740.00116 EW/3–2745

Memorandum by the Legal Adviser (Hackworth) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Acheson)

Mr. Acheson: As you may know, hearings have been going on before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Joint Resolution introduced by Mr. Celler requesting the President to appoint a commission “to cooperate with the United Nations War Crimes Commission, or any other agency or agencies of the United Nations in the preparation of definite plans for the punishment of war criminals of the Axis countries” (H.J. Res. 93).66

In his statement before the Committee which is set forth in the Appendix to the Congressional Record for March 22, 1945 (p. A1480) Mr. Celler said:

“Right under our noses there seem to be numerous agencies set up to meet the problem of war criminals. The Navy Department has [Page 1157] its Division of War Crimes under Admiral Gatch; the Army, under General Weir, has its Division of War Crimes, as has the State Department. What do we know about them? Is there any coordination among them? Are they, and to what extent, working in conjunction with the United Nations War Crimes Commission, now operating in London, or are they proceeding independently? Congress and the people are kept in the dark. Should Congress and the people continue in ignorance?”

After quoting from Mr. Grew’s statement to the press on February 11 [1],67 Mr. Celler said:

“Unless Congress takes a hand in the proceedings, the purpose of Mr. Grew’s statement will evaporate in an atmosphere of apathy, indifference, and back-stage maneuvering.”

With reference to the Commission proposed in his Joint Resolution, Mr. Celler said:

“The proposed commission can be composed of some of the members of this committee or in combination with other congressional committees to work in coordination with the United Nations War Crimes Commission, to keep abreast of its work, to keep the Congress informed and through the Congress the people. Remember the punishment of war criminals is inextricably interwoven with the peace.”

We are informed by an officer of the War Department who has been attending the hearings that amendments will be proposed to the original resolution as introduced and that apparently there is much sentiment in favor of establishing some sort of a Congressional committee to keep itself informed on the war crimes situation insofar as security regulations permit.

The existence of such a Congressional committee might of course be highly embarrassing, since it would desire publicity and since planning for the execution of war crimes policies involves confidential negotiations with other governments.

Contrary to the Committee’s belief that nothing has been done, the truth is that the matter has received active consideration by officials of the War Department, the Justice Department, the Department of State, and Judge Rosenman from the White House. They submitted certain proposals to the President who recently approved our requesting Judge Rosenman to discuss with the British Foreign Office these proposals and various questions which the British have invited us to discuss with them. He will be joined in London by two officers from the War Department. The discussions will be highly confidential since other countries, notably the Soviet Union and France, have not been invited to participate.

A committee to keep Congress informed would undoubtedly give rise to difficulties in this and other countries.

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It is hoped the discussion in London will result in understandings which can, without too great delay, be made public. These understandings, if our views prevail, will be broad in scope and will reveal the active and constructive steps looking to the prosecution of war criminals which can be put into execution as soon as the military situation makes it feasible to proceed.

It is to be borne in mind that the War Department and we think the Navy Department do not desire to begin actual prosecution while so many of our men are in enemy hands. They fear reprisals. It is also to be borne in mind that what Mr. Celler’s resolution has in mind would be wholly inconsistent with what the military people think should be our policy as regards publicity.

The war crimes program is not a unilateral understanding. It must be worked out with other governments. One difficulty lies in the fact that people do not understand the functions of the United Nations War Crimes Commission which are limited to investigation and to the making of recommendations to the governments.

The trouble in Congress appears to be traceable to the statements made by Mr. Pell.

Do you not think that the situation should be discussed with certain leaders of the House with a view to discouraging the creation of such a committee?

Green H. Hackworth
  1. Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, 79th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1945).
  2. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 4, 1965, p. 154.