A very interesting article in the LA Times about how Supreme Court justice John Stevens was clerking for SCJ Wiley Rutledge when the court had to decide on the legality of the trial against Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita. The court ruled 6-2 in favor, but Rutledge wrote an impassionate discent about how what what differentiates us from our opponents was the rule of law. Apparently Stevens took that to heart, and it was a major reason why he led the court to find that the US was bound (imagine that) by the Geneva Conventions.

Los Angeles Times
August 6, 2006
High Court’s 1946 War Crimes Ruling Resounds
Justice Stevens drew from what he saw in the trial of a Japanese general
to write for the majority in the recent Guantanamo decision.
By David G. Savage, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Five months after the end of World War II, the
U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, upheld the death sentence
of a Japanese general who had commanded the final defense of the
Philippine Islands.
The court’s action greatly troubled a young Navy veteran,
John Stevens, who a year later became a law clerk for one of
the two dissenters in the case.
The “great divide between our enemies and ourselves,” Justice
Wiley B. Rutledge wrote in his 1946 dissent, was that “theirs was a
philosophy of universal force” and “ours is one of universal law” —
for friends and foes.
The swift military trial of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita stemmed from
Japanese troops’ brutal attacks on Filipino civilians. Rutledge
said it failed to meet basic standards of fairness because
the general had been convicted of war crimes in the absence of
any evidence he had done wrong.
“If, as may be hoped, we are now to enter upon a new era of law
in the world, it becomes more important than ever before for the
nations creating that system to observe their greatest traditions
of administering justice,” Rutledge’s dissent said.
Rutledge died three years later of a heart attack, after just
six years on the court, and his name faded from the public’s memory.
But his former clerk kept alive those dissenting words, writing in a
1956 book chapter that Rutledge’s view on the importance of fairness
in military trials would “be shared by others in years to come.”
His prediction came true.
That onetime law clerk is Justice John Paul Stevens, who in June wrote
the Supreme Court’s ruling that accused war criminals must be tried,
as the Geneva Convention requires, in “a regularly constituted court
affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as
indispensable by civilized peoples.”
Stevens was speaking for the 5-3 majority in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, which
rejected the Bush administration’s special rules for military tribunals
because, the court said, the rules did not offer defendants a fair trial.
The high court had agreed two years earlier that the government
could hold so-called enemy combatants — captured during conflict
but not affiliated with a nation’s military — at a U.S. facility at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But this time it faced the question of whether
some detainees could be tried as war criminals, and possibly executed,
under evolving rules set by the White House alone.
When it came to setting rules for the war on terrorism, the 86-year-old
Stevens looked back six decades to World War II and the trial of the
Japanese general.
In Hamdan, the court rejected a tribunal provision permitting the
removal of defendants from the courtroom at prosecutors’ request. Stevens
argued that, at minimum, defendants charged with war crimes deserved to
be present at their trials and to confront all the evidence against them.
In Yamashita, Rutledge had argued that because the evidence consisted
only of reports of atrocities, and not witnesses who had seen or heard
the attacks ordered, the general could not adequately defend himself.
Stevens also found that the government must show that the alleged
war criminal had committed “a hostile and warlike act” against Americans,
not simply that he was linked to others who committed atrocities.
Salim Ahmed Hamdan has acknowledged that he was a driver for
Osama bin Laden but has denied participation in any terrorist plans.
Gen. Yamashita had argued that he was cut off from his troops during the
atrocities and that he had not ordered, approved or even known of them.
Some of Stevens’ former law clerks say they have been struck by
the decisive role his World War II-related experience has played
in his handling of cases involving the war on terrorism.
“Stevens was greatly influenced by Rutledge. He admired him as a person
and as a judge. And without question, he carried that relationship with
him,” said Deborah Pearlstein, a lawyer for Human Rights First. “When
I was a clerk, he would often mention an opinion or dissent by Rutledge.”
“It’s remarkable when you look back at Yamashita,” said University of
Oklahoma law professor Joseph T. Thai. “Wiley Rutledge strongly believed
in the rule of law and justice. He said what separates us from the
people we fought against is that we believe in fair treatment for all.
He said we can’t allow the fears and pressures of the moment as a
reason to mete out swift justice to our enemies and to abandon our
basic principles.
“And that’s the lesson Justice Stevens applies to the war on terrorism:
Even as we seek to punish the ‘worst of the worst,’ we must abide by
the rule of law.”