This is one of the first sources we came about when beginning the research process for the Saboteurs story. You can read the transcript, but it’s much better to listen to the audio that aired on “This American Life,” March 12, 2004.
In a Time of War, the Laws are Silent
This is the little-known story of eight men who invaded the U.S. from Germany during World War II. Most of these men were ill-equipped and unwilling to carry out their mission, and one of the leaders turned himself in to the FBI to expose the plot. All of the men, including two American citizens, were ultimately caught and tried in front of a military tribunal. The government prosecuted all of the men as harshly as possible, for propaganda purposes. Despite an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling held, and two Americans were treated as enemy combatants. While the Supreme Court justices later expressed their misgivings regarding the case, and the ultimate clemency granted to the two Americans by Truman in 1948 seemed to validate the judges' sentiments, the case still serves as a key precedent in decisions involving treatment of American citizens in times of war, most notably in the recent Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision. As such, the story of the German saboteurs serves as a warning about wartime powers and the consequences of making political decisions in times of great national fear.