The Alien Enemy Hearing Boards at Fort Missoula

drawing of FBI interrogation
from “We Hereby Refuse,” Chin Music Press, artwork by Ross Ishikawa

At this weekend’s education conference for the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium, we’ll get a  virtual tour of the restored courtroom at Fort Missoula, and I’ll show how we used a transcript of a hearing inside that courtroom for a key scene in our graphic novel, We Hereby Refuse.

courtroom at Fort MIssoula
photo: Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

I wish I’d known when I was writing that scene that the NPS had funded restoration of this courtroom in Missoula, Montana. It’s where 1,000 Issei arrested by the FBI after Pearl Harbor and in February, 1942 were brought before the Alien Enemy Hearing Board. Among those who appeared before these civilian tribunals were the fathers of Jim Akutsu and novelist John Okada, and I used the transcripts of both hearings in writing about them for this book and for the Okada biography.

page of transcriptAs it turned out, it serves the story well to take the questions and answers  from Mr. Kiyonosuke Akutsu’s hearing on April 20, 1942, and use them for the scene of his FBI interrogation at the Immigration Detention Station in Seattle, two months earlier in February. After all, the same basic information was being sought: “Are you a spy and what were doing subscribing to this magazine in Japanese that we seized from your home.”  The magazine Sokoku was translated by the FBI as “Fatherland,” and it was on J. Edgar Hoover’s list of Japanese publications considered subversive.

Mr. Akutsu answers the Alien Enemy Hearing Board questions very plainly. And when asked the final question, “What country do you want to see win this war?”, I adapted his answer to the Hearing Board: “I like to see this country win this war. I spend all my life here.”

drawing of FBI interrogation
from “We Hereby Refuse,” Chin Music Press, artwork by Ross Ishikawa

In a Zoom webinar on Saturday called “Trials of Suspicion, Segregation, and Selective Service,” we’ll learn about the sites where three judicial or quasi-judicial processes were convened for incarcerees.

  • Matt Lautzenheiser, executive director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula will tell us more about the Alien Enemy Hearing Boards which were held to determine whether 1,000 Issei arrested on flimsy allegations of disloyalty should be released back to their families in a WRA camp or transferred to an Army internment camp,
  • Stan Shikuma will tell us about Tule Lake, where hearings were given to each of the 12,000 who refused to register their loyalty or answered “no” to a questionnaire,
  • And I will share this and other stories about Heart Mountain and Minidoka, where close to 100 Nisei were tried in federal court for refusing to be drafted from camp on principle.

UPDATE: Here is the workshop video, as posted on the JACSC YouTube channel and website. #JACSC2021

Click on the full schedule below to open it as a PDF.


Click on the cover below to open a PDF of the full program:

full program


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