History Lesson: Abduction by the US

According to the Washington Post,

The internment of Japanese Americans? No. Matsubayashi was recalling a shameful and forgotten chapter in American history. From 1942 onward, the United States abducted some 3,000 people of Japanese, Italian and German ancestry from Latin America, shipped them to the United States and placed them in internment camps. These prisoners were never charged with crimes.

[…]During World War II, the U.S. government exchanged some of these prisoners for American prisoners of war in Japan. When the war with Japan ended in 1945, the rationale for holding the prisoners evaporated.

From November 1945 to February 1946, at least 1,400 of the Japanese internees were sent “voluntarily” to Japan. It is doubtful that all of them truly left on their own volition. Most of the new deportees, after all, had never even seen Japan.

But what to do with those remaining in detention in peacetime? Technically, the government considered the prisoners to be illegal residents of the United States, so the prisoners had no right to remain in the country. Peru refused to take back many of its former residents. A few children born in the camps could claim U.S. citizenship. In December 1947, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, lamenting “our maimed, mutilated and missing civil liberties,” questioned why the United States was still holding “293 naturalized Peruvians of Japanese descent, who were taken by force by our State and Justice Departments from their homes in Peru.” As late as 1949, some Japanese remained in detention. Some former internees, ironically, eventually became U.S. citizens.

In 1999 the United States issued an apology for its treatment of the Peruvian Japanese and provided them with a token payment of $5,000 for their ordeal. It never admitted, however, that it had violated international law by abducting noncombatant civilians from another country during wartime.

Will history judge us as harshly for detaining enemy combatants without due process indefinitely? Have we learned anything from history?

And finally, for all those nostalgic for a better era from the past, it did not exist. The past has dirty secrets we have forgotten.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. The United States government still abducts people from Latin America, but these days, most of the abductees are accused drug dealers rather than “enemy combatants.” You may have heard of the case of United States v. Alvarez-Machain, in which the Supreme Court held that it was perfectly OK to abduct a Mexican citizen for trial in Federal court and that the “method of obtaining jurisdiction” was immaterial. There will probably be abductions of accused terrorists in the near future.

  2. Abductions of Foreigners

    Responding to my post about the abduction and internment of Japanese from Latin American during World War II, the Head Heeb points out the modern-day abduction of drug dealers from Latin America and how it’s legal: The Supreme Court explicitly…

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