; Eisentrager alias Ehrhardt et al. Categories, War crimes. Keywords, detention, international armed conflict, jurisdiction, war.

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Respondents, who are nonresident enemy aliens, were captured in China by the United States Army and tried and convicted in China by an American military commission for violations of the laws of war committed in China prior to their capture. They were transported to the American-occupied part of Germany and imprisoned there in the custody of the Army.

At no time were they within the territorial jurisdiction of any American civil court. Claiming that their trial, conviction, and imprisonment violated Articles I and III, the Fifth Amendment, and other provisions of our Constitution, laws of the United States, and provisions of the Geneva Convention, they petitioned the District Court for the District of Columbia for a writ of habeas corpus directed to the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, and several officers of the Army having directive power over their custodian.

A nonresident enemy alien has no access to our courts in wartime.

Courts will entertain his plea for freedom from executive custody only to ascertain the existence of a state of war and. Once these jurisdictional facts have been determined, courts will not inquire into any other issue as to his internment. These nonresident enemy aliens, captured and imprisoned abroad, have no right to a writ of habeas corpus in a court of the United States. Ex parte Quirin, U. The Constitution does not confer a right of personal security or an immunity from military trial and punishment upon an alien enemy engaged in the hostile service of a government at war with the United Eisentragfr.

The petition in this case alleges no fact showing lack of jurisdiction in the military authorities to accuse, try, and condemn these prisoners, or that they acted in excess of their lawful powers.

Since there is no basis in this case for invoking federal eisentfager power, it is not necessary to decide where, if the case were otherwise, the petition should be filed. The District Court dismissed a petition eieentrager a eisenttrager of habeas corpus to inquire into the confinement of respondents by the United States Army in occupied Germany.

The Court of Appeals reversed. This Court granted certiorari. The ultimate question in this case is one of jurisdiction of civil courts of the United States vis-a -vis military authorities in dealing with enemy aliens overseas. The issues come here in this way:. Twenty-one German nationals petitioned the District Court of the District of Columbia for writs of habeas corpus. They alleged that, prior to May 8,they were in service of German armed eisenttrager in China.

They amended to allege that their employment there was by civilian agencies of the German Government. Their exact affiliation is disputed, and, for our purposes, immaterial. On May 8,the German High Command. These prisoners have been convicted of violating laws of war by engaging in, permitting, or ordering continued military activity against the United States after surrender of Germany and before surrender of Japan.

Their hostile operations consisted principally of collecting and furnishing intelligence concerning American forces and their movements to the Japanese armed forces. They, with six others who wisentrager acquitted, were taken into custody by the United States Army after the Japanese surrender, and were tried and convicted by a Military Commission jhnson by our Commanding General at Nanking by delegation from the Commanding General, United States Forces, China Theater, pursuant to authority specifically granted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States.

The Commission sat in China, with express consent of the Chinese Government. The proceeding was conducted wholly under American auspices, and involved no international participation.

After conviction, the sentences were duly reviewed and, with immaterial modification, approved by military reviewing authority. Eisetrager prisoners were repatriated to Germany to serve their sentences. He could not be reached by process from the District Court. The petition alleges, and respondents denied, that the jailer is subject to their direction. The Court of Appeals assumed, eisentraher we do likewise, that, while prisoners are.

The petition prays an order that the prisoners be produced before the District Court, that it may inquire into their confinement and order them discharged from such offenses and confinement. It is claimed that their trial, conviction, and imprisonment violate Articles I and III of the Johnsob, and the Fifth Amendment thereto, and other provisions of the Constitution and laws of the United States and provisions of the Geneva Convention governing treatment of prisoners of war.


A rule to show cause issued, to which the United States made return.

United States, Johnson v. Eisentrager

Thereupon the petition was dismissed on authority of Ahrens v. The Court of Appeals reversed and, reinstating the petition, remanded for further proceedings. It concluded eisentrageer any person, including an enemy alien, deprived of his liberty anywhere under any purported authority of the United States is entitled to the writ if he can show that extension to his cases of any constitutional rights or limitations would show his imprisonment illegal; that, although no statutory jurisdiction of such cases is given, courts must be held to possess it as part of the judicial kohnson of the United States; that, where deprivation of liberty by an official act occurs outside the territorial jurisdiction of any District Fisentrager, the petition will lie in the District Court which has territorial jurisdiction over officials who have directive power over the immediate jailer.

The obvious importance of these holdings to both judicial administration and military operations impelled us to grant certiorari. The case is before us only on issues of law. The writ of habeas corpus must be granted “unless it appears from the application” that the applicants are not entitled to it.

We are cited to no instance where a court, in this or any other country where the writ eisentrxger known, has issued it eisntrager behalf of an alien enemy who at no relevant time and in no stage of his captivity has been within its territorial jurisdiction. Nothing in the text of the Constitution extends such a right, nor does anything in our statutes. Absence of support from legislative or juridical sources is implicit in the statement of the court below that iesentrager answers stem directly from fundamentals.

They cannot be found by casual reference to statutes or cases.

Johnson v. Eisentrager

Modern American law has come a long way since the time when outbreak of war made every enemy national. But even by johnaon most magnanimous view, our law does not abolish inherent distinctions recognized throughout the civilized world between citizens and aliens, nor between aliens of friendly and of enemy allegiance, [ Footnote 2 ] nor between resident enemy aliens who have submitted themselves to our laws and nonresident enemy aliens who at all times have remained with, and adhered to, enemy governments.

With the citizen we are now little concerned, except to set his case apart as untouched by this decision and to take measure of the difference between his status and that of all categories of aliens. Citizenship as a head of jurisdiction and a ground of protection was old when Paul invoked it in his appeal to Caesar. The years have not destroyed nor diminished the importance of citizenship, nor have they sapped the vitality of a citizen’s claims upon his government for protection.

If a person’s claim to United States citizenship is denied by any official, Congress has directed our courts to entertain his action to declare him to be a citizen “regardless of whether he is within the United States or abroad. This Court long ago extended habeas corpus to one seeking admission to the country to assure fair hearing of his claims to citizenship, Chin Yow v.

United Ve, U. When any jonson is deprived of his liberty by any foreign government, it is made the duty of the President to demand the reasons and, if the detention appears wrongful, to use means not amounting to acts of war to effectuate his release.

Johnson v. Eisentrager

The alien, to whom the United States has been traditionally hospitable, has been accorded a generous and ascending scale of rights as he increases his identity with our society. Mere lawful presence in the country creates an implied assurance of safe conduct and gives him certain rights; they become more extensive and secure when he makes preliminary declaration of intention to become a citizen, and they expand to those of full citizenship upon naturalization.

During his probationary residence. The Japanese Immigrant Case, U. And, at least sincewe have extended to the person and property of resident aliens important constitutional guaranties — such as the due process of law of the Fourteenth Amendment.

But, in extending constitutional protections beyond the citizenry, the Court has been at pains to point out that it was the alien’s presence within its territorial jurisdiction that gave the Judiciary power to act. In the pioneer case of Yick Wo v.

Hopkins, the Court said of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Since most cases involving aliens afford this ground of jurisdiction, and the civil and property rights of immigrants or transients of foreign nationality so nearly approach equivalence to those of citizens, courts in peace time have little occasion to inquire whether litigants before them are alien or citizen. It is war that exposes the relative vulnerability of the alien’s status. The security and protection enjoyed while the nation of his allegiance remains in amity with the United States are greatly impaired when his nation takes up arms against us.


While his lot is far more humane. But disabilities this country lays upon the alien who becomes also an enemy are imposed temporarily as an incident of war, and not as an incident of alienage. Judge Cardozo commented concerning this distinction: American doctrine as to effect of war upon the status of nationals of belligerents took permanent shape following our first foreign war.

Chancellor Kent, after considering the leading authorities of his time, declared the law to be that “. If this was ever something of a fiction, it is one validated by the actualities of modern total warfare.

Conscription, compulsory service and measures to mobilize every human and material resource and to utilize nationals — wherever they may be — in arms, intrigue and sabotage, attest the prophetic realism of what once may have seemed a doctrinaire and artificial principle.

With confirmation of recent history, we may reiterate this Court’s earlier teaching that, in war. The Rapid, 8 Cranch12 U. See also White v.

Johnson v. Eisentrager :: U.S. () :: Justia US Supreme Court Center

And this without regard to his individual sentiments or disposition. The Benito Estenger, U. The alien enemy is bound by an allegiance which commits him to lose no opportunity to forward the cause of our enemy; hence the United States, assuming him to be faithful to his allegiance. It therefore takes measures to disable him from commission of hostile acts imputed as his intention because they are a duty to his sovereign.

The United States does not invoke this enemy allegiance only for its own interest, but respects it also when to the enemy’s advantage. In World War I, our conscription act did not subject the alien enemy to compulsory military service. The Selective Service Act of62 Stat. Thus, the alien enemy status carries jonnson immunities, as well eisentragerr disadvantages. The United States does not ask him to violate his allegiance or to eisetnrager treason toward his own country for the sake of ours.

This also is the doctrine and the practice of other states comprising our Western Civilization. The essential pattern for seasonable Executive constraint of enemy aliens, not on the basis of individual prepossessions for their native land, but on the basis of political and legal relations to the enemy government, was laid down in the very earliest days of the Republic and has endured to this day.

It was established by the Alien Enemy Act of And it is to be noted that, while the Alien and Sedition Acts of that year provoked a reaction which helped sweep the party of Mr. Jefferson into power inand though his party proceeded to undo what was regarded as the mischievous legislation of the Federalists.

This is in keeping with the practices of the most enlightened of nations, and has resulted in treatment of alien enemies more considerate than that.

This statute was enacted or suffered to continue by men who helped found the Republic and formulate the Bill of Rights, and although it obviously denies enemy aliens the constitutional immunities of citizens, it seems not then to have been supposed that a nation’s obligations to its foes could ever be put on a parity with those to its defenders. The resident enemy alien is constitutionally subject to summary arrest, internment, and deportation whenever a “declared war” exists.

Courts will entertain his plea for freedom from Executive custody only to ascertain the existence of a state of war and whether he is an alien enemy and so subject to the Alien Enemy Act.

Once these jurisdictional elements have been determined, courts will not inquire into any other issue as to his internment. The standing of the enemy alien to maintain any action in the courts of the United States has been often challenged, and sometimes denied.

The general statement was early made on combined authority of Kent and Story “[t]hat they have no power to sue in the public courts of the enemy nation. Our rule of generous access to the resident enemy alien was first laid down by Chancellor Kent inwhen, squarely faced with the plea that an alien enemy could not sue upon a debt contracted before the War ofhe reviewed the authorities to that time and broadly declared that.

A contrary doctrine would be repugnant to sound policy, no less than to justice and humanity. A unanimous Court recently clarified both the privilege of access to our courts and the limitations upon it.