Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
Does the US Government have rose colored glasses when it looks at itself administering justice for an individual after the demands of the public to instigate a prosecution are satisfied by an individual going to prison? One may look at a bit of history to see this more clearly. A chapter would be read by some in the case of Iva Toguri. Another might be that of George Zimmerman.
For an overview Iva Toguri, known popularly as Tokyo Rose for her involvement in a radio program named “Zero Hour”, assisted in the broadcast by the Japanese government during the Second World War programming to allied forces in the pacific for propaganda purposes. The broadcasts tended to be biased news reports, skits and American music.
A Los Angeles born American citizen Iva travelled to Japan in mid-1941 to attend to a sick relative and had interest in studying in medicine while there. She had intended to return to the United States but was not able to after the Pearl Harbor attacks which effectively stranded her in the nation. Declared an enemy alien by Japanese officials, she sought to find work with a Japanese news agency which led to her being employed with Radio Tokyo which led to the Zero Hour Broadcasts.
During her time at Radio Tokyo she reportedly made over 300 broadcasts and was paid a meager salary of which she would often use to purchase food which she occasionally smuggled into Allied Prisoners of War in a camp which held her supervisors Australian Major Charles Cousens, US Captain Wallace Ince. Iva refused to broadcast what she considered to be anti-US propaganda whereupon Cousens and Ince assured her that the scripts they provided her would not contain such information.
After Japan’s surrender, two American Reporters Harry Brundidge and Clark Lee offered $2000 to anyone who could arrange for the person commonly referred to by American Forces as “Tokyo Rose” to be interviewed for a news article. In response to this offer of needed money to address her desire to return to the United States she came forward only to be arrested afterward and the promise of money was reneged. After about a year of incarceration, she was released due to neither the FBI nor General McArthur’s staff finding sufficient evidence to support the claim she had aided the enemy. In fact, a nearly five year investigation of her involvement with the Zero Hour broadcasts encompassing hundreds of witnesses and archives and records of the broadcasts federal officials decided there was insufficient evidence to support a treason prosecution; a justice department official calling her actions “innocuous”.
But it did not end there. Various persons and factions in the public and government lobbied and advocated for her arrest for treason, one being a columnist named Walter Winchell who actively lobbied for her imprisonment.
And then the government had a change of heart.
Toguri was then arrested by military officials and taken back to the United States to face a prosecution for treason. And after what was at the time the longest and most expensive trial in United States history, she was convicted on one count for broadcasting information concerning the movement of ships.
There were several legal and evidence problems with the trial. Many of the soldiers testified they were not certain whether statements made during the broadcasts were actually made by Toguri or if the information was mere rumor. And there were questionable actions performed by the prosecution. Two of the prosecution witnesses, Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, who testified with some of the most substantial evidence against Toguri, were revealed to have committed perjury. The later stated the FBI and US Forces had coached them for two months as to how to testify and what to say and were even threatened with prosecution themselves for treason if they did not agree to testify.
(President Ford later unconditionally pardoned Toguri in 1977 after a previous news expose by Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Yates revealed these and several other problems with the original trial that convicted her.)
It would seem very likely the will to prosecute Iva Toguri was directly related to political and external factions influencing the government to take action despite the original findings that her conduct was not fitting to that of treason. Yet after over sixty years since her trial are we seeing a repeat of the same behavior in the treatment of others who are pariahs to some today?
One has to ask if history is repeating itself in the actions taken by the US Justice Department alleging George Zimmerman had broken US Federal Hate Crimes laws in his killing of Trayvon Martin, where he was acquitted by a Florida jury in his Second Degree Murder Prosecution.During the trial there was no evidence entered as to whether or not the killing of Trayvon was motivated by racial issues on behalf of George Zimmerman. The prosecution did not stipulate this was racially motivated, the attorney representing Trayvon’s family stipulated on two occasions during interviews with national news media that this incident was not about race or racially motivated. The FBI, like had been the case with Iva Toguri’s initial investigation, stated that there was no evidence that a federal crime had been committed and in the latter case George Zimmerman had attacked or killed Trayvon on account of race or his heritage.
Despite no evidence brought up in the state trial, no statements made by George Zimmerman that he assaulted Trayvon due to his race, and what many regard as having no probable cause to charge George Zimmerman with a violation of federal hate crime statutes, the Justice Department and the administration have made more than just inferences that they intended to go after George Zimmerman for racially motivated killing.
Would these actions by the federal government have taken place if George Zimmerman was convicted of an offense by the Florida jury? Would the government been not so inclined to do so if numerous civil rights organizations and influential persons not lobbied the government and spoke out with such resolve as Walter Winchell had decades ago with Iva Toguri? If that is the case are persons to be put on trial simply for their notoriety? Does an active voice of the public constitute a grand jury with the authority to compel the government to instigate a prosecution?
It certainly is not the first but some other trials instigated by Federal Officials after a state court acquittal have also focused on civil rights trials where there was either obvious jury nullification by less than objective jurors. And in some cases where law enforcement officers, (government agents for purposes of depravation of rights under color of law) have been successfully prosecuted federally. Probably of most notoriety were Officers Laurence Powell and Stacy Koon convicted for violating the civil rights of Rodney King after their acquittal on state court assault charges led to widespread rioting and over fifty deaths.
The difference between the Los Angeles Police Officers and George Zimmerman and Iva Toguri was that as commissioned law enforcement officers, they have fundamentally differing constraints than ordinary citizens. And, lesser standards are expected to be adhered to with regard to civil rights issues for George Zimmerman and as it the same for treasonous acts alleged to be committed by Iva Toguri who was essentially coerced as a civilian by a government hostile to her nation and held by military officials when she was not in fact a military service woman of the United States.
But how long a net will the Federal Government cast in a fishing trip for evidence that has been conspicuously been lacking despite having a supreme amount of attention and resolve to use anything possible to convict George Zimmerman of a serious felony for killing Trayvon Martin?
Moreover, what is that is a deciding factor in whether or not the federal government prosecutes an individual who has been acquitted on a state charge? There are numerous cases where individuals are acquitted by state courts but the federal government does not prosecute or perhaps even notices. But when such persons receive much notoriety it seems to make the prosecution by the federal government all the more likely.
Is it considered to be a rose colored lens for which the government addresses social upheavals and grant what it believes to be justice by instigating prosecutions against those who are perceived by many to have done a great wrong but evaded prison by acquittal on a state court? Or, is it too much to expect from one individual chosen by the federal government to be held responsible for the sorrows that society holds in general and be punished for the ills of society?