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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #119: December 18, 2003

The Capture of Saddam Hussein and the Tokyo Trials

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)

WE GOT HIM! Splashed over the cover of all newspapers and headlined by every television program, whether news or laughs, was the capture of Saddam Hussein. The image of an American military doctor inspecting the mouth of a disheveled Saddam is arguably the most powerful image portraying a "toothless" dictator who is now at the mercy of occupying forces. The fate that awaits Saddam currently monopolizes the airwaves and most commentators envision a tribunal that places the former ruler of Iraq on trial for crimes against humanity. Although President Bush seems to know what he wants to see Hussein face, "ultimate justice" (in other words, the death penalty) feted out by an Iraqi court, there is no consensus as to how justice will best be served. The majority opinion seems to be divided between those who would like to see Saddam tried in an international court and those who want him to be prosecuted by the Iraqi people in their own courts. The consequences arising out of this decision could be enormous. Some worry about whether or not there are enough Iraqi experts to try Saddam properly, others are afraid of the U.S. meddling in internal affairs and their turning the event into a form of 'victors justice', and finally some are concerned that the trial will give Saddam a platform to position himself as a martyr and vindicate his actions by implicating other countries, including the U.S. as bystanders to his alleged atrocities.

Interestingly, this discourse is somewhat reminiscent of the concerns voiced in relation to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trial). When reviewing some documents on the Tokyo Trial, I even came across a photo that resembled that of a defeated Saddam Hussein projected around the world. This was the image Araki Tadao (General and Army Minister from 1931-34; Education Minister, 1938-39) being inspected by a U.S. military doctor. Araki was an advocate of Japanese military expansion and depicted the war with China as a "gift of the gods". He was also reportedly an important influence on Premier Tojo and was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Tokyo trial. Notably, he was eventually released in 1955.

The Tokyo Trial continues to be the source of much controversy. Many have claimed that it was a manifestation of 'victors justice' or perhaps more precisely 'white man's justice' since the U.S. and other major allies dictated the form and the course of the proceedings leaving out representation from those who had actually born the brunt of Japan's crimes prior to and during the Pacific War, including Korea, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are also a slew of legal categories that have been criticized as ex post facto legislation. It has also been claimed that certain Class A war criminals were accused and found guilty of an undefined crime, the term "aggressive war" was never defined. In addition to this a wide range of heinous crimes perpetrated by Japanese forces in a systematic manner, most likely directed by the state, were overlooked. These include those committed by army unit 731, which conducted germ warfare experiments on 3,000 or so prisoners of war in China; evidence of the actual use of germ warfare on the Chinese mainland by army unit 1644; and of course those crimes carried out against the peoples of Japan's colonies, such as the forced mobilization of Koreans.

Many in fact question whether or not justice was served by the Tokyo Trials, especially considering the fact that the GHQ released the remaining seventeen suspected Class A war criminals without indictments and announced that there would be no more trials of Class A war criminals on 24 December, one day after the seven defendants that had been sentenced to death were executed. The underlying motivation on the part of the U.S. was the desire to shore up support among Japanese conservative forces as the Cold War intensified.

In the end, what was once billed as one of the most significant trials in history, primarily by U.S. prosecutors, failed to live up to those expectations and put in doubt the notion that justice had been served. It is hoped that the international community and Iraqis who march toward putting Saddam Hussein on trial learn from the mistakes committed in the course of the Tokyo Trial by refraining from staging a Hollywood like event. They should instead focus on executing a fair trial that addresses the most ample list of crimes ordered and carried out by Saddam Hussein and his regime and ultimately refrain from letting politics dictate the judgment.

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