740.00116 European War 1939/1416

The Secretary of State to the American Representative on the United Nations War Crimes Commission (Pell)

No. 13

Sir: Reference is made to your despatch no. 15255 of April 26, 1944 enclosing certain proposals of General de Baer which the War Crimes Commission decided to discuss at its next meeting after April 25. You ask for the Department’s opinion of them.

The observations in question are so general in character that the Department finds difficulty in undertaking to comment on them in detail at present. However, certain aspects may be noted.

In regard to the proposal that any member of the Commission should be entitled to bring before Committee I the case of any person accused of a war crime, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or the place where the crime was committed, the Commission being entitled to reject any case submitted in this way, the Department is of the opinion that as thus safeguarded there may be no serious objection to it.

The Department perceives no objection to the preparation of dossiers either by the National offices or the Commission itself in respect to persons who have signed decrees sanctioning acts generally considered to be in violation of the laws of war.

The suggestion that the Commission obtain the names of the persons responsible for each sector and district of the occupied countries appears to have been covered by the resolution adopted by the Commission at its fourteenth meeting on April 4, 1944.50 In its instruction no. 12 of May 5, 1944,51 the Department informed you that in so far as the information is available it would forward you a list of such persons in American territory occupied by the Japanese.

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The proposal that all persons civil and military susceptible of carrying some responsibility in the atrocities which have been committed be placed in custody immediately after the armistice would seem to be a matter of policy to be determined by the competent political and military authorities, which would have to be taken up with those authorities when and if the Commission adopts a recommendation on the subject.

The same is true of the suggestions numbered 1 through 4 listed on pages 5–6 of Doc. C.14.51a

As for suggestion numbered 5 on page 6 of that document that new efforts be made to secure the cooperation of the U.S.S.R., you will readily appreciate that this is a political question which should be left to the authorities charged with responsibility in policy matters. The governments of the countries represented on the Commission are fully aware of the desirability of cooperation between the allies.

The Department is addressing you a separate instruction on the proposal that changes of nationality of war criminals should not be recognized.

The question of whether political rather than judicial action should be taken against enemy leaders is, of course, a question of policy. However, the Department knows of no reason why the Commission should not express its views should it so desire.

Very truly yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. The resolution requested that governments whose territories had been occupied bv the enemv cause lists to be made of all enemy civil and military persons in authority in each occupied district since 1939 (740.00116 European War 1939/1398).
  2. Not printed.
  3. Ante, p. 1292.