File No. 811.203/8

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page )


6461. Your telegrams September 11 and January 21 respecting jurisdiction over American military forces in England. You may communicate regarding this matter with British Government in the sense of the following:

It is agreeable to the Government of the United States that, as outlined in the note addressed by the Foreign Office to the Embassy, under date of September 5, 1917,1 the British Government should legalize the assistance of the military and civil authorities in handing over to American military authorities officers and soldiers who may be found outside the limits of the quarters occupied by American troops and who are thought to have committed ail offense against American military discipline or law, with a view to their being dealt with by American military authorities, whether such offense was contrary to British law or not. The Government of the United States regards it as desirable that, as suggested in the British Government’s note just mentioned, American military authorities should be understood to have the right, during the present war, to retain in imprisonment in Great Britain American troops sentenced by American military tribunals to terms of imprisonment, and further, that the British Government should provide, as further suggested by them, for punishment of persons assisting deserters from American forces and persons purchasing equipment not sold by permission of American military authorities.

[Page 740]

It is acceptable to the Government of the United States to have the British Government’s assistance in the form suggested in their note of January 18, 1918, to the Embassy,1 namely, legislation enabling American military authorities to compel witnesses to attend American courts-martial in Great Britain, and legislation making it an offense for such witnesses to fail to attend, or to refuse to be sworn, answer questions, or produce documents, or to give false evidence, or to commit contempt of court, and legislation empowering American judge advocates to administer oaths outside the precincts of camps or buildings allotted to the use of American troops.

While action in accordance with the British Government’s proposals may be satisfactory to deal temporarily with existing conditions, it may be advisable that a comprehensive agreement should be concluded with regard to jurisdiction over American troops in British territory and over British troops in American territory similar to that which has been concluded by the British Government with the Government of France. Such an agreement has been entered into by this Government with France, by an exchange of notes. It is doubtful, however, what effect the courts in the United States would give such an informal agreement. On the other hand, most if not all of the cases under the French agreement will arise in France, where such an agreement is effective.

The Department would be glad to receive an expression of the British Government’s views respecting this matter.

  1. See telegram No. 7142 from the Ambassador in Great Britain, ante, p. 733.
  2. See telegram No. 8333 from the Ambassador in Great Britain, ante p. 737.