Military Justice &

Other Oxymorons

Abraham Lincoln v the Sioux


Paul Weber

When King George the Second (surnamed Bush) announced that some of the soldiers (or is it detainees? or criminals?) captured in the undeclared war in Afghanistan would be tried in military tribunals, a lot of people got twisted out of shape. Military Tribunals, it seems, are not open to the public; the military serves as judge, jury, and hangman; and the accused can be convicted and sentenced to summary execution merely on a "preponderance of the evidence", rather than the usual "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" standard used in conventional capital cases. The words "Star Chamber" come immediately to mind. Oh, yes—and the guilty have no right of appeal. Once you’re found guilty, you can step right on out the back door to the waiting hangman.

"Ridiculous!" answered the big-government conservatives. "Military tribunals are very fair. And you don’t have to worry about the trials turning into media circuses like the O. J. Simpson case. We used military tribunals in several wars in the past, and they rendered even-handed justice."

Actually, no. American military tribunals have historically been set up to railroad people quickly to the hangman’s noose. Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the Republican Party (as well as our Empire’s first dictator), set up military tribunals in the Civil War that were allegedly to be used to try people in parts of the country where the conventional court system had broken down as a result of the war. Interestingly, one of the more famous military tribunals was set up in a state that was never threatened by the Southern rebels: Minnesota. The accused were not rebel soldiers, but Sioux Indians who had been causing a ruckus by making unreasonable demands on the Lincoln Administration, such as actually sticking to the terms of a treaty. According to Thomas DiLorenzo, author of a new book titled The Real Lincoln, the Santee Sioux of Minnesota had sold 24 million acres of land to the federal government for $1.4 million in 1851. By 18! 62, in the middle of the Civil War, the feds had still paid the Sioux nothing, even though thousands of white settlers had moved into the area. Because of a crop failure that year, the Sioux had begun to starve, and without the promised payments from the feds, they had no means of buying provisions.

Okay, I know it’s hard for you public-school-educated Americans to comprehend, but our masters in Washington really do have a sordid history of breaking treaties, particularly with the Indian tribes.

Weary of being stiffed by Washington, the Sioux finally revolted. In response, Lincoln sent a force under the command of General John Pope, a charming fellow whose stated purpose was to "utterly exterminate the Sioux." Of course the "war", such as it was, was no contest—sort of like the American military conquering the mighty nation of Afghanistan—and hundreds of Sioux, including women and children, were taken prisoner.

This is where the fun really began for the Lincoln administration. Remember, Minnesota never even came close to suffering invasion during the Civil War. The system of courts in Minnesota had not been destroyed. Nonetheless, it was very convenient to identify the Sioux as "illegal combatants" in the war. Maybe they didn’t wear uniforms, or something, or maybe they even attacked innocent civilians—something our own military never does, right? Anyhow, this Military Tribunal, according to David Nichols in Lincoln and the Indians, spent all of about 10 minutes on each "trial." The Sioux, many of whom spoke no English, were not allowed to put up much of a defense, even if they had some foggy notion of what was going on.

Over 300 Sioux were found guilty and sentenced to summary execution. The merciful Lincoln Administration, however, got a few signals from Europe that mass execution of hundreds of starving Indians with whom we had broken a treaty might just be a little bit immoral. Because some of those nations were toying with the idea of coming to the aid of the South, Lincoln decided, in a great show of mercy, to execute only 39 of the prisoners. But to mollify the folks in Minnesota, he also paid $2 million in federal funds, along with a promise to eventually kill or remove every last Indian from the state.

Yes, this is the same Lincoln whom official Washington and the public schools at all levels continually laud as one of our greatest presidents. This is the fellow we celebrate with a national holiday.

Another famous case involves the story of Major Henry Wirz, the unfortunate soldier given the unenviable task of overseeing the Andersonville prison in Georgia during the Civil War. First, a bit of background. The American military, which never targets civilians, engaged in what we now call "Total War" on the population of the South. That is, they not only attacked the armies of the Confederacy, but also made war on noncombatants. Throughout the South, the invading Union Army burned crops, shot livestock and left the carcasses to rot, and burned people out of their homes. This, added to the fact that the South had been effectively blockaded for several years, meant the civilian population was reduced to starvation and had no access to medicine.

During the early years of the war, the opposing sides negotiated the exchange of prisoners, but as the war dragged on, the North realized that—surprise!— the Union soldiers they were taking back were starving and disease-ridden, a fact that just might have been related to their own blockade and their own policy of Total War. The Union generals, not wanting to "exchange skeletons for healthy men", decided to cease all prisoner exchanges, fully knowing that the South would be put in the impossible position of rationing what little food was available, while at the same time being morally responsible for feeding their prisoners of war. Attorney Louis Schade, in a letter defending Major Wirz, pointed out that the South advised the North that they were unable to feed their prisoners, offering to simply let the North take back their prisoners without any compensating exchange, on humanitarian grounds. The offer was made in August, 1864, but the North di! d not send transportation to pick up the prisoners until December. It was during that period of time that most of the deaths at Andersonville occurred.

Almost 22,000 Northerners died in Southern camps during the war, compared to the 26,000 Southerners who died in Northern camps, despite the fact that the North did not suffer any blockade or Total War tactics, as had the South. From this, we can gather that Southern troops were not treated very kindly in Northern prisons, but the victors in war get to write the history, so the story of mistreatment in Northern prison camps has been largely swept under the rug.

The North, however, needed a scapegoat and a show trial, so Major Wirz faced a military tribunal. Wirz was made to stand trial despite the fact he had been wounded during surrender. He was so weak that he was unable to sit upright during his trial; he had to recline on a sofa in the courtroom. He was denied the right to speak in his own defense. Wirz, ironically, was accused of "murder in violation of the laws and customs of war." Well, General Sherman never did anything like that, did he? A dozen "witnesses" were produced, all accusing Wirz of personally beating 13 prisoners to death. There were several problems with the testimony, however, the most conspicuous being the fact that none of the alleged "witnesses" could recall the names of any of the victims! This lapse of memory seems to have occurred despite the fact that several of the alleged victims lived for five or six days after the beatings. Isn’t it unusual that, among the thousands of p! risoners at Andersonville, not one witness could be produced who could recall the name of a single victim? Against those 15 "witnesses," the defense was allowed to produce 145 witnesses who all swore Wirz never murdered any Union soldiers. Despite the preponderance of evidence indicating Wirz never killed anyone, the Union general in charge of the proceedings (gee--you don’t suppose a commander of the opposition forces would be a little, you know, biased, would you?) found Wirz guilty and ordered him hanged.

It gets better, though. On the night before the scheduled execution, several federal officers approached Schade with an offer of clemency for Wirz if he would simply testify that Jefferson Davis himself had a hand in the "murder" of the unnamed prisoners. Such a claim would be, of course, absurd. Jefferson Davis was never anywhere near Andersonville, but the Union, unable to try Davis for treason, was trolling for a more mundane charge, like murder. Wirz, in one of those strange, darkly heroic moments of history, refused to go along with the perjury, saying he could not accuse an innocent man even to save his own life. Two hours later, he mounted the gallows and was hanged.

On the matter of suborning perjury, our masters in Washington evidently get a free pass every time. Bill Clinton was actually a small-time amateur at this tactic, having used it to wriggle out of his nasty little incident with Monica and the legendary cigar. His Republican predecessors, however, tried and failed to suborn perjury in order to implicate someone in alleged murders in which neither the bodies nor the names of the victims were ever produced. Jefferson Davis actually wanted to be put on trial for treason, confident he could prove that individual states had every right to secede from the union. The Feds, reviewing the mountains of evidence in the writings of the Founding Fathers indicating the states did indeed have just such a right, never brought Davis to trial.

These are just two examples from our illustrious history of military tribunals. I’m sure that, with a little research, one could come up with many more examples to demonstrate that military tribunals are set up with the specific purpose of arriving at the "right" predetermined verdict.

Paul Weber’s novel, Transfiguration, is available at



Volume I

Issue 30


The Texas Mercury's Homepage


Other Articles From This Issue:


Letter to

 the Editor: 

On the Meaning of Left & Right

By James Versluys


Military Justice & Other Oxymorons:

 Abe Lincoln 

v the Sioux

By Paul Weber


Galatia Go Braugh!

 Celts & the Ancient World 

By Jimmy Cantrell


I Am Alive 

By Bob Weir


Hollywood Ponders

 Sequel Ideas 

From UPYRS News Service

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