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Ex Parte Quirin

    Citation317 U.S. 1.
    317 U.S. 1.

    Brief Fact Summary. Four enemies of war filed a habeas corpus to contest the right to a civil trial instead of a trial in front of a military tribunal.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Court will not set aside acts ordered by the President concerning acts of war, as that power is invested to the President under the Constitution

    Facts.  Four men were captured on American soil and accused of acts in violation of the Articles of War. Under this act, their crimes are to be tried in front of a military tribunal and they were not afforded a trial in a civil court. A military tribunal trial does not afford a person all of the rights afforded under the United States Constitution. These four men were born in Germany and have all lived in the United States. They all received training at a school in Germany which taught explosive methods and secret writings. Each of the petitioners left Germany on boats in civilian clothing, and came to different coast in the United States. With explosives, they planned on retrieving secret information and were instructed to destroy the war industries and war facilities in the United States. The petitioners were caught on shore, and detained.

    Issue. Whether a presidential order, which creates a military tribunal to try war crimes committed by war criminals/enemy belligerent’s instead of trying these cases in a civil court is constitutional

    Held. Yes. Absent clear conviction that a presidential order violates the constitution, the court will not set those orders aside. During times of War, the constitution explicitly states the President may wage war and carry into effect all laws concerning; the conduct of the war, regulation of Armed forces, and all laws defining and punishing offences against the laws of nations. Laws of nations or the law of war determine the rights and status of enemies of the country, or enemy belligerents. Here Congress passed the Articles of War act which created the military tribunal. The President ordered all enemies be tried in front of this tribunal and would not be allowed access to civil courts, thus reliving them of the right to habeas corpus. This court states that as long as those crimes are indeed crimes of war, they can be tried in front of this tribunal, and this order is constitutional. If the crime is not a crime of war, then it should be tried in front of a jury. While the citizens of the United States are owed their 5th and 6th amendment rights, it is not clear that these rights should extend to non-citizens and enemies of war. This court will not afford those rights to enemies of war that violate laws of war.

    Discussion. The court makes distinctions between prisoners of war and enemy belligerent. It is one thing to be at war and captured another to sneak into the country to steal information and plan to destroy property there. Depending on the distinction of the criminal can affect his/her rights; however, here it is clear the prisoners are enemy belligerents who clearly violated laws of war.


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