This was a short assignment written for a criminal justice ethics course that analyses the case of Kawakita versus the United States. Kawakita was found guilty of treason for the treatment of American soldiers during world war II.

KAWAKITA v. UNITED STATES, 343 U.S. 717 (1952)

Kawakita, a citizen of the United States of America by birth in California, and citizen of Japan by nature of his parents both holding Japanese citizenship, was charged with treason following acts of cruelty to American prisoners of war detained in Japanese labor camps during the second world war (Kawakita v. United States, 1952). Kawakita had been attending university in Japan at the onset of hostilities between America and Japan and subsequently took measures to further legitimize his claim as a citizen of Japan (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

Upon graduation from university, Kawakita took up civilian employment as a translator for Oeyama Nickel Industry Co., Ltd. It was during his time as a translator that he engaged in acts of brutality toward American prisoners of war (Kawakita v. United States, 1952). After the war came to an end, Kawakita sought to return to the United States and confirmed at the consulate he had not been involved in any activities which would result in the loss of his citizenship (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

Upon returning to the United States, Kawakita was recognized by a former prisoner of war, subsequently arrested, and tried for treason (Kawakita v. United States, 1952). Kawakita was found guilty and sentenced to death, which was appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals where it was upheld and finally to the supreme court who also upheld the verdict (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

There are two laws which pertain to the case of Kawakita v. United States. The first is laws pertaining to the loss of citizenship. Part 401 of the Nationality Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 1137, 1168, as amended, 8 U.S.C. 801 defines four clear guidelines for the loss of American citizenship:

“A person who is a national of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by:

“(a) Obtaining naturalization in a foreign state . . .; or

“(b) Taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state; or

“(c) Entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state unless expressly authorized by the laws of the United States, if he has or acquires the nationality of such foreign state; or

“(d) Accepting, or performing the duties of, any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or political subdivision thereof for which only nationals of such state are eligible; . . . .” (Kawakita v. United States, 1952)

The second pertinent law is found in article III, 3 of the United States constitution which states: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. . . .” (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

Kawakita v. United States (1952) is broken down into two elements, first the question of whether or not Kawakita could be considered a citizen of the United States at the time he acted against the American prisoners of war and second, would those acts be considered treason.

Kawakita held that he lost his citizenship by registering as a Japanese national, declaring his allegiance to the emperor of Japan, and his role as translator for Japanese military personnel effectively caused him to lose his American citizenship (Kawakita v. United States, 1952). This statement is in direct conflict with statements made to both the personnel at the American consulate where he registered his American citizenship and with comments made to American prisoners of war (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

The courts came to the conclusion that Kawakita had not renounced his American citizenship as he had no intent to do so, nor did he match the criteria to do so (Kawakita v. United States, 1952). The courts did recognize that as a dual citizen Kawakita was required to abide by the laws of Japan while residing in Japan and subsequently determined that only acts which were outside of his duty as a a translator could be considered as acts of treason, of which nine incidents were brought as accusations (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

As the cruelty to the Americans served both the ends of making them more complacent and easier to control, it was deemed that these actions rendered aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States (Kawakita v. United States, 1952). The persistence of the events which Kawakita was accused, led the Judge to issue the most severe prescribed by law: the death penalty (Kawakita v. United States, 1952).

Kawakita v. United States points out an expectation is that Americans treat prisoners ethically. This points to a failure to some degree in the law to match societal expectations as we see outrage at the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by Americans within Abu Ghraib prison; however, have no distinct American law forbidding the mistreatment of prisoners while overseas. As American laws begin recognizing crimes committed outside the boundaries of the United States, such as recent laws pertaining to American patronage of foreign child prostitution, we can expect future laws regarding prisoner treatment to account for American citizen’s actions outside the United States.

Kawakita v. United States also sets forward a precedent of ethics required of dual citizens. Had Kawakita refrained from acts of cruelty and merely translated, he would have, based upon the standard the court established, been found not guilty of treason. We can hold sure that aside from future congressional amendment, individuals who hold both American and the citizenship of a country America is at war with will not be found guilty of treason if they are reasonably attempting to only draw an income. If, however, they are involved in conduct which harms Americans, they are guilty of treason.


KAWAKITA v. UNITED STATES, 343 U.S. 717 (1952)