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Home arrow Law arrow United States law and policy on transitional justice : principles, politics, and pragmatics
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Prosecution in U.S. Military Tribunals

Although the decision was made to prosecute only some of the Class A war criminals before an international military tribunal, the USG addressed suspects of Classes B and C through an alternative transitional justice option. On September

12, 1945, Truman ordered the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to instruct MacArthur to try apprehended Japanese suspected of committing atrocities before unilateral ad hoc U.S. military tribunals.122 This directive, aimed at “smaller fish” (Classes B and C), was thus separate from the one that established the IMTFE for the principal (Class A) alleged Japanese atrocity perpetrators.

From 1945, a year before the IMTFE began operations, to 1951, several years after the IMTFE had rendered its verdict, the USG held trials of Classes B and C Japanese before these ad hoc U.S. military tribunals in Japan and in other territories the Japanese formerly occupied, including China and the Philippines. Through these tribunals, the USG prosecuted 1409 Japanese, convicting 1229 of them; 163 received death sentences.123 As such, the United States officially prosecuted more Japanese through bona fide trials than any other state.124 Some argue that, because of their organizing authority (under MacArthur as the SCAP), these U.S. military tribunals were technically Allied tribunals.125 According to Dower, unlike the IMTFE, “these local trials established no precedents, attracted no great attention, and left no lasting mark on popular memory outside Japan.”126 Some, however, stress these military tribunals’ significance. As historian Philip Piccigallo observes:

[F]or all its importance, the IMTFE constituted but a small part of a much larger process . . . [the Allied military trials] by far exceed[ed] in scope and ambition those of the IMTFE . . . . The Tokyo Tribunal, in short, was a constituent part of the entire Allied Eastern war crimes operation, albeit the most celebrated, longest, most discussed and, some felt, most important single component.127

 
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