Truman Papers

No. 396
Memorandum by the Joint Strategic Survey Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1
top secret

What Should American Attitude Be Toward the Selection and Treatment of War Criminals?

An International Military Tribunal should be established for the trial of major war criminals whose offenses have no particular national or geographical character.

The United States should demand custody of every Axis individual triable for any war crime committed primarily against United States military personnel or nationals. Punishment accorded should be severe, prompt and public.

Upon request and on a reciprocal basis, the United States should undertake to turn over to our Allies for trial Axis individuals charged with war crimes against their respective military personnel or nationals. Each case or category should be decided on its merits with due regard to political or military considerations entering into the request.

Axis subjects accused of war crimes committed during the war against other Axis subjects should, as far as possible, be tried by local courts made up of subjects of the occupied area who are acceptable to the United States military authorities in charge.

  1. This memorandum was prepared in response to a request from Leahy (document No. 155) for recommendations which would be “useful to the President in preparing himself for the [Berlin] conference”. It was forwarded to Leahy by the Secretary of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 26, together with other reports, under cover of a memorandum which stated explicitly: “These reports represent the views of the committees only and have not been approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Leahy subsequently passed it to Truman.