Angus Macbeth Dies at 74; Special Counsel to CWRIC

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WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League mourns the passing of Angus Macbeth, who served as special counsel to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) and headed its staff.

Macbeth died on Jan. 22 at the age of 74.

Image from a Densho interview with Angus Macbeth conducted in 1997. (http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Commission_on_Wartime_Relocation_and_Internment_of_Civilians/)

The CWRIC report, “Personal Justice Denied,” and its recommendations formed the basis for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided monetary compensation and an apology to Japanese Americans who were affected by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

Established by Congress in 1980, the CWRIC was charged with investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding Roosevelt’s issuance of EO 9066 and with recommending appropriate remedies. The nine-member commission held hearings in ten cities — including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — where over 750 witnesses provided testimony, especially in the form of personal accounts by Issei and Nisei attesting to the hardship and deprivation. Many of them had never spoken publicly about their experiences.

In an interview on the Densho Digital Archive, Macbeth stated, “…more than anything else, is just this heart-rending sense of loss. I mean, people who had spent 15, 20 years in quite routine lives and occupations. I mean, truck farmers, people who ran small stores. Just very solid, unexceptional members of a town or of a city and the way in which their lives were just completely disrupted by the exclusion and shock of it all…

“And there is again, just a very, very touching and powerful side to people who make a genuine and rich human life out of very barren and very adverse human conditions…”

The CWRIC report found that “the policy of exclusion, removal and detention was systematically conducted by the U.S. government despite the fact that no documented evidence of espionage or sabotage was shown, and there was not direct military necessity for detention.”

The report’s title comes from its conclusion that a “grave personal injustice was done … without individual review or any probative evidence.”

The CWRIC report — which was reissued by University of Washington Press in 1997 — has supplanted Gen. John Dewitt’s faulty Final Report issued during World War II as the official government account of the incarceration.

In lauding the exemplary work of Macbeth following the issuance of its report, the chair of the CWRIC, Washington lawyer Joan Z. Bernstein, said, “His goal was to make sure our reports would be complete and accurate. He achieved that goal, doing so with his usual but truly unusual talent for make the impossible seem possible.”

When Macbeth joined the commission staff, he was a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Bergson, Borkland, Margolis and Adler and a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice.

The other commissioners were Rep. Dan Lungren; Dr. Arthur Fleming, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Arthur Goldberg, former U.S. Supreme Court justice; former Sens. Edward Brooke and Hugh Mitchell; Rev. Robert Drinan; Father Ishmael Gromoff; and Judge William Marutani, the lone Japanese American member. Researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga also contributed to the report, which is credited not only with leading to the passage of the redress bill but also strengthening the coram nobis cases of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, whose wartime convictions were overturned.

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