Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview II
Narrator: Peter Irons
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-02-0012

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PI: So I went there one day -- it was the Calvin Coolidge Building in Washington -- into the FOIA office and with the name of the person who was in charge, and I asked for that person and somebody said, "Well, she's out sick today." I said, "Well, I'm supposed to look at some records here." And they said, "Oh, yeah, they're over there. And since she's not here today, why don't you use her desk?" And because the Commerce Department really had no inkling of what this was all about and they're not used to anything that is very sensitive or controversial, nobody had anticipated, really even knew who I was or why I was there, simply that I was to look at some records. Normally they screen records before anybody is allowed to look at them, and that hadn't been done. So this was another total accident that the FOIA person who normally would have screened these records beforehand, or at least called the Justice Department and said, "Should I let anybody look at these -- " wasn't there.

So I sat down. And there were probably four or five cardboard boxes, regular cardboard box sizes, not the modern kind of document boxes, very sturdy, but just ordinary cardboard boxes. And someone had written in marker the case numbers on the boxes. And they were all tied together with string. And it was perfectly obvious that nobody had ever opened these boxes since they were initially stored because they were all dusty. No evidence that anybody had ever untied the string or looked inside. So I decided just to sit down and start going through them. And I picked out the box that said Korematsu v. United States. And I thought I would start with that one. It wasn't the first case, but I picked a file, and the box was full of manila folders. And I picked a file, just the first one on the top of the box, and opened it up. And there was a memo -- this was literally the first page I looked at of all these records, the first file. It may have been the second or third, but almost in the first five minutes that I was looking at these records, I found a memo. And it was written by a government Justice Department lawyer named Edward Ennis. And it was written to the solicitor general of the United States, Charles Fahy at that time. I knew their names already from WRA records that I'd looked at earlier, that Aiko and I had gone through from the WRA. And in that memo, which was a memo to the solicitor general who was preparing to argue the Korematsu case before the Supreme Court in 1944, Ennis said, "We are in possession of information that shows that the War Department's report on the internment is a lie. And we have an ethical obligation not to tell a lie to the Supreme Court, and we must decide whether to correct that record." And looking at that document, I still remember vividly thinking, "Oh, my God. This is amazing. This is like a smoking gun." Here's a lawyer for the government about to be, in a case about to be argued before the Supreme Court saying, "We are telling lies to the Supreme Court." And if I had only been a historian, I probably would have said, "Well, this is very interesting." Add something to my book. But as a lawyer, I realized this is, and in fact, the memo said, "This may approximate the suppression of evidence." As a lawyer, I realized this is dynamite.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.