The Tokyo War Crimes Trial, 1946-1948: The Case for the Defense

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Between April 29, 1946 and November 12, 1948 the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convened in Tokyo to try twenty-eight Japanese prewar and wartime leaders accused of war crimes. Eleven Allied countries formed the Tribunal. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East sentenced seven Japanese to death, sixteen to life imprisonment terms and two to terms of seven and sixteen years imprisonment. The primary problem with the Tokyo War Crimes Trial was the nature of the charges against the Japanese accused. Some of the defendants were certainly guilty of the alleged violations of the laws of war. The accused, however, were tried not only on conventional war crimes charges, as recognized by international law, but on ex post facto counts which were unnecessary to attain convictions. The charges of Crimes against Peace and Crimes against Humanity had no basis in international law. The outcome and historical judgment of the trial would appear far different had the Japanese been tried only on conventional war crimes charges. Whether one believes the defendants innocent or guilty of war crimes, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East proceedings were hardly a model of impartiality. The rules of trial procedure, the nature of the evidence and the court's bias in favor of the prosecution precluded a fair trial by American standards. The Tokyo Tribunal, for example, admitted hearsay evidence, permitted leading questions and required testimony by affidavit which prevented cross-examination of the witnesses. If defeated American war leaders had faced trial on the Tokyo standard, the outcry would have been enormous.