Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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International Military Tribunal: Far East (Tokyo War Crimes Trials) (1946–1948)

Trials of senior Japanese leaders after World War II. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, heading the military occupation of Japan, established the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, popularly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. The body held sessions in Tokyo from 3 May 1946 to 12 November 1948. Trials conducted by the tribunal were similar to those held at Nuremberg, Germany. The defendants were 28 senior Japanese military and civilian leaders, chosen from among 250 Japanese officials originally accused of war crimes. General Tojo Hideki, who held various posts including prime minister and chief of the General Staff, was the best-known defendant among the 18 military officers and 10 civilians charged. General MacArthur, with President Harry S Truman's support, exempted Emperor Hirohito from trial because of concerns over potential Japanese resistance to military occupation. More than 2,200 similar trials, including some held in Tokyo that preceded the tribunal, were conducted in areas formerly occupied by Japan, ranging from China to Pacific islands including Guam. The trials generated strong emotions, and they remain controversial to this day.

The Toyko tribunal consisted of 11 judges, 1 each from Australia, Canada, China, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, the United States, France, India, and the Philippines. The Philippine justice was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Joseph B. Keenan, was appointed by President Truman. Keenan's credentials included service as a former director of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division as well as assistant to the U.S. attorney general. His staff included 25 lawyers. The tribunal was not bound by technical rules of evidence normally observed in a democracy and could admit any evidence that it chose, including purported admissions or statements of the accused.

The tribunal sought to establish clearly the principle that aggressive war was a crime and to prevent or deter future crimes against peace. Those who planned and initiated aggressive war in contravention of treaties, assurances, and international agreements were to be considered common felons. The tribunal also claimed jurisdiction over conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as murder, mass murder, enslavement, deportation of civilian populations, and persecutions based on political or racial grounds in connection with other crimes under tribunal jurisdiction.

Some defendants were accused of being responsible for the actions of personnel under their command who had committed crimes against prisoners of war and civilian internees. These offenses included murder; beatings; torture; ill-treatment, including inadequate provision of food and clothing and poor sanitation; rape of female nurses and other women; and the imposition of excessive and dangerous labor. Charges of murder were also leveled in cases involving the killing of military personnel who had surrendered, laid down arms, or no longer had means of defense, including survivors of ships sunk by naval action and crews of captured ships.

Seeking to conduct a fair trial, the tribunal gave each of those accused a copy of his or her indictment in Japanese, and trial proceedings were conducted in both English and Japanese. Defendants had a right to counsel, and the defense could question witnesses. Subject to court approval, the defense could also request the appearance of witnesses and the provision of documents. The mental and physical capacity of the accused to stand trial was also considered. After a conviction, the tribunal had the power to impose a death sentence or other punishment on a defendant. Of the 28 original defendants, 25 were convicted. Seven (including Tojo) were sentenced to death by hanging, 16 to life imprisonment, 1 to 20 years of incarceration, and another to 7 years in prison. The remaining 3 were not convicted, 1 being declared mentally unstable and 2 dying before their trials ended.

As with the Nuremberg trials, the tribunal has been accused of promulgating "victors' justice," and some have called the proceedings racist. But fueled by horror at continuing military atrocities in places such as Bosnia and Cambodia, a legacy of the Tokyo and Nuremberg trials has been the widespread international support for a permanent war crimes tribunal. The U.S. government, however, has resisted the formation of such a body, fearing that it could be politically influenced to harass American military forces operating overseas.

Glenn E. Helm


Further Reading
Kei, Ushimura. Beyond the "Judgment of Civilization": The Intellectual Legacy of the Japanese War Crimes Trials, 1946–1949. Trans. Steven J. Ericson. Tokyo: International House of Japan, 2003.; Maga, Timothy P. Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.; Minear, Richard H. Victors' Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.; Piccigallo, Philip R. The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945–1951. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.; U.S Department of State. Trial of Japanese War Criminals: Documents 1. Opening Statement by Joseph B. Keenan, Chief of Counsel, 2. Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, 3. Indictment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 1946.
 

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