Testimony from WWII probe of Tribune could go public

CHICAGO (AP) — A Maryland historian is a step closer in his fight for the release of decades-old grand jury testimony involving a story the Chicago Tribune published during the World War II Battle of Midway, the newspaper reported.

The story, published June 7, 1942, said the U.S. Navy obtained advance knowledge of the Japanese fleet’s plans. It included precise details such as the names of the Japanese vessels involved in the battle and details of their strategy. The story sparked outrage and a grand jury was impaneled to seek criminal charges against the journalists for violating espionage laws. No indictment was handed up and the testimony was sealed.

Historian and author Elliot Carlson is close to revealing that testimony, The Tribune reported The U.S. Justice Department has been fighting back, contending that court rules do not permit the release of confidential grand jury records simply because they are of historical interest. Doing so, it says, would undermine the principle of grand jury secrecy.

So far, the courts have sided with Carlson. A federal district judge in Chicago last year ruled in favor of the author, and on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

The Justice Department could still seek a hearing from the entire appellate court or take the case to the Supreme Court. It declined to comment.

Carlson is writing a book about the Tribune story and its fallout, and he has spent four years trying to get the records.

“I have a manuscript that’s complete but for the last chapter,” he said. “I want it to be finished as soon as possible.”

The 1942 Tribune story was based on the work of correspondent Stanley Johnston, who came across a decoded message giving details about the Japanese fleet and its movements while he was aboard a Navy transport in the Pacific.

The ship landed in San Diego on June 2, 1942. Four days later, news of the Battle of Midway broke. The Tribune quickly published a story about the Navy’s advance knowledge.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was furious. The government was worried that the Japanese would learn their code had been broken.

But Carlson said that apparently never happened because its navy continued to use the same compromised code until the end of the war.

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