Appeal in a U.S. Civilian Court

Some convictions before these ad hoc military tribunals achieved additional prominence when the affected defendants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The most famous of these cases was the trial of Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Commanding General of the Fourteenth Army Group of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippine Islands from October 9, 1944, until September 3, 1945 (the date he surrendered to the U.S. Army). In his official capacity, Yamashita oversaw the commission of mass atrocities. He was subsequently categorized as a Class B war criminal for his alleged command responsibility during these offenses. He was then tried by an ad hoc U.S. military commission in Manila from October 8 to December 7, 1945, and sentenced to death by hanging. Yamashita appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard his argument on January 7 to 8, 1946. He claimed that the U.S. military commission that had tried, convicted, and sentenced him possessed neither the authority nor the jurisdiction to do so, and that he had been denied due process of law.128 The Court rendered its judgment in the Yamashita case on February 4, 1946, upholding the jurisdiction of the U.S. military commission and therefore dismissing Yamashita’s appeal.129 He was subsequently executed on February 23, after MacArthur decided not to exercise his authority to intervene.130 Because the Yamashita case was the first war crimes trial charging a military officer (who had not been accused of personally committing atrocities) with a failure to exercise control over persons under his command who allegedly had perpetrated the underlying offenses, it established the U.S. legal standard concerning “command responsibility.”131 For this reason— and also because it was a high-profile forerunner to the IMTFE—the Yamashita case is better known in some circles than the IMTFE itself.132

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