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Key tribunals

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- President George W. Bush is considering using secret military tribunals to arrest, try and sentence non-U.S. citizens who are suspected of committing terrorists acts against the United States.

Military tribunals have a long history in the United States: Some legal scholars say the first tribunal was held in the United States in 1780. Others, however, cite the first official proceeding military tribunal in the U.S. was in 1847 during the U.S.-Mexican War.

The international community followed suit almost a century later after World War II. Four major countries established the International Military Tribunal to try former Nazi leaders who were indicted and tried as war criminals. The Nuremberg trials set a precedent for future war crimes tribunals.

A historical look at key tribunals held around the world:


British secret agent John Andre is convicted of charges for collaborating with Benedict Arnold during the U.S. War of Independence. A board of officers designated by General George Washington found him guilty of spying and condemned him to death. Andre was later hanged.


Some legal historians suggest that the first documented U.S. military tribunal took place during the Mexican War. General Winfield Scott ordered punishment for violations of the law of war committed by United States forces in Mexico.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt conducts military tribunals to try German marines who sneaked ashore in New York and Florida. The Germans were planning to sabotage military facilities. On the day of their convictions, six of the eight defendants were executed.


Following World War II, an international military tribunal in Nuremberg indicted 24 former Nazi leaders. The tribunal, which stemmed from the London Agreement of August 8, was adopted by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France. It tried Individuals who committed war crimes against humanity with no particular geographic location.

In addition, the United Nations organized the International Court of Justice, which replaced the Permanent Court of International Justice. It is known as the highest judicial agency in the United Nations, providing a peaceful means to settle international legal disputes. Many of the cases are between governments and are settled in international and national tribunals according to international law.


The international tribunals for the Far East in Tokyo for Japanese war crimes stemming from World War II were conducted from 1946 to 1948. Twenty-five defendants were brought to trial. Japan's prime minister from 1941-44, General Hideki Tojo, was hanged as a war criminal. Of the 25 Japanese defendants, seven were sentenced to hang,16 to life imprisonment and two to lesser terms.


The United Nations' Security Council establishes the International Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to convict individuals who have violated international humanitarian law. One of the key defendants indicted in the Hague tribunal is then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He and his associates are charged with genocide during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and crimes against humanity in Croatia for 1991-92.

The Hague tribunal is still proceeding.


A tribunal for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda is created by the United Nations Security Council. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda indicted 35 people suspected of mass killings. The first conviction was of a Rwandan mayor named Jean-Paul Akayesu. So far, eight people have been convicted and one suspect has been acquitted. The Rwanda tribunal is still proceeding.

Sources: World Book, Encyclopedia Britannica, United Nations



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