740.00116 European War 1939/1159: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the American Representative on the Politico-Military Commission at Algiers (Wilson)

10. For Murphy in reference to your 2025, November 18, 2 p.m., and 12, November 23, 5 p.m. Department agrees most emphatically with AFHQ’s decision against publicity in connection with capture, collection of evidence and trial of war criminals and believes that any temporary propaganda advantage that might be gained from such publicity would be completely over-balanced by the danger of reprisals against American prisoners of war in enemy hands. Relatives and friends in the United States of American prisoners of war in enemy hands are constantly pressing the Department to extend a maximum of relief and protection to American prisoners. The attitude displayed in this connection by many relatives and by organized groups of relatives suggests the possibility that were publicity with regard to trials of war criminals by the United States to result in retaliation by the enemy which could be presented to the American public by short-wave broadcasts as reprisals for action taken or threatened by the American Government the reaction might well be to the disadvantage of the United States.

The Department is further of the opinion that it is equally inadvisable to segregate as war criminals any prisoners of war since the reasons for such segregation cannot be kept secret either from the prisoners themselves, from the protecting Powder, which experience has shown sooner or later finds out the reasons for everything we do, or from other persons who may learn of the segregation. Since a great number of persons are therefore certain to learn of the segregation and the reason therefor, it is inevitable that eventually information that such segregation is taking place and the reason therefor will become known to the enemy. In that event American prisoners of war in enemy hands will be likely to suffer the same dangers as from direct publicity.

It would seem therefore more advisable and less risky secretly to [Page 428] compile evidence of war crimes and to delay until after the war segregation of the prisoners to be tried. In any event, the military authorities know at all times the whereabouts of prisoners in their hands.

Although in view of the urgency of the matter the Department has not had time formally to consult the War Department, informal consultation with officers of that Department indicates that they share this Department’s point of view with regard to the inadvisability of any publicity whatsoever whether direct on the basis of a propaganda announcement or indirect as a result of a segregation operation.