Friday, April 14, 2006

On American Soil

On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II tells the story -- or stories -- of a violent incident at Fort Lawton and the ensuing investigation and court martial. Jack Hamann, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, has written a gripping, thought-provoking tale, exploring issues of race, war, justice, and military bureaucracy. His description of the book from his website:

On a hot August night in 1944, a terrified Italian prisoner of war was lynched at a sprawling US Army fort in Seattle.

After a tumultuous two-month criminal investigation, the Army charged three U.S. soldiers with murder and forty others with rioting.

All forty-three were African Americans.

What followed was the largest and longest Army court-martial of World War II, and the only trial in American history where black men stood accused of a mob lynching. The Army prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, later of Watergate fame. The entire true story is an engrossing tale of pride, power, duplicity and redemption.
I heard Mr. Hamann speak at the Innocence Project conference last month and immediately went out and got the book. It really is this good.

Some Seattleites may not even know about Fort Lawton, which was a big, active military base during World War II. It was where Discovery Park is today. See maps and pictures.

A UW connection is that the lead defense attorney, Major William Beeks, was a UW law grad. When he was twenty-four, he wanted to go to sea in the merchant marines, but his wife persuaded him to stay in Seattle, where he attended law school and became a maritime lawyer. He joined the Army after the U.S. entered World War II. After the War, he joined Jaworski in Germany prosecuting war crimes. He was a district court judge (Western District of Washington) from 1961 until his death in 1988.

More information about the book is here. It's available in the library: D805.5.F66 H36 2005 at Classified Stacks.

Moved by the story, Rep. Jim McDermott introduced H.R. 3174, to direct the Secretary of the Army to review the cases of the 28 men who were convicted. The bill now has a few dozen cosponsors.

This has nothing to do with trial advocacy, but I note that Mr. Hamann is currently working on "Generation IX", a documentary about the national champion UW women's volleyball team and its upcoming trip to China. Something to watch for!

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