File No. 763.72/5239

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Russia ( Francis )


1481. Your 1361, June 5, 5 p.m. When the Root commission was preparing to leave, some newspaper stories appeared here charging that Mr. Root assisted in extraditing Russian political offenders. I assume your report may originate from the same sources. The Department has no information regarding Mr. Root’s connection with refusal to permit Russian refugees to enter the United States. That matter, bearing on immigration, was never under Mr. Root’s charge when he was Secretary of State. As to extradition of Russian political offenders, Mr. Root as Secretary of State took clear and unequivocal position. In the Pouren case, which came before him in 1908, Mr. Root stated, in a letter to Mr. Schiff, of New York, dated October 16, 1908:

You doubtless know that an extradition case is a judicial proceeding in which testimony is taken before a committing magistrate whose decision is reviewed by the Secretary of State. In this case no substantial evidence was produced before the committing magistrate to show that the offenses charged against Pouren were political, [Page 115] and the magistrate accordingly decided against Pouren. If the State Department had acted in the case, it would have been obliged to decide that the magistrate’s decision was correct upon the evidence before him and to issue a warrant for Pouren’s extradition.

In view, however, of the public statements that Pouren was merely a political offender, instead of an adverse decision a careful inquiry was made and upon its appearing that there was substantial evidence which had not been produced before the magistrate, tending to show that Pouren’s acts were political, the magistrate was directed to reopen the case and give Pouren’s counsel an opportunity to introduce such evidence.

You will perceive that the delay in deciding the case has been altogether favorable to Pouren, and for the purpose of giving him an opportunity to prove his real defense which he failed to prove originally.

Of course you will understand that there is not the slightest idea of returning any one to Russia or to any other country to be tried for a political offense.

Secretary Root declined to issue a warrant for the surrender of Pouren to Russia, and Pouren was discharged from the custody of the committing magistrate.

On January 14, 1909, the American Federation of Labor submitted to President Roosevelt in a letter signed by Mr. Gompers, John Mitchell, and other members of the executive council of the Federation, a memorandum on the Pouren extradition case and certain Mexican extradition cases, with the request that the President safeguard the right of asylum in the United States. This letter being submitted to Secretary Root, he advised the President January 16, 1909, that—

The treaties and statutes of the United States contain adequate provisions for safeguarding the right of asylum for political refugees. Every specific case mentioned in the memorandum is covered by such provisions of treaty and statute. In each specific case where a demand for extradition is made by a foreign country and the person demanded claims to be a political refugee, there is always a question of fact raised as to whether the assertion of political character is true or not. This question under the laws of the United States is to be decided judicially in the first instance by a United States commissioner acting as a magistrate and proceeding upon evidence taken under oath, and in the second instance, by the Secretary of State, reviewing the decision of the commissioner upon the evidence. If the question of fact is determined in favor of the person demanded, the law forbids his extradition and protects him in his right of asylum. If the question of fact is decided against the person demanded, his extradition is required by law because there is no right of asylum in his case.