Why do authoritarian rulers establish special courts? One view is that they do so to insulate the judiciary from politically oriented cases and allow it continued, albeit limited, independence. In this article I present a contrary case study of an authoritarian regime in Burma that used special courts not to insulate the judiciary but to defeat it. Through comparison to other Asian cases I suggest that the Burmese regime's composition and character better explain its strategy than does extant judicial authority or formal ideology. The regime consisted of war fighters for whom the courts were enemy territory. But absent popular support, the regime's leaders could not embark immediately on a radical project for legal change that might compromise their hold on power. Consequently, they used special courts and other strategies to defeat judicial independence incrementally, until they could displace the professional judiciary and bring the courts fully under executive control.